A lot of YA fantasy novels that I read these days seem to be dark or romance-based. Alice Will by Ashley Chappell is something refreshing that I've been missing lately - a whimsical fantasy novel in the vein of Diana Wynne Jones.
Now as to whether Alice Will itself is YA, it was kind of hard for me to put a finger on. There were times that it read like a middle grade novel because of the characters and humor, but the writing style definitely pushed it towards being something for a more advanced reader. There were a lot of descriptions that made for a slow build to action, and the word usage and writing style was certainly not juvenile most of the time.
The characters that I brought up a moment ago were very young and fun, and I think Prowler was my favorite. I don't care how they act or what the story is about, but if you give me a talking cat, it's going to be my favorite character. Period. For some reason, he reminded me a bit of Luna and Artemis from the old Sailor Moon TV show. Again, how could I not love a snarky cat?
Something truly unique about Alice Will is the mythology. There are gods and magic, but they aren't any that you typically see. You know, original, not Greek or formulaic fantasy goodness. It is always refreshing to enter and explore a new world, but at the same time, it can be frustrating when the pace slows. (It's slow for me when I don't know what's going on.)
Alice Will by Ashley Chappell was a fun book to read, and I think it will be a hit for teens who enjoy a more romance-free fantasy novel. I think fans of Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and Neil Gaiman's Stardust will enjoy reading this book.
- 3.5/5 Stars -
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received a copy of the novel from the author through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an unbiased review. It has in no way affected the outcome. All expressed opinions are awesome, honest, and courtesy of me....more
Fairy tale retellings are some of my favorite things to read, and I'm pretty sure that middle grade versions of these are the best. That being said, The Wishing Spell did not disappoint. Many childhood favorite fairy tales are prominent in the so-called Land of Stories, and the book was a fun way to find out what happened to the main characters of those stories after their happily ever afters.
The basis of The Wishing Spell is Alex and Conner Bailey being trapped in the Land of Stories and they are travelling the land looking for ingredients for the Wishing Spell in order to get back home. They are as different as day and night - Alex is a brainiac loner who is the model child and student, and Conner is a bit of a slacker with a lot of friends - and forced to work together in order to get home. Unfortunately, it's not the easiest task and to make things more difficult, they are not the only ones looking for the necessary items.
The twins were fun to read about, but it was the side characters from the Land of Stories that stole the show. Goldilocks is a wanted criminal who has been on the lam for years since the bear incident. Little Red Riding Hood is a spoiled queen who fawns over and is in love with the one man she cannot have. The Evil Queen (Snow White's stepmother) had a bit more backstory that really kept me on my toes, and there's not much that I like more than a villain with some depth.
At first I was a little leery of Colfer voicing his own novel until I remembered that he's also an actor and singer. (I don't watch Glee, so that wasn't at the forefront of my mind.) I didn't really like his voice at first, but he really was best for the novel because he sounds like a child himself. There is also something special about an author reading his or her own work because they know the nuances of the language and each character best.
The Wishing Spell was a really cute book, and I'll probably continue with the series. There is nothing like cleansing the palate with a middle grade fairy story after all of the dystopia and science fiction novels that I read.
I'll start off by saying that Magic Marks the Spot is unbelievably, painfully, and wickedly adorable, with my new favorite middle grade character. However, I started this book back in May, which means that it took me approximately seven months to read. I started with an eARC, but I got accosted with All The Life Things and finally had to finish with an audiobook. Let me tell you something - the audiobook is SO GOOD, that you're missing out if you read Magic Marks the Spot any other way.
Hilary Westfield is a saucy young girl who wants no part of High Society and has her heart set on piracy ever since she was a little girl. She was a great heroine, but her sidekick, the gargoyle, stole the show. He wants to be a pirate like Hilary, but he is unfortunately part of the door frame of Hilary's bedroom in the Westfield home. If Hilary had not removed the gargoyle and taken him with her to "finishing school", I would have been forced to find a way to Augusta to have the gargoyle come live with me. How can you not love a statue who dreams of being a pirate and enjoys romance novels? Oh, and he's pretty funny, too!
"This," the gargoyle announced, "is completely undignified." He spit out a strand of curly yellow hair that had detached itself from his wig. "I'd rather eat beets."
"I, for one, think you look radiant." Hilary smoothed the shiny green fabric around the gargoyle's torso and adjusted the seashells on his top. "You're the most beautiful mermaid I've ever seen."
The gargoyle snorted. "If anyone sees me looking like this, my name is mud back in the quarry."
- Location 1785 of 3344, eARC
I must admit that it is a LOT funnier with Katherine Kellgren reading the lines, because, hey - who can beat a British accent? (The answer to that is always "no one".) She is able to execute each of the characters fabulously, but my favorite voice was for the gargoyle, which was usually dreamy or a horrified half-whine. It was so cute, and I wish the gargoyle lived with me (and spoke in Katherine Kellgren's voice). To the point, Kellgren executed each character's voice well, with each being distinct, and I was able to tell who was talking before it was pointed out by the he said/she said business.
The main problem that I had with the story is something that I should not have let bother me at all, as Magic Marks the Spot is a middle grade novel. There weren't a lot of twists or surprises in the novel. As an adult reader of adult books (okay, and young adult), I expected there to be intrigues and twists. There aren't, but it just makes the book that much more accessible to reluctant readers. I'm even going to attempt to get my daughter to read it, and she's as reluctant as they come.
Magic Marks the Spot is a very cute book with an amazing audio version that you should definitely check out. It'll be a adventure-filled, swashbuckling good time!
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the book for reviewing purposes from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own....more
Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard by Lars Guignard is a super fun audiobook that I listened to over the course of about two weeks. It is about two kids who go to school together who happen to run into each other in India while traveling with their parents. They weren't really friends at the start of the novel, but we see the progression of their relationship. (Not THAT kind of relationship - they're eleven.) It reminds me of The 39 Clues series mixed with magical realism.
>Zoe is a very sweet character that I think a lot of girls will relate to. She's the kind of kid that doesn't get into trouble, has a great relationship with her mom, and tries to do the right thing. Zoe knows that she was adopted, but she's not quite ready to talk to her mom about that yet. Zak, on the other hand, is a little troublemaker who may or may not be acting out because of his parents' recent separation. He's not a bad kid, but he is most definitely the reason that the two of them end up in the situation that they find themselves in - at every point in the novel. Together they are like yin and yang and make a nice team. The baddie characters - namely Monkey Man and Rhino Butt (hilarious!) - are not terribly developed, but I don't think they're supposed to be too terrifying. Mukta and Amala were the other main side characters who led Zoe and Zak and gave them all of the background information they needed for their impromptu quest.
The world-building in Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard was a lot of fun to read. I've never been to India, but with the descriptions that were provided in the novel, I could almost see it in my mind, and it was done in a way that wouldn't be over the heads of Guignard's intended audience. In addition to the beautiful scenery of the book, the magic and mythology used in the novel was explained well. The integration of the Indian gods was interesting, and I think kids might be interested enough by them to go seek more information. I had no trouble understanding why certain events were happening or why characters were acting in a particular way. I didn't like that Zoe's background was never elaborated on, but I think that is because Guignard is trying to lure us into reading the next book in the series. (I will.)
Bailey Carlson's narration of Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard is easily one of the best parts of the novel. It was very easy to distinguish which characters were speaking, and the various accents that she used for different characters was very well done. I loved to hear her speak Amala's parts because her Indian accent was lovely.
Overall, I think Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard is a great addition to the world of middle grade novels that young readers and adults alike will love. It is neither a "girl book" or "boy book", so all kids will potentially enjoy reading it. I recommend this to lovers of adventure novels and readers of The 39 Clues.
- 3.5/5 Stars -
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received a copy of the novel from the publisher or author through CBB Book Promotions in exchange for an unbiased review. It has in no way affected the outcome. All expressed opinions are awesome, honest, and courtesy of me. ...more
Neversink by Barry Wolverton is the story of Lockley J. Puffin and what happens after a nasty little owl goes on a power trip and breaks the peace between Tytonia and the auks' home island of Neversink. The story is set far in the past, as described by the following passage:
The continents had formed and separated but were covered with forests. The dinosaurs were long gone. Humans did not yet roam the earth, much less rule it. (Neversink, pg 2)
Animals communicated... Okay, talked, to one another, but the book centers on the birds. The peace between Neversink and Tytonia is uneasy, with grudges still held from the Cod Wars of a previous generation. When Rozbell the pygmy owl schemes his way into becoming king of the owls, he does away with that peace and subjugates the auks of Neversink.
What initially drew me to Neversink was Sam Nielson's beautiful cover. (I don't think it can be said enough how important it is to have a cover that will pull readers to a book.) Luckily for readers, there are plenty of black and white illustrations by Nielson throughout the book. They strengthen the story by giving the children (and adults) who read it a good visualization of the various animals. There is a handy guide at the beginning of the novel that shows an illustration of each of the birds mentioned in Neversink, as well as a brief description of them. I, personally, cannot tell any owls apart except for the snowy owl and was completely at a loss to what an auk looked like, so it was helpful to me. A handy map of Neversink and the surrounding area is also included in the book.
As for the story itself in Neversink, I am a bit torn. I learned new things about the birds, the Artic, and the ocean, but I think all of this information took away from the story for me. There was no information dumping, so to speak, but I still had trouble getting into it. However, the mythology Wolverton created for the creatures was fascinating and imaginative.
The characters themselves were cute, and their interactions were fun to read. Lockley was a bird torn between not making waves (a motto of Neversink's birds that causes them a lot of problems in Neversink) and doing what was right. He looked to his friends, Egbert the Walrus and Ruby the Hummingbird, and the Great Auk for advice and assistance when he had a problem. Egbert is an intelligent, and a little uppity, walrus who wants to write the history of Neversink and its stories. Ruby is a hilarious little bird who migrates to Neversink each year, and makes pop culture metaphors and references that no one understands. (This was set thousands of years ago, remember?) My favorite character would have to be Lucy, Lockley's wife. She is pregnant with their egg and is not one to let the owls completely take advantage of her. Although her cooking may have been a catalyst for Rozbell's actions, her own actions serve as a catalyst later in the book.
Neversink is a novel about standing up for what is right, conservation, and the importance of friendship. This is a book that will appeal to both boys and girls who at a "middle grade" age. Young readers will learn about birds, their behavior, and environment, while enjoying the antics of the characters and a unique story....more
I read this book over the holidays, and it's fitting. I knew that I had to be the Grinch because my heart grew two sizes the day I finished reading Destiny, Rewritten. It felt as if it would burst right out of my chest because I was felt with such overwhelming happiness and love for the characters, who are some of my all-time literary favorites. There is not one person in the book that I did not want to scoop up and squeeze into a bear hug.
Destiny, Rewritten taught me something that I have been overlooking about myself - I LOVE stories that make references to other stories or pieces of pop culture. I found myself giggling several times throughout the book because of arguments that Emily Elizabeth Davis and Wavey St. Clair, her best friend, would have about female roles in Star Wars, Little House on the Prairie, or even paper towel commercials. This was a perfect little running joke (it has to be a joke because it was so hilarious!) to go along with Emily while she searched to find her lost book, unknown father, and herself. Emily's letters to Danielle Steele and love of romance novels' happy endings are also so brilliantly woven into the story. There are also tree-huggers, used bookstores, a cashier from Goodwill who is all things awesome, and more minor characters who kept me beaming.
My absolute favorite part of the book, however, was that each child in the story was encouraged to be their very best at whatever they did. The children were supportive of each other, and not one of the adults ever treated any of them as anything less than the intelligent, nerdy, brilliant balls of potential they were. Yes, there are bullies and adults telling kids, "There's no way you can do that!" in the real world, but there are so many people who are the polar opposite of that, and I think the book is a lovely homage to them. Cecily Ann likes to give science reports in poem form, but no one really gives her a hard time. Montie is an eight year old little boy who is counting the days until he can join the army, but nothing is said to dissuade his dreams or soldier-in-training behavior. Connor Kelly, Emily's crush, even had an entire conversation with her in haiku during English class. I seriously want to live in their neighborhood and be friends with all of them.
This is far and away one of the best books that I read in 2012. Yes, it is contemporary (which I usually avoid), but Destiny, Rewritten is full of the magic of innocence and childhood. It reminds us that it's okay to be yourself, it's okay to chase your dreams, and sometimes your happy ending is where you least expect it.
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received a digital ARC of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected the outcome of my review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own....more
I picked up this book as a part of the Magnificently Magic Read-A-Thon* both because it was a book I had been wanting to read and because of how perfectly it fit the criteria. Being as it weighs in at 228 pages and is assuredly lower middle grade might have had something to do with choosing it.
Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King is the first book in The Guardians series. It takes place after The Man in the Moon, which is the first book in the picture book companion series, The Guardians of Childhood, also written by William Joyce. (It's a quick read, and I recommend that you read it first.) The Nightmare King, Pitch, escapes his imprisonment after the inadvertent actions of a moonbeam releases an elfish boy made of light encased in a dagger in Pitch's heart. This sets of a chain of events that is the focus of this.
I'm not sure if I've ever said this on the blog, but I have a special place in my heart for middle grade novels. There is rarely any gore, minimal depressive events (before you say anything, I believe Harry Potter 5-7 is YA), and a lovely, magical sense of fun whether there is literal magic or not. Nicholas St. North gives us just that. Joyce & Geringer brilliantly draw the reader into the story, while setting up the world in the novel for the entire series. Where the picture book, The Man in the Moon introduced the reader to Mim, AKA Tsar Lunar, in this novel we meet Nicholas St. North (Santa, perhaps?), Ombric the Wizard, and Katherine, a little foundling girl in Ombric's care. Nightlight, a character and friend of Mim's in The Man in the Moon, makes a reappearance in this novel. The first half of the story is mostly devoted to world-building (which is rich), but the action is exciting once it comes.
This would be a fantastic story for fans of fairy tales or reimaginings, and I highly recommend this book for reluctant readers. There are illustrations scattered throughout the book, and the pacing is gripping and fast enough to hold on to those frustratingly short attention spans. There is also the film adaptation, The Rise of the Guardians, that can be used as a tool to bring readers to Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King and vice versa.
*I hand write most of my reviews before I type them up and put them on the blog. Yes, I wrote this review three months ago. I will neither confirm nor deny whether there are any other, older reviews in my notebook.
Zuto: The Adventures of a Computer Virus is the middle-grade debut novel of Udi Aharoni. The story is set inside of a boy named Tom's computer and follows a Zutrog-33 virus named Zuto.
The Writing of Zuto really made reading the book a breeze. The style is definitely aimed at a younger audience with short chapters and cute illustrations every ten pages or so. There is also a "Zutopedia" in the back that defines some of the computer terms that are used in the course of the book. The characters are funny, and Zuto is charming enough to make a virus a sympathetic character. The only drawback that I saw with the novel is that it may be a little too simple for the age group it is aimed at, but this one is not a major concern because most children (like adults) like an occasional easy read, and Zuto sneaks a little educational material into the story. 3.5/5 Stars
Udi Aharoni's World-Weaving in Zuto is fantastic. The entire story takes place in less than a minute (though much longer for the characters), and it turns the inner-workings of a computer into a world that easy to imagine and that makes how a computer works more understandable. There is a "Firewall" that is by the port, that is described as being by the sea much like an actual port. The anti-virus program is similar to a police officer, and he patrols the Mathematical Co-Processor on a motorcycle. I personally am not a computer expert, so reading Zuto gave even me, an adult, a greater insight into the way computers operate. 4.5/5 Stars
The Pace of the novel is very fast and can easily keep a middle-grade reader on board. The events unfold quickly, and a lot happens in this very little book. The chapters are short, but they pack a lot of heat. 4/5 Stars
The Extra Magic of Zuto is the way Aharoni and Troitsa take a subject that many would find boring and present it in a way that is appealing. While computers are an essential part of my life, I've never had much interest in knowing how they work or why they do what they do. As long as I was able to get online and my research was kept safe, I did not need anything more from my computer. However, reading Zuto taught me a few things, but mostly it made concepts that went right over my head before a little more tangible and understandable. 4/5 Stars
To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received the book from literary publicity firm, JKS Communications, in exchange for an honest review as a part of the book tour. This has in no way affected the outcome of my review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own....more