In a way, this is the most interesting and compelling of all the books in the series. The pr 3.5 Stars
“Reality's what other people dream for you.”
In a way, this is the most interesting and compelling of all the books in the series. The prose remains lyrical (flecked with largely effective metaphors), the pacing is a bit faster, and the plot more eventful overall. Its appeal is largely a result of the fact that it centers heavily on Ronan Lynch. Ronan is perhaps the most fascinating and complex character, and his capabilities feature prominently as he stumbles into himself.
On the surface, Ronan comes across as a basic bad-boy archetype. But even in the first book, readers would have suspected the front he puts up is more protective façade than reality. His shady-dealing father was murdered, and the terms of his will destroyed all remaining normalcy in the domestic lives of his three sons. And with the catatonic incapacitation of his mother after his father’s death, Ronan is effectively an orphan. He is bitterly hostile toward his older brother, while doggedly devoted to his younger brother and his posse in Henrietta. He’s sympathetic in spite of the jagged edges and because of them.
“He was brother to a liar and brother to an angel, son of a dream and son of a dreamer.”
My only complaint about the presentation of Ronan would be the portrayal of the Catholic angle. I could buy that he had a lot more depth than he let on outwardly, but his supposed reverence for church felt more like an ironic quirk than an authentic piece of his identity. True, plenty of church-goers (of all types) view faith through a more strictly ritualistic/traditional lens than they do a personal spiritual experience. But no part of his alleged spiritual exposure seems to occur to Ronan internally at any point—despite the fact that his family had been faithful mass-goers his whole life. Not in prayer, perspective, or even passing metaphor.
As for the other characters who developed on the sidelines this go around…
-My patience with Blue waned considerably compared with the first book. Her wishy-washy indirectness with Adam was tiring and irksome—with little justification to coat the already hard-to-swallow pill of her attitude. She seemed to stubbornly want to have a more-than-friends relationship with Adam, if only to prove that Gansey wasn’t doomed to be her true love. (Or just plain doomed?) Yet, she was never curious about Adam—never asked him personal questions, or did any of the things that would help a sensible person get to know another. As a result, she was oblivious as to the domestic abuse Adam had been suffering his whole life, and didn’t have much of an empathy response when it did come to light.
-And while Adam himself is certainly deserving of pity, he also proves frustratingly passive, bland, and relationally implosive. It’s hard to root for someone who won’t root for themselves. Also, whatever he did in the first book when he made a “deal” with cabeswater seemed to fall by the wayside. I’m still not clear on what that’s supposed to entail, in terms of the worldbuilding.
-Gansey’s gradually forming affinity toward Blue was a refreshingly slow burn potential for romance, which valiantly strives not to turn itself into a stereotypical love triangle. Gansey continues to be a noble, refreshingly nice-guy character—if not benignly obsessive and woe-is-me affluent.
-Noah is, hands down, my favorite dead MC. He’s kind of like the adorable mascot of the Raven Boys.
-Kavinsky. As crazed psychopaths go, he didn’t really do anything for me.
-The Gray Man. As near-sociopaths go, I’m intrigued. Not sold on the love-interest twist, however.
Side Note: I’m starting to wonder and hope this color-related naming thing is going somewhere: Blue, Graywaren, Greenmantle, Gray Man…
I’m still happily rounding up on my star rating because the dream-retrieval aspect was so original and enthrallingly laid out. I have to give Steifvater props—I’ve never seen this before, and I liked the ethereal way in which she portrayed it. ...more
In this informative introductory guide, LEGO borrows heavily from NASA images and taps a comic-style to walk kids through our solar system—and beyond.
Planet stats include: Material composition, Distance from the sun, number of probe missions, and notation on any existing moons or rings. Most planets receive at least a two-page spread, although Uranus and Neptune share presentation space. Sections are also devoted to the sun, constellations, Earth’s moon, the asteroid belt, space suits and space walks, Voyager 1, and Exoplanets. Fans of Pluto will be glad to find that the recently downgraded dwarf planet does receive a strong nod, along with a reference to the controversy.
Although a cast of LEGO characters is featured sometimes in comic panels or scattered about on nearly every page, there isn’t an actual story going on—just implied shenanigans and semi-amusing commentary. I was concerned my kids might find this too random, but they seemed to enjoy the regular breaks in between factual tidbits. The actual photos vary widely in quality, but while this may snag the attention of adults, it isn’t likely to disrupt the learning process for the intended age range (6-8 years). However, the recurring LEGO allusion to intelligent alien life may result in confused impressions that parents will want to be present to clear up.
All in all, a busy-yet-fun tool for introducing concepts of space exploration to kids grades 1-3. Even parents are likely to pick up a number of interesting factoids they may not have previously known—particularly regarding NASA’s equipment and exploration efforts. ...more
Yet another book in which H.G. Wells proves he isn’t considered one of the fathers of the science fiction genre for nothing.
If you’re hoping for a syYet another book in which H.G. Wells proves he isn’t considered one of the fathers of the science fiction genre for nothing.
If you’re hoping for a sympathetic character to connect with and cheer on, you may be disappointed. (Well, unless you’re a sociopath…) Wells didn’t seem to have much use for such sentiments in this particular narrative. Our main character is an obsessive, overly ambitious medical student named Griffin, who was willing to go to any lengths for notoriety. In experimenting on himself, he’s had groundbreaking success… but he also doesn’t seem to have any grasp on reversing said success.
Great follow-through--poor forethought. (Let’s just be glad this wasn’t a story about cloning dinosaurs. >.>)
We meet Griffin as he’s working on reversing what he’s done to himself, all while living in isolation and trying to pass himself off as some sort of horrific accident victim who has need of head-to-toe bandaging. This is one of the rare exceptions in which an author can get away with a certain lack of vivid physical description:
What does the invisible man look like? Well, seeing as he’s invisible already at the start of the story, it’s kind of a moot point. Not until we get to the vaguely plausible sounding reflections on Griffin’s experiments does that fact that he has albinism come into play. (His natural lack of pigmentation providing the ultimate basis for his experimental “success.”)
As it turns out, being invisible has a wide range of drawbacks. Not the least of these being the fact that it requires total nudity (regardless of inclement weather), and the inconvenience of being untenable if the subject hasn’t fully digested their most recent meal. That’s right… wait at least two hours after eating before swimming attempting to traipse about invisible.
“I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got.”
The pacing starts off rapid and littered with intrigue, but seems to slow after the first 25% of the story. The lack of endearing traits in any characters leaves this work more plot-driven than some readers may prefer, but that’s nothing unusual to the time period in which it was written. The buildup toward the end did become a bit tiring, as the response to the invisible man rampage seemed altogether incompetent on numerous occasions. (Really… nobody thought to throw a bag of flour in his general direction? Didn’t these people watch cartoons?! Oh, wait… >.>)
Minor Spoiler: It is a lack of revenue which ultimately leads to Griffin’s desperation and undoing. (Sadly, this tactic never seemed to occur to him:)
Once again LEGO and DC deliver with this simple-yet-valuable storyline, featuring beloved characters and stylized artwork.
The Teen Titans are having some trouble working together as a team, so Batman decides to drop them off at a mysterious new Carnival in town and let them do some cooperative investigating. There’s something not at all right about the carnival workers. But the Titans may be a little too distracted by the rides and games to realize what’s going on until it’s too late…
Coming in at 32 pages, this book is perfect for kids in the 4-8 target range. Its structure and format are basic enough that it can function as the comic book version of training wheels, allowing beginner readers to easily follow along with the plot and dialogue. My 7 year old son read it to me the first time through with great gusto—and I was able to encourage him along with only a few nudges over unfamiliar word pronunciation or which order to read things in.
The Teen Titans angle provided an immediate hook in our case—as the existing TV series is generally appropriate for this age group, and their recognition of the characters creates an immediate connection. The LEGO elements ensure color and expression without too much risk of nightmare-inducing scariness.
A perfect read for young fans of LEGO, DC Comics, or Teen Titans, and beyond painless for parents hoping to instill a fondness for reading. ...more
A light urban fantasy—venturing into the unsettling concept of mind control and the usurping of free will.
Aspen Quick comes from a long line of mind-reading thieves—born with the ability to rummage about in other people’s heads and steal whatever suits them. Feelings, memories, motivational drives… even physical characteristics. His family has a long-standing habit of “feeding” these pieces they’ve taken from others to the cliff overlooking his grandmother’s house. Aspen has always been told that if his family fails to appease the cliff it will fall and crush not only his family, but also the tiny town of Three Peaks. He’s never really concerned himself over the whole thing, as he spends most of the year living in New York. But with the recent death of his cousin, his exceptional abilities are in high demand—threatening to interfere with his summer vacation plans…
While it’s being billed as a paranormal suspense, there’s actually little by way of suspenseful moments. There’s some intrigue involving missing memories and manipulated emotions, and a spot of action toward the very end. But aside from that, its feel is closer to a contemporary teen drama with mild paranormal elements.
What I Liked:
I loved the title of this book, and the cover image so well suited that initial impression of dark whimsy. It sets you up for the expectation of an atypical story; and that is indeed what it delivers.
The writing itself is competent—told entirely in past-tense (from the male protagonist anti-hero’s first-person POV.) Between certain chapters there are “Before” memories interspersed, which serve to fill readers in on previous incidents in Aspen’s life. They range from recollections on his father’s abilities, to romantic near-misses, to reflections on his interactions with now-deceased cousin Heather. These are inserted well enough not to cause too much disruption to the overall flow of the storytelling.
I also appreciate that there was a concerted effort to examine the experiences and necessary unpleasantries that contribute to the construction of human compassion. Though readers must wait until the very end of the book for this moral payoff, they can rest assured that it will get there eventually. The book places readers in the unique position of hoping for consequential come-uppance, rather than a desire to see the protagonist achieve their desires.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Aspen turned out to be one of the more unlikeable main characters I’ve ever encountered. Not only is he an arrogant narcissist, he’s borderline sociopathic—lacking in emotion that most healthy people could relate to. Rather than coming across as “smart,” as the blurb suggested, he instead seems to spend most of the story missing the obvious and lacking base curiosity. He excessively describes females as “hot,” and his favored expletive is G-D (which he uses multiple times per chapter, and at the slightest provocation.) It’s a bold move to place readers solely in the head of a character who is difficult to root for. We do receive the sense that his immaturity and self-absorption may not be entirely his fault, but a fleshing out of that aspect arrives well after page 200.
Aspen’s tag-along friends, Brandy and Theo, also come across as obnoxious and emotionally vapid. His aunt lacked depth outside of angry grief, his grandmother was more of a background effigy, and his parents—while largely introduced through Aspen’s memories—didn’t quite achieve three-dimensional status. The only real hope for a sympathetic character is found in Leah: Sanctimonious, super-cool alternative girl and former best friend to Aspen’s late cousin, Heather. But this hope gradually wears off as we learn the reasons behind the dissolving of their friendship, and the ethically malignant bargain Leah tried to strike (essentially using Heather’s ability to bend someone to Leah’s will in the same way Aspen did.)
Characterization bottom line: I couldn’t find anyone I cared about or wanted to root for in this story. (Unless you count Aspen’s cousin, Heather… but she’s dead from the beginning, so there’s no logical call for any emotional investment there.)
The world-building started out intriguing as a concept, but unfortunately seemed to fall by the wayside as the story progressed. Aspen describes is ability as “reaching” inside a person (or object connected to a person) and taking a particular trait away. But the process is vague enough so as to quickly become unmemorable.
Content Note: Teen sex is depicted casually but non-graphically, and prophylactic use is clearly mentioned. Some readers are likely to find it deplorable and deeply unsettling that the main character in this book uses mind-altering trickery to elicit and maintain a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. This goes well beyond mere manipulation and dishonesty. Aspen uses his inherited abilities to permanently extract natural feelings, thoughts, and even instincts from his target "girlfriend," thus allowing him to take sexual advantage of her compromised mental state. Granted, there is a free-will moral to the story that’s partially explored toward the end, though this reader didn’t personally feel it went deep enough to expunge (or satisfactorily address) the yuck-factor.
This is perhaps a more ideal read for those interested in ethical quandaries, the “what ifs” of mind control, and/or main characters that flow heavy in the anti-heroic vein. ...more
An enchantingly vibrant storybook combined with a range of arts and activities.
Emily Jones is called out of her world and into Elvendale, to the aidAn enchantingly vibrant storybook combined with a range of arts and activities.
Emily Jones is called out of her world and into Elvendale, to the aid of The Dragon Queen. The Elf Witch, Ragana, has captured the queen and is after her clutch of dragon eggs. It’s going to take Emily and her elf friends to protect the baby dragons. But can they save The Dragon Queen?
Featuring exceptional jewel-toned artwork with a distinctly ethereal feel, Dragon Adventures holds appeal for both boys and girls in the 6-10 age range. Activities include: a map maze, matching, coordinate marking, coloring, decoding, spot-the-differences, personality quiz, and instructions for the owl perch LEGO set that’s included with the book.
The story segments of this workbook are told through a blend of traditional illustration and standard children’s book layout and a comic book format. The presentation is effective, and kept my 6 and 7 year old fully engaged and interested throughout. The only problem I encountered was the lack of ending satisfaction. It was disappointing to get through all 32 pages and be left with a cliffhanger “To be continued…” (An issue I haven’t seen before with LEGO books of this sort in the Star Wars and NEXO Knight veins.) For readers who prefer a sense of story completion, you’ll be compelled to purchase at least one more workbook in this line in order to find out what happens.
A promising storyline, but sadly unfinished. Buyer be aware. ...more
This book is a light dystopian YA, with a persistently Urban Fantasy feel.
An unmentioned number of years after a plague of unknown origins has decimaThis book is a light dystopian YA, with a persistently Urban Fantasy feel.
An unmentioned number of years after a plague of unknown origins has decimated humanity, the human genome is in shambles. People continue dying off starting in their late teens, and those unfortunate enough not to be able to afford genetic modifications are referred to as “Lasters.” Those who can afford life-extending alterations are called “Splicers.” And then there are “True Born”--those born with a wide range of animal-like traits that make them somehow immune to the plague and, in some case, super-human in abilities.
The story is told entirely in first-person present-tense, from the POV of almost 18-year-old Lucy Fox—a wealthy girl with extremely powerful parents, who also happens to be the more reserved of a set of identical twins (originally conjoined at the toe). Lucy and her sister, Margot, have a semi-telepathic bond they’ve never told anyone about. So when Margot disappears, Lucy is the only one who knows how to find her. But Lucy’s talents are limited to her sheltered high-society upbringing, and their enigmatic new security team may be the girls’ only hope for long-term survival in a world poised between dying and “evolving.”
What I Liked:
The premise was intriguing enough to draw me in initially. It manages to resemble a sort of post-plague dystopian X-men, (but with more causative ambiguity.) As such, the action scenes and transformation-related instances were fairly cinematic and engaging.
I also have to give the writing credit—it’s difficult to pull off first-person present-tense without the artificial immediacy becoming a nagging irritant (in this reader’s opinion). The prose imparts a bleak, ethereal tone that suits the overall theme quite nicely.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Unfortunately, readers may have some trouble forming emotional connectivity to most of the characters in this story. No one particularly stood out as likeable or sympathetic --though this may be related to how little background readers are given on anyone. (Little to no mention of Lucy’s personal interests, hobbies, desires for her future, or formative memories. Base backstory on Jared doesn’t appear until page 185, and even then the info divulged may not be enough for readers to root for him.) Lucy, our only point of view character, proves again and again to be whiney, slow on the uptake, and more of a liability than a help to most situations.
The insta-lust based romance between Lucy and Jared continued on to be unconvincingly lacking in emotional development, and the interactions between them at times bordered on romanticized abuse. Lots of the hero lording power over the heroine, general manhandling, continuous belittling disrespect… At one point he even grabs her hard enough that his nails make her bleed. (All this while the heroine remains a largely passive and reactionary without driving anything involving the plot.)
*Lesser-But-Related Complaint: Early on, Jared bestows on Lucy the aggravatingly unoriginal mock-endearment of “Princess.” This appeared often enough that it grated on my tolerance and hindered any remaining chance of me caring about him.
Lucy and Margot’s parents aren’t simply negligent as parents, they also function more like one-dimensionally self-serving plot devices. I had very little sense for them being real people—more like narcissistic and malignant human traffickers at the very top of the post-apocalyptic pay scale. The father, especially, executed logic-lacking choices often enough that it made little sense how he could have managed to maintain the level of power he supposedly possessed.
There was a lot of promising potential here, but answers to most questions are evidently being saved for later installments. I don’t recommend going into this first book expecting closure.
This may be an option for shapeshifter Urban Fantasy fans who prefer their worldbuilding spare, and their heroes on the sensual-yet-erratically-mean side. ...more
While this book in the series takes place in Narnia, the feel is very different from TLTWATW, Prince Caspian, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is thWhile this book in the series takes place in Narnia, the feel is very different from TLTWATW, Prince Caspian, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is the only book in the series where the main characters are native rather than English children. (Susan, Edmund, and Lucy all feature, but more so as side characters--and not until after readers are well acquainted with our primary protagonist: Shasta.)
As the story opens in Calormen (a country to the southwest of Narnia), a baby is found in a boat with a dead man and then subsequently raised by a fisherman. We jump ahead then to the young teen boy, who the fisherman named Shasta, as he overhears the abusive man he'd thought was his father negotiating to sell him to a Calormene nobleman. As he awaits his fate, the nobleman's horse speaks to him--revealing himself to be a Narnia horse who was stolen from his home while he was still a foal. The horse (whose name is Bree) warns Shasta that his master will treat him cruelly, and suggests they escape together. Shasta agrees, and the pair begin a tense journey northward toward Narnia. Along the way they join forces with another fleeing pair--a Calormene aristocrat girl named Aravis (who is avoiding an arranged marriage) and Narnian horse named Hwin.
I personally found this book more continually fast-paced than others in the series. It adds to the overall worldbuilding of Narnia and its lore, but can stand fairly well all on its own. Themes of loyalty, courage, humility, identity, and searching for true belonging all ring strong as universally applicable.
Aravis is a difficult character to like initially, she's so proud and superior in her mannerisms toward Shasta. But her flaws are gradually dealt with, and her character growth becomes ultimately satisfying.
The dynamic between the horses and their riders is perhaps the most enchanting element of the tale. The variable species perspectives was a subtly handled empathy-building point. And the cinematic-quality writing conjured vivid imagery neither I nor my children will soon forget. ...more
An action-dense sci-fi full of politics and intrigue—with strong crossover appeal for fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy works along th3.5 Stars
An action-dense sci-fi full of politics and intrigue—with strong crossover appeal for fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy works along the same lines as The Queen Of The Tearling trilogy.
Set nearly two millennia into the future, the story is told in first-person past-tense entirely from the perspective of Hailimi Mecedes Jaya Bristol; a runaway “princess.” It starts out with high action, and the pacing never lets up for too long throughout the “headstrong, reluctant ruler” premise.
Twenty years ago, Hail fled her home planet—and all her royal responsibilities—to hunt her father’s killer. She never found the person responsible, but she did find a taste for the gun-runner life. So when the Indranan Empire hauls her back home, literally kicking and screaming, she’s in no mood to exchange her freedom for the leadership her people so desperately need. But not only can she no longer return to the life and name she’d made for herself, but someone is determined to prevent her from ascending to the throne she never wanted.
Disclaimer: This reader originally screened Behind The Throne for potential crossover appeal to a YA audience. While the tone and content are closer to New Adult, the belated coming-of-age aspects could potentially be appropriate for select mature YA readers. (Abundant strong but in-context language; casual sexual commentary, but no graphic depictions.)
What I Liked:
The Indranan Empire is a true matriarchy—complete with the open regard for males as the lesser of the two sexes. But it isn’t merely the novelty of a female-dominated society that held my attention, it was the plausibility of the way in which it came about. (When one sex proves significantly more prone to the sanity-destroying side effects of space travel, it makes sense that the more impervious half of the species would take over in the realm of judgment calls.) The issue of gender-based discrimination was handled with a subtle and believable keenness, ratcheting up the conflict in all the right places. The author could have easily gone heavy-handed in the reversal on the historical norm, but she didn’t.
Personally, this reader very much enjoyed the distinctly Indian aesthetic and cultural elements, along with the consistently personalized Hindu references. It's refreshing to see a book buck the religiously sterilized mainstream "norm" and add that extra layer of depth to the work. Hail’s character was made all the more convincible—and relatable—by the inclusion of spirituality into her inner struggle.
I also found the Tracker concept intriguing--however inefficient the idea of somehow bonding two militaristic hunters together so thoroughly that the death of one will make the other go insane. It was interesting to have it openly suggested that their close proximity and mental link would commonly result in a sexual relationship as well--regardless of their genders. I would have liked to see more clarification on this partnering process, but that is perhaps being reserved for future books.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track especially well with the emotionally disconnected MC until well past the story’s middle. Initially it seemed like the idea of having killed the guy she was casually sleeping with gave Hail little or no regret. (Her only real attachment seemed to be to her ship, Sophie.) But as the story progressed, it began to sound more and more like she was actually attached to Portis. Attachment eventually progressed to marital-level love, upon ongoing reflection. This unfolded in a way that felt more like an afterthought than a realization.
As much as I like tough women, Hail fell more into the callous range than I generally find sympathetic in a heroine. The potential YA appeal here would be primarily in that Hail’s personal growth seems to have been stunted at the age she ran away from home. For the first half of the book she behaves more like an angst-addled 18-year-old than a 38-year-old. This stubborn immaturity does ease up, but this requires a good deal of patience on the part of readers.
While the plot may drive some readers more than the character arc—and enough questions are left to justify the need for a sequel—there wasn’t much by way of twists or surprises.
Minor Note: The two primary expletives (i.e. "Bugger me" and "Holy cowsh*t") felt somewhat overused, and did little to enhance the book’s futuristic setting.
On the whole, this is a solid debut with a great deal of potential. An advisable try for flexible fantasy enthusiasts or fans of lighter sci-fi. ...more
Packed with techno-medieval adventure and LEGO-memorable characters, this book is perfect for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-graders who may still feel a bit intimidated by heftier chapter books.
Teamwork is the central theme of this particular Knights tale. The book holds 32 pages of story and still-shot imagery from the NEXO Knights television show, breaking down text into bite-sized paragraphs with manageable but not overly simplistic vocab. The origin of The Fortrex is also touched on with somewhat humorous flair (for readers and show enthusiasts who may not have known that it actually began as Ye Olde Royal RV.)
Fast-paced action and a wide variety of character personalities come together in a story that will likely hold the attention of any child between the ages of 6 and 8. And for those fans who happen to have the free Merlock 2.0 app, there are shields within this book that can be scanned to unlock various powers.
Another engaging story for LEGO enthusiasts of all ages. ...more
Aiming for the magically inclined, this Middle Grade urban fantasy feels like the start of a series while standing well on its own.
Wandmaker is told in third-person from multiple viewpoints, though readers spend the majority of time in the head of the primary young protagonist: Henry Leach. Henry is the 7th son of a 7th son—and from the get-go is clearly a catalyst to the larger story arc. He is kind-natured and ambitious, but largely clueless as to what he’s getting himself into. (Some may appreciate the resulting learn-as-he-goes approach taken with the storytelling.) The vocabulary usage is strong, and the subtle south-eastern Native American elements (more prominent in the 2nd half) add a unique angle of approach.
What I Liked:
The most robust part of this tale was, by far, the intricacies paid to the creation of wands—including the personalizing and variations thereof. The author initially gained notoriety with the 2006 release of The Wandmaker’s Guidebook, an interactive book and wand-assembly kit. Wandmaker seems to present as an inventive effort to back the existing guidebook with lore.
Another plus to this story was the growth of the brother/sister relationship. The progress that Henry and his younger sister make, in both a familial and complementary sense, is significant and well developed. (Which is quite the relief, as readers may spend the first third of this book wanting to throw Brianna out a window.)
What Didn’t Work For Me:
As one might guess by the cover, it’s difficult not to compare this book to Harry Potter. Although, the feel of it is closer to Fablehaven meets the American version of Harry Potter--minus the wizarding school and a large majority of the world-within-a-world. (An extra-special boy with no idea of his chosen-one status, annoying younger sister sidekick, evil magical overlord with a heinous plan, spells that go terribly wrong out of user-ignorance, etc.) Instead you get a crotchety old man in a castle, who loosely heads up a group that adamantly refers to themselves as “Wandbearers” rather than wizards. Harry Potter IS mentioned by name and its author alluded to by the characters within this book, but primarily with the intent of emphasizing all that existing pop-culture got “wrong” about magic.
Henry Leach isn’t an orphan, though for the vast majority of this book his parents are basically a non-factor. Despite the fact that they both have been involved in the magical side of their reality, they’ve more or less left Henry to figure some distressingly dangerous things out all on his own. Initially I thought there must be a reason for this trial-by-fire parenting style, but near the end when some attempt was made by Henry’s mother to assure him she’d done the best she could, I couldn’t find the explanations for familial non-disclosure at all satisfying.
Side Note: Unfortunately, it truly chaffed at me to see yet another example of albinism being used as the prominent trait of a one-dimensional villain. The albino mutation is portrayed negatively enough in literature and pop-culture (in this reader’s opinion).
On the whole, a serviceable option for those insatiable light fantasy fans. ...more
The monstrous narrative of an evil book, with all the techno-medieval flair you’d expect from LEGO NEXO Knights.
This is a sort of exceedingly and unabashedly non-objective guide to the NEXO Knights universe—depicted almost entirely from the primary bad guy(er…book?)’s point of view. Its primary function is to introduce readers to the wide range of monsters that are at the command of The Book of Monsters. Each receives a two-page tongue-in-cheek spread including art, descriptions, job title, likes, dislikes, favorite quote, and little known facts (when applicable).
The artwork is abundant and gorgeous. Rather than using still shots from the show or of the toy figures themselves, the book contains a wide array of detailed hand-drawn sketches, playful “notes,” and watercolor-esque scenes—all giving both the sense of concept art and vivid depictions on the order of a D&D handbook. At 96 pages, this hardback is of exceptional quality.
My only hesitation with this book is the overwhelmingly negative tone. Of course that’s to be expected, given the POV and subject matter. My 6 and 7-year-old read it with me in 4 sessions; and while some of the monsters really sparked their interest, the mocking of good guys and overall orneriness of the narration didn’t seem to sit well with them over time. (They weren’t scared of it, but they weren’t excited about it either.) Margin notations quoting Merlock 2.0 provided some relief—as did various diagrams and bonus info meant to add variety to the overall content.
A clever reference for kids who already love NEXO Knights, LEGOS, or genre-fused artwork. ...more
I was a little surprised at how well I liked this book, given the languidness of the pacing and lack of answeWindily intriguing and pleasantly eerie.
I was a little surprised at how well I liked this book, given the languidness of the pacing and lack of answers delivered by the ending. (I should preface this by saying I listened to the audio book, and Patton does a phenomenal job with bringing the voices and characters to life. Also, Stiefvater went the impressive and spot-on impactful extra mile by creating an original musical composition piece exclusively for the audio book. I HIGHLY recommend this method of ingestion.)
This book is a series set-up, told from multiple 3rd-person POVs. The setting is a rural and vaguely mystical town in Virginia called Henrietta. Our primary characters are a 16-year-old girl named Blue--the eccentric-yet-sensible old-soul daughter of the town psychic. Fairly early on in the story she becomes caught up (almost against her will) with a tetrad of exclusive private school boys: Richard "Gansey", their old-soul history/mystery-obsessed leader; Ronan, the grief-torn rage monster; Adam, the meek and abused grease monkey; and Noah, the forgettable tag-along.
The urban fantasy elements are strong initially, but peter off for much of this particular book. And while the characters hold more depth and dimension than I typically see in mainstream YA, I didn't become particularly attached to any of them. It was the lyrical meandering of the prose and the novelty of the plot itself that kept this reader engaged. Despite the tension remaining low a vast majority of the time, the intrigue held on. All while presenting a small Southern town with something closer to realism than the condescension common in contemporary lit.
I picked up book #2 immediately, and that says a lot for the writing itself.
Content Note: To those parents and teens who it may concern, this book leaned somewhat heavily into -actual- (i.e. borrowed, not invented) occult elements. (Tarot card readings, scrying, astral projection, and what I would assume is possession.) The instructional how-to of which is sparse and primarily limited to tarot cards--at least in this book. ...more
Disclaimer: Unfortunately I was issued only a one-chapter sample of the book (15 pages) rather than the book in its 256 page entirety. As such, my impressions are woefully limited in some respects—for which I apologize.
I absolutely loved the idea of this book. As huge fans of Alton Brown’s famously cerebral cooking show, Good Eats, my kids have long enjoyed the marriage of recipes and ingenious explanations for the scientific concepts behind them. My hope was that Science Experiments You Can Eat would provide them with a similar merger of visual, whimsical, and interactive.
The book’s recommended age range is 8-12 year olds, but due to minimal illustrations and lots of dense text making use of more advanced vocabulary, I would recommend it as better suited for ages 10 and up. The meringue experiment (exploring the properties of egg whites) felt like an interesting and age-appropriate choice—given appropriate adult supervision. The explanations for why protein molecules behave the way they do under various conditions was clear and concise, albeit a bit dry in presentation.
I regret that, due to the sample size, I can’t comment on the efficiency of the overarching buildup in lessons and concepts. I also wish I could offer a rundown of my favorite section and experiment. (The chapter I was given was actually chapter 5 out of 11, and so I’m not certain how much more I might have appreciated the progression if I’d been able to read what led up to it.)
According to the table of contents, the chapters are labeled as follows: Food For Thought; Solutions; Suspensions, Colloids, And Emulsions; Carbohydrates And Fats; Proteins; Kitchen Chemistry; Plants We Eat; Microwave Cooking; Microbes; Enzymes And Hormones; and Science Experiments We Do Eat. Additional tools listed include: Measuring Calories, How To Read A Nutrition Facts Label, Cooking Terms And Instructions, Equivalent Measures, and Scientific Glossary.
Science Experiments You Can Eat is inspired in concept and strong on the technical front. I would have liked to see more illustrative engagement in what small portion of it I was shown, but I do suspect the complete product would be a useful learning tool for kids in more of a Middle Grade range. ...more
A sweet romance featuring a showy villain, a troublesome language barrier, a vengeful hero (who may be impaired in more ways than just his fashion sense), and a heroine who isn’t afraid to wield blunt objects in defense of those she loves.
Running almost concurrent with the timeline of another book in the series (The Golden Braid), this book remains true to the germanic-flavored historical fairytale retelling of the rest of the Hagenheim series. The book can stand alone, but those who’ve read other books in the series will have the benefit of seeing what’s become of some favored past characters.
Margaretha, the eldest daughter of Duke Wilhelm and Lady Rose, recognizes it is her duty to marry advantageously. She had been holding out hope for a love match--stalling to the point that her younger sister is now of marriageable age. She’s in the middle of allowing a gaudy English Lord to court her when a severely injured foreigner arrives at Hagenheim castle. While she assists in his care and recovery, the man raves incoherently in English. Margaretha then finds it difficult to believe him when he recovers his wits only to accuse her current suitor of a heinous murder…
Note: The fairytale connection is a bit more tenuous than in any of Dickerson’s other books in the series, at least in this reader’s opinion. I made it all the way through without connecting that it was loosely based on The Princess and the Frog. But then again, other books have had more blatant tip-offs in either the title or the names of characters. I doubt most readers will find this bothersome.
What I Liked:
-I ended up liking Margaretha far more than I’d anticipated. The blurb had me braced for a naïve chatterbox with delusions of romantic idealism, but what I got was considerably more complex. I LOVED that reader’s first glimpse into her mind was a scene with her being thoroughly distracted by her would-be suitor’s kitschy hat fixation. (I may or may not have then spent the rest of the book mentally referring to Claybrook as: Lord Fancy Hats.) While there’s no attempt to deny Margaretha’s lack of experience with the world outside of Hagenheim castle, her limited exposure doesn’t make her entitled, self-important, or otherwise irritating. She is believably intuitive and quick to adapt, while exuding a bit more exuberance than most of Dickerson’s previous heroines.
-Despite the relatively condensed timeline, the romance is slow-burn and believably impeded by a number of factors—not the least of which is a language barrier.
-This book continues Dickerson’s trend of accessible historical nuance. Most germanic and medieval terms were either explained or were easy to puzzle out from their context. Although, the word ‘solar’ was frequently used but never explained. (It is an upper chamber in a medieval house. You’re welcome.)
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-The prologue felt rushed—almost an afterthought. While it gave some idea of the motives and situation for Colin, it didn’t quite engage me emotionally or connect me to any of the characters. It took me a lot longer to feel any kind of way about Colin than I would have liked. Even when I did start to care, I never quite felt connected to his backstory.
-From the blurb, I would have thought that Margaretha was a lot more enthralled with the idea of a grand romance with Lord Claybrook than proved actual. From the get go she wasn’t meshing well with the man, and seems well aware. The trouble is more her age and cultural/familial expectations—combined with the fact that she’s already turned down several suitors. She’s considering settling for a man she sees as eccentrically vain but well-intended, when a strange Englishman with a head injury interrupts her efforts. Also, from the title I was expecting a bit more spying going on. But Margaretha’s actual spying amounted to just a scene or two.
-I do wish there had been a more memorable example of Margaretha failing to keep a secret, as that might have helped explain her insecurities in that area. It was repeatedly insinuated that she talked too much, but the spats in which she did so felt a bit forced for emphasis rather than true to her nature. (External chattiness was more of a nervous response and didn’t seem to match her internal monologue.) Her spiritual life also didn’t seem to bear much distinction from other heroines in this same series.
-The prose throughout contained a bit of unnecessary recapping and repetitious facts that felt as though they could have been trimmed out. (Most of these instances centered around Margaretha’s “prattling” or the rehashing of how Colin’s sister’s best friend was murdered.)
In the final analysis, I’d place this one right at about the same enjoyment level as The Merchant’s Daughter--if that means anything to existing followers of the Hagenheim series. Readable, but not quite as strong as others. ...more
Pace yourself! Reading this primer is a bit like taking a college-level literature class. Or perhaps an entire semester worth of literature classes…
Acknowledging that storytelling is as old as humanity itself, The Literature Book takes on the daunting challenge of giving readers a historical and functional overview of literary works and their progression through the ages. The book starts with 4,600-year-old Sumerian texts and carries all the way up to select contemporary works as recent as 2013—encompassing novels, plays, and poetry. Its presentation style is sometimes dry, but orderly in format and highly informative.
-------- What I Liked:
There was a solid effort made to present a diverse array of works outside of the classical European variety—inclusive of cultural sub-genres such as Sanskrit Epics, Imperial Chinese Poetry, Early Arabic Lit, Slave Narratives, Inianismo, Baihua Lit, The Harlem Renaissance, The Latin American Boom, Caribbean, and Indian English.
Personal Note: Page 93 conveyed an excellent, concise explanation of early Japanese theater forms. This reader didn't previously grasp the difference between Kabuki(theatrical song/dance/mime) and Bunraku(musical puppet theater) until it was so clearly laid out in this book.
The Literature Book claims it “cuts through the literary jargon” and is “packed with witty illustrations.” I don’t know about cutting through, but it does explain literary terms with textbook thoroughness. And although there is certainly an abundance of illustrations to break up the sometimes dense visual field, I wouldn’t personally refer to said imagery as “witty.” The diagrams, visual-aid images, excised quotes, and timelines are simplistic—mono and duo-chromatic. Effectively breaking up dense swaths of text and enhancing to the overall comprehension potential without becoming a distraction. Full-color pictures and artwork appear more sporadically and offer a stronger sense of place and/or ambiance to the subjects they pertain to.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Chosen works may receive only a sentence of passing mention, or as much as 6 analytical pages (i.e. Moby-Dick). The authors receive anything from cursory reference, to a mini-bio, to a full biography including a picture. How it was decided which authors, genres, and works were worthy of how much recognition remains a point of confusion for this reader. Sci-fi and Fantasy seemed to receive disproportionately minimal attention, and the Romance genre—along with its representative authors—received no address at all.
Unfortunately, a number of prolific and influential authors were all but passed over. I was personally disappointed the book didn't offer a bio for either C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. Their works seemed mentioned only in passing when the fantasy genre is touched on. Lewis is only referred to once very briefly, and there's no allusion to his sci-fi works at all. Jules Verne receives the most mention of any sci-fi author (page 184), but no bio. And H.G. Wells is allotted only a single sentence—though he could arguably be considered one of the pioneering fathers of science fiction.
Conversely, TWO of the three Bronte sisters (Emily and Charlotte) have full bios with pictures included, though Emily wrote just one novel. That’s not to say I don’t approve of their inclusion and highlighted significance—only to point out the disparity in emphasis. -----
While I wouldn’t call this book an exhaustive authority, it certainly has the potential to be a valuable and semi-encyclopedic tool in the pursuit of a more advanced literary education. Studious readers are likely to come away with both factual knowledge, as well as a fresh list of works they may be interested in experiencing at length.
College-bound Young Adults perusing a major in literature might consider this book a preparatory framework for their degree, and perhaps a leg-up on their future. ...more
A captivating gem of a story—an absolute treasure. I hated having to put it down to attend to ‘real life,’ and relished the joy of picking it back up again.
“I could feel the beginning of the story gathering in her throat. Stories are that way, like storms. If you pay attention, you can sense them in the air.”
Fire Horse Girl is a highly accessible (and subtly informative) YA historical, steeped in 1920’s Chinese culture, integrated folklore, deft wit, and poignantly beautiful prose.
The tale is told entirely from the 3rd person perspective Jade Moon, a 17-year-old girl whose gender and birth year (according to the Chinese zodiac) leaves her shunned by her village and family—a pariah in a culture that openly considers her “cursed.” When a family business arrangement gives her the opportunity to go to America, Jade Moon is enchanted by the hope of a fresh start in a country where people seem free to make their own luck. But immigration proves difficult and dangerous. Jade Moon’s hopes run aground on the obstinate will of her both her father and Sterling Promise—the young man she’s grown to care for but cannot trust. And her only remaining option may be to defy everything she knows to carve out a place for herself in a world she doesn’t yet understand.
The Characters: This reader connected with Jade Moon almost immediately. She is what Americans would generally deem a classic ‘Tomboy’—an innately willful, indelicate, opinionated, big-dreaming, and brash young woman. In short, a force of personality to be reckoned with. And of course, none of these traits were considered desirable of a female in Chinese culture at the time. But though she is hurt and isolated by her immediate world’s inability to accept her, her spirit isn’t completely crushed—and she grabs fiercely at hope for change the moment it comes near.
Jade Moon’s personality in an internal monologue nutshell: "Auntie Wu took special pride in two of her accomplishments--the sons she bore and the flowers she grew. They were equally useless, but the flowers smelled better."
While some readers may not have as much sympathy for a more aggressive female character, I understood her so deeply it hurt. Jade Moon is every girl who has ever felt like they were too much for anyone to handle. She is every girl who knows they are too bold or temperamental, yet can’t seem to help it. She is every girl who would rather risk the consequences of breaking the socio-cultural mold than to allow the mold to break them.
Obviously, one needn’t be Chinese to be a Fire Horse kind of girl.
Then there’s Sterling Promise… whose name couldn’t be more fitting. While his personality is nothing like Jade Moon’s, his hopes and goals are very much the same. He is an orphan, forced to grow up working in a sweatshop before being adopted by a man who’d estranged himself from his own family. Like Jade, he belongs nowhere and to no one. Like Jade, he sees America as his chance to start life anew. He’s a level-headed, silver-tongued survivalist—skilled at talking his way in and out of situations.
And while he comes to care for Jade, he remains an enigma for much of the story—a wild card. Both Jade and readers are never quite sure if will do the right thing in the end… or if he’ll go no further than doing what is right for himself.
The Plot: The first sixty or so pages take place in a small village in Guangzhou, China—where readers are given a vivid look at the rural life of our heroine. Jade Moon’s oppressed state is palpable, but her story unfolds with no easy answers. For every constraint she attempts to shed by leaving China, she is confronted with a new obstacle or artifice in an unwelcoming America. All the while, readers are treated to a matter-of-fact look at events and policies that seem largely overlooked in most U.S. History textbooks: An in-depth look at the prison-like conditions on Angel Island, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the subsequent fire that destroyed citizenship records, the concept of “paper children,” the infamous “Hatchet Men,” and non-graphic yet plain-faced look at prostitution in 1920’s Chinatown…
This book hit literary happiness buttons I didn’t even know I had. I’m always excited about a strong female MC and cultural/historical insight that’s done well enough I don’t notice how much I’m learning… but I’d forgotten how much I appreciate co-experiencing the challenges of a female who is compelled to cross-dress (for survival, not fun), or a romance that initially doesn’t work because one or both parties realizes that, while the other does love them, they don’t love them enough.
Though there is a thread of hate-to-love romance, it takes a far backseat to the greater storyline. The ending is balanced and satisfying. While the book stands perfectly on its own, it also leaves open the possibility for more of Jade Moon’s story at some later date.
Thank you, Kay Honeyman, for such a remarkable work of heart. Books like this remind me why I love to read.
"You can love someone as many ways as water falls from the sky. Sometimes it falls with thunder and lightning; other times it falls silently. Sometimes it falls as cool snow, and other times hard balls of ice beat down. If you want the water, you don't get to choose how it falls." ...more
This book isn't so much about the title character--or at least, it is much less so than the first three primary books in this sci-fantasy ser2.5 Stars
This book isn't so much about the title character--or at least, it is much less so than the first three primary books in this sci-fantasy series of fairy tale retellings.
Unfortunately princess Winter is just kind of… there. All helpless and victimized—partially by her own refusal to exercise her "gift," despite there not being a strong moral argument against it. In essence, she could have avoided her clearly detrimental and ally-endangering “madness” by using her Lunar gift to, say, innocuously make people think her nail polish was blue instead of red. But she’s such a legalistic stickler for her I-don’t-want-to-be-like-my-stepmother principals, she would rather be a mentally ill liability than in any way accommodate the biological needs she can’t help having.
The romance is kind of a given with little development—as it utilizes the 'childhood-friends-turned-lovers' trope. Ordinarily I like that kind of pre-establish familiarity, but due to Winter’s self-imposed “condition,” the romantic angle was made complicated and questionable by the caretaker/mentally-compromised patient relationship.
Also, it felt like a LOT of issues could have been avoided and lives saved if Cinder had just spent her copious amount of time in hidden orbit programming Iko to be a sharp-shooter assassin droid. Iko proves to be a decent fighter, but given she and Cress are the only ones who aren't affected by Lunar mind control... stuff... it would have made perfect tactical sense to weaponize her.
I’m fairly certain our heroes would have had no chance at all if Levana didn't keep violating so many Evil Overlord rules.
(Yes, I actually kept track of them. No, I don’t consider the following to be spoilers. If you do—feel free to skip!)
#4. Shooting is not too good for my enemies.
#6. I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them.
#39. If I absolutely must ride into battle, I will certainly not ride at the forefront of my Legions of Terror, nor will I seek out my opposite number among his army."
#48. I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge.
#61. If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.
#64. I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.
#67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.
#71. If I decide to test a lieutenant's loyalty and see if he/she should be made a trusted lieutenant, I will have a crack squad of marksmen standing by in case the answer is no.
#103. I will make it clear that I do know the meaning of the word "mercy"; I simply choose not show them any.
#104. My undercover agents will not have tattoos identifying them as members of my organization, nor will they be required to wear military boots or adhere to any other dress codes.
#106. If my supreme command center comes under attack, I will immediately flee to safety in my prepared escape pod and direct the defenses from there. I will not wait until the troops break into my inner sanctum to attempt this.
#151. If I make a zombie out of one of the heroes, rather than killing him, I will not put him in a position where he will make ANY contact with his friends, lest he remember them and turn against me.
Personally, it drove this reader up a wall to keep hearing terms like "intergalactic," yet having no indication that humans in this book's world have expanded out beyond even their own moon in colonization. No other part of even the immediate solar system is mentioned in any of the books, as far as I can recall... (Please correct me if I missed something.)
I don’t doubt this was a difficult book to pull together. I have to applaud the effort that went into tying up long established storylines and juggling the romantic arc of four significantly different couples. (It was particularly nice to see Cress’ story receive a little more attention and closure.) The characterization remained consistent—as did the upper middle-grade tone. It just felt like the overall work suffered from too much going on and a conveniently dragged out conflict. ...more
An excellent resource for children who may be interested in getting a better sense for how characters, places, and things fit into the DC universe—cleverly depicted via LEGO’s highly accessible style and age-appropriate adaptations.
This 144 page guide is impressively extensive, without being overwhelming to its target audience. (The Handbook is aimed at ages 4-8, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it should still hold the interest of children up to 10 years.) The content is divided into four sections: Superheroes, Villains, Vehicles, and Locations. The entire Justice League is covered, along with some non-super side characters, and all noteworthy bad guys.
Each character, vehicle, or location receives at least 2 pages (up to 2 2-page spreads, in the case of Superman and Batman) of biographical information and LEGO-based poses/imagery. In addition to a brief look at character origins, the bios list their aliases, abilities/powers, and the equipment they typically carry. LEGO’s illustrative tributes to the spirit of comic books are both pleasing and consistent throughout.
A worthy addition to any library—particularly for young fans of LEGO and DC. Parents may be surprised over how much enjoyment they’ll glean by introducing this guide into their child’s literary diet. ...more
I was honestly surprised at how much I've ended up liking this book so much. It's a simple concept--each page or spread depicts a scene or situation tI was honestly surprised at how much I've ended up liking this book so much. It's a simple concept--each page or spread depicts a scene or situation that's missing a major element, which it leaves up to the child's imagination. Much like a book of writing prompts, but meant to stimulate artwork in children.
Examples: Invent a robot Finish the Castle What's under the bed? Design their superhero costumes What are the lions hunting? Build them a space city... Draw a dreadful dragon Finish the treasure map Make his hair look cool
This being a young male-targeted version, the subject material centers heavily on adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, and the slightly "scary." But there are plenty of scenes that could be considered gender-interest-neutral (pirates, fairy-tales, vacations, animals)--depending on the child and according to parental discernment. I'm not one for segregating genders or their interests, but for my 7-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl the creator's guess was pretty spot-on. My son (who cares nothing for standard coloring books and never has) skips around and fills in a page every few days or so--so he's been at it consistently for nearly 6 months.
The most surprising and delightful aspect for me, the parent, is seeing my child's imagination at work with only a small nudge in a certain direction. He takes great liberties with his interpretation of each scene and request. The results are often fascinating, and occasionally hilarious. ...more