A Magical Delight

For 16 year old Ivy, attending the magic/scrivenist school Halls of Ivy is nothing but a dream. The school is for future scrivenists and nobility not a kitchen maid. However, when an unfortunate incident has Ivy leaving the employment of Castle Plum and crossing the magic-dampening slurry field, something unexpected happens: Ivy receives and invitation to attend the Halls of Ivy and is promptly picked up by a flying carriage that carries her off to school. As magical as the classes are and how much she adores her new friends, there is something mysterious about the castle. Why does she feel so at home here? Why can she remember things that others have forgotten? Who is that mysterious man in the dreamscape bottle? One thing is for sure, Ivy is going to have one eventful year.

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night is a delightful fantasy novel full of mystery, magic, and fun. Our heroine Ivy is impulsive, smart, caring, and very likable. Night has really crafted Ivy and her secondary characters really well, giving depth to each character and providing them complimentary characteristics to Ivy. From the opening chapter where we are introduced to the scrivenist Derwin Edgar Night, we know something mysterious is happening–some plot we must uncover and Ivy is somehow involved. Night weaves this mystery in throughout the novel, placing clues for readers to discover. These hints will excite readers as they try to guess what will happen next and deduce the identity of the mysterious D.E. Night.

Night’s writing is simple, candid, and compelling. Her descriptions are magical yet not elaborate or ostentatious. The simple writing style lets the magic of the plot and her world building take center stage, taking readers on a whirlwind adventure and teaching them that not everything is as it seems and that we are enough.

I loved The Crowns of Croswald. It hit all the things I love about fantasy: great world building, an interesting take on magic, and well-rounded characters. At times, the pace was a little disjointed, but nothing too distracting. It still was an absolute delight, and I am eager to read the sequel The Girl with the Whispering Shadow out later this year.

Those who would most enjoy this book would be middle grade readers who loved the Harry Potter and Septimus Heap series as well as most fantasy lovers in general.

Overall, I rate this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Archibald Finch Transports Readers into Another World

In the new fantasy Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches by Michel Guyon, everything frightens curious and precocious Archibald Finch, especially vegetables and his new home, which his family recently inherited from his grandmother.  However, Archibald is willing to face his fears in order to find the Christmas present his parents say they didn’t buy him yet. Upon tearing apart the manor and finding an old globe hidden in the library, he, instead of finding his present, has stumbled upon an ancient family secret. One that he accidentally unlocks and, in a lightning flash and thunder crash, sucks him into another world that definitely does not resemble Narnia.  Archibald must adjust to living in this new frightening land filled with monsters and witches, but is adamant that he will find away to get himself–and his new friends–back home. Meanwhile, back at home, his sister Hailee must come to terms with witnessing Archibald’s disappearance and solve the mystery of the globe. As she investigates, trying to find a way to bring her brother back, she discovers she is not the only person interested in the mysteries of the globe, and the other mysterious party is willing to kill in order to obtain it…

Michel Guyon seamlessly writes these two parallel stories, alternating each chapter between Archibald’s and Hailee’s viewpoints, and progressing the story until they intertwine.  As Archibald traverses through a dangerous, new land, seeking answers, Hailee and her new friend must traverse London, also seeking answers while being stalked by danger.  In addition, they both learn not everything is as it seems, to be kind, that determination will see them through, and to have hope that good will triumph.

Guyon’s frank yet humorous and whimsical writing style mixed with a mysterious, compelling plot make Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches an enchanting read. The illustrations throughout are also gorgeous and full of whimsy,  enhancing the story and adding to the enjoyment of the reader.

I also like how he has borrowed from well-known fantasy tropes, such as children being transported to a magical land, but in a way that feels original and all his own. The monsters, which are half monster and half human, really stick out. They are monstrous, but they don’t kill. They are created by the evil of the human world and, like evil, can never really die, and there is no cure. Once a monster, always a monster. And yet, Archibald questions this absolute, which I love. I also liked the foreshadowing and hints that lead to some interesting twists and turns.

Overall, I loved this book, and I think anyone (but especially those between the ages of 11 and 16) who enjoys fantasy novels embroiled in mystery will devour this novel. I give this book a 5/5.

 

 

Hazey Start with a Big Finish

Imagine living in a world where technology has advanced so far that one can change their hair color at a thought–could regrow a limb.  What was the price paid to discover this technology, and how does it effect society? In Haze’s world, religion is scarce. His family’s beliefs seem outdated, and Haze especially disagrees with the no physical relations before marriage. He often doubts the God in which his family believes; however, he more than most, has solid reasons for believing in God. As a child, Haze witnesses a traumatizing event–the murder of his father by the hands of the demon Legion, and his own life is saved by an angel. This angel also bestows upon him a blessing to counteract the demon’s curse.  Essentially, no demons can harm him or his family as long as he does them no harm, but he has the powers of a demon. When Haze turns 19, he discovers his powers and the man/demon who killed his father. Haze, along with his friends, family, and a heavenly messenger band together to help dispel the Legion.

Haze: The Devil of Dublin is the first in a series by Haze O’Hagan. This science fiction novel delightfully combines current pop culture references with classic science fiction tropes. O’Hagan also presents an interesting commentary on modern society, technology, and religion. However, O’Hagan, especially during his world-building at the beginning,  presents an overwhelming amount of information that makes the plot come almost to a stand still. The first half is very leisurely paced, and it doesn’t pick up until the second half. The writing can, at times, be a little disjointed, but, again, this problem seems to disappear in the latter half of the novel.

The characters in this novel are engaging and the dialogue is amusing. I greatly enjoyed reading about Haze’s best friend, his family, and his crush. As the series continues, I hope to see these characters become more fleshed out. Haze’s character is very much an older teenager. He’s trying to become his own man, but most overcome the darkness of his past and figure out how to best use his new powers. I love when his friend says that he should be more Spiderman-like instead of Batman-esque.

The tone of the book is darker, like a Batman movie or comic. It is gritty and violent. Haze must confront many demons  (literally) and the evils of the human world. O’Hagan doesn’t pull his punches in his depictions of humanity.

Overall, I did enjoy this book though there were some technical issues, which I’ve mentioned. I’d give this book 3.5/5 stars.

Mission Impossible: Save Christmas and our Home

The Vanderbeeker children are not quiet, well-mannered children. They aren’t bad, but they are kids, so that pretty much guarantees messy fingers, fights, and, well, chaos. They love their home, their neighbors,and  their Harlem community, so when a week before Christmas their landlord Mr. Beiderman gives them an eviction notice, the Vanderbeekers are devastated. What can they do to change his mind? Thus, they embark on a mission to sweeten Mr. Beiderman and save their home.

Karina Yan Glaser in The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street makes the reader a part of the Vanderbeeker family, especially since each character and their personality is vividly depicted. There’s  Isa who loves her violin and has a crush on the baker’s son Benny, Jessie, her twin, who loves science and is afraid that she and her sister are growing a part because of their dissimilar interests. Then there is the middle children Oliver, the only boy, and Hyacinth, who feels like she is often overlooked. Lastly, there is sweet, energetic Laney. Together, they use their strengths to create a plan to make Mr. Vanderbeeker like them. Who wouldn’t want to be given a Christmas tree, Jazz albums, and a kitten!? We also learn about the family’s fears and short-comings, and how, together, they can overcome anything.

This novel is broken down into days, and we can see as Christmas and their eviction comes closer and closer. We see the kids go from determined to desperate to accepting. They learn that home isn’t a place. Home is their family, messes and fights and all. What I especially loved was the emotional depth Glaser wove into this novel. We can easily laugh at the children’s antics, but she also delves into some emotional matters, like why Mr. Beiderman is so miserly.

If you are looking for a fun holiday read, pick up The Vanderbeeker’s of 141st Street. It has it all with an extra dosing of Christmas cheer and family love. Kids between the ages of 8-13 that like novels set in the present day will love this book, and I think it would be great as a family read aloud.

Overall, I’d give this novel a 4.5/5.

Only Fallow Seeks Truth

In Heartseeker the first in a duology by Melinda Beatty, Only Fallow has a secret gift–a cunning. She can see lies. Sometimes they are beautiful light shows while others are dark and sinister. And telling lies? Only has learned that the pain is too intense to bear.  In Ostral, a country that persecutes those with powers, Only must guard her secret well, trusting only in her grandmother. This leads Only to live a life in relative isolation and one of ridicule because of her odd interests. However, one day, she finds friends among a people who are also ridiculed and persecuted, a people that are known to openly use their cunnings: the river folk. And this is when her life changes and her secret is unveiled. Word spreads. The King’s men come, looking for the new Mayquin, the seer of lies, and they take Only away from her family to serve the king. She is taken into the heart of the court and its intrigue, trying to navigate through the lies and half truths and to see into the heart of the one person from whom she senses nothing. Can this Lady Lamia Folque be trusted and does she have a cunning blocking Only’s? And how is pulling the King’s strings? Who can she trust? With the help of her friends, Only must follow her head and heart in order to best serve Ostral and protect it from those who’d cause it harm.

Heartseeker is fun and though-provoking. Beatty packs a lot into this middle grade fantasy novel: adventure and political intrigue, friendships and enemies, racism and persecution, perceptions and truth, disillusionment. While the beginning of this novel is slightly slow due to world building and exposition, Beatty’s writing compels the reader onward. We are pulled into Only’s world, and feel her loneliness, her deep desire for a meaningful friendship and her love of her family. It is when Only’s cunning is discovered that the suspense ratchets up and the pace of the novel begins to quicken. However, it still feels like Beatty is building up to something bigger. There are layers to the story she is beginning to set up, but we don’t quite know what it is yet, just like Only. Even when the narrative is a bit bogged down, Beatty’s writing style is direct and conversational, it isn’t dense, so it doesn’t seem like the story has slowed down.

After so much build up, the end happens too fast. There is a second installment to the story, so the story isn’t really finished, but the resolution of Heartseeker …felt like it was missing something. The action was great. Only was brilliant as was the secondary cast of characters. The part that didn’t quite fit was that Only wasn’t really at the castle long. She wasn’t enmeshed in its politics long enough to have an understanding of anything really. The summary and the dust jacket made it sound like she would be at the castle the majority of the book but we mostly see Only at home or on the road. When she reaches the castle, the plot–the pace of the novel–speeds up quite a bit, making it seem like Beatty is rushing to the end. Maybe that is the point Beatty is trying to make. The capital moves at a different speed and it takes awhile to know up from down, even for someone that can see lies.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy novel and am eager to read Riverbound, the second and final installment of the duology, when it comes out in June 2019. I recommend this book for kids between the ages of 8 and 13,  for those who love fantasy, and those who love exploring new worlds. I’m giving this book a 4/5 stars.

A New Spiderman Swings onto the YA Scene

Miles Morales is like any other teenage boy in Brooklyn. He goes to school, hangs out with his best friend, has a crush on his classmate Alicia, and he just so happens to have superpowers given to him after a radioactive spider stung him. Miles uses  his new power to help save those in trouble, but lately, his powers have been on the fritz. His spidey sense keeps giving him false alarms, especially when he is in Mr. Chamberlain’s class. After leaving class for an extended “bathroom break”, Miles is suspended from school, which makes Miles begin to think that he isn’t cut out to be a superhero. Maybe his father’s and uncles criminal past is in his blood. However, something fishy is going on at school and there has to be a reason his spidey sense is warning him. Can Miles figure it out before its too late? Find out in Miles Morales: Spiderman by Jason Reynolds.

Within this novel, Miles deals with normal teenager drama, such as the pressure to keep his grades up in order to keep his scholarship, how much money he costs his parents, and, of course, how to impress Alicia. Reynolds also fleshes out his supporting characters, creating depth and emotional connections. Ganke, Miles’s best friend, worries about his recently divorced parents, trying to work out what the new normal is and how he feels about his parents no longer being together.

Reynold’s novel highlights racism and touches on the prison system. He shows that racism is very present, even or especially in schools. I also loved how poetry was used. Poetry is personal and emotive. It’s a great tool to delve into the minds of our characters, but in a way that is intriguing and not exhaustive. And this novel has a lot of exposition for a super hero book. I expected more action. More web slinging and swinging. However, Miles doesn’t spend a lot of time as Spiderman, and when he is Spiderman, he isn’t really in a “superhero” head space. Despite learning through flashbacks how Miles became Spiderman, this doesn’t feel like the first novel in a series. It feels like it should be in the middle. His doubts reminded me of how Peter Parker was doubting himself in in Toby Maguire’s Spiderman 2. It feel more like a normal teen contemporary book, and maybe that’s the vibe for which Reynolds was going.

SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I also thought the villain was a little lackluster. I just expected more. He did remind me of Harry Potter’s Umbridge. He is evil. I like that there was a hive of bad guys following the orders of the “Queen Bee”. The evil Master Plan was a unique and creative. It just wasn’t the super ‘take over the world and gain a lot of power in an obvious way’ plot. It was subtle, which, again, may be the purpose that Reynolds is trying to make. Not all evil is super obvious. It is sown into society and in small ways, ingraining itself into society and our culture so we don’t even recognize its there–unless we are the people being targeted, being subjugated.

I really liked how Miles learned that he is his own person. He gets to decide his future. His past or his family’s past does not define him. Miles also sounded like a teenager to me. He had those typical doubts and worries that often visit teens that are trying to become more independent but are floundering. Miles makes mistakes that are typical of teens who don’t think things through, and I liked that . Too often our teen characters act too much like adults, making them unrelatable to the target audience.

Overall, if someone likes the Spiderman comics or movies, this is a great addition to the lore. I would rate this book 3.5 stars.

The Tale of a Prince and a Boy

In Estranged, a graphic novel by Ethan M. Aldridge, we follow the story of two boys: Childe, a human pet/adopted son to the Queen and King of the fairies and the other Edmund, the Faerie Prince who was switched at birth with the human boy and has grown up among the humans. Edmund struggles with hiding his budding powers from his family and Childe is sick of being looked down upon by the fairy court. Both of their lives take a terrifying but exhilarating turn when the Fairy Court is turned into mice by the evil sorceress Hawthorne. Childe and Whick, his golem sevant, flee the fairy world, seeking out Edmund, the only being powerful enough to defeat the sorceress. Childe’s appearance is anything but welcome in Edmund’s life–he wants nothing to with the parents who abandoned him. However, Childe and Whick convince Edmund to help them on their quest. Together, along with Ed’s sister Alexis, they set out into the fairy world below ground, encountering dangers and each discovering their own strengths and powers, in order to save the Fae and Human worlds.

Aldridge’s illustrations are a little edgy and dark yet whimsical, which perfectly captures the world he’s creating. The Fae are not happy little sprites; they can be vicious and dangerous. Each frame felt lush, magical, and slightly foreboding. While the story line is exciting and has plenty of action, it is Aldridge’s relatable and compelling characters that draw us into his novel. His illustrations show the array of emotions across the boys’ faces as they progress on their journey. They are troubled, confused, and scared. Edmund and Childe both feel as if they don’t belong, and their otherness can physically be seen, even when Edmund has on his glamour. Even his secondary characters are kick-ass. Alexis has no fairy powers, and yet she still contributes greatly during their journey. She is stubborn, opinionated, and really loves her brother (brothers?). Whick is literally a tool, a thing made to serve, and, yet, he has his own personality and abilities that are important to the team. All of the characters really come into their own throughout the novel, and Aldridge, through his illustrations and text, has us emotionally attached and rooting for them until the final frame.

I loved this novel, and, honestly, the Fae world was perfectly depicted. His illustrations were so gorgeous. In the back, there were pages showing the concepts for his characters and the world he built, which was fascinating to read more about. It’s amazing how authors decide how to pair text and illustrations to move the story forward– it’s different than a simple storybook, and as a person who can’t “art”, I am seriously blown away by good graphic novels, especially those in the fantasy genre.

This novel does have an ending–no cliff hanger, but it does leave room for a sequel, which I would pick up in  a heartbeat. I give Estranged  5/5 stars.