Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MG Fairy tale Retelling Review: My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella by Jerry Mahoney

33033222My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella
by Jerry Mahoney
Format:  Ebook
Publisher:  Stone Arch Books 
Number of pages:  161
Published:  August 18th, 2017
Source:  Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening Line:  " Maddie McMatthews was pretty sure she had the worst stepbrother in the entire world."  

Eleven-year-old Maddie can't wait to share her favorite story and a diorama she made of Cinderella's wedding with her class at school.  That is until her rotten stepbrother Holden ruins everything by poking holes in the story with all his questions, and right in front of the whole class.  It's almost as embarrassing as that time he posted a picture of what her hair looks like in the morning online.   Even though Holden asked some good questions like "what would happen if the glass slipper fits another woman beside Cinderella? " he didn't have to ruin her presentation.  That night, Holden and Maddie also discover Maddie's diorama and an ebook of Cinderella on Holden's tablet have changed, Cinderella's stepsister is now the one marrying the prince and Cinderella's stuck scrubbing the floors.  Maddie grabs her copy of the book to see whether all of the stories have changed and as she reads aloud the line "Once upon a time..." they're magically transported into the pages of the story.  It's up to them to fix what was broken. 

I've always been a huge fan of fairytale retellings and the title of this series, My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined...  has such a catching ring it really piqued my interest.  Like Maddie, Cinderella is one of my favorite fairytales, and I must say I really enjoyed Mahoney's spin on Cinderella.  Cinderella continues to be as kind and patient as I remember, with a sense of grace and poise, but now Maddie's transformed into one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters, Holden's a foot soldier and Prince Andrew has prosopagnosia (aka difficulty recognizing faces), which amused me to no end.  What a mixup they've created.  Equipped with only Holden's tablet they take on their new roles as characters from the story and try to get the prince and Cinderella back together again so they can have their happily ever after.   But when Cinderella is locked in the dungeon, getting these two together becomes a bit more difficult.  I liked that Holden and Maddie act and think like eleven-year-olds, they bicker and disagree as stepsiblings might, but they're also so darn funny.   While Holden points out the flaws in the original fairytale, he also realizes that he needs to work with Maddie to fix things or be stuck as a foot soldier.  We all knew that Cinderella's stepmother was wicked, but now even she wants to marry the prince.  My favorite change though is when the stepsister due to marry Prince Andrew isn't happy about marrying him after all, she'd rather be designing wedding dresses than wearing them.    Such an amusing story, and makes for a wonderful comparative/contrast teaching tool for discussing plot and the messaging in the original fairytales.  Here are the covers for the other three titles in the series.     

Favorite exchange:  

"My whole life, she's told me I'm not worthy of marrying a prince."  (Cinderella)

and Darreth's response:   "You have your own eyes, don't you?  So why use hers?  The question is, how do you see you, Cinderella?"

                  34137708   34137707  34137703

Monday, January 15, 2018

Science Fiction/Fantasy Review: Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar

28448306Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Number of pages:  624
Published:  October 3rd, 2017
Source:  ARC received from the publisher via Giveaway hosted at Goodreads.
Synopsis from Goodreads:  The world did not end. At least not permanently.  The Time Collision came from beyond the stars, a cosmic event that fractured time and space, tearing apart the earth and reshaping it into something entirely new.  This is the world Diego Ribera was born into. The past, present, and future coexisting together.   Timeless.

Opening Line:  "On the morning of his thirteenth birthday, Diego Ribera glimpsed the future in a dream."  

A cosmic event occurred causing a  Time Collision that ruptured the space-time continuum melding together three distinct time periods,  the past (Steam Timers), the in-between (Mid-Timers) and the future (Elders).  The new world was made of bits and pieces from each time period, a world where gravity boards, steamships, trolley's, robots and even dinosaurs are now commonplace.  The world created first started at war, but after years of fighting, eventually, the people came together and found a way to live together in peace.  Not everyone was happy with the new arrangement and out of this, the Aeternum grew hoping to gain dominance and control of the world for themselves.  

Diego lives in what is now known as New Chicago with his mother, a renowned pilot, and father one of the world's foremost engineer's instrumental in building the robots that protect the city.  On his thirteenth birthday, Diego learns from his father that special abilities called "The Maker's Sight" run in their family, which grant them the skill of visualizing the design and creation of objects within their mind, talents that Diego's father also possesses.   After Diego receives his birthday present, he and his father get into a huge disagreement over his plans for the future, which becomes further upsetting to Diego when he later learns that Aeternum has captured his father and a steam-engineer.  Diego enlists the help of Petey, his best friend, Lucy, a girl from the Victorian Era whose brother and father were also captured, and Paige, Lucy's best friend.  Together with a band of pirates, they attempt a rescue of their fathers.  Along the way, they learn more about Aeternum's plans, who is behind the capture and that not just Diego's father is in danger, the whole world is at risk.   

What initially drew me to Timeless was how the author began writing it as a bedtime story to his son, at first he thought of making it into a picture book but time got away from him, his son got older, so he decided to expand it into a book his pre-teen son would enjoy reading.  There are over 150 illustrations in Timeless, gorgeous illustrations, like my favorite of the four kids looking up at a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  The facial expressions of the characters give them a life-like quality, and each is distinct.  Lucy in her Victorian dress is also one of my favorites.  There are also pages giving the feel of a graphic novel detailing the action in a scene from a gunfire fight.  All the illustrations add these rich, lush details to this very unique world.  I'm not surprised to learn that Baltazar is a former art director for Disney and Pixar.  I also really enjoyed the mixing of the different eras into one, having robots right next to dinosaurs lends itself to some interesting hazards and challenges for the adventures.  Everything from protecting their ship against a dinosaur and World War II fighter plane attack, to building and creating a robot or car submarines.  It's hard to place whether this is fantasy or science fiction, or steam-punk but it's enjoyable nonetheless.  With characters from different eras, Baltazar also delved into the topics of the suffragette movement, discrimination, even slavery.   A wonderful adventure coupled with some of the most gorgeous illustrations makes me eager to see what Baltazar comes up with next.  Here's a small sample from the prologue and an introduction that highlights some of the illustrations and models Baltazar made while creating Timeless.   

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Adult Review: Lullaby (The Sand Maiden #1) by L.R.W. Lee

Lullaby by LRW Lee

Format: E ARC
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages: 405
Publishing: January 15th , 2018
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis from Goodreads

You've heard of the Sand Man. Meet his counterpart, the Sand Maiden.

Alissandra thrills to help her human charges make sense of thoughts that need refinement, problems that need solutions, worries that beg for action, and things they should or shouldn’t have said, as she weaves their dreams. She’s been doing it her entire immortal existence. But when the most powerful king in Dream realm sets his sights on her current charge, Prince Kovis Altairn, to exploit him in his quest to conquer Wake realm, Ali has no choice but to flee and pray the sovereign doesn’t hunt her down.

Prince Kovis Altairn, crown prince and the most powerful sorcerer in the Altairn Empire, knows nothing about Dream realm, let alone his sand maiden. So when Ali is discovered naked in his bedroom, how will she convince him of her intentions, as well as the danger?

Lullaby is the first in a series of New Adult epic fantasy romances written by L.R.W. Lee, there is mature content so it would be in the 18+ realm for me.  I had the pleasure of reading an early draft, and the subsequent changes that Linda made following reviewer comments, it was really cool to get a glimpse of how the editing changed the beginning of the story.  New adult books aren't something I typically read or review, but Lullaby is special, I was so intrigued by its premise that I knew it was a book that I wanted to read.  Plus,  I've been following Linda for quite some time and really enjoyed her middle-grade series Andy Smithson and knew that Lullaby wouldn't disappoint.  

Lullaby consists of a world split into a Dream and Wake realm with both having their own unique magical systems.  In Dream realm,  Alissandra (Ali) is one of many sand people helping the people of Wake to slumber and dream each night, her charge is Prince Kovis, a man whom she cares deeply for.  Ali's father is the ruler of Dream and is bent on controlling the people of  Wake,  through the use of "mares" he can enter a person's mind and take control.  Once Ali and her sister figure out his plans,  Ali is left with no other choice but to escape to Wake to get away from her abusive father and protect Kovis.  In the early draft, the first chapter was a bit confusing, but as I kept reading, I felt it was meant to be this way because Ali is in a new place with magic that she doesn't understand and a human form that is new to her.  Not to mention she is in Prince Kovis' bedchamber surrounded by his guards.  The changes Lee made firmed things up, pique your curiosity and made me want to know more about this world and characters. 

Lee creates a magical system where the people of Wake can wield the elements of fire, ice, metal, and wind, powers that don't exist on Dream.   Yet, Ali is also unique because not only can she put someone to sleep, she has also developed the ability to wield elements in very unpredictable ways.  They're skills that she never had before but also are an equal match to those of the Prince.  Kovis is both intrigued by Ali's story and her ability to help him sleep that he takes it upon himself to train her and see exactly what other powers she can control.  Lullaby is a fresh world with lovely romantic moments and the kind of fantasy elements I enjoy reading.   Not only does Ali begin training for an epic magic competition pitting her against some of the top sorcerers of Wake, there are mysteries to uncover in Kovis and his siblings past, and Ali's father and the "mares" bring just the right amount of tension to the story.  I also really enjoyed the magical bond Ali and Kovis share which allowed them to telepathically communicate with one another, their playful humor and the eventual romance that ensued between the two was a delight.  While things ended on a slight cliffhanger, I'll definitely be waiting for the sequel.    

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The 2017 Cybils Finalists for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

I'm always excited to be a part of Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards), especially this year since for the first time I'm a round two judge  working with fellow judges Mark at Say What?, Halli at The Winged Pen,  Rosemary at Mom Read It, and Jenna at Falling Letters to pick the winner come February.  Here are the seven finalists in the category of Elementary/ Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction and the blurbs from the round one judges.  According to Cybils, there were 1426 titles nominated and shortlisted into 12 categories, you can read more about the other finalists from the 
Cybils blog

2017 Finalist · Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Nominated by: Sam Musher
Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Middle grade readers will identify with the difficult task of deciding what face to show to the world while also trying to remain true to oneself and honest in dealing with both friends and enemies. And all readers will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot in this surprising and vividly detailed tale of underground adventure.
Sherry Early, Semicolon
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Maureen E
Rosa Díaz is the daughter of the world’s best ghost appeasement specialist and is training to be one herself.  Everywhere has ghosts, of course – especially libraries, which tend to be full of the ghosts of past readers.  That’s why it makes no sense that she and her mother have moved to the tiny town of Ingot, which is famous two things: its Renaissance Faire, and for having no ghosts at all.  But when Jasper Chevalier, son of the Ren Faire Queen and its Black Knight (who will explain to anyone that there were Moors in Europe in the Middle Ages), takes her on a tour of the Faire, they are attacked by an angry monster, part ghost but very physical.  And when the ghost steals Rosa’s mother’s voice, Rosa and Jasper are on their own. This is a short and fast-moving, just a little scary book perfect for those newly graduating up from early chapter books or for read-alouds, with delightfully off-beat descriptions and illustrations.  Despite the excitement and the shorter length, there’s a lot under the surface for the perceptive reader, from environmental themes to Rosa’s understated dealing with her grief over her father’s death.  This is an alternate reality readers will want to visit again and again. 
Katy Kramp, A Library Mama
Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star) by Kevin Emerson
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Debbie Tanner
This one is gripping middle grade science fiction at its best! 150 years or so in the future, the sun is going supernova, long before it should. Humanity took refuge on Mars, but the expanding sun is about to engulf that planet too. Liam and Phoebe are supposed to be on the last colony ship departing the solar system, but things go wrong. Not ordinary wrong, but evil star-destroying aliens wrong….It’s a tense adventure, with the threat of death by supernova hanging over the characters’ heads, that will leave readers anxious for the next book.
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Brandy Painter
Miss Ellicott’s school  teaches the “surplus” female children of a walled city-kingdom magic and deportment and.. well, mostly deportment, with the intent to make the girls “shamefast and biddable.” Chantel struggles with that, and as a result ends up facing against the kingdom’s ruling Patriarchs and king in order to save the city. There is a lovely array of evil characters as well as friends in surprising places that help Chantel save the kingdom as well as find her own strengths.  She never does learn to be biddable, but she does learn the power of well-placed deportment, and the power of Persisting.  Not only is this a terrific magical adventure, it’s a hopeful and empowering tale, perfect for today’s readers.
Debbie Tanner, The Book Search; Katy Kramp, A Library Mama; and Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Nominated by: Deb
Here is a superb ghost story for kids who want horror that’s scary as heck but won’t scar them for life. Harper’s life has been upended when her family move to a surprisingly cheap old house in a new city. It’s cheap because of the horrors that happened in it, and once Harper starts to see for herself just how haunted it is, she likes it even less. Harper can see and sometimes communicate with ghosts, and when her little brother becomes possessed by the spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, she had to try to save him. Fortunately, she has the help of her Korean grandmother, who was herself a spirit hunter. Alongside the horror, there’s also a story of family and friendship, and trying to fit into a new place, so that the nightmare is balanced by the everyday. Harper is a great character, strong but uncertain in a believable middle grade way, and her story is memorable and gripping (and scary).
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary
The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky
Nominated by: Pat Zietlow Miller
In the near future, the world has made it through several wars and has decided to come together to form an exploratory Mars program, inviting brilliant children and teenagers from around the world to join, with the idea that in nine years they will be sent into space. Sounds like a perfect unifying program. That is, until things go wrong: our main character, Miranda, is attacked on her way to the training. She and the five other kids who are on her particular team (a diverse group with strong opinions) don’t get along. And someone is sabotaging the training. When they suddenly and unexpectedly launched into space, they are faced with figuring out how to work together…or risk never returning home again. Full of action, suspense, and realistic and plausible science and math, this is not only science fiction at its best, but one for those who love middle grade mysteries and school stories as well!  
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Heidi G.
Dragons meet chocolate in a treat for fans of both! Aventurine is a young dragon who has never been allowed to leave her cave. She’s convinced that she can be just as brave and wonderful as the rest of her family if they’d give her a chance, and one day she sneaks out on her own. Things go wrong when a human she thinks would be easy prey turns out to be a magician, and he tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate which turns her into a human girl!  Aventurine is forced to go to the big city to find a job and satisfy her newfound passion for chocolate. Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans, and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her?  Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.  
Debbie Tanner, The Book Search