Friday, March 23, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  Stories Untold Press
Number of pages:  314
Published:  July 21st, 2017
In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from Publisher. 

Opening Line: "The village, well it had a lot of secrets.  And its secrets need to be kept safe."  

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Lovely is a scaldrony maid in the kitchen of Castle Plum, tending to the fire-breathing cooking dragons.  Following a mishap in the kitchen,  she is thrown out of the castle by the head cook.  As Ivy steps across a slurry field, a magical boundary is released which set's a series of events in motion leading her to The Halls of Ivy, a castle that has been converted into a school of magic.  For the past few years, Ivy has been having the same nightly dream of the castle and a man whose identity is a mystery to her, following her dreams she is able to perfectly sketch the details from her photographic memory leaving her with more questions than answers.   

The Crowns of Croswald is a fabulous story with an enchanting magical world reminiscent of Harry Potter, Cinderella and one character in particular that made me think of the white rabbit from Alice and Wonderland.  I'm not sure if the inspiration for the story was Harry Potter, but there were many similarities that I noted while reading that seemed to capture that same feeling of being swept up into a new rich world filled with all these fantastical details.  We have a girl whose identity is hidden while she is a maid at Castle Plum, once her magical abilities begin to surface she draws the attention of the nefarious Dark Queen and her Cloaked Brood.  Ivy takes classes at the school in subjects such as Minor Magic, Art of Ink and Memory and Creatures of the Night.  She has two close friends,  Rebecca and Fyn who watch over and protect her when bully Damaris tries to get her into trouble with the headmistress of the school.  The magic of Croswald is what sets this apart, there are Scrivenists whose magic is in their blood, giving them the innate ability to record images or events from photographic memory using quills, ink, and parchment.  The Crowns are royal prince and princesses who have magical stones they wear granting them a magical skill they can call from.  For instance,  enhanced speed or the ability to transform.  Ivy is a lovely character,  she loves to sketch and has been searching for answers about her past and family.  Magic doesn't come easily to her at first. The reoccurring dream Ivy has is the mystery lingering throughout the story that she is trying to piece together and as things unfold, we learn the details of the magical world right along with her.   There are some fun references to foods such as clobber coffee, peach pecan pie and a pop of gold and dorm daze tea as well as the day to day classes one would expect from a boarding school type story.  In some ways, this slows down the pacing, but I love magical schools and enjoy immersing myself in potions classes, hunts for mysterious journals and magical bottles like the Glanagerie's which is similar to a penseive, transporting you into a teaching scenario.   Plus there are creatures such as a Shorehorse and Ivy's small fire-breathing dragon who can cook your breakfast in its mouth to keep you entertained.    D.E. Night is currently working on the next book in the series, The Girl with the Whispering Shadow and I look forward to reading it in hope that some of my lingering questions will be answered.  Overall an enjoyable, imaginative and entertaining debut.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  297
Published:  October 3rd, 2017
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting."

Mr. Beiderman is the landlord of a lovely little brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City.   He lives on the top floor and is very particular about his privacy and quiet,  a sort of recluse with his only visitor being the lady who drops off his frozen dinners once a week.  His presence, however, is felt by the rest of the residents of the brownstone.  Over the past few years, the Vanderbeeker children, twins Jessie and Isa (12), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4 3/4 ),  have all attempted to be on their best behavior so as not to anger the Beiderman, but despite their best effort, and right before Christmas no less, the family learns that he will not be renewing their lease.   Not only are they devastated to learn they'll be leaving their beloved home, but they also may need to move away from Harlem altogether.  Convinced that they can change his mind, the five siblings begin Operation Beiderman to prevent them from being evicted from their home, but "how do you make friends with a man you have never seen and who has not left his apartment in six years?" 

There is so much to love about The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, everything from the setting to the characters and the storyline were just wonderful.  First off is the setting of Harlem with all of these fun detailed descriptions of the brownstone and surrounding shops and landmarks, the darling black and white illustrations by the author for the layout of the ground floor apartment, an illustration of where the other residents of the building live and full-page map of Harlem on the front inside cover.   And look at that cover, utterly gorgeous, the colors just pop.   The Vanderbeekers are a large family that includes two parents, five siblings, a dog, a cat and even a bunny, together they bring all the joyous sounds of a bustling household with siblings who love and care about one another.  Each of the children is delightful on their own and so individually realized and unique.  There's even an extended family made of friends, relatives, and neighbors with lovely interactions between the Vanderbeeker children and their friends that appear in natural ways, with everything from the mailman who while dropping off the mail gets homemade dog treats from Hyacinth,  Oliver and his best friend Jimmy who talk on their walkie talkie's, the upstairs neighbors Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet who visit with young Laney and even Isa's music teacher Mr. Van Hooten, who together give this book a warm, comfy feeling of both community and family.  Not to mention there is a side story between one of the twins and Benny, whose mom owns the local bakery and a bit of a mix-up over an upcoming dance.  Plus food, glorious food references making me want to try the hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon that was mentioned.  I really love how the Vanderbeeker siblings are trying to win over their curmudgeonly landlord by drawing on their individual strengths in writing poetry, drawing, crafting, music, and kindness toward animals to make gifts for the Beiderman in hopes he would see how valuable they were and renew their lease.    Their plans to smoother him with kindness don't always go as planned, but they aren't easily discouraged and they do make a lovely team.   I was really touched when the reason Mr. Beiderman hasn't left his apartment was revealed, and how the children realized that "home is more than a place" and that what they really wanted is for Mr. Beiderman to feel better.  I was also excited to see that the sequel The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is already set to be released in September.  


Favorite line: " Through her window she could see the last wrinkled leaves gripping the branches of the ancient red maple, refusing to drift down to the ground until absolutely necessary."  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

YA Realistic Fiction Review: 806 a novel by Cynthia Weil

806 a novel by Cynthia Weil
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Tanglewood Press
Number of pages:  229  (hardcover)
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from SoCal Public Relations.

Opening Line:   "My mom, Kim, looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon, if Reese wore a Burger Boy manager's uniform."  

KT, not Katie has always felt like something is missing in her life, besides her dad.  After her mom has yet another argument with the latest in a long line of boyfriends, KT decides she's finally had enough with her mom's failed relationships and demands to know how to get in touch with her father.  KT's mom sends her to her ex, Max who tells KT that her mother hasn't been truthful with her, he's not her biological father.  KT's mom finally admits that her father was a sperm donor and she gives her what little information that she has on him, which amounts to a notecard with 806 and the name Cryosperm Bank, KT uses it to register on a website that matches children with their donors and is pleasantly surprised when she not only gets an email from donor 806 saying he wants to meet her, but she also finds out that she has two siblings who even go to the same high school as her.  KT's new siblings are Jesse the handsome athlete and Gabe the allergy prone nerd who enjoys magic, together they "borrow" a car from Gabe's dad's and head from St. Louis to California to meet their donor father.  

806 a novel is the road trip story of three teenagers who have very little in common, other than sharing the same donor father, and come to find that families come in many different forms, including the ones that raise you.  KT initially has this very moody, pissed off,  and pretty sarcastic vibe, with most of her anger directed at her mother's past failed relationships.   KT feels like her mother is searching for a father figure to fill in some missing gap in KT's life, along the way she's made some horrible choices with the men that she dates.  I must say I was really disappointed with the way that KT's mom avoided talking to KT about who her biological father was, chooses to instead send her to Max, a complete stranger and having him break the news to her about her being conceived via a sperm donor.  It's no wonder that KT refers to her mom as "Kim" instead of "Mom."  Being a mom myself, this seemed so impersonal, rude even, but maybe it was also a way for KT to distance herself from her mom and her frustrating relationships, not just a way of getting back at her.   It took quite awhile for me to grow to like KT, she was pretty hard on her mom, her friends, even her newly found siblings, but eventually, she seemed to calm down a bit.  I can't say that she truly grew as a person through the story, she never really showed remorse for how she treated them but finding her father seemed to set her on the path toward an inner peace.  Filled in a hole.  Jesse was the popular kid, who despite this was pretty down to earth.  He sort of grows into the older brother role which I really liked.  His main concern was that his two moms were breaking up and he's faced with having to choose which one of his parents he wants to live with.  Gabe is the sweet kid of the bunch, he's allergic to a lot of things, insecure, and in search of how he fits in and struggling with how to relate to girls,  I especially enjoyed how he asked KT for advice.  It was kinda sweet watching her act all sisterly.  The interactions between the siblings were what really made the story so much fun.  Their journey ended up being not only about finding their donor dad but finding out about themselves, how they relate to one another as siblings and the importance their families waiting back home meant to them.  Sure you have to be willing to suspend belief, like how easily donor 806 contacts them, and then despite a mixup with the donor number's at the Sperm Bank they're still able to track him down.  If anything their donor dad's reaction to meeting them was a bit too over the top, but even he was highly entertaining.  Plus there are a few twists and turns, and all the things you would expect from a road trip, like getting lost, running out of gas, getting their jeep stolen, and money taken.  806 manages not to be too heavy of a story and resolved in a heartwarming way and Cynthia Weil brought her passion for music and writing songs into the story, which I also enjoyed.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: Granted by John David Anderson

35068662Granted by John David Anderson
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  336  (hardcover)
Publishing:  February 13th, 2018
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "The last time you blew out your birthday candles, what did you wish for?"

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is the youngest fairy to graduate from the academy, a certified wish granter who is about to embark on her first assignment to Kettering, Ohio to grant 13-year-old Kasarah's wish for a purple bike to replace the one that was stolen.  Ophelia is one of many fairies living hidden from the outside world in the Haven, a place infused with magic from wishes granted by the Great Tree at its center.  The Great Tree is where wishes made in the human world on a wishbone, a blown out candle, or even a four leaf clover are received and then magically become the golden leaves dropped from the tree with the name and details of the person whose wish the fairies are to grant.  The granting of wishes is what has kept the magic flowing in Haven, but lately, the number of wishes being granted has dramatically decreased.  With fewer wishes being chosen the amount of magic the fairies have to grant a wish is being depleted, so no magic can be wasted and why Ophelia is so determined to complete her task.  Ophelia has trained for this very moment, she's got all the right gear and already plotted the fastest route to get her to Ohio and back.  It should be a simple mission to retrieve the coin that Kasarah made her wish for a bicycle on,  say the magic words granting the wish and get back to Haven.  Except, the human world is unpredictable, with many unexpected hazards and obstacles standing in her way.  The first being a run-in with an airplane that causes her to get all turned around and to lose over half of her supplies, but that is nothing compared to the decision that awaits when she has to decide what makes a wish worthy of being granted.  

Every since reading Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Posted and Dungeoneers, Anderson's books have been on my auto-buy list.  His newest book, Granted is such a delight and wonderful addition.  Ophelia is the lovely blue-haired fairy who desperately tries to complete her mission and help save the magic in Haven.  And oh boy what a brutal mission it is, with odds that seem to be stacked against her, and everything that can possibly go wrong seems to happen.  Not only does she have to contend with an airplane and truck barreling at her, she encounters humans who attack her with a broom, a newspaper,  even a fire extinguisher, not to mention a flock of ill-tempered geese and a hawk that thinks she's dinner.  Despite being battered and badly injured, Ophelia is a survivalist.  She may have her moments where she doubts why she should've even bothered trying to grant Kasarah's wish or whether she should just give up and ask for reinforcements, but Ophelia's also resourceful and determined, and "a promise is a promise" after all.  Luckily for Ophelia, she comes across an abandoned dog, who she names Sam and together they follow the elusive path of Kasarah's coin as it moves from the fountain she made her wish upon to a diner, a super pets store, ending at the lemonade stand of siblings Anna and Gabe, two kids desperately missing their dad who's away serving in Iraq.  What really makes this story for me though is Sam, how he so clearly sounds like how a dog would speak.  How Sam longs for a friend and is so enamored by Ophelia, he captured my heart.  Especially when Sam starts to follow her and she asks, "Why are you following me?" and he responds, "Because you are broken and lost and I licked you, so now we are friends."  Granted is a glimpse into how some wishes can be "impossible and others might be unsustainable."  "A wish is many things.  It is hope and desire and daydreams.  It is impossibility and improbability and something in between.  It is stardust and well water and spectrums of light in the sky.  It is half-melted birthday candles and Christmas lists.  It is broken turkey bones.  It is the willing suspension of disbelief.  And sometimes it is desperation.  It is a hole in your heart that wants filling."   Such a sweet heartwarming story with all the magical charm of wishing on a star.