Tuesday, July 23, 2019

MG Fantasy review of The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner

37648365The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner
Format:  E ARC 
Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co.
Number of Pages:  288
Publishing:  August 6th, 2019
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:  "She descended into the basement, tasked with collecting the bones."

The opening lines and book description of The Bone Garden is what instantly hooked me.  There's something about graveyards that conjure up the images of gravestones, moonlit nights, caskets, and the potential for ghosts, of which there are none in this story.  It's just the right amount of dark, creepy and the perfect setting and atmosphere for this story.  I knew I was in for a treat.  I've seen reviews that compare The Bone Garden to Monstrous, The Graveyard Book and Coraline, which I full heartedly agree with.      

Each day Irréelle travels through the tunnels and passageways of the underside of the graveyard collecting bone dust for Miss Vesper.  A task that Irréelle eagerly completes because pleasing Miss Vesper is her highest priority.   Irréelle is tethered to Miss Vesper for her very existence due to being created by bone dust and Miss Vesper's imagination.  A fact that Miss Vesper will never let her forget,  one false move can lead to  Irréelle's existence being wiped out in a blink of an eye.   All Irréelle wants is to make her creator happy, which is turning out to be more and more difficult each day.  Irréelle both loves and fears Miss Vesper, making her the kind of character that you immediately feel sympathy for.  As far as villains go, Miss Vesper would be right there at the top of the list.  She's cruel, demanding, ill-tempered, and speaks to Irréelle with words as sharp as knives, leaving her constantly on edge.  Miss Vesper is kinda like this mad scientist from Frankenstein mixed with Cruella de Vil who creates children from spare body parts, bone dust, and her imagination.   Though her creations can also be imperfect.  For example, when Miss Vesper created Irréelle, she ended up with a spine that is crooked and limbs that are misaligned, leaving her with a limp.  Yet Irréelle persists in completing her tasks with the hope that someday Miss Vesper will use her magic to make her real.   

Lately, however,  Irréelle's imperfections have led her to become even more forgetful and clumsy, and despite the best of intentions in pleasing Miss Vesper, she ends up doing the inexcusable, unforgivable.  She crushes one of Miss Vesper's newest creations, a hand that when it comes to life begins to attack Irréelle.  Even though Irréelle pleads with Miss Vesper that it was just a mistake, that she was only trying to defend herself, Miss Vesper has had enough and decides it's time to break their tether.  While Miss Vesper gathers supplies for a bonfire, Irréelle manages to escape into the passageways below ground.  But, Miss Vesper won't let one of her creations go so easily and sends her bats after her.    

As Irréelle tries to escape through the tunnels, she stumbles across a boy (Guy).  He too is one of Miss Vesper's creations.  Originally he was sent to find "an unmarked grave that is very clearly marked," and when he was unsuccessful, was buried under a pile of rocks, it never pays to anger Miss Vesper.  Irréelle believes that Guy may just be what she needs to get back into Miss Vesper's good graces if they can complete her impossible task maybe she can be forgiven.  

Irréelle's time is initially spent below ground, carrying a candle to illuminate her way through the tunnels to extract bone dust, which is certainly creepy but not too scary.  She's a dutiful girl, very eager to please.  Other than the anger and contempt Miss Vesper shows her, she is in no true danger at first.  Even Miss Vesper is not quite as scary as I thought she was going to be, although she certainly is unkind and cruel in her treatment of Irréelle.  She can conjure up bats made from dust so probably best not to get on her bad side.  There's an element of adventuring and mystery as the duo makes their way above ground and through the cemetery trying to figure out why Miss Vesper is so desperate to find this unmarked grave.  Who's remains does it hold and what does she intend to do with them?  Things also take an interesting turn when they run into an unexpected ally, a girl named Lass who's also been sent by Miss Vesper to search for the unmarked grave.    And danger does come when they have a run-in with the watchman from the cemetery and are returned to Miss Vesper's clutches.  It's within these moments that Irréelle's character shines, she acts boldly to save her friends and learns that she has the inner strength, and determination to resist being compelled to do what someone else wants.  I really enjoyed her transformation and the way in which the story was resolved.  

Monday, July 15, 2019

MG Fantasy/Adventure review of Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures #2) by Peter Bunzl

33148504Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures #2)  by Peter Bunzl
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher:  Jolly Fish Press 
Number of Pages:  384
Publishing:  August 13th, 2019 (first published May 1st, 2017)
Source:  Publisher 

Opening Lines: "Jack stepped through the crack into the night.  Outside the yard was quiet and thick dark clouds hid the moon from view."

Moonlocket opens with a prologue and introduces the character of Jack of Diamonds.  A nefarious criminal who has just escaped from prison for yet unknown reasons.  This is a brilliant setup which sets the mood and excitement level for the story yet to come.  Bunzl then shifts to Lily and Robert relaying how Lily's mother died when she was six years old in a tragic accident.  How her father is a famous inventor and one of his inventions was instrumental in saving her life.  Robert is the boy who assisted Lily and who has come to live with her since his father died in the first book.  Lily's father would like to adopt him, but Robert is reticent and feels that he has unresolved issues to deal with first and he's still grieving and doesn't feel it's the right time.  Robert visits his father's shop often, but it's still a painful reminder of all that he has lost, his prior home, and that his father's shop now belongs to his mother, wherever she might be.  It's while at his father's shop that Robert sees a mysterious figure lurking about.  At first, he believes it's his da now as a ghost but soon discovers that what they were really after is the Moonlocket, a locket with mysterious markings that holds a hidden clue to Roberts past and might lead him to his mother.

I am so enamored with these covers, the steampunk aspects of zeps combined with Malkin the mechanical fox, the kids riding their bikes and even the playing card.  Just gorgeous.  The tag line is also so perfect for the story, "a thrilling tale of catastrophe and courage." Yes and yes.  I was excited that Robert had the opportunity to tell more of his story about his mother's disappearance and his connection to the missing Moonlocket.  Lily and Robert make a fantastic team and I love how they support each other.  Lily's no-nonsense approach and how she won't be talked out of "going on a ghost hunt" with Robert.  They're creative, fast thinkers and although at times they get overpowered by the adults, somehow they manage to outwit them as well.  And Malkin, the sarcastic mechanical fox, who adds just the right amount of humor.    Moonlocket also features a cryptogram or engraving of words on the locket so is perfect for kids who like to solve puzzles.  Such a fun adventure that is both a touching and a heartfelt testament of friendship and courage.    

Favorite lines:  "...when you lose someone close, the gifts they gave you become keepsakes to remember them by - it's as if they magically contain a part of that person.  And when you mislay such a gift, it is like losing that person all over again.  But when you recover it, it is always a great and unexpected blessing."              

Monday, July 1, 2019

YA Fantasy review of Last Things by Jacqueline West

41154322Last Things by Jacqueline West
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Number of Pages: 416
Published  May 7th, 2019
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line: "I like the edges."

 Anders Thorson is the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Last Things, a metal band that performs at the Crow's Nest coffeehouse on Friday nights.  To the small town in Minnesota, they're legendary and destined for great things.  At school,  Anders is a bit of a dork, the quiet guy that no one notices.  He's insecure, self-deprecating and doesn't truly feel worthy when people praise his talents,  and certainly never deserving of such notoriety.  Frankie is his sort of girlfriend, but he doesn't think he's worthy of her admiration either.  She's probably just hanging out with him because of the music.  Yet when Anders takes the stage, his skills shine.  He plays and sings with passion, intensity, and such lightning-fast speed that it sets him apart from anyone else in the band.  He's consumed by the songs that come to him in flashes of full-page lyrics that he instantly must jot down.  He lives and breathes his music.      

 Thea Malcolm is new to town and likes being on the periphery of all the action.  She quietly sips her cafe' au lait and watches Anders, Jezz and Patrick perform pretty much unnoticed.  She's drawn to Anders, always watching him perform, hanging around while he's packing up after the show, even following him home and staying until he turns out the light.  Not once has she approached him, telling herself she's here to protect him.  Everyone in Anders orbit calls her his stalker, but Anders has hardly noticed her at all.  Then one day Thea approaches Anders and tries to give him a warning that he's in danger.  Anders is initially suspicious even doubtful, he thinks she's just trying to scare him.  Yet, Thea knows things, details from his past that no one should know.  She knows about what happened to him two years ago in the woods, how it might've been the catalyst for his talents.  She even seems to know something about Frankie's disappearance.  Can he trust her?  Should he believe her?  

Last Things alternates between chapters of Thea and Anders, slowly revealing the main plot, always with a hint of mystery and suspense.    There's an overall eerieness that I thoroughly enjoyed.   The woods almost take on a life of their own, they have an ominous, dark, mysterious even dangerous quality to them.  They contain a darkness that is watching, lurking, preying on peoples strongest desires and insecurities.  Couple that with Thea's almost obsessive fascination with Anders and her earliest descriptions of watching him perform at the Crow's Nest, it gives the story a whole creepy, stalkerish vibe.    Is she a love-struck fan or does she have other motives?     

 Growing up I had a place that was like the Crow's Nest.  Mine wasn't a coffeehouse but was an 80's bar that had live music.  It's the place I saw my first concert with my friends, where The Outfield performed.  West creates this beautiful atmosphere within the coffeehouse.   She captures the perspectives of both the performer and the audience.  It's exhilarating to read about Anders on stage performing his sets, the way he strums his guitar and how the intensity of the music moves the audience.  The poetic quality of the lyrics he sings and the emotions that arise in those listening.  West even includes the entire song lyrics into the story, my favorite is "Devils Due."   I'd describe this book as a mix of  Stranger Things meets the movie Crossroads starring Ralph Macchio.  In fact, in one of her interviews, she says that she drew inspiration from the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson who reportedly sold his soul to the devil.  Overall, I quite enjoyed this dark twisty story with an emphasis on metal music and questionable musical talents.

Favorite line:  "Darkness takes whatever space it's given."                    

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

MG Fantasy Adventure review of Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Keira Gillett and Eoghan Kerrigan

42244224Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Keira Gillett and Eoghan Kerrigan
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Keira Gillett
Number of Pages: 350
Published  May 24th, 2019
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Ah!" shrieked a startled Christoffer, stumbling backwards from the passage, his black hair falling into brown eyes."   

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War begins with Aleks and his friends within the Thief of Peace's Passage, an underground corridor that separates the Dwarf Kingdom from the Fey's realm.  It's here that they come face to face with Fritjof, the dragon of chaos.   Fritjof had up until this point masked his reappearance by erasing his very existence from everyone's memory, that is everyone except Aleks sister Nori.  Nori is the one that warned Aleks and his friends of the danger that Fritjof imposes for everyone and together they'd been trying to find a way to defeat him.  Thinking he had Fritjof cornered in the passage, Aleks prepared his bow and took aim, only to discover he'd missed his target and instead inadvertently injured a dwarf who was hiding.  Aleks tries to quickly explain his error, that he was aiming for the dragon, but only infuriates the dwarf because she like most everyone else does not believe Fritjof really exists.  Despite Aleks best efforts in pleading with her that he never intended to fire upon her, the dwarf sounds the alarm and races away yelling that they're under attack.  Aleks and his friends are left with no other choice but to flee.  Fritjof vanishes, gleeful that he has most likely started a war and is one step closer to his freedom.  Will Aleks and his friends prevent a war between the dwarfs and fey?  How will he convince the two sides that Fritjof presents a real danger to them when they've never heard of him and certainly have never even seen him?  And what awaits Aleks when he returns to the fey realm, a place where changelings such as himself are killed on sight? 

The prologue gets the reader up to speed with the past books in the current story arc, while jumping into the action and adventuring right away.  Although there is plenty of background information given on the current plot and characters, I would recommend starting with the first book in this series,  Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well.  Reading Keira's latest book is always a delight,  to once again return to characters and a story that I've become so vested in.  Things are certainly heating up for Aleks and his friends, what with Fritjof stirring up his chaos.  At the end of the last book, I was quite concerned about Aleks and his friends future, especially after that cliffhanger ending.  I've especially grown a fondness for Aleks.  He's faced many challenges with being a changeling and then to have had difficulty with his navigational skills.  He's still facing the difficult choice of whether he wants to be fey or human, and whether returning to Neiffleheim is in his best interests.  The Eighth Fox War really answered many of my lingering questions about what kind of ruler he would be, how he would bring the fey together and whether or not he would be coronated as their king.  I did also find it enjoyable watching the political intrigue going on among the fey to try to steal the crown for themselves, and was quite happy with the way things were resolved.   One of my favorite parts was the continued romance that is blossoming between Aleks and Saskia,  and the way Aleks bargained with her father to gain his support and alliance.  Quite humorous.

As in her previous books, there are beautiful black and white illustrations by Eoghan Kerrigan, but this time Keira has also created some of the illustrations that begin each chapter heading.  My absolute favorite is the Raven Design she created for chapter seven.  Just gorgeous.  And who could forget Airi the white raven and all of Aleks friends?  The way that each story builds on their friendship with one another and how they always are there for one another, adventuring through the countryside or rushing in to save each other from whatever gripping danger they may encounter next.  Can't wait to see what Keira comes up with next.      

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

MG Fantasy/Adventure review of Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle by Zac Gorman, Sam Bosma (Illustrations)

39855028Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle by Zac Gorman, illustrations by Sam Bosma
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 384
Published:  April 23rd, 2019
Source:  Library

Opening Line:  "It was raining, because of course it was."

Book one, Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain was a Cybils finalist for MG Speculative Fiction in 2018.  Here's the description of the story from Sherry: "No one would have picked Thisby Thestoop to be the heroine of a great adventure. And yet, this foundling girl (whose only friend is a slime named Mingus), who lives in a dungeon, feeding and cleaning up after its monsters, saves a prince and princess. The perilous journey of the two very different girls, Thisby shy and grubby and Iphigenia beautiful and entitled, shows how a friendship can be made under the most challenging of circumstances, and the challenge of maintaining a friendship even when trust is broken. Witty, funny, and full of feeling, with memorable characters, both major and minor, this will appeal to gamers and fantasy fans of all stripes, especially those who are looking for real characters with whom they can sympathize and identify."— Sherry Early, Semicolon 

Book two in the series takes place a year after Thisby first led Iphigenia to safety through the Black Mountain.  Since that time, she's become an adept gamekeeper, she knows all the short cuts, dangers, and monsters that call the dungeon their home.  Everything has always run smoothly under her capable hands.  But now that the King has appointed Overseer Marl to run the Black Mountain dungeon drastic changes are headed her way.  Suddenly the dire rats are acting strangely, there's a mysterious monster on the lose in the dungeon killing the other creatures and there are even rumors that Umberfall is planning to attack the Kingdom of Nth.  One of the Overseer's first decree's is to reinstate the Wretched Scrattle, a race to the top of Castle Grimstone where the winner will become the new leader of the Black Mountain Dungeon.  At first,  Thisby isn't interested in competing to become the dungeon's new master, her heart after all lies in being its gameskeeper, but when it becomes evident that she's needed to save the mountain, Thisby does step up for the challenge. 

I quite enjoyed Thisby's adventures in the dungeon, exploring the underground winding river while avoiding the giant albino alligators and other monsters.  I especially love Mingus, Thisby's slime advisor/friend by her side.  Book two sees the addition of a few new characters that keep things interesting,  like Jono the skeleton who is assigned as Thisby's personal assistant in the dungeon and the twenty-four ghouls put in charge of helping to feed the monsters.  Once the competition gets underway Thisby also meets some of the competitors like Vas the noble who brought along his own hunter, Donato, and conjurer, Bero.  And although Iphigenia isn't helping Thisby directly with the competition, she still has a prominent role in the story.  Overall a highly entertaining story, with beautiful illustrations, especially the full page ones, and a story that is filled with creative twists and turns, and an ending that will have you wanting more.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Guest Post & Excerpt from Keira Gillett's newest book: Alek Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War

Today I'm pleased to have Keira Gillett, author of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy visit my blog with her guest post and an excerpt from her latest book, Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War.  I've been following her series for a number of years and she's always so kind to share her insights on writing and illustrating.  Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!  

First off, thank you so much, Brenda, for welcoming me back to Log Cabin Library! I am thrilled to be here. Some of you may have seen me guest blogging before, but for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Keira Gillett and I am the author of the Zaria Fierce Series. My newest release, Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War concludes the second trilogy in the series, which focuses on Aleks, a changeling who just wants to be human and his struggles as forces beyond his control lead him further and further into the fey realm.

One of the things I got to do with this book that I hadn’t done in previous books was illustrate parts of it. Eoghan Kerrigan, the longtime illustrator of the series and I split the interior illustrations 50-50 and threw our creative juices into bringing Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War to life. The results I find to be beautiful, distinctive and thought provoking.

With both Eoghan and I working together on this book it reminds me very much of movies, theater, and other arts where many individuals have a hand in creating an overall world and evoking together moods, feelings, and tones to scenes and situations. Both Eoghan and I have artistic educational backgrounds in drawing and illustrating. We have our own style of work and the similarities and differences in our approach to creating works of art are apparent within the book.

For a long time when I was asked by others why I didn’t illustrate my books I would tell them it’s like hiring a plumber to do electrical work in your house. Sure the plumber is a tradesman, and sure the plumber works on houses, but the plumber’s expertise is not in electrical work, so why use the plumber if you know a good electrician? I lacked the confidence to do the job well.

Eoghan’s artwork has this beautiful realism to it. He’s a master of shading and has a real love of trolls and fantasy which shines in the series. My work is much more graphic with elements of pattern to it. I also thought I was too close to the project as I write the series and that might make me blind to what readers may really want to see. Circumstances changed, and with a lot of encouragement from family and friends, I was able to easily and quickly put pencil and pen to paper and draw the world that until now I’ve only painted in words. Their subsequent enjoyment of my pieces was a huge confidence boost, and I am proud to display my illustrations alongside Eoghan’s.  

From what I gather about Eoghan’s process is that he draws mockups for a piece, then when he’s ready to make it the final piece he uses the mockup for reference and starts by lightly using a colored pencil before he moves to artist grade graphite pencils to complete the piece. My process also goes through stages. I rely heavily on references – be it photography I’ve taken or what I find in my environment (figure or still life) and I always start there. I really miss my access to figure drawing classes, but that’s why one has oneself and a camera. From there, I use graphite pencils, art pens, artist grade markers, and sometimes a touch of Photoshop to complete the work.

What is fun and weird about my art is seeing it before and after I’ve prepped it for the book. Before in person, you will see white and black, yes, but also all sorts of odd color combos like plum purple or robin egg blue hair, yellow wings, powder blue or orange pants, and green jackets. This is because I didn’t have enough tones and shades of gray in my marker set and rather than going out to test and buy those colors, I created a reference sheet, then using my phone converted it to black and white. With it always handy, I know exactly what color to pick to get the shade of gray I want the computer to see when I scan and convert the drawings to grayscale.

The biggest highlight in illustrating my work is the immediacy of it. What’s in my head I can bring out whenever the mood strikes. Unlike Eoghan, as the author, I don’t have to have the book fully written before drawing something as I know what is coming next. It’s also great for me when the writing muse is a little shy to switch gears and keep the creative juices flowing by working on the artwork. I currently have nine chapters drawn for book seven, and about seven and a half chapters written. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – now if I could translate the art into text I’d be even closer to completing that first draft!

I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the artwork of Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War. Be sure to grab your copy today to enjoy all the illustrations and adventures that come with them.

Book Summary:
Newly proclaimed king over all fey, Aleks Mickelsen is a changeling with a lot on his mind and many enemies breathing down his neck. The fey realm of Niffleheim is rife with danger everywhere he looks. A terrible dragon by the name of Fritjof is intent on causing chaos, pitting the fey against each other and starting an interspecies war for the chance of gaining his freedom. Aleks’ biological father wants him to abdicate the throne before his coronation, or else. All that, and he has to impress the father of the girl of his dreams. What’s a bloke to do?

Emerging from the bowels of the fey realm, Aleks led the way to the Autumn Court. It was probably unnecessary at this point to take the lead, but as the group’s navigator, it was an ingrained habit. They hadn’t made it very far into the plains, when spears with sharp, narrow heads thunked point down in the ground all around them, trapping them in a circle.

“We have to keep creating distance,” Henrik said, grabbing a spear from beside him and lobbing it back.

The dwarves raised round wooden shields, deflecting the attack. As more joined them, the women spread out, spears and axes ready in hand.

“We’re sitting ducks,” Zaria shouted, zapping a hooked spear away from her. It disappeared into thin air, arriving where Aleks knew not.

A set of spears – one barbed, one hooked – shot toward her. She did the same to them as she had the first spear, and retaliated by tossing a fireball at the brigade. They ducked, throwing up their shields, but Zaria once again purposefully aimed high to avoid hurting their foes. She and Aleks did not want a war on their hands. They were trying to diffuse one.

“We have to snuff our lanterns. It’s the only way!” cried Filip. “Turn off your stargazer, Aleks.”

He did, clicking a button within a star cutout on the egg-shaped device. His friends likewise darkened their lanterns, deliberately shattering them against the ground. After a brief flare of light as oil and fuel burned bright, the world went dark, and Aleks had to clear spots from his vision.

It was still night, sometime past midnight, and all was pitch black. The scalloped icy ceiling over the plains offered no hint of recourse. In an instant, the tide had turned, and their attackers were on the defensive. The all-female dwarf unit came to a stumbling, crashing halt.

Aleks couldn’t see it, but he pictured the scene like one of the cartoons he had watched growing up, with one soldier running into another and causing a chain reaction, sending everyone toppling like dominos.

Dwarves shouted and groaned, hurling insults at one another like they hurled spears. Some hit their marks with deadly accuracy, as barbed as some of the real spears lobbed in their direction. Wounded egos and pride ripped through the troop, tumbling them into chaos.

The Ravagers had relied on the light generated by Aleks and the others to direct their attacks. Without it, the soldiers were as blinded by the darkness as Aleks and his friends. Try as they might, none of the female warriors could move for knocking into someone or tripping over the uneven ground. Unlike the dwarves, however, they stayed quiet, essentially becoming invisible to any straining ears close by.

Zaria touched his sleeve, making him jump. “Easy,” she whispered, leaning close. “Do you think you can lead us in the dark?”

Aleks’ fairy power was the ability to navigate on instinct. He always knew where he was going… well, he used to know. Lately, his magic wasn’t always right at hand, and he’d unwittingly taken his friends down many wrong turns and paths; but, they’d always forgiven him, and somehow they’d always ended up right where they were supposed to be. He knew without asking they all had his back.

The inner debate roiled in him. Could he lead them? Glitchy powers or not, Aleks felt certain he could. This was a path he’d taken before, so he had a pretty solid idea of what to expect and where to go. Instead of giving a verbal answer that might give away their position to the nearby dwarves, he took Zaria’s small, slender hand in his and tugged her forward in the dark. She understood him, like she always did, and followed without hesitation.

About the Author: Keira Gillett

Keira Gillett loves painting stories with words and pictures. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from the University of Florida and has been in multiple exhibitions. When she’s not working, writing, or illustrating she loves to snuggle with her doggie, Oskar. Like Aleks, Keira wishes she could understand her pet. If only Oskar could talk like Airi! You can follow their antics on Instagram with the #oskarpie hashtag.

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                                      Available on Amazon

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

MG Fantasy review of The Root of Magic by Kathleen Benner Duble

42359561The Root of Magic by Kathleen Benner Duble
Format:  ARC Paperback
Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages:  224
Publishing:  June 11th,  2019
Source:  Blue Slip Media 

Opening Line:  "Are we going to die?  Wisp asked from the depths of his blankets in the backseat."  

Shortly after Christmas, Willow, Wisp and their mother are traveling home from Canada following Willow's game-saving win in her hockey tournament.  Suddenly, a winter storm strikes causing their car to hit a patch of ice,  slide off the road,  trapping them precariously off the side of a cliff.  They're soon rescued when James and Layla McHenry appear in their snowplow and pull them to safety, just in the nick of time.  The Mc Henry's take them to the town of Kismet, Maine to wait out the snowstorm where Cora has a room all ready for them at her bed and breakfast.  It's as if they were expected.       

It's difficult for the family to settle in at the bed and breakfast, Willow's mother is very concerned about her younger brother Wisp's health as he suffers from a mysterious illness that has baffled doctors and for which there seems to be no known cause, treatment or cure.  Wisp has these bouts resulting in him being hospitalized and their mother is worried about what she will do if he has another episode while they're stranded.  In the meantime, they will continue to follow the Duchad family series of spoken and unspoken rules regarding Wisp's health.  Willow's life has been molded around the things that Wisp can and can't manage,  everything from eating healthy foods, no excitement to treating him with kid gloves like he will break at any moment.  Willow and her brother never have the chance to run or play in earnest together.  Most distressing is that their parents have even separated because of a difference in opinion on the way to manage Wisp's illness.

While in town, Willow meets a local boy, Topher.   Topher has a secret, one that he seems to want to share with Willow about the town, but one that he can't share.  It results in Topher trying to push Willow toward going home.  The longer that Willow spends in town, the more mysterious this little town becomes, even making the town seem creepy, slightly ominous with its hidden secrets and people who appear telepathic.  How will Willow convince her mother that they need to leave, especially when her mom starts to act like they belong here?    

One of the big questions posed by The Root of Magic is the difference between fate and free will.  Fate being that your life is preplanned, already decided versus the free will of choosing your own path, having the ability to change things yourself.  The characters in the story are given an opportunity to know what each day has in store for them, the knowledge of everything that is to happen tomorrow and the time to prepare for it.  A life that is predictable, ordered, knowing what to expect, with less of the stress of the unknown.  Yet, although it may bring peace of mind, what do you give up in the process?  What about being spontaneous, the joy of surprising someone?  What are you loosing with knowing tomorrow?  This is the dilemma that faces Willow when she enters the town of Kismet.  Something she isn't really fully aware of until she meets Topher. Willow's mom's decision seems to be clear, she wants the knowledge of tomorrow, but in the end, its Willow that has to make the choice whether this is a future that she wants.  Even though Wisp is so ill and she longs for the familiar way things used to be before, maybe Willow's also ready to deal with the pain of the unknown.  I really enjoyed The Root of Magic, it gives you a lot to ponder and I always enjoy mysterious towns, especially during the winter.      

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

MG Fantasy Adventure review of Snared: Lair of the Beast by Adam Jay Epstein

40864758Snared:  Lair of the Beast by Adam Jay Epstein
Format:  E-ARC 
Publisher: Imprint
Number of Pages: 256
Publishing:  June 4th, 2019
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening line:  "At the end of a long torch-lit hall, four blinking eyes, each as big as a slither trolls fist adorned a stone arch." 

Book one, Snared Escape to the Above was a Cybils finalist for MG Speculative Fiction in 2018.  Here's the blurb I wrote summarizing the book:  " Wily Snare has never left the Carrion Tomb, where he works as a trapsmith for its cavern mage Stalag, designing elaborate traps to foil treasure seekers. Then an acrobatic elf, a moss golem, and a former knight with a floating arm named Righteous evade all of his traps, ambush Stalag and take his most valuable treasure, Wily himself. They want Wily’s quick fingers, wit, and ability to detect and disable traps to raid some of the most challenging dungeons in the realm. But by the end of their adventure, treasure isn’t important to the group–they have become a family. Snared is an action-packed and heartwarming adventure filled with twists and turns and memorable characters, that’s sure to captivate fans of dungeon crawling."  

 Lair of the Beast is the second book in the series and releases June 4th, I was super excited when I saw on early ARC on Edelweiss, as this was one of my most highly anticipated reads for this year.  

After having defeated the Infernal King, and evaded the traps of one hundred dungeons or more, Wily Snare is still on the hunt for Stalag the cavern mage, who meanwhile has been busy amassing an army.  Stalag won't stop until he can defeat Wily and the whole Kingdom of Panthasos, and once again bring his rule to The Above.  And this time, Stalag has the means to create an indestructible army of neccanite golems.  To thwart his plans, Wily enlists the help of a wise locksage, who sends him in search of an enchanted compass which can point Wily toward whomever he wishes to find.  This will not be an easy task for hidden around every corner there are new caves to explore,  dangers, traps, and monsters to avoid.  And their most ambitious task yet awaits, to not only find but tame a Lair Beast.  A creature who resides at the bottom of the deepest cave in a place known as The Below. 

Sounds chilling right?  A beast to end all beasts, massive in size a cacophony of other beasts meshed together containing three very distinctive heads, and one creepy but seriously cool Lair Beast named Palojax.  Ever since Wily defeated the Infernal King (Wily's father) and assumed his rightful place as the prince of Panthasos, he has been raked with doubt.  Wily places a lot of expectations on himself as a new ruler.  He wants to do right by his people, but he's also in unfamiliar territory.  As a trapsmith, he knew how to get out of a tricky situation, but The Above is more complicated and with Stalag's army constantly invading and destroying villages he has new demands placed on him.  When the villager's say they "want a real king,"  it has him questioning himself that much more.  

Then Wily meets Valor Pelage, a Quellmaster from the Roamabout tribe, probably the only person who has a chance of taming the beast.  She's a bit rash and jumps into situations, but she's also starting to grow on Wily.  In a lot of ways, I think she helps Wily realize that he can't keep putting this much pressure on himself.  It's a valuable lesson to realize that everyone fails sometimes, that it is o.k. to make mistakes.  Making mistakes provides that chance to learn something.  So yeah, there's some really nice messaging and will surely captivate fans of dungeon crawling adventures.                 

Monday, May 13, 2019

MG Fantasy review of The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

37534756The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Children's Books
Number of Pages:  288
Published:   November 6th, 2018
Source:  Library

Opening Lines:   "Once upon a time in a beautiful, dirty, exciting city full of people and chocolate and possibilities, there was a girl so fearless and daring..."

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was the Cybils 2017 Middle-Grade Speculative-Fiction winner.  It featured Adventurine, a young dragon who was transformed into a human.  I was really excited to see the second book in the series at my library and eager to read Silke's story.    

From Goodreads:  "Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting these visitors …  Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?"

Silke has started working for the Chocolate Heart as a waitress and delivering handbills to drum up sales.  She's an adept salesperson and really knows how to entice people into coming to the store to sample their delectable chocolates.  She's diplomatic, determined and perhaps a bit overly confident, but she knows what she wants.  She has dreams and aspirations of one day having her own place to call home, one that can't be taken away from her.  I quite enjoyed her desire to be in control of her story, to forge her own way in life.  Adventurine is Silke's best friend, she's fierce, territorial and very protective of her friends and family.  Having the ability to transform into a dragon when she's angry also makes her unpredictable and volatile, it's a good thing she has Silke. who usually can calm her down in these situations.  The two girls really complement each other and would do anything to protect one another.  Their friendship really shines in this story.
When Silke's storytelling draws the attention of the Crown Princess, and she's given the opportunity to spy on the visiting fairy delegation, Silke jumps at the chance.  She has unfinished business with the fairies and questions about her parents that she hopes they might have the answers to.  I love how the setting of the story moved from the Chocolate Heart shop to the Palace and the way Silke had to adjust to learning how to be a proper lady-in-waiting, to wear dresses with frills.  She's quite entertaining. I adored her quick wit and ability to get out of almost any situation by telling a story.   I also like the addition of Princess Sofia and hope she'll be featured in a future story in the Tales from the Chocolate Heart series. The Girl with the Dragon Heart has some pleasant surprises,  lovely messaging and fierce strong female characters.