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.