Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Middle Grade Fantasy review of The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup

44650388The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup
Format:  ARC Paperback
Publisher:  Jolly Fish Press
Number of Pages:  224
Publishing:  November 12th,  2019
Source:  ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening Line: "Tessa aimed her binoculars at the white blanket of new snow, searching for a Barbegazi."

Tessa's Opa (grandfather) shared many stories with her, but her favorite is the one of how he was saved after an avalanche by a Barbegazi.  Everyone in their village believed Tessa's Opa was crazy but not Tessa.  He'd always planned to show her the spot where he was rescued, but now he's gone.  Since then, Tessa and her mother have been caring for her Oma, who lately has become lost after her husband's death.  To make her Oma feel better, Tessa wants to prove that Barbegazi's exist, that her Opa was right.  She has a lot to prove and very little to go on.  

Gawion's twin sister Maeg is missing, presumably lost after an avalanche.   Gawion knows in his gut that's impossible because both of them can ride the snow of an avalanche and his sister could never get buried in the snow.    After a previous bad experience with humans, Gawion's parents forbid him from searching for Maeg anywhere near the human village, and most of all from interacting with them.  Humans are dangerous and not to be trusted.  But, Gawion feels the only way he will be able to help his sister is by getting some answers from the nearby villagers.  After Tessa has a mishap while skiing out of bounds, Gawion comes to her rescue and later they join forces to find Maeg.  They also discover the true reason Maeg's missing, which turns out to be more sinister then they thought, she might've been captured by Professor Bahne from the Institute of Zoology in Zurich who's researching the existence of the Barbegazi.  

The Missing Barbegazi is the debut novel from Danish author, H. S. Norup.  It is set in the wintery backdrop of the alpine mountains and is the tale of a young girl in search of the mythical creature from her Opa's stories.  The Barbegazi are a gnome or dwarf-like creature covered in white fur, with a long beard, and large feet, they live in the freezing cold in shelters covered in snow and help people who become trapped after an avalanche.  Each chapter alternates between Tessa and Gawion and is separated by excerpts from Professor Bahne's book, Habits & Habitats:  A Historic Account of Alpine Elves, with events taking place from December 26th through December 31st.  

Norup credits some of her inspiration for the story from her time living in Switzerland and skiing while her sons took ski race training.  It captures the atmosphere of an Austrian village, swishing on skis, the cable cars and lifts pulling you up the mountainside.  The mention of goulash soup and the use of Oma and Opa to refer to Tessa's grandparents had me nostalgic for Germany.  And maybe because I was thinking about small villages and foods, I personally would have loved more of there inclusion.  I do so love immersing myself in all the sights, sounds and smells of another culture.  The Missing Barbegazi is a very unique story and I quite enjoyed learning about the Barbegazi., especially the snippets between each chapter from the Professor.    

Tessa is a sweet young girl, whose family is grieving the recent loss of her Opa.  She's trying to combat the village's negative views of her Opa while also trying to cheer up her Oma.  Her heart always seems to be in the right place but at the same time, she takes risks.  She's so determined to get answers and despite knowing the dangers of skiing out of bounds on the course, she still forges ahead.  The story isn't filled with fast-paced action, aside from the times she is skiing, and Tessa isn't really in tremendous danger from the professor.  Rather it's a story of Tessa's growth,  from a rash kid to the young girl who takes other's feelings into consideration.  And her coming to the overall realization of what could happen if she proves the existence of Barbegazi.  Which ultimately leaves her questioning whether it's more important to prove everyone else wrong or to know that you're right despite what everyone else thinks?     

Monday, October 7, 2019

MG Fantasy review of The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
Format:  E ARC
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Kids
Number of Pages:  288
Publishing:  October 15th,  2019
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:  
"On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the demons invaded."

Twelve-year-old Faryn Liu and her younger brother Alex were born and raised in the Jade Society, home to an elite group of demon fighters in San Francisco's Chinatown.  Ever since their father disappeared four years ago, they've been outcasts, forced into servitude to Mao, the mistress of the Jade Society warriors, while secretly being trained by their grandfather (Ye Ye).  Then one day during the Lunar New Year festival, Faryn encounters a demon as she's returning from an errand, and with the help of Erlang Shen, the God of War she is able to vanquish it.  Faryn doesn't tell anyone about her encounter and instead returns to her responsibilities preparing for the Jade Societies banquet.  

During the celebration, the Fenghuang,  a spear is brought forward and per the legend, whoever lifts it will become the Heaven Breaker or the General of the Jade Emperor's army.  Many warriors make an attempt, but none are considered worthy to wield Fenghuang.  Then, Erlang Shen interrupts the festivities when he comes bearing a proclamation on behalf of the Jade Emperor, with a quest for the new Heaven Breaker in the form of a riddle and a series of tasks that need to be accomplished.  Once the Heaven Breaker has completed their tasks, they are to come to the island of Peng Lai and present themselves to the Jade Emperor and the eight immortals.  Is this the opportunity Faryn has been looking for?  Can she complete the quest and become the Emperor's General on Peng Lai Island, and if she does will she be where her father was headed when he disappeared?

The Dragon Warrior is inspired by Chinese mythology and lore and takes the reader to the Chinatown's of San Fransisco, Phoenix, Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York.  It's a fast-paced adventure, similar to the Lightning Thief in the amount of action and mythology, and sure to be very popular with readers looking for more #ownvoices stories.  I especially enjoyed the inclusion of Chinese words and phrases and how the context made it possible to get the gist of the conversation.  I wish my review copy had the glossary for the pronunciation of certain words, I believe the added details would enrich the reader's knowledge about the culture.  Also perhaps more information on the deities mentioned in the story would be appreciated, cause I sure want to know more about the Gods and Goddesses that Faryn encountered.     

The pacing and action of the story was fantastic.  There are horse-drawn chariots that take Faryn, Alex and a host of other characters on wild rides in the sky, sword fights, demons who conjure wild tornados, mid-air rescues, trap doors and a scene that reminded me of Percy Jackson in the Lotus Casino from the Lightning Thief.  Most of all the story involved a quest to get to the Lantern Festival on Peng Lai Island and Faryn's discovery that the Emperor may have nefarious plans of his own.   Faryn is aided in her quest by the supporting characters of Moli, a friend Faryn had a falling out with, Alex, Faryn's younger brother, and Ren, a boy they meet on their travels who has pure white hair and a few mysteries of his own.   Sprinkled throughout are the advice and teachings from Faryn's grandfather and lovely descriptions of Chinese foods like steamed buns (Bao zi) and spicy noodles that had me eager for more.  

The journey also involved heart to heart moments between Moli and Faryn where they discuss what happened to tear their friendship apart, why Moli shied away from Faryn and wasn't there for her when she was being bullied, and how Faryn needed her after her father disappeared.   Zhao also explores Faryn's feelings of being seen as other within her own community, reveals that one of the characters is of mixed ancestry and whether or not family requires you be related by blood.  All while huge rifts are forming between Faryn and Alex changing their relationship.   And did I mention there are dragons and secret identities?   I highly recommend The Dragon Warrior for its wonderful blend of action, adventure, humor, interesting themes and characters, and lovely Asian mythology and culture.    

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

MG review of Polly and Buster: The Mystery of the Magic Stones by Sally Rippin

39861621. sx318 Polly and Buster:  The Mystery of the Magic Stones by Sally Rippin
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  First Published in Australia May 23rd, 2018 by Hardie Grant Egmont.
Published in the US:  2019 by Kane Miller, a division of EDC Publishing 
Number of Pages:  296
Source:  Review copy provided by the Publisher
Series: Second book of the Polly and Buster Series

Opening Lines:  "Polly sits at her teacher's kitchen table and thinks about what lies ahead."

Monsters and witches shouldn't be friends,  that's what everyone in Blackmoon Coven believes.  Yet,  Polly and Buster are truly the best of friends, friends who've always protected one another.  They've stood by one another even after the huge misunderstanding that occurred between the witches and the monsters.  Even now as the witches are after Buster because they believe he's dangerous and a threat.    Polly and Buster are more determined than ever to stay together.  To escape from the threat of the witches.  At the beginning of the second book in the series,  Polly and Buster were forced to flee from their home and are now temporarily hiding out with Polly's teacher.  

Meanwhile, the tension between the monsters and witches has been escalating.  Getting closer and closer to an all-out war.  Monsters are taking witches captive and Mrs. Halloway, head of the witches commitee has been trying to get the mayor to have the monsters expelled from the Coven.  Feeling they're the cause of all the problems back home, Polly and Buster venture out toward the Hollow Valley mines looking for some answers.  Six years ago, Polly's father died following a cave-in within the mines.  Since then the mines have been closed, considered too dangerous, rumored to be haunted.  But, Polly's convinced that the magical stones her father gave her shortly before his death have been calling to her, leading her to the mines.   Once inside, she learns the truth, sees for herself what has been protecting the mines, what's been scaring off intruders.  What's been waiting for her.  And why she's the only witch who can cast a powerful enough spell to put the Gorvan, a creature living in the deepest part of the cavern back to sleep.  Can Polly be strong enough to face her own fears and will her magic be powerful enough to protect her family and friends?

As with the first book in the series, Polly and Buster's friendship is the sweetest part of these stories.  Over and over they've demonstrated the importance of standing by your friend, having their back.  Although it took Polly a little while to determine that being with the most popular girl in school wasn't as important as her true friend, she does finally come to that realization and is even more determined to not let anything happen to Buster and that it's her turn to let everyone know just how kind and caring he is.  Intermingled in the plot there is an emphasis on telling the truth.  And when an unexpected ally does come forward telling the truth about how the misunderstanding between monsters and witches took place,  everyone finally has a chance to see that their bias about monsters wasn't founded.  That although Buster is a monster, they have nothing to fear from monsters.  If anything Buster is courageous and actually a hero.  I very much enjoyed reading The Mystery of the Magic Stones with its positive and uplifting messaging.