Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Publisher: Balazer & Bray
Number of pages: 416
Publishing: January 19th, 2021
Source: Netgalley via Sparkpress
Opening Lines: "I'm sitting in the principal's office. Again."
Amari attends a private school where she is being bullied and teased by her classmates, but today was the last straw. After one of the girls makes a comment about her missing brother, Amari gives her a tiny shove, a decision that she instantly regrets. Amari worries that her actions might add to her mom's burden, as if being a single mom and working twelve hour shifts at the hospital isn't enough, now she has to contend with Amari loosing her scholarship because of the school's zero tolerance policy. Plus they're both still reeling over Amari's brother Quinton's disappearance six months ago.
Then a mysterious sequence of events occur, an email appears in Quinton's inbox, a man shows up at their door telling her Quinton left her a briefcase and she learns that she's been nominated for the same summer leadership camp that Quinton attended. Upon arriving at the Vanderbilt Hotel for her summer orientation, Amari learns that her brother was actually working for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an elite magical organization that is the link between the known and hidden. She learns everything she ever thought about magical creatures is real, dwarves and mermaids do exist, just that the bureau keeps them hidden from the rest of mankind. At first, Amari only joins because she want's to gather as much information as she can about her brother's disappearance, but then she begins to see this as an opportunity to learn more about herself. While at school, Amari makes friends with her roommate, Elise who is one of the last weredragon's in existence, and Dylan Van Helsing, who is the brother of Maria and Lara Van Helsing. The Van Helsing's are one of the most famous legacy families at the school. Maria was Quinton's partner and together they made up team VanQuish, that is until they both went missing. As a new recruit to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari undergoes two ceremonies, where she receives the highest possible badge, achieving a moonstone, and her enhancement reveals that she is a magician, something that has been deemed illegal within the bureau. Initially, the bureau planned to lock her up but Amari proves to be more valuable for her skills and is allowed to continue with her training and studies, as well as to compete in the special agent tryouts. Amari hopes that she will be able to get closer to the agents who knew her brother the best, and figure out a way to find her brother. At the same time, Amari will have to contend with an evil magician bent on recovering an item of immense destructive powers that was taken from him.
Amari and the Night Brothers has been described as a contemporary real world fantasy, a description that seems to fit it perfectly. Here we find technology weaved with magic, a sort of Men in Black school of agents with supernatural abilities, cool gadgets like sky sprints and stunsticks and trainees eager to pass their tryouts. The magical system includes illusionists, technologists, weavers, even a weredragon who once her skills reveal themselves can breath fire. There are many hints or nods toward other books. The Peter Pan type feel when Amari was flying aboard the ship, the Harry Potter themes of a magical school, a girl unaware of her hidden magical talents, a ceremony akin to the sorting hat but with a magical artifact, even a challenge that reminded me of one from The Goblet of Fire. There's even the distinction being made between legacy families and those who are at the school based on merit. The sort of snide derogatory comments that Lucius Malfoy is known for. It's really easy to see why Amari and the Night Brothers has already been optioned by Universal Pictures.
Ah but there is so much more to the story, there's characters with questionable motives, a horrible betrayal, and a main character that is relatable and will capture your heart right away with how loyal she is to her friends. A girl who despite being full of insecurities, desperately wants to make her brother proud. Most of all, I really like how each chapter has an element that leaves you hanging for the next, the knock at the door, the visit from Quinton, each chapter leading into the next, which would be torture as a read aloud because it would make it so hard to find a stopping point. Truly an exciting debut that deserves all the praise, I eagerly await the next book in the series. ** Thank you to Netgalley and SparkPress for my review copy. **
Monday, January 4, 2021
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Number of pages: 304
Publishing: January 12th, 2021
Source: Publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Opening Lines: "The last time I watched a rocket launch, I learned that there was no sound in space."
One of Rosalind "Ro's" fondest memories was watching the Space Shuttle Columbia launch with her dad, it was in that shared special moment that Ro decided she was going to build her own model rocket. Then Ro's dad unexpectedly dies and her life was forever changed. Ro now needs to start at a new school, because the private school she attended is now too expense. She's understandably nervous about being the new girl, preferring things ordered and calm, which her new school is defiantly not. Benji loves reading comic books, eagerly devouring each new release of Spacebound. While searching through a box of his father's things, he finds a sketch and can't help noticing that it has an uncanny resemblance to that of his favorite comic book author. Could his father be the creator of Spacebound? Then one day while in science class, Ro and Benji's purple folders get mixed up, Ro ends up with Benji's comic book collection and a scribbled on map, while Benji gets the schematics and figures to the rocket that Ro is building. Drawn together by the mishap, they decide to help one another out with their projects. Benji will help Ro build her rocket for the science fair and Ro will help Benji find out where his father lives. When Ro learns that Benji's father is scheduled to be at the movie premier for Spacebound, she tries to get him to go with her, but after the two have a huge fight, Benji sneaks off to try and see his dad alone. Ro in turn convinces her neighbor and mother to take her to the movie premier to bring him home.
Growing up my best friend was the boy who lived next door, we used to play for hours drawing pictures and playing in his backyard, so I'm always drawn to stories that feature a strong boy and girl friendship. Ro and Benji are such endearing characters who at first don't have much in common. Ro likes science and working on her model rocket to commemorate her father, Benji is an artist who hopes that the extra credit from the science fair will improve his grade enough so his mom won't force him to give up his art class. What connects the two is how they feel about their dad's. Ro is grieving the loss of hers and Benji wants to connect with his, never really having known him since he left when he was still very young. All that Benji knows about his life boils down to a box of his things. This is a really sweet story and love how it alternates between Ro and Benji's points of view. While the story portrays Ro's grief over her father's death, it also has these very enjoyable playful moments that Benji and Ro share, like when Ro catches Benji being distracted in class, and nudges him to "pay attention doofus." Despite having a strong friendship, they do have a moment where they have a falling apart, which makes them resolving things that much sweeter. The adults in the story also were something that really stood out to me, like Mr. Voltz, Ro's elderly next door neighbor and both Ro and Benji's mothers. Such a delightful read and brought to mind my own youthful friendships.
**Thank you to Quill Tree Books for the E-ARC**
Friday, January 1, 2021
The seven finalist's moving on to the second round judges, which includes me Yeah!! have been announced. Here are the summaries for the books that were selected and you can see the complete list here. Happy New Year to you all. Brenda