|You Were Here, by Cori McCarthy
Release date March 1st, 2016
This book was given to me by the publisher
through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review
|The Three Sisters (The Krampus Chronicles Book 1), by Sonia Halbach
This book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
|4 snowflakes for creativity, action, romance, and fun|
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy / Adventure Series
Reason for Reading: I’m already reading this series, of course, but I was happy that Scholastic provided an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis (May contain some light spoilers for earlier books in the series): Meilen has run away from the Greencloaks to search for her father in her homeland of Zhong. Conor, Abeke, and Rollan quickly follow – they hope to recover their friend and get the Slate Elephant talisman from Dinesh, the Great Elephant. But Zhong has been conquered, so the kids must fight through armies of enemies to find what they seek. The Devourer is gaining power, and he will stop at nothing to take over all of Erdas with his nature-defiling bile.
My thoughts: Another great installment of the series. And they just keep getting better and better! (Not, of course, because the authors are changing, but because the plot and characters are developing as the series progresses.) Like in the earlier books, Blood Ties shows the power friendship – of working with your team rather than trying to fight evil alone. It encourages trust – of your partners, your friends, and the power of Good to conquer Evil. Most of all, the story is fun. It’s a delight to watch as the kids’ distinct characters develop, and how each character adds to the dynamics of the team. The world-building is also a lot of fun – it has both a familiar and a novel taste. For instance, Zhong is the Erdas-equivalent of Asia. The comparison is undeniable, and yet Zhong’s culture and scenery are also delightfully unique. And, of course, this book is filled with adventures, intrigue, and battles – which any lover of middle grade fantasy / adventure books craves. I’m looking forward to the release of the next book in the series, Fire and Ice, in July.
A Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. Carr
Genre: Teen / Christian Fiction / Fantasy
Reason for Reading: This was a galley copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This is the third book in a trilogy that I have been enjoying.
Synopsis (May contain slight spoilers for previous books in the trilogy): In this third, and final, book of the Staff and Sword trilogy, the war for Illustra begins. In order to maintain order within the Judica, Errol must retrieve The Book that was left behind in Merakh. Meanwhile, Adora and Liam must journey to the Shadowlands to make a pact with these newly discovered allies. A feeling of dread descends upon everyone, as the people of Illustra realize they are surrounded by vast armies of enemies and demon spawn. They must discover who their king and savior is – or else the barrier will never be restored and the demons will destroy Illustra.
My Thoughts: This book was every bit as good as the previous two – and it tied off most of the loose ends quite well. For fantasy fans, this book was packed with battles, intrigue, foreign lands, and ranging demon-spawn. I was also quite impressed with Carr’s ability to write religious allegory. He deftly got his message across by showing it within the story instead of writing lectures into the dialog as many authors do. In fact, I bumped this book up an extra half a star (something I rarely do) because I admire how much finesse it takes to write a good allegory without sermonizing.
One of the allegorical issues presented is the fallibility of humans (as well as the organizations that we create). The church, in Carr’s world, was composed of many good men (as well as a few villains) who often made mistakes and were suffering under misunderstandings of God which had accumulated after the loss of their religious book. This is the message that I originally interpreted as criticisms of the Catholic Church in my review of Hero’s Lot, though after reading this book the criticism feels more forgiving. The message is: no one is perfect, we are all human, and we’re going to make mistakes. We can’t judge everyone in a group based upon the mistakes of some of its leaders. I’m not sure if this is the message that Carr intended, but it is how I felt when I read A Draw of Kings.
The other allegorical message that I felt was done tremendously well related to faith and doubt. There was a moment when Adora as climbing a cliff and Liam was behind her, and even though she knew Liam was there to catch her if she fell, she suddenly doubted that he was there at all – that he had ever been there. And then he carried her. I’m sorry if that is a spoiler, but I couldn’t help but point out the beauty of that moment. Because it’s so true, isn’t it? It’s so easy to lose faith – even though this loss of faith is irrational when viewed from the outside-the-moment.
My interpretation of this story has evolved so much while reading this third book, that I feel I ought to go back and revise some of the criticisms I made about the second book. Of course, I always have to include criticisms, but…. Which brings me around to my criticisms of A Draw of Kings. My first complaint is how violent it was. I felt that the good guys (Adora especially) were sometimes more violent than they ought to have been. Of course, this could simply be another way in which we are only human – and therefore fallible. So this is only a small criticism. The other criticism is that I felt threads were dropped in relation to the countries other than Merakh. There needed to be a little more tie-up after that much build-up. But that, too, is only a minor issue since the major threads were tied up wonderfully.
Overall I was greatly pleased with this book, and I will recommend it to all of my friends who read books of this genre. In fact, I’m hoping it wins some awards – it’s well-deserving of the Christy Award for Young Adult literature.
Hunted: Spirit Animals Book 2, by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Middle School Fantasy / Adventure
Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a so-far excellent series
Synopsis: (May contain slight spoilers for book 1). Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan hike across Eura on quest to capture the talisman of the Great Boar before the Conquerors get their hands on it. But the Conquerors have a few surprises up their sleeves – they are now able to force an unnatural bond between humans and animals! They now have the advantage of superior numbers of bonded warriors. In order for our heroes to survive, they must learn to trust one another and fight as a team.
My Thoughts: This was an excellent follow-up to Brandon Mull’s Wild Born (reviewed here). The characters are developing – and so is the philosophy. In this book, our heroes struggle with trust. It’s a story of strengthening ones bond with friends – how such a bond can never fully be broken, even when trust fails. It’s a story about following your heart, even when your heart leads you astray from logic (a fitting theme given my thoughts on doubt last month!) I’m eagerly awaiting the third book in this series, Blood Ties, which comes out in March.
This is my first book by Maggie Stiefvater, and I’m eager to pick up some more now! I like the way this series is designed – with a different author for each book. That way, I am introduced to authors that I might otherwise never gotten around to reading. 🙂
The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan
Genre: Middle School fantasy / adventure
Reason for Reading: This is the third book in a series that I’ve already started.
Synopsis: In this third book of the Heroes of Olympus series, 7 heroes – Percy, Hazel, Frank, Jason, Piper, Leo, and Annabeth – set out on a dangerous quest to Rome. The Romans and the Greeks must cooperate if they are to quell the rise of Gaia, but war is brewing between the two camps. Our heroes must try to postpone war while saving Rome from apocalypse-hungry giants and following the Mark of Athena – an ancient clue that only Annabeth can decipher.
My Thoughts: I’m not a huge fan of Riordan’s writing, though I think this series is a heck of a lot better than the Percy Jackson series. While reading this book, I finally figured out what it is about Riordan’s writing that bothers me – the audience is too childish. All the adults in these books talk as if they were kids. That grates on me. I guess I prefer kids books where adults sound like adults – even if they sound like silly or disinterested adults (which is often the case in middle school books). Despite my dislike of the style, though, I found this book well-researched and interesting. The plot isn’t very complex, but there’s a lot of action and some good humor. I’m not rushing to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of the next book, but I’m planning on reading it “some day.” (Which probably means I’ll wait until the NEXT book comes out and reminds me that I still haven’t read House of Hades…which is what happened with Mark of Athena.) One thoughtful question about this book – and maybe this will be answered in House of Hades – is why did Riordan only write first person narrative from the Greek heroes’ points of view? Is he hiding something about the Romans?
Spirit Animals: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull
Genre: Children’s Fantasy, appropriate age range 8-10.
Reason for Reading: Brandon Mull is one of my favorite authors, and so of course I had to read this book as soon as it came out.
In children’s eleventh year, they undertake a ceremonial transformation into adults by calling their “spirit animals.” Most children fail to call any animal at all, but none in history have ever called one of the Great Beasts. So when four children call the spirits of the four Great Beasts who died years ago in a brutal war to save humanity, the kids are quickly swept up into an adult world of conspiracies and danger.
This is an adorable first book in a series. It is appropriate, both in maturity and reading level, for an 8-10 year old – and it would be equally enjoyable to boys and girls. The children’s adventures are exciting, but not violent or scary. Some interesting questions of ethics are brought up: for instance, should we support the people who have always been in power and who appear to fight for “good,” even when they haven’t ever helped us?
I look forward to the rest of the books in the series.
Although this book was in no way overtly religious, it definitely has the savior vs. super-powerful-creature-of-evil allegory which is common in epic fantasy. I doubt there is any explicit religious intent with this allegory, and I think it’s fascinating how this allegory slips into our literature so smoothly. It seems that our minds are programmed to search the world for saviors and for physical manifestations of evil. One could as easily interpret such naturally occurring patterns either as the cause or the effect of religious beliefs. I mean, it’s as easy to say that we search for a savior because in our hearts we know He is out there as it is to say that we believe in a Savior because that’s the mechanism our brains have developed to cope with life’s difficulties. But whichever way you believe (and most people have an opinion on the subject), it is undeniable that we crave such stories.
Reason for Reading: Trying to keep up with my nephew’s reading. 🙂
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, the famous Dragon-whisperer of lore, had to learn about dragons somehow – and this book chronicles his growing pains. He and a team of similarly-aged kids must capture and train baby dragons in order to be accepted into their Viking clans as adults. They face expulsion if they fail! But Hiccup’s dragon simply isn’t cooperating. First of all, it’s tiny and toothless – which is humiliating for the dragon of the son of the Chief. Second, it has an attitude problem: it refuses to be trained. It looks like Hiccup might be expelled from his Viking clan! But then some sea-dragons emerge from the depths of the ocean – and only Hiccup (well, with help from his dragon and his friends) can save his people.
This was a hilarious book. My nephew, who isn’t a fan of reading, just gobbled this one up. He even sounds excited to read the next one. 🙂 There are funny pictures drawn throughout the story, and the narration itself is laugh-out-loud funny it a childish way. I really enjoyed this book.
I also loved the 2010 movie which was VERY loosely based on the book. The basic setting was the same – a Viking boy named Hiccup must save his clan from destruction at the teeth of hungry dragons – but that’s about all that’s the same. In the movie, dragons are creatures to be hunted. They aren’t kept as pets. Both the book and the movie are very cute and very funny. But in order to enjoy both, you need to be the type of person who is willing to accept that just because the plot is different, doesn’t mean the story is bad. (This is difficult for many people to admit!)
Reason for Reading: My nephew loved this series 🙂
Genre: Children’s Fantasy Graphic Novel
In this second book of the widely popular children’s graphic novel series Amulet (see the review for the first book here), Emily and Navin’s mother is still in a poison-induced coma, and the kids must journey to a dangerous forest to find the cure. They are led by a fox-man Leon Redbeard, who says that it is his job to bring them safely to a lost city of guardians. They are chased by the Elf King’s son Trellis, whose loyalties are questionable. This was a cute second book in the series – though the plot is still very childish and light. The kids (especially boys!) love it. 🙂
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
Reason for Reading: To keep up with my nephew’s book reports
Genre: Children’s Adventure / Fantasy
After the tragic death of his parents, James has been living with his horrible neglectful, hateful aunts Sponge and Spiker. One day James is given a magical bag by a mysterious stranger – and in his excitement he trips on the root of a peach tree and dumps all the magic on the tree. Soon a peach larger than a house has grown out of the tree. James crawls into the peach and begins the adventure of a life-time.
This is another classic kids story that I read as a child and haven’t picked up since. I’m glad I had a reason to pick it up again, because it was really funny and silly and it had a lot of nostalgia for me. Dahl has just the right amount of humor and whimsy in his books. 🙂
After reading the book, my nephew and I watched the 1996 stop-action movie. It was a cute movie that followed the basic story-line well enough. But it was a bit too sentimental and it lacked the dark humor of Roald Dahl’s story. Cute for an hour’s entertainment, but nothing I’m going to watch again and again.