You Were Here, by Cori McCarthy

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

In order to deal with the psychological grief of her brother dying, Jaycee is on a quest to rediscover him by reliving his dangerous stunts. When a group of erstwhile friends gets sucked into her antics, Jaycee learns love and forgiveness. 


Let me start out by saying this is the best fiction work on grief that I have ever experienced. McCarthy is clearly someone who understands the power of grief. It seems like everyone in the story is experiencing grief, yet they are all coping in different ways. What’s more most of the characters are incredibly wise (perhaps a little too wise to be real). At one point, Jaycee demands of her new old friend whether she should change her grieving process to not weird people out – how many adults understand that their grief is a personal process, and that it is not wrong to cope the way they do, even if it emotionally or physically healthy for them at that moment (i.e. it is not wrong to experience grief, though sometimes they must be protected from themselves). 

This book is gritty, and at times brutally honest. I would recommend this book to any teenager who wants to understand others’ pain, though I would suggest caution to people who are depressed or going through grief at the moment. There were times while reading this book that I reexperienced difficult moments for myself; however, that is what made the book so powerful to me. This book deserves 6 stars, but my rating system doesn’t go that far up. 

The Three Sisters, by Sonia Halbach

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. 
Every Christmas Eve, Maggie has the same dream. Santa is walking on the top of her grandfather’s manor, when suddenly he slides off the end. But this year is different. This year, it’s a nightmare in which he is pushed by something sinister. Awakened from her dream, she decides to go sledding – ending up in an accident that leads to meeting the handsome (but older) Henry. Henry has come with strange claims: that Maggie’s grandfather, who is well known for writing the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, had plagiarized his poem. 


While exploring the mansion for proof of plagiarism, Henry and Maggie are accidentally swept into a strange underground village named Poppel – a village strangely resembling Santa’s fabled home. But not all is right in Poppel. It is ruled by tyrants called the Garrison, and Nikolaos is missing. She and Henry must find three hidden objects before the end of Christmas Eve, or else Maggie, Henry and their families are in terrible danger – as is the hidden village of Poppel. 

This was a refreshingly unique story based on the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Alpine German folklore of the anti-Santa named Krampus. Who knew a world could be built just around such a short poem? And I’d never heard of Krampus before reading this book. (Of course, just yesterday I went to the theaters and found out that a movie named Krampus is soon to be released, though there seems to be no relation between the two.) I really enjoyed reading this book. It was cute, adventurous, and had a tad of romantic tension. And one thing I really loved about this book is that the story was complete at the end. That is the perfect beginning to a series, as far as I’m concerned. I will definitely watch for the next in the series. 

4 snowflakes for creativity, action, romance, and fun

Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

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

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, by Maggie Stiefvater


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

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


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. 

Review
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. 

Thoughts
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.