Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano

Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano
I received a copy of this book from Disney Press via NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review
John Conlan is in juvie for double murder, but the bars can’t hold him like they hold the other inmates. John is able to leave his body behind and travel around as a “ghost.” 

I read Holding Smoke for two reasons: 1) I like teen fantasy, and 2) I like realism about teens in difficult situations. The second one is a bit of a stretch, since fantasy and realism are generally considered opposites, but I had high hopes for the realistic setting of this book because the author was  the daughter of a prison warden. 

As far as realistic settings go, Cosimano did a fantastic job. She managed to show the type of anger and violence that occur in a prison, without making it unsuitable for teens. She also wrote likable main characters with flaws. I’m always interested in reading what teen books say about prison, since I think it is important for teens to realize that “this could be you under different circumstances.” No, I don’t think of every teen as a potential prisoner so much as every prisoner as a human being with a story. This book did a good job of showing that John was a human being first, and a prisoner second. 

Of course, the realism had to stop somewhere –  it is, above all, a fantasy novel. I enjoyed the fantasy/romance side of the story, too. In fact, it’s the unique prison setting that makes this such a good fantasy story. Also unlike most teen fantasies these days, it’s about a male character – making it appeal to kids of both genders. 

Recommended for teens 12 and up. 

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan
This book was provided for free by Disney Press through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review
While on a quest to find his father, Thorn is caught by slavers and sold to the executioner of Gehenna – a land where darkness and death are highly revered. There, he meets Lilith Shadow, the ruler of Gehenna, who, through ill-wrought diplomacy to end a war, is being forced to marry a disgusting, sniveling, bully of a prince. Meanwhile, an evil necromancer is haunting Gehenna, threatening everything Lilith holds dear. 

Shadow Magic is a magical fantasy adventure from a debut author, Joshua Khan. Meant for 4th – 6th graders, I’d put Khan’s writing on par with Brandon Mull and Jonathan Stroud’s earlier series – as with Mull’s and Stroud’s earlier writing, there’s room for improvement to become an amazing rather than “just” a great middle-grade fantasy author. I was highly impressed. I can tell already that Khan will be another favorite author. 

I loved the world-building, characters, and plot of Shadow Magic – all were creative and fun. Bonus points for being able to wrap up all the loose threads so that there’s room for a second book, but no need or expectation for one. Khan is working on the second one now, and I am eagerly awaiting it to see how the characters grow. 


Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff
ARC provided by Random House Children’s through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review

In this fun adventure story, Red goes on a journey to find a magical healing potion for her Granny, who’s sick. On the way, she unwillingly adopts a friend and fellow-traveler named Goldie, finds out the secrets of the Big Bad Wolf, and generally learns a lot of lessons about the value of life. This is a cute fairy tale retelling, appropriate for ages 8-12 years. It’s a bite-sized snack for those of us who gobble up fairy tale retellings – except this story is more like fairy tale fan-fic than an actual retelling. The plot is nothing like that of Little Red Riding Hood or of Goldilocks. It uses the characters and their basic personality traits to make a whole new story. This approach to the tale makes it refreshing because you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. 


This book is the third in Shurtliff’s fairy tale universe and apparently pick up where her book Rump leaves off. I haven’t read Jack or Rump, and I’d say this is pretty much a stand-alone book. 

Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher
Narrated by Euan Morton
Captain Grimm is a dedicated airship captain who has fallen into disrepute. Instead of in its military, he serves Spire Aurora by catching pirate ships on his free ship named Predator. However, when Aurora is attacked by a neighboring spire, he must take on a more dangerous mission looking for the enemy who may be lurking within Spire Aurora’s ranks. Besides the grim captain, the mission includes two feisty young women, a loyal (but disdainful) cat, and a young warrior of the guard. 

This is a fantastic addition to Butcher’s repertoire. Of his books, I’ve only read the Dresden ones, and then only a few, but I’ve loved every book by Butcher that I’ve ever read. This is no exception. It has adventure, fantasy, steampunk, science fiction and cats. How can that ever be a bad combination? I look forward to the next book in this series, and am now sorely tempted to pick up another Butcher book very, very soon.  


Curio, by Evangeline Denmark

Curio, by Evangeline Denmkark
ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review
Grey Haward lives in a world where people can’t digest food unless they drink a potion provided by a tyrannical ruling group. When her friend Whit gets punished for saving her life, Grey discovers a hidden trait inside herself – she is a Defender who protects people from tyranny. Just as she’s discovering her new powers, she is thrown into a strange new steampunk world in which she must find the Mad Tock in order to escape. 

Curio had unique plot-line and world-building, and the mystery remained throughout the book. It was good, clean fun with no sex and minimal violence. Both worlds in the book were quite fascinating, and I wish I knew more about each. However, I did have some difficulty because the transition from the first world to the second was quite abrupt. I was just starting to get emotionally involved in the first when it was taken away, and I suddenly had to start from scratch learning the rules of a foreign world. I would have preferred reading two books each with one world than one book with two. It was a little confusing. Overall, I think Denmark has a lot of potential as an author, and will keep a look-out for other books by her.

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon, Book 1
by Cressida Cowell
Narrated by David Tennant
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III isn’t what you would call a Viking hero, He’s small and scrawny, and prefers scholarly entertainment rather than ruffian ones. However, he is the son of the tribe leader, so he must be a hero. When, in an initiation-to-tribe trial he must find a baby dragon to train, he ends up with the smallest, toothlessest dragon he could imagine. But he must persevere in order to be accepted into his tribe. Little does the tribe know that danger lurks near. 


This was the funniest book I’ve listened to in a long time. And, of course, it’s narrated by David Tennant, which makes it absolutely fantastic. This isn’t just a story for 5th graders, anybody can enjoy it. But don’t expect it to be anything at all like the movie. 

How to be a Pirate
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant
In order to learn to be pirates, Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs learn to sail ships and sword fight. But while sailing, they find, floating in the ocean, a coffin labeled “do not open.” Of course they open it, and when the dead rise, unlikely adventure ensues. I’m really enjoying this series so far. 

How to Speak Dragonese
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant

In this installment, Hiccup and Fishlegs must learn to board enemy ships.  But when they accidentally board a Roman ship, they are kidnapped. They must escape before they are killed in a tournament. Again, fantastically funny with wonderful narration. 

How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant
In the fourth installment of How to Train your Dragon, Hiccup find out Fishlegs has been bitten by a tiny poisonous dragon. Hiccup must steal the vegetable-that-must-not-be-named from a dangerous nearby tribe in order to save his friend. 

All four were hilarious. I loved Tennant’s narrations. I will certainly pick up the rest of the series soon.

5 stars for all of them


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