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. 

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake

After listening to the audio version of Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake (and disliking the narrator), I decided to pick up an old-fashioned copy its sequel Girl of Nightmares

Cass Lowood has now become used to life in Thunder Bay. He’s finished a school year in the same school for the first time in years. He has friends: the beautiful and popular Carmel Jones and nerdy voodoo teenage witch Thomas Sabin. The three have tried to move on from the devastating events in Anna Dressed in Blood. They’ve been going to school by day and killing ghosts by night. But when Anna starts haunting Cass, he becomes obsessed with saving her from whatever hell she is suffering. His quest to save her drives a wedge between him and his friends, and leads him across the ocean to follow ominous clues sent by anonymous people.


I enjoyed Girl of Nightmares even more than Anna Dressed in Blood. I began the book with an attachment to all the characters, and was genuinely concerned about Anna’s fate. Cass, Carmel, and Thomas begin to develop more rounded personalities in this book – showing sides of themselves that weren’t obvious in the first book. Girl of Nightmares had a good mixture of action and intrigue, which kept me turning the pages. I’m hoping there will be another book coming up soon. 

4 stars for fluffy YA fun

The Stonekeeper’s Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper’s Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi

Reason for Reading: My nephew loved this series 🙂

Genre: Children’s Fantasy Graphic Novel

Review
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

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

Review
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. 
 

The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper (Amulet Book 1), by Kazu Kibuishi

Reason for Reading: Helping my nephew with his book report.

Review
When their father dies, Emily and Navin must move with their mother to a run-down house in the middle of nowhere – an inheritance from a great uncle they’ve never met. On their first night in the disturbing old house, their mother is  kidnapped by a gigantic squid-thing and the kids must rescue her with the help of a talking amulet that they’ve found in a dusty room. 

I read this because my nephew really loved it, and he’s a very reluctant reader. I can see why he liked it – there’s lots of pretty pictures and very few words. It’s a book appropriate for middle-graders both in vocabulary and in plot. It was a cute, fast read, and I’m sure I’ll read the rest in the series. However, it’s not a book that would appeal to me for any other reason than bonding with my nephew. The premise and plot are simply too unsophisticated to be of much interest to most older kids or adults. On the other hand, the book seems to be VERY popular with the younger crowd, and I highly recommend The Stonekeeper for reluctant readers. 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: Re-reading the Harry Potter series in audio format. 


Review

(Contains spoilers from earlier books in series)

The Ministry of Magic has finally admitted that Voldemort has returned, and Dumbledore has returned as Hogwarts Headmaster. Furthermore, Dumbledore has realized that it was a huge mistake to leave Harry in the dark for so long. He and Harry become much closer in Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts, as Dumbledore reveals much of what he knows of Voldemort’s history and motivations to Harry. Harry is also kept busy with his new obsession that Draco Malfoy is up to new levels of “no good.” Ron and Hermione poo-poo his suspicions and keep themselves busy with escalating romantic tension. 

Altogether, this book has a LOT going on, yet it’s more compact than the previous two books. Overall, I think this is Rowling’s best written book in the series, even if my favorites are the first four. I really enjoyed this re-read of the 6th book in the Harry Potter series – it’s only my second time reading this book, and I had forgotten a lot of it. The romantic tension between Ron and Hermione is my favorite part of the book, since it’d been building for SO long and was finally let loose terrifically. 🙂 

Jim Dale’s reading, as usual, is excellent. It took some getting used to, but after the first or second book it really grew on me. I know all his voices for the characters, and that really ads to my enjoyment of the story.