Storm Thief, by Chris Wooding

The Storm Thief, by Chris Wooding

Genre: Young Adult Dystopia, Science Fiction, Ages 11-14

Reason for Reading: This was my bookclub book for this month. 

Summary: The island city of Orokos has been trapped in isolation for so long that the idea of a “world outside Orokos” had become a dream for only the naive and the fanatics. There is nothing outside of Orokos, and Orokos is nothing but city, ghetto, and the ruling Protectorate. Chaos storms wreak havoc upon Orokos and its inhabitants – picking people up and dropping them elsewhere; crippling some people while giving life to others. Even eyeshadow isn’t too small to be overlooked by the probability storms.

When Rail and Moa make a snap decision to hide an expensive artifact from their Thief Mistress, they must flee with an assassin hot on their trail. While running, they come across a golem, Vago, who’d been misplaced by a probability storm before he had any idea of who he was, where he was from, or why he was made. Where can these refugees go when the Protectorate rules with an iron fist – keeping ghetto-folk away from the city? Their path is simply a series of coincidences strung together…leading, where?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. The characters were simple enough to flow well in a book for young teens, but each character had an interesting mixture of strengths and weaknesses. My favorite character was Vago, the Golem, whose process of self-discovery throughout the story made him intriguing. 

I loved the philosophical underpinnings of this story. It reminded us that the random power of entropy will always win. It always destroys what we have worked to build. Entropy is a non-stoppable machine. So why do we continue fighting it? Why do we continue dreaming of that “other world” when we have so much evidence that it doesn’t exist? Why do we clutch hopefully to mere coincidences and use them to fuel our dreams? 

Slight spoilerish material
This is a book about hope as well as one about chaos. One character, who was “fanatically” willing to risk the lives of her people in pursuit of a seemingly impossible dream said: “We can stay here with our dreams just out of reach, or we can risk everything to reach them.” Even after having finished the book, I’m still not certain which was the right thing to do – was it better for her people to risk everything in pursuit of their dreams? Or was it foolish? Is it better to keep yourself safe by being cynically aware of the brutality of the world, or is it better to hope, dream, or love?

To me, the lasting message of the book is: your life might be nothing more than a series of coincidences that are out of your control, but how you respond to the world defines who you are – and YOU decide how you respond. I’m not sure whether I agree with this philosophy or not. Lately, I’ve had a bit of a faith crisis – which makes the life-is-a-random-string-of-coincidences theory sound rather rational. But I know what everyone expects me to say is that God is in control, it’s not a string of coincidences. 😉 


Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco



The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco 

Genre: Teen Horror / Suspense

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

SummaryTarquin (Tark) Halloway has been haunted his entire life. With a mentally ill mother and a caring father who works too much, he feels he has no one to talk to about the strange lady that slinks through mirrors and makes Tark do terrible things. But when he meets a roaming spirit, Okiku, they both begin to remember what it is to be human. With the help from Tark’s cousin Callie, Okiku and Tark must rid himself of his haunting. 

My Thoughts: Let me tell you, if I had read this book when I was 14, I would have been sleeping with the lights on for weeks. The spookiness / imagery is reminiscent of Japanese horror films that The Grudge (Ju-On: The Grudge) and The Ring (Ringu) were based on. (Have you seen the originals? Not the American remakes. Watch the real thing. Darn spooky! That’s what The Girl From the Well is like.) Same evil-ghost-child-with-long-creepy-hair-staring-at-you-in-crazy-fast-did-that-actually-just-happen-flashes feel to it. 

Part of Rin Chupeco’s spooky genius is her narration style. The story is narrated from the POV of the ghost, Okiku. Often, it reads like a 3rd person omniscient narrative, because Okiku mostly observes rather than acting. I often forgot I was reading a first person POV, and then suddenly Okiku would say something in the first person, and it was like she had just appeared out of nowhere. Like a ghost. Spooky. And then, sometimes Okiku would describe herself in the third person – a description of a ghost as Callie or Tark would have seen. This gave Okiku’s character a sense of otherness. She felt inhuman. Ineffable.

Overall, I think this was an fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more of Chupeco’s works. I miss the old days when ghosts were ghosts and monsters were monsters. I applaud Chupeco’s work as one more for the #reclaimhorror team. (Ok, I just made that hashtag up, so technically she’s the first on the team. But it’s all good.)




Rin Chupeco: Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. The Girl from the Well is her debut novel. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

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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.

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?


Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr

The Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr 

Genre: Young Reader Christian Fantasy

Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a series I began last year. The first was quite interesting – reviewed here – and I’m eager for the third to come out later this year. 

Synopsis: In this second book of The Staff and the Sword series, Errol is compelled by powerful members of the conclave to go to a dangerous land and kill the traitor Sarin Valon. With a mixture of stubbornness and bravery, the princess follows Errol on his dangerous journey.



My thoughts: This book didn’t have quite the flare of the first in the series, but it was nevertheless quite enjoyable. The adventure was much more clearly laid out in this book, which made it less mysterious than the first, but the plot was thicker as a result. The story emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, and raises interesting questions about whether Church authority is “good” just because it follows conservative values that have worked for centuries. I tend to believe that Carr’s church is symbolic for the Catholic Church, and the hints of church-shattering philosophical changes that will come in the next book symbolize the conversion to Protestantism or perhaps simply the disgust many people have these days about the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. However, that’s a message intended for adults, I suspect, and the target audience – ages 12-15 will probably mostly miss it. The dangerous foreign land that Errol traveled to clearly symbolized Egypt / Muslims – Carr included some rather direct hints to that effect. I felt a little sad that the people of that land were generalized as evil, except for those that had been converted by God’s Christian word. Those few characters who weren’t pure evil seemed rather weak and a little selfish. Messages like this always make me sad – especially in children’s books – but I understand that it’s difficult to write an epic fantasy without having a hint of xenophobia. Someone has to be “evil” right? I’m not sure how this problem can be gracefully avoided. At the very least, there were “bad” people and “good” people on both sides of the border, which is as much as I can rightfully wish for, I suppose. 🙂

How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

Reason for Reading: Trying to keep up with my nephew’s reading. 🙂

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Review
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!)

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. 🙂



Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull

Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull

Reason for Reading: I love Brandon Mull! 🙂

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Review
In the final book of the Beyonder’s trilogy, Rachel and Jason’s group must separate into two teams – each against “impossible” odds. Jason’s team goes in quest of a lost prophecy while Rachel’s lays siege upon Maldor’s fortress. All must learn to have faith in each other – a task which is much more difficult than it seems. 

I loved the Beyonders series. I eagerly awaited the publication of this book, and read it the moment it was released. I wasn’t disappointed. Brandon Mull has a vivid imagination – he’s created a world that’s very different from the standard epic fantasy – most of his creatures are of his own design, and follow a very creative set of rules. This book is much like the classic epic fantasies like The Hobbit in that there’s a lot of traveling/walking, and most of the action takes place while on the move. Personally, I’ve always liked that format of fantasy – not sure why it appeals to me so much, but it does. 🙂 

I can’t wait until Mull publishes another book! 🙂

See my review of the second book, Seeds of Rebellion. 

Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard

Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard

Reason for Reading: A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Genre: Young Adult Christian Fantasy

Review
Merlin has been living peacefully as the blind son of a village blacksmith when druids invade the area with an evil stone that usurps the minds of the villagers and turns them against God. Merlin is the only villager who is unaffected by the stone’s powers. His problems become worse when the High King Uther and his infant son Arthur arrive in the village and are attacked by the druids. Merlin must save his village as well as the young prince. This was a fun retelling of the young Merlin’s back-story. It’s marketed as a Young Adult Christian Fiction, though I think it could be enjoyed by a wider audience. Merlin’s Blade isn’t “preachy,” which is a complaint of many Christian Fiction books, though it does (understandably) perceive the worship of a stone to be an “evil” act. The druids are portrayed as mostly bad (or at least mislead) people, but I appreciated that some of the druids were actually rather likable. I’m a fan of Christian fiction writers who are able to see the humans behind the non-Christian characters. So, if you’re a fan of retellings (especially YA retellings), I think this is a book you might enjoy. It took some interesting liberties with the story of Merlin and Arthur, but it was also rather fun to see how that sword got stuck in the stone to begin with. 🙂

I’ll be waiting for the next book in the series! 

Lone Wolf, by Kathryn Lasky

Lone Wolf

Written by Kathryn Lasky, Narrated by Erik Davies

Reason for Reading: I rather liked the Ga’Hoole books, so I thought I’d try this series out, too. 

Genre: Juvenile Fantasy / Anthropomorphism

Review
As an infant cub, Faolin was taken from his mother and abandoned to die. He was found by a bear who nursed him through childhood. Now as a young wolf, Faolin is once again on his own and he must find a way to rejoin his own kind. This was a cute little story, and I enjoyed it. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t read the Ga’Hoole books first. Although the story of Faolin is independent of the three story lines in the Ga’Hoole series, Lasky’s world-building in this book was a bit dependent upon the other books. The world would have seemed confusing and frustrating to me if I didn’t already know all about it from the Ga’Hoole books. This is why I gave the book only 3.5 stars even though I thought it was really sweet. I will continue with this series myself, but I recommend to all of you – continue with this book if you loved the Ga’Hoole books as I did. But if you haven’t read the Ga’Hoole books, start there. 🙂