YA Books

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FROM BRICK & DARKNESS by J.L. Sullivan

Fiction, YA, Fantasy

4****

Blurb: Bax always fantasized something remarkable would happen in his life. So when a decrepit man with glowing purple eyes offers him a ring intended for his estranged father, Bax accepts. The ring speaks to Bax in a dream, tempting him with a vision of a powerful djinn. Desperate to make his fantasies a reality, Bax unleashes a creature called Ifrit, but soon learns this djinn isn’t what the ring led him to believe. Feeding off the depths of his subconscious, the sinister demon fulfills what he thinks Bax wants by manipulating, threatening, and murdering. With everyone he loves in danger and a trail of crimes pointing back at him, Bax must scramble to solve the puzzle that will banish Ifrit forever.

Thoughts: What would you wish for if you had a genie at your beck and call? Even a low-level genie like a Jann? Be careful what you wish for.

On his way home from a friend’s house one night, Baxter encounters an old man sitting on his front stoop. The old man is looking for Bax’s father in order to give him something. Bax hasn’t seen his father in years so the old man gives Bax the ring meant for his father. And thus the adventure begins. The ring is similar to Aladdin’s lamp in that when you rub it, a genie appears. But this isn’t your regular Disney genie. It’s a weird-looking creature that smells like a skunk. And it doesn’t exactly grant wishes like the genie in Aladdin does.

This “Janni” shows Bax a world where magic exists and Bax realizes he needs a more powerful genie in order to get what he wants—his father back, a better place to live, and the girl Scarlett to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately, that means Ifrit – an evil genie who wreaks havoc on Bax’s friends and world. Bax learns some important lessons along the way to a satisfying ending. I do, however, wish they had a better cover for the story. It really has very little to do with what’s going on in the story. And I know, we aren’t supposed to judge a book by the cover, but a lot of people do and the cover should reflect that.

Recommendation: If you like your fantasies a little darker than the regular YA fantasies, pick this one up. It’s a good story with a satisfying ending and you won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

5/16/22

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SHINJI TAKAHASHI AND THE MARK OF THE COATL by Julie Kagawa

Fiction, YA Fantasy (320 pages/628 words)

5*****

Blurb: Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl is the first book in a globe-trotting adventure that combines high-tech wizardry, old-world legends and a little bit of magic. Shinji Takahashi is just an ordinary kid. An ordinary homeschooled smart-alecky orphan kid being raised by his aunt Yui. But when a magical guardian decides to use him as a conduit to awaken its power, Shinji’s life takes a turn for the extraordinary. Captured by the menacing Hightower Corporation, which is bent on using the guardian’s magic for its own nefarious purposes, Shinji must team up with a brilliant young tech whiz named Lucy and her robot mouse, Tinker, to escape the Corporation’s evil clutches. Together Shinji and Lucy turn to the venerable Society of Explorers and Adventurers and its ragtag cast of spelunkers, hackers, mapmakers, pilots, and mythology experts (among other things) to return the guardian to its rightful home and release Shinji from its magic—which seems to be draining his life force. Time is ticking, the Hightower Corporation is hot on their tail, and success or failure might depend on one small thing—Shinji finally coming around to the belief that he is anything but ordinary.

Thoughts: Shinji lives with his eccentric aunt, Yui, since his parents died when he was a baby. He travels all over the world with her as she looks for exotic things to take back to her shop in Miami, Florida. Their latest adventure has them on the Zambezi River. All Shinji wants is to find some air conditioning and play his video games. To stop his whining, Yui gives him some mending and sends him on a search of his own. He finds a little hole-in-the-wall shop and discovers an idol that looks like a winged serpent. He buys it and heads off to meet his aunt when two goons chase after him, demanding that he turn the idol over to them. They chase him all the way to his aunt’s boat where, during a fight, the idol melds with Shinji and becomes a tattoo on his arm.

From there, we got into a “The Librarian” type of story with good guys, bad guys, weird magic, adventure looking for a missing temple in Mexico, mythological beings fighting each other for control of the world, and Shinji at the middle of all it.

This is a great Middle Grade YA story full of adventure. I absolutely loved Lucy, his friend, and her little robotic mouse. I actually cried over it for a moment. She turned out to be an amazing friend. The choices Shinji makes make sense for him and the events at the moment. And the SEA (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) help him on the way, plus they have good ethics. Shinji has great teachers around him to help him through his trials.

And even though this story ends well, it also leaves enough of an opening that we know more adventures will be coming for Shinji and his friends.  

Recommendation: If your kids like adventure books, definitely get this one! It’s fun, scary (at times), interesting information told in an entertaining way, and has a good ending that leaves you feeling good for them.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Disney and Netgalley for this ARC.

 Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF by A.F. Steadman

Fiction, Fantasy, YA

4****

Blurb: Soar into a breathtaking world of heroes and unicorns as you’ve never seen them before in this fantastical middle grade debut perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson and Eragon series! Skandar Smith has always yearned to leave the Mainland and escape to the secretive Island, where wild unicorns roam free. He’s spent years studying for his Hatchery exam, the annual test that selects a handful of Mainlander thirteen-year-olds to train to become unicorn riders. But on the day of Skandar’s exam, things go horribly wrong, and his hopes are shattered…until a mysterious figure knocks on his door at midnight, bearing a message: the Island is in peril and Skandar must answer its call. Skandar is thrust into a world of epic sky battles, dangerous clashes with wild unicorns, and rumors of a shadowy villain amassing a unicorn army. And the closer Skandar grows to his newfound friends and community of riders, the harder it becomes to keep his secrets—especially when he discovers their lives may all be in graver danger than he ever imagined.

Thoughts: I loved this book. It was fun, exciting, adventurous… so why not 5 stars? Because it was also like almost every other YA fantasy I’ve read. The main character, Skandar, is basically a loser with no friends who becomes the hero and a very powerful person. Plus… unicorns who fly? They’re usually called alicorns (yes, there are a couple other names, too, but they are not just unicorns-it’s like calling a zebra a horse). But beyond that, this was a fun, if typical, middle-grade fantasy. The world building was amazing and the descriptions graphically disgusting at times. The author uses all the senses (ugh) to give us an idea of the island where Skandar and the unicorn school is.

What I liked: that the unicorns are not your sweet rainbow animals. They are blood-thirsty, nasty creatures and the older they get, the worse they look, especially the wild ones. The revelation of who the Weaver is was…interesting to say the least. It also left the door open for future books. I’m certain Skandar and his friends are in for a lot of adventures (like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter).

What I didn’t like: The unicorns don’t seem to have a lot of personality. It’s mostly one-note: one is all about looks, another about farting (there is an awful lot of this), one about joking around, and so on. Skandar’ s unicorn is the jokester but is also very hard-headed when it comes to their magical spirit. I get that, but Skandar talks all the time about their bond, but it doesn’t seem to work if they’re fighting each other most of the time.

Recommendation: Feel free to buy into the hype and pick this one up along with the rest of the series. Yes, it’s tropey and similar to other YA fantasy books, but that means it will be popular. Is it worth all the hype? Probably not. Am I going to read more?  Yep. It’s good enough that I will look forward to sharing it with my grandkids and enjoying it with them.

Disclaimer: Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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FRIENDS TO THE END by C.L. Colyer

Fiction, Middle-grade, Paranormal (ghosts)

5*****

Blurb: Twelve-year-old Zach is convinced he’ll never be happy without his best friend Jeremy by his side. But both of their lives changed with a bang five months ago, and as far as Zach’s concerned, it’s his fault Jeremy will never see his twelfth birthday. When Zach moves with his family to a Chicago suburb, he quickly becomes friends with a group of thrill-seeking kids trying to find a disappearing haunted house. But Zach’s not worried. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, so he follows them into a wild, dangerous encounter that becomes a battle to decide what’s real and what’s not. 

Thoughts: Wow. This is a great story—one to tell on a dark night during a sleepover (preferably while safe in a parent’s house!). It’s happy/sad/funny/distressing and more, but has a good ending that leaves you smiling.

Zach and his family moved from Chicago to a suburb, Nothiningness (Interesting name). Zach lost his best friend Jeremy to a drive-by shooting that Zach blames himself for. He doesn’t want to move, to start a new school, to make new friends, but all those things happen. His friends—Dom, Josh, Morgan (a girl)—take him on and they go about their lives being kids—which means getting into mischief. Like looking for the legendary vanishing house on Wayward Lane. They’ve been ordered to stay away from there, so of course they go. At midnight. During a full moon. And end up in more trouble than they can imagine.

What I liked: The characters are all well-done and believable, though I wish the author hadn’t made the teachers so…stereotypically nasty. I liked the way Dom, Josh, and Morgan take Zach into their group and how Morgan keeps Zach’s secrets although she knows what happened to him. I especially liked Jeremy’s ghost telling Zach he was okay and at the end with the baseball. Perfect.

What I didn’t like: Just one minor thing: how do they explain the gash in Zach’s leg to the parents when they were supposedly sleeping in the basement all night? One minor thing I would have liked to have seen tied up.

Recommendation: Even if you don’t have kids, if you like ghostly stories, pick this one up. It’s well-written, has scary parts, and a good ending that leaves you smiling.

Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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THE INCIDENT by Avis Adams

Fiction, YA, Dystopian

4****

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Josh has prepared for any emergency, but when the storm of the century hits, he learns no one is ever prepared enough. Sixteen-year-old Emma is on a mission to protect the environment, but she gets caught in the colossal storm, and her fight for the planet turns into a struggle for her survival. Desperate to rescue themselves and the people they love in a world forever changed by the cataclysmic storms, they forge through an unrecognizable landscape where the rules have changed, and it takes more than luck to survive. 

Thoughts: This is Avis Adams’ first book and it’s a beaut. It’s an intense story for teens. The two main characters—Josh and Emma—are faced with what happens when a major disaster forces them into situations they aren’t prepared to face. The two don’t know each other in the beginning and the book is not about them or a relationship between them. It’s about survival.

The chapters are headed with each character’s name and mostly go back and forth between the two and what is happening. Toward the end, they do end up together, but again, it’s not a romantic connection.

The story starts with both teens mad at their parents. Emma had a major blowup with her mom because she refuses to let Emma go to a climate change march. Emma ignores her mom and sneaks out, heading for the march. Josh is mad at his folks for putting the farm they live on up for sale.

Josh’s dad is a climate-change expert who’s at a conference in another town several miles away. He has predicted “El Primo”, the storm to end all storms. They know that it’s coming, just not when. It hits while he is away and Josh and his mom are home alone. And Emma is stuck downtown in the city—and the march was cancelled.

The storm hits and Emma is caught outside. She gets hit in the head by flying debris and ends up in a basement with two strange women who rescued her. Most of the rest of her story is about her trying to get home. Meanwhile, the storm hits Josh’s home. Though they are mostly prepared with generator, food, water, and more, Josh isn’t prepared for the serious injury sustained by his mom. His story is about getting help for her and trying to survive on his own.

The first storm lasts three days and knocks out power to the entire west coast. With no power, food and water are also at a premium. Looters grab what they can and danger lurks everywhere. And the storms aren’t over.

This is not a “happily ever after” book. Maybe a “happy for now” is the best we can hope for when everything goes south. The only thing I would have liked to have seen was maybe Emma’s rescuers—Lillie and Gale—to show up at the hospital at the end. It would have brought everything together for me.

Recommendation: If you’re into dystopian stories with lots of action, angst, and a decent ending, pick this one up.

Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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TIGER HONOR by Yoon Ha Lee

Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, YA

5*****

Blurb: Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Yoon Ha Lee’s companion to the best-selling and award-winning DRAGON PEARL, another space opera inspired by Korean mythology, this time told from the point of view of a nonbinary tiger spirit. Sebin, a young tiger spirit from the Juhwang Clan, wants nothing more than to join the Thousand World Space Forces and, like their Uncle Hwan, captain a battle cruiser someday. But when Sebin’s acceptance letter finally arrives, it’s accompanied by the shocking news that Hwan has been declared a traitor. Apparently the captain abandoned his duty to steal a magical artifact, the Dragon Pearl, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Sebin hopes to help clear their hero’s name and restore honor to the clan. Nothing goes according to plan, however. As soon as Sebin arrives for orientation, they are met by a special investigator named Yi and his assistant, a girl named Min. Yi informs Sebin that they must immediately report to the ship Haetae and await further instructions. Sebin finds this highly unusual, but soon all protocol is forgotten when there’s an explosion on the ship, the crew is knocked out, and the communication system goes down. It’s up to Sebin, three other cadets, and Yi and Min to determine who is sabotaging the battle cruiser. When Sebin is suddenly accused of collaborating with the enemy, the cadet realizes that Min is the most dangerous foe of all… Yoon Ha Lee brilliantly turns the tables on DRAGON PEARL in another unputdownable sci-fi adventure about what honor really means.

Thoughts: Wow. This is an amazing mix of Korean folklore and science fiction and fantasy. This is the second book in this series and, while I have not yet read the first one, I don’t feel as if I was missing anything. This is an excellent book full of action, adventure, and more. Though I had other things to do and to read, I could not put this down as I was fully involved in the story. The characters in the story are referred to mostly as they/them, with a few binary labels thrown in. And the characters are unique – tiger shifters, humans, celestials, and more. I loved that the military had adaptations for beings of other abilities—like special contact lenses for the deaf that automatically translate what’s being said into text for them to read. There’s magic mixed with science fiction in such a way as to make it believable. The world-building is excellently done.

Sebin is a 13-year-old tiger shifter who has been taught all his life that family honor comes before everything, but what happens when that family honor goes against what he believes to be right? His family is very mafia-like in that way. The challenge for Sebin is whether to side with his family and lose his dream… or not. Sebin is a very well-written character with strengths and weaknesses and who grows throughout the story into a being of honor.

Recommendation: If you love folklore/mythology and science fiction, and action, and more, get this book. You will not be disappointed. It is well-worth the read.

Disclaimer: Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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PATH OF THE PHOENIX by L Scott Clark

Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Contemporary

2**

Blurb: Magic Has Been Reawakened. 16-year-old Jet Black has discovered the impossible – from an ancient book with a mind of its own. After surviving a natural disaster sent to kill him and trigger a countdown to the release of a demon, Jet must learn how to use and control Elemental Magic. It has been a few years since 3 abilities allowed Jet to survive the destruction of his hometown. He and his friends find themselves in their sophomore year at Chadwicks Boarding school in California. That’s when things become strange. Jet is trust into a world of magic, treasure, relics, war, magical creatures, and a search to find a missing artifact. Through a fable inside his book, Jet learns that the demon was imprisoned following a heinous act of rebellion, but he has a path to escape. 6 tablet pieces have been hidden, and Jet and his friends must find the first piece. Jet quickly learns that someone else is just as curious about the destruction of his hometown and what it could mean. Shane Fallon, a bully from the first moment Jet stepped onto campus, keeps appearing unexpectedly. Even worse, it seems like Shane can use his own form of magic. A race begins, and the first one to uncover the first missing artifact will be that much closer to controlling an entrapped demon and preventing a war.

Thoughts: First of all, let me just say that I hate giving a book less than three stars. I’ll do anything to avoid that because I know how difficult writing is. However, there are times, like this, that I feel honesty is necessary. This is obviously the first in a series. There are six pieces of a tablet to be found, and the first is found in this book. The basis of the story is really good. There are a bunch of teens who are just finding out they have magic powers, the whole good vs. evil trope going on, a quest, danger, and more. That part is well-thought out. And there’s enough of a thread (the other five pieces of the tablet) that you know there is going to be more.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good ends. I received this book via a Goodreads win—and am grateful to the author and publisher for it—but… the book is in serious need of a good editor. There were so many typos/wrong-words/missing words… it became so disconcerting after a while that I could no longer ignore them. In an ARC, I could have accepted some errors. It happens. But there were so many in this that it became a distraction. It basically looked like “spellcheck” was used to edit – and not well.

Plot point questions that an editor should address. The beginning of the story was really confusing. We had no background to help us figure out what was going on and why. It all became clear later on, but in the beginning, it was off-putting and, had I not been reading this for review, I would probably have put the book down. Other issues: Jet and his friends are swimming all day, but no one sees his tattoo on his back? He still has his shirt on? We only learn much later that he doesn’t swim. That would have been nice to know here. Also, he had a lot of money for new clothes after his are destroyed, but he never goes shopping? And McKenzie is planning to go to Dillon, but the school was underwater due to the storms. So… it wasn’t destroyed? And Jet gets a bunch of old rings—and gives one away to someone who’s not part of his group without knowing it might be useful later? Why? Also, on the road trip, why not let the girls take part in driving (that was sexist!). Finally, we are introduced to a major character at the very end—not good. It was totally unexpected and really let me down. We go through the entire story expecting one thing, then suddenly, the author throws in a wrench. This person needs to be alluded to earlier in the book so it’s not a complete shock.

I suggest strongly that the author/publisher hire a good, professional editor to go over this book with the proverbial fine-tooth comb and fix the issues.

Recommendation: As stated, the premise of the book is good and, if it goes through a revision with a good proofreader/editor, it will be much better. Pick it up only if you can ignore the multiple grammatical errors. I look forward to the following books, but only if the editing improves.

Disclaimer: Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

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FREDERICK FLY-CATCHER by Helen C. Johannes

Fiction, Children’s, Fantasy

4****

Blurb: What happens when Frederick, a champion fly-catcher, is confronted with a human? After all, humans are dangerous! And worse, this human is carrying a thing of troublesome, powerful magic. What if Frederick can’t get it to stop? This fast-paced chapter book will entice young readers to keep turning pages to find out what happens next. Connecting with Frederick’s frog’s-eye view reminds children to treat all creatures with respect and to be open to friendships with new or different people. Parents can use the story events as jumping-off points to talk with children about problem-solving and teamwork strategies as well as simply being kind.

Thoughts: This was a cute fantasy with an evil wizard, lots of frogs, a cute mouse, a prince (no, not the frog) and a sorceress. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first, but it definitely appealed to a youngster. It starts off with the frogs doing what frogs do—eating bugs. Not my cup of tea (especially since I was eating breakfast at the time), but kids will love it. And the frogs seem so “human” with heroes, bullies, wishes, fears, and more. My biggest question is, how can the humans and animals speak with one another? I understand that this is a fantasy with magic at work, but there should be at least some explanation as to how they can understand each other. I would have liked to have seen a little more world building and explanation of things, but overall, a fun story.

What I liked: I liked the story. Once I got into it, it was a very good story. All about good vs. evil (good does win) and that heroes can come in all sizes and shapes. I also loved the way Frederick solved the problem in the end. Very innovative. And it worked so Yay!

What I didn’t like: as said above, I had a problem with the whole frog/human interaction thing going on.

Recommendation: this is a cute story with a happy ending that will appeal to children (and some adults!). It’s about acceptance no matter what you look like, about heroes coming in all sizes and shapes, and about friendship and connection. I definitely recommend it.

Disclaimer:  I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5/14

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CITY OF THE PLAGUE GOD by Sarwat Chadda (presented by Rick Riordan)

Fiction, YA, fantasy

4****

Blurb: Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents CITY OF THE PLAGUE GOD, an adventure based on ancient Mesopotamian mythology written by Sarwat Chadda, author of the Ash Mistry series. Characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh populate this high-stakes contemporary adventure in which all of Manhattan is threatened by the ancient god of plagues. Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life. Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble. Sik’s not in this alone. He’s got Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, on his side, and a former hero named Gilgamesh, who has taken up gardening in Central Park. Now all they have to do is retrieve the Flower of Immortality to save Manhattan from being wiped out by disease. To succeed, they’ll have to conquer sly demons, treacherous gods, and their own darkest nightmares.

Thoughts: So… reading a book about plagues during a pandemic is probably not the best thing to do in the world. The story can get disgusting at times – all right, a lot of the time – with maggots and slime and ick all over the place. So… reading this book while eating a snack or meal, also not a good thing to do if you’ve got a weak stomach. Actually, if you have a weak stomach, you might want to skip a lot of this book. But, that being said…it is a well-written book that will probably appeal to the younger set. Any kid who likes disgusting stuff will love it. Add in Mesopotamian mythology with Gilgamesh, Ishtar, Negral, etc. and you have an interesting read. Sik is an excellent character as he has problems but finds solutions (usually) that help him get through. The conflicts between him and Daoud (his brother’s best friend), Sik’s parents, and his dead brother are realistic and believable. He believes he is the one stuck doing duty at his parents’ deli while his brother Mo gets to travel the world having adventures—except Mo gets killed. When Sik meets up with Mo in the underworld, he realizes some truths about himself. I loved how Daoud came through in the end and changed from being so self-centered.

The story is full of action, gross details, fighting, and mythology. There’s some humor with the one demon speaking only in rhyme. And interesting details about Ishtar’s home. Kind of like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, it’s much bigger on the inside. And the story has a satisfying ending that makes it a good stand alone, but also gives you hope that there might be more.

Opinion: I can’t say I liked the story mostly because of the ick factor. But beyond that, it is a good story. It’s well-written and gives good insights into what it’s like to be an immigrant from the Mid-East in New York. Especially through the eyes of Daoud who would love to be an actor with a starring role but keeps getting hired as a terrorist or other similar part. It even made me want to go read the story of Gilgamesh again. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s into the Rick Riordan mythology series but again, beware of the ick factor.

Thanks to Disney Worldwide and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.

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CRYSTAL MAGIC by Madeline Freeman

Fiction, YA, paranormal (witches)

3***

Blurb: Nothing is safe around Kristyl Barnette. Windows break. Books rocket across the room. Lights flicker. Strange occurrences follow the sixteen-year-old everywhere. When tragedy forces her to move to the small town of Clearwater, Michigan, with her estranged aunt Jodi, Kristyl tries to leave her past behind. But Clearwater has secrets of its own—a mystical history that intersects with Kristyl’s life and might shed light on the inexplicable events that plague her. When a mysterious illness threatens her aunt’s life, Kristyl will do anything to cure her. Enlisting the help of witches could save Jodi, but is dealing in magic worth the consequences?

Thoughts: This was an interesting read—until I got to the end. It’s the first in a serialized set and ends with a huge cliff-hanger, which I do not like—but I will admit to being intrigued by the twist I did not see coming. Plus, the opening pages are so much like the old “Buffy” series (sitting in the principal’s office, being blamed for everything…). A third thing that bothered me was having two characters named “Crystal/Kristyl”. Okay, yes, the spelling is different, but still… it was disconcerting. Though the author attempted to control this by naming Kristyl “Krissa”. Then there was all the teen angst. Yes, this is a teen book, but did we really have to go on for pages about what dresses to wear to the dance? It got a little bogged down there. And Krissa seems a little too angsty most of the time. She has friends now, but won’t really join in with them (multiple points where she said she was on the outside looking in). And the bad girl suddenly becomes nice? I didn’t buy that one at all. Okay, I’ll stop there. Because seriously, this is a decent book with nice twists and, although the ending definitely did not satisfy, it was intriguing.

What I liked: The ending. The twist here was fascinating to say the least. The characters are well done and the world-building works for the story.

What I didn’t like: The ending. Yep. I both liked it and didn’t like it. I liked it because it was fascinating. I didn’t like it because it didn’t end. You have to buy the next books in the series to see what happens and that is something that I do not like.

Recommendation: If you like paranormal YA books with witches and more and interesting twists, pick this one up, but be prepared to buy the other books in the series in order to actually find out what happens.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in hopes of an honest review. The opinions here are my own and are not influenced by anyone.

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JADA SLY: ARTIST & SPY by Sherri Winston

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Middle Grade (ages 8-12)

After five years in France, Ten-year-old Jada Sly has just moved to New York, along with her father and her father’s assistant, Cecile. Her father runs the Sly Museum which has just been refurbished. Jada’s mom was killed over a year ago in a plane crash.

Or was she?

Jada is certain her mother is still alive. And that there are men following Jada. And that her mother is a spy. But proving all that is harder than she thinks. Her father keeps sending her to therapists to get over her imaginings. But her new friends, all members of the International PIE club (which is really a spy club), help believe her and help her out. Jada keeps all her clues and drawings in a sketchbook, but someone keeps stealing them. It’s up to Jada and her friends to figure everything out.

This is a fun story full of action, adventure, and a bit of angst. I love that the characters are diverse and that Jada isn’t your typical white, small town kid. We’re in the middle of New York with a well-to-do black girl from France. How fun is that? The mystery is a good one that is solved in the end but with just enough loose threads to let us know that more stories with Jada and her friends are coming.

What I liked: the diversity and believability of the characters; the writing was well done and moved at a good pace; although this is the first in a series, the story did end well.

What I didn’t like: honestly? Not much of anything. I really enjoyed this book.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to all kids who like a good mystery along with action and adventure.

I received this ARC for free in exchange for an honest review.

Vicky 9/5/19

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A TALE OF WITCHWOOD PARK by S.W. Develin

2 Sparklers

Middle grade fantasy (ages 8-12)

Kendra, Jimmy, and Daniel are outcasts in their school. Kendra is a quiet introvert who rarely speaks above a whisper. Jimmy is a bully. And Daniel is a geeky kid nobody wants to have around, and is never picked to play on a team. They are pulled into an adventure in an enchanted forest by a troll and have to overcome obstacles (including the standard evil queen) in order to get back home.

Things I liked: The story is imaginative and charming and the unusual twist is intriguing (no I won’t say – spoilers!). The standard ending with the kids overcoming their obstacles and winning the day is a definite plus. Okay, that may have been a little bit of a spoiler, but we all know it was going to happen. They become much stronger, showing other kids who may have social problems that things can change.

Things I didn’t like: Okay, this is why it only got two stars from me. The book needs a good strong editor. The point of view is all over the place. The author rushes it too much – either less needs to happen, or this book needs to be three times longer than it is. Rather than showing us what’s happening, the author tells us everything which makes for uninteresting reading. In case my editorial prejudice was showing, I gave it to my grandkids to read (11 & 15) and they both put it down after two pages saying it wasn’t very good—and yes, they are both heavy readers who enjoy a good fantasy. But that’s the problem. This isn’t a good fantasy. I hate to say that, but it’s not. The bones of a really good story are there, but the body isn’t.

Recommendation: I honestly can’t recommend this book. I believe it’s got a good basis. A really good one. It has a unique twist that is intriguing and is about kids who don’t fit in who find their strength, but the writing is so poor that without a substantial content edit, I can’t recommend it.

Vicky 8/30/19

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THE WORLD ENDS IN APRIL by Stacy McAnulty

4 Sparklers

Middle Grade, ages 8-12

world ends in aprilEleanor Dross’s world is ending. Her best friend is leaving for a new school; an unfriendly girl tries to break her nose with a ball in gym class; oh, and she reads online that an asteroid is going to destroy the Earth on April 7.

Eleanor is a great character, but does she ever have issues—which is a good thing. She lives with her dad and two younger brothers (mom died); she has a grandfather who is a prepper (someone who believes in being prepared for the end of the world, or anything else), a best friend who is going to leave her to go to a school for the blind, and more. She has trouble making friends at school and her grades… a strong C, when she remembers to do her homework. Her dad tries to understand her obsession with believing the world is going to end in April, but he doesn’t get it. Eleanor does some things that are questionable, but she does pay the consequences (suspension, letters home, etc.) that show that her decisions aren’t always good and she has to pay the price.

This is a good story for any middle grade reader or even as a read-aloud. There’s a lot of angst on Eleanor’s part, dysfunctional families, challenges, and even some good science thrown in for fun. The end part about being prepared for emergencies has valuable information and the blurbs on actual asteroids that did really hit Earth at various times in history is interesting. This could be a good “science” book add-on as well as starting discussions on appropriate behavior, being prepared, astronomy, history, and more.

I received this as an ARC from the publisher for an honest review.

Vicky 8/9/19

ELEMENTS OF GENIUS: NIKKI TESLA AND THE FERRET-PROOF DEATH RAY by Jess Keating

4 Sparklers

Middle Grade (ages 8-12) Humorous Action Adventure

Nikki Tesla blew a hole in her bedroom floor. Well, actually, her ferret, Pickles, did while aiming Nikki’s death ray at her. Okay, it was an accident, but it was enough for Nikki’s mom. She’s scared for Nikki so she contacts the Genius Academy. Nikki doesn’t want to go, but the “goons” who come to take her, threaten to put her mom in jail if she doesn’t. So she goes—along with Pickles. And meets Leo DaVinci, Bert Einstein, Charlotte Darwin, Grace O’Malley, Mary Shelley—and yes, they are very much like their namesakes. Nikki is certain she’s not going to fit in here any better than she fit in at any of her other schools, but then her death ray is stolen and it’s up to the geniuses to get it back.

This is an action adventure story with a lot of angst, twists, turns, and, well, adventure. It’s fast, fun, and sure to appeal to kids who want something a little different. Nikki is like every kid who’s had to move multiple times and just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Having a ferret along for the ride is cute. The story moves quickly as we follow our geniuses through Italy, Switzerland, and to the Arctic.

What I didn’t like? The end. Yes, the story is complete, and it satisfies. They manage to save the world from the bad guys and all that, but… the story isn’t over. The last line (I won’t reveal it so as to not give away the ending) proves that the story isn’t over, but continues on into other books. I’m not a huge fan of that kind of ending, but…as I said, *this* story is complete so that’s good. I know it’s a marketing ploy to get people to continue to buy books, but it’s not something I enjoy. It’s a satisfying ending—and yet, not.

Still, it was a fun read and the author gives great tips at the back that tell who the kids are named after and blurbs on their namesakes. I do recommend this book, just be forewarned that it’s not over even when you reach the end.

Vicky 8/1/19

REVIEW: THE RED PYRAMID by RICK RIORDAN – 5 sparklers

red pyramidRick Riordan has written books in the mythological fantasy genre before, but his unique spin on ancient gods and goddesses updated to the modern world truly shines in his Egyptian series, the Kane Chronicles. While the Percy Jackson (Greek) series have had time to fully settle into the universe it establishes, the stories of Sadie and Carter Kane take place at around the same time in the same universe. The Kane Chronicles’ unique cast of characters ranging from teenagers to shapeshifting cats to gods themselves brings a charm to the story and the series as a whole.

The story begins with Carter’s first person view of his side of the adventure. He and his dad travel the world, searching for and collecting information on various Egyptian artifacts, and for two days a year, they visit Carter’s sister Sadie, who lives with her grandparents in London. After a strained and awkward reunion and a mysterious meeting between their dad and a familiar-looking man named Amos, Carter and Sadie are whisked off to an Egyptian museum, the one that houses the Rosetta Stone.

Little do they know, however, that Mr. Kane plans to use the Rosetta Stone to summon an Egyptian God, the god of chaos, Set, no less. Without much explanation, Sadie and Carter are recruited in their father’s plans. After things go south, their dad is unfortunately killed in the event, and Set escapes to wreak havoc upon the world.

Once they return to the house, the Kane siblings run into the elusive Amos, who informs them that they must come with him to Brooklyn and begin their training in the path of magic. They unenthusiastically agree, and begin on their journey to take down Set.

The Red Pyramid truly is a fun read, and Rick Riordan’s storytelling fails to disappoint with this entrance into the world of the Kanes. The story is told through a shifting first person point of view; Carter and Sadie take turns telling the story every two chapters. Additionally, the narration is played off as a transcription of a recording, so occasionally throughout the story one of the siblings will comment what the other is doing in real time. This unique style causes the two to feel much more human and connected to the reader, something that a lot of other authors do not do.

Another area that this story shines in is plot. The adventure is well thought out, and many of the plot twists are unpredictable but not unexpected, and every part of the story flows cohesively into the next. The battle sequences and final confrontation are hectic, as is Riordan’s specialty, but they are easy to follow and figure out what is going on.

The entire book is centered around magic, and what one can and cannot (and, by extension, should and should not) do with it. Oftentimes with magic comes a chance of a character being overpowered, but the author always makes sure to avoid this by making clear a simple rule: magic takes effort. This rule separates the possible from the impossible, and makes some spells incredibly harmful or even deadly to the wielder. The way that Riordan sets up the entire system makes magic just another weapon, something that a character gets better at using with time, but doesn’t overtake the battlefield.

The mythology series come with gods too, and with gods comes omnipotence. Again, this is completely prevented, not by the author but by the myths themselves. Riordan’s way of staying true to the myths but updating the characters of mythology to modern life (such as giving them smartphones, playing basketball, and so on) is truly unique to the series. In Egyptian myths, gods are not omnipotent. They can be limited, and the books reflect this fact by making sure that the gods in question can still be overcome and held back.

The cast of characters is stupendous in this book. History nerd Carter, who’s always willing to crack a joke even in the heat of battle. Sarcastic Sadie, who constantly mocks Carter and crew, but deep down hopes to protect everyone. And the villainous Set, whose evil plans seem surface level in comparison to the true villain of the series. Later in the book we meet Bast, the spunky cat goddess, and Zia Rashid, the mysterious magician whose alliances are difficult to place. Every character is well thought out and gets the character arc they deserve, and no character is left behind leaving the audience something to be desired.

Riordan’s The Red Pyramid is a perfect establishment of a story, and fully deserves the praise it receives. Overall, this story deserves a full five stars. Young adults and youth will definitely enjoy this books and other works by the author.

Review written by Te’ B.