Posts tagged ‘Children’s Fantasy’

The Lost Heir

Lost HeirTitle: The Lost Heir
Series: Wings of Fire #2 (Sequel to The Dragonet Prophecy)
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Illustrators: Dragon illustrations by Joy Ang, Map and border design by Mike Schley
ISBN: 978054534919
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2012.

“Why did you do that?”
“Oh you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”
“By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.
“Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.
“What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.
“We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”
“Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”
“Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.” (16)

Tsunami has always imagined her homecoming like a fairy tale, and once she discovers that she actually is a SeaWing princess, she is even more determined to meet her family and see her kingdom. Maybe her own kind would appreciate her more than the dragonets, who seem to be questioning her leadership skills after the recent events and fighting with the Skywings. Upon arriving home though, Tsunami realizes that home is not a safe place, as the heirs to the throne continue to be killed by an unknown assassin. When her own life is threatened and she faces growing distrust towards her mother’s advisors and allies, Tsunami begins to wonder if maybe she is better off with her fellow dragonets of prophecy, but will she figure out who to trust in time to save her friends and family.

Fans of the first book in the series will find much of the same. Now that we’ve been introduced and readers are getting to know the dragons individually, it’s marginally easier to tell them apart. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t find myself flipping back and forth between the guide, the prophecy, and the part I was actually reading to keep the alliances straight. It was just being reintroduced instead of being revealed for the first time. It’s like getting introduced to a friend’s family at an event. The first time you meet the whole crowd, your head is spinning, but by the second or third time you start making connections–about who’s a cousin and an aunt or a grandparent or siblings–and saying to yourself “I remember that.” Hopefully, by the end of the series the characters will become more familiar to readers in that same way.

I enjoy how the author is featuring each dragon in their own book. We get to focus on more insular events instead of trying to grasp a nationwide war. I have a feeling each dragon is going to get their own book, and I’m especially interested to see how each dragon’s opinions differ from each other as we come to distinguish them from one another. There’s no denying that Tsunami is bossy, and discovering she’s royalty only augments her feelings of entitlement. But she’s also conflicted, especially when it comes to her own behavior and actions and how she is seen by others. She rationalizes her feelings in order to try to gain and keep her relationships, but her people pleasing, especially when it comes to her mother, just leaves her feeling out of sorts. It’s a story about not just who you can trust but whether or not you can trust yourself.

The mystery is intriguing and Sutherland sends up several red herrings before revealing the cause of the dragonet deaths. We also get little glimpses of what is going on with the resistance, and hints of a “back up plan” if the dragonets don’t succeed. What exactly Tsunami and her group are supposed to do, readers are still as clueless as the dragons. I’ll be continuing the series to see what happens and how events develop.

Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted VioletTitle: Iron Hearted Violet
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780316056731
Pages: 424 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2012.

Violet didn’t notice that there was something…odd about her reflection in the mirror. If she had been paying attention, she might have seen that her reflection did not–as reflections typically do–mirror her movements and vanish into the limit of the mirrored space.
No. Her reflection remained.
It remained.
And as Violet–the real Violet–reached the end of the hall, wiping her tears away as she did, the reflection in the mirror–the wrong Violet–spread its lips into a cruel yellow grin. (63

There are whispers in the castle. Whispers of a thirteenth Old God, when only twelve are taught and talked about. There are whispers of war between the neighboring kingdoms, but especially from the Mountain King of the North. There are whispers that real princesses are beautiful, just like in the stories. Everyone, including Princess Violet, knows that Violet, the only child of the King and Queen to survive childbirth, is not beautiful. And there are whispers of a dragon, the first one to be seen in a century. All these whispers culminate into a deafening roar of war as forces beyond Violet’s control begin to influence her, her family, her friends, and even the castle itself. Will the ancient entity locked away all those years ago finally break free?

The book starts off slowly, intentionally building suspense as readers are privy to events that Violet, her friend Demetrius, and the rest of the characters are not aware. Reader’s will have a much more complete picture before the characters piece it together. The other odd point is that the castle’s story-teller is telling the story, but we so rarely get input from him that it’s almost jarring when asides get thrown in at random moments to contribute even more foreshadowing. The foreshadowing we do receive from the story could not have been known by the story-teller. Does that make sense? It almost would have worked better without the story teller’s asides or input.

That small quibble aside, I liked that Violet was NOT a pretty princess. Readers get to see a princess, of all people, have insecurities about her looks, and the very obvious message that looks don’t matter gets nailed home at the end. Fans of the movie Brave might see similarities between Violet and Disney’s frizzy-haired princess. The dragon isn’t your stereotypical dragon, although there are so few books now showing fierce, fire-breathing dragons that I wonder how stereotypical that idea is anymore. The slow seep of evil that begins to permeate the story, setting, and characters was probably my favorite part, as characters in the story didn’t notice the changes and affects until it was “almost” too late. I’d recommend this for the patient reader who is willing to let the story develop and isn’t put off by the lack of whiz-bang battles.

2 The Point Tuesdays The Menagerie

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

MenagerieTitle: The Menagerie
Series: Menagerie #1
Authors: Tui T. and Kari Sutherland
ISBN: 9780060780647
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, and imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2013.
Published: March 12, 2013.

“What the . . . ,” Logan muttered. “Guys, who ate all your food?” And then put the lid back on?
“SQUUUUUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOORP!”
Logan froze. That was a noise he had definitely never heard before. And it had come from somewhere in his room.
He turned around slowly, his heart pounding.
That’s when he saw the tail stretched out along his carpet, sticking out from the trailing edge of his comforter. A long, golden, furry lion’s tail.
There was a monster under his bed. (17-18)

Logan has just moved from Chicago to a small town in Wyoming with his dad, following the only clue in his mother’s sudden disappearance. Logan literally runs into Zoe and Blue, the weirdest girl and most popular boy in school, who claim to be searching for a lost dog. Discovering it’s not a dog they’re searching for but a griffin, Logan returns the cub to Zoe’s home and enters a world of mythical creatures. Everything’s in danger of exposure if the three teens can’t track down the rest of the missing griffins. Was it an accident, or is someone attempting to sabotage the Menagerie and shut it down? A light fantasy mixed with realism, sisters Tui and Kari Sutherland have created a fast read. Readers will enjoy this first book in an obvious series, which sets up a satisfying ending while still leaving enough unanswered questions for the upcoming sequels.

Spirit Fighter

Spirit FighterTitle: Spirit Fighter
Series: Son of Angels: Jonah Stone #1
Author: Jerel Law
ISBN: 9781400318438
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Thomas Nelson, Inc. c2011.

“Investigators?” Jonah repeated. “Like. . . police? Dad, what’s wrong?”
Benjamin glanced at the woman, who nodded. He sighed loudly, pulling the glasses off his face. “Mom’s been taken. Someone’s kidnapped her.”
Jonah froze, trying to understand the words his father had just said.
“What do you mean, kidnapped?” he said, and then crossed his arms. “How do you know?”
[...]
Jonah stared at the two strangers. “Who are you? Are you really police? Where’s your patrol car? If it’s true, shouldn’t there be a dozen cops scouring this place by now? Where are they?” [...] “You aren’t police, are you?” (65)

Seventh-grader Jonah has no idea what is happening to him when he acquires abilities like super-strength and speed. But instead of finding out he’s a superhero in disguise his parents explain that he is one-quarter angel. His grandfather (who no one has seen for years) was one of the fallen angels that revolted against God all those years ago. When he comes home from school to discover his mother has been kidnapped by those same evil angels, it’s up to Jonah and his sister Eliza to rescue her due to their unique position between the two worlds. Relying on evolving powers, their guardian angel, and a lot of prayer, Jonah and Eliza search New York City. Will their faith be strong enough to rescue their mother before she’s turned to the wrong side?

I didn’t realize that this was Christian fantasy until this book came in for me from another library. I honestly don’t read a lot of explicitly Christian fiction, although I do occasionally read some “gentler” books that might appeal to moms trying to avoid the “drama” that fiction sometimes contains. So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the “target audience”. Upon reading this though, I immediately thought of a patron from my previous library whose parents were very guarded about what she could or couldn’t read, and considering her favorite genre was fantasy but it couldn’t have magic in almost any form (witches, spells, etc.), it placed a lot of limitations on what she could check out of the library. This would more than likely have pleased her parents, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing, this would be a good starting point. That being said, it’s not perfect.

The book’s description on the back cover states that it is based on the book of Genesis. That’s not the only thing that gets quoted though, as each part is introduced with a Biblical passage. The kids spout scripture like they are in a seminary, along with just about every other character in the story. Any time they are in a tight spot, or need extra assistance, they pray to God (or Elohim as he’s called in the book) and they receive help. Yes, I understand that’s one of the very obvious morals to the story that Jerel Law makes very apparent over and over again, and yes Jonah and Eliza’s father is a Methodist pastor, but it still struck me as unrealistic. I wish the kids could have struggled a little bit more to solve their own problems, instead of relying so heavily on the assistance of others. Weren’t they sent on this quest for a reason?

Because the morals are laid down so heavily, the dialogue and action comes across as stilted. While it was a fast read, the plot didn’t make sense to me. For some reason, the fallen angels wait all this time to capture Jonah’s mom and others like her in order to essentially brain wash them for their cause. Why wait all this time? Why not recruit them to the cause when they were younger and more easily influenced by their fallen angel parent? And why make Jonah and Eliza “quarterlings,” or one-quarter angel? It would have led more urgency to the plot if they were the half angels (called nephilims) and their younger brother had been captured instead of their adult mother. If the author hadn’t wanted an evil parent situation, then maybe the mother defected from the group upon having kids, and they’ve been in hiding ever since. That would have lent to some intrigue and suspense, and also character development to the story. In terms of super powers, I think Eliza drew the short end of the stick since she doesn’t have nearly as many as Jonah (although hers is still cool).

This being the first in a projected series, I’m assuming we haven’t seen the last of these angels, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of them that will aid Jonah and Eliza in their continuing conflict. So if you like to get beat over the head with how prayer is powerful and faith in God will guide you, this fantasy will do it for you. Otherwise, I’d pick up Chronicles of Narnia over this “Christian fantasy” any day.

Freakling

FreaklingTitle: Freakling
Author: Lana Krumwiede
ISBN: 9780763659370
Pages: 309 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

“You might as well accept it,” Taemon said to Da. “I have no psi. None.”
“Shh!” The door slammed shut with Mam’s psi. “If someone heard that, you’d be carted off before first light.”
Taemon frowned. “Don’t worry: no one will know. I’ve faked it this far, haven’t I?” [...]
“Still, I’m not sure you can pull this off,” Da said. “We should work on finding your psi.”
“It’s not like I’ve misplaced it,” Taemon said, frustrated. “It’s gone.” Completely. (56-58)

Everyone in the city of Deliverence has a form of telekinesis known as psi. If you don’t, then you are sent to the Powerless Colony where everything has to be done by hand. Taemon has never felt lucky to have psi, just normal, until an accident caused by his brother Yens results in him loosing his psi. Now simple things like eating and getting dressed are incredible difficult and dangerous as he must learn to do things without controlling objects with his mind. But a very public mistake forces him to the Powerless Colony, where he learns that the people there aren’t so powerless after all. In fact, they might have more power than they think when Yens is granted a position of power and will stop at nothing to get more.

I’m sensing a theme here. I read Island of Silence just before this one. Both have one gifted brother and one not so gifted brother. Both have the brothers fighting each other. Both stories ultimately involve the different worlds that the brothers inhabit. Neither war escalates like gang warfare would where an increasing radius of people are affected, but instead the wars escalate quickly and involve the whole community. And again, a lot of the political maneuverings that happen to facilitate this conflict are glossed over so quickly, you’re left with a confused idea of what exactly they’re fighting over. This time around, we’re cheering on the non-magical brother, as opposed to Island of Silence where the magical one was the hero. I feel like there’s a fascinating discussion just waiting for whoever wants to tackle the comparisons and fantasy tropes/archetypes.

Looking at this book specifically though, it feels like the lessons are laid on a little thick. Taemon’s inner dialogue doesn’t sound like a scared, confused kid, but more like a philosophy or religion professor’s lecture. “…Anyone else who had a mind to do evil. But he’d need a way to distinguish the good people from the bad ones. How would he do that? And did he really have a right [...]? That sounded awfully like something the priests would do.” (303) But I thought the idea of people using only telekinesis to do everything, basically rendering their arms and hands useless, was unique and well thought out. The details were definitely there for Taemon’s life, and the humor was in the little things, like when Taemon’s mom actually yells at him for picking up his dirty socks with his hands.

I thought the cover was really cool, with allusions to events in the book with the clockwork and water intermingling, but the clockwork on the cover made me think that it would have steam punk elements, which it really doesn’t. I think overall this book was just so similar to Island of Silence that it was hard for me to really dive in and enjoy the book to the fullest. I think other readers will find the concept unique and enjoy it because the idea of not lifting a finger to do chores is just so tempting. The possibly too-tidy ending will definitely give readers something to talk about, although apparently there’s also a sequel scheduled for this book in 2013, so maybe the ending wasn’t as final as I thought it was.

Island of Silence

Island of SilenceTitle: Island of Silence
Series: The Unwanteds #2
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407718
Pages: 406
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2012.

“The attack makes it all to clear: Quill is struggling mightily to accept us–more than anyone had imagined. As much as our friend, High Priest Haluki, is doing to make this transition possible, it is still incredibly hard to introduce new ideas into a society that has been so set in its ways for al these years. [...] Clearly, we didn’t expect this kind of violent, organized attack. Clearly, we should have.” (156)

The magical secret world of Artime, filled with Quill’s creative outcasts, has been exposed. Quill is reeling from the death of their leader Justine, and Quillians are fleeing the floundering city for what they see as a promising future in Artime. But the privileged Wanteds of Quill are still holding tightly to their old way of life, and will do anything to restore it. On opposite sides of the fight are twin brothers, with Aaron leading a group of rag-tag Wanteds against Alex’s friends in Artime. Alex wants nothing to do with the leadership position that Mr. Today is offering him, but that doesn’t stop his friends from noticing his absences and resenting his opportunity. When the battle finally happens, will his friends be there to support him in his moment of need?

This is a series where it is quite necessary to read them in order. I would also suggest waiting until the third one has been published before reading this one. The ending here is not a tied up in a bow kind of conclusion, and it leaves you with lots of questions. I thought the first book in the series was a nice, free-standing fantasy, but I was proven wrong yet again. Why do these fantasy series have to always have at least one sequel!? The first one I raved over and book talked till I was blue, but this one just didn’t have as much appeal for me.

That’s not to say that McMann didn’t do a good job, because she did. Aaron’s efforts to build an army are realistic, and eerily reminded me of a Hitler-esque character. He wins over his subjects with food and slowly manipulates their feelings of abandonment to feelings of retribution and indignation. He has a lot of luck when he finally initiates his plan, which I also feel is somewhat realistic since revolutions are led by people who are in the right place at the right time. I actually like Aaron’s parts slightly more than Alex’s. It felt like the writing was tighter, and we really dig into the psychology of winning over the people left in Quill. Plus the secrets and spies added intrigue, as your left guessing with Aaron’s point of view who is truly loyal to him.

Playing off those differences, I was also struck by how different the brothers’ actions and ambitions played out. Alex has absolutely no desire to take over for Mr. Today, which I thought was unique to the genre. We always hear about the reluctant hero, but they all typically step up to the plate, no matter how reluctantly, and do what needs to be done. Alex on the other hand shows his cluelessness, relying on others to help him make decisions and maintaining till the end that he has no idea what he’s doing and is not cut out for this job. There is no false bravado there, only scared struggles to be what people need him and expect him to be. And what they need him to be is a figurehead, although Artimeans know that if Mr. Today wanted him to be trained, there must be something special about him, even if they don’t know and Alex certainly doesn’t realize why he was chosen either.

The reason I didn’t LOVE this book as much as the other one is because it didn’t have the same (pardon the pun) magic of discovery. We spend most of the first book learning about Artime and seeing everything it had to offer. (J.K. Rowling did a very good job of introducing new magical things in each book, where we could go “OOOOOH!” and the shiny thing would distract us and pull us in a little more.) In this book, we kind of know how things work already, and very little new things are introduced, so our attention has to be held by the tension of the impending battle. The one very strange thing, the Island of Silence the book is named after, is nonexistent for the first two-thirds of the book, and then it is flung in like a “Hail Mary” football pass before the game ends. When we finally arrive at the battle scene, there’s very little description of it, which is a let down of sorts. We hear about the battle second-hand, since neither Aaron or Alex really see much of it themselves (due to various reasons which I won’t elaborate here).

It will be interesting to see how the author pulls everything together. I honestly don’t know how many books are going to be in the series, but I’m hoping we get more answers in part three instead of a lot of unanswered questions. I think fans of the first one might be disappointed, but I’ll wait to pass judgement until the third book comes out. I might be waiting a while though, as I see two other books for 2013 (a new series and a contribution to the multi-author Infinity Ring series) on Goodreads, but not a third Unwanteds book listed yet.

The Dragonet Prophecy

Dragonet ProphecyTitle: The Dragonet Prophecy
Series: Wings of Fire
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Dragons Illustrator: Joy Ang
Map and Border Design: Mike Schley
ISBN: 9780545349185
Pages: 304 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2012.

Clay clenched his talons under the water. They had to be talking about Glory.
“Well, I’m not doing it,” Webs said.
Dune shot him a withering look. “No one thought you would.”
“Even though this is all your fault,” said Kestrel. [...]
“So how and when,” Dune said in his no-nonsense military voice. “Drowning would be simplest.” He glared at Webs.
“I joined the Talons of Peace to stop killing dragons,” Webs said. “I won’t argue with Morrowseer, but I’m not doing it myself.” [...]
“I’ll do it tonight while she’s sleeping,” Kestrel said. “I can get in there and break her neck before the others know what I’m doing, especially with the bossy one safely chained up.” [...]
Clay had heard enough. He sank down below the surface and swam toward the gap in the wall.
What do we do? What can we do? What can I do?
There’s no time.
How do I save her?
(53-55)

Clay and four other dragons have been living under a mountain for years in the hopes that they were meant to fulfill a prophecy and end a war between the dragon clans. After Clay overhears his caretakers threatening to kill one of his friends because she doesn’t fit the prophecy’s specifications, the five dragons make an escape attempt. Their attempt is foiled almost immediately, and their separation and capture puts them in an even more dire situation. As their entire lives are called into question, doubts begin to surface about their abilities and loyalties to each other. If one of them dies, will the prophecy ever be fulfilled?

Readers picking up this book need to be patient from the beginning. What begins as a slow start quickly turns into a confusing situation, with five dragons, each a different breed and with different abilities, being cared for by three caretakers, also each a different breed of dragon and with different abilities. There are seven types or breeds of dragon total, but two of the breeds aren’t involved in the war, although they are represented by two of the young prophecy dragons, and one prophecy dragon was a “substitution” and isn’t mentioned in the prophecy at all. Sutherland tries to make it easier for readers by opening with “A Nightwing Guide to the Dragons of Pyrrhia,” but for the first third of the book I found myself flipping back and forth. The dragons are sometimes referred to as type and not by name, so getting them straight takes some effort. And is anyone else confused by the cover, which has the series name in BIG BOLD font, and then the actual title of the book looking like a subtitle?

Once you get into the story and the young dragons have been captured, it gets a little better, but only a little bit. I do like the different attributes given to each breed, some of which are explained by the end of the book. The whole premise of the prophecy is a little sketchy simply because of the slow start, but I’m assuming with book number two we’ll get more details about what the young dragons intend to do in order to save their world. It brings into question the whole aspect of destiny. Does choosing these dragons put them on the path to fulfill their destiny, even if one is a “substitution?” Friendship is also a major theme in this book, as the dragons’ loyalty to each other is called into question, and they must play up their strengths and weaknesses to help each other.

The book has some violence that I think sensitive readers might be bothered by, especially when we encounter the gladiator style fighting arena. The callousness of some of the dragons is also eye-opening if we think of them and their relationships in human terms. This behavior might ring truer to character if we compare the dragons to other wild animals and how they act, which actually makes sense considering Sutherland is part of the team of writers responsible for the Seekers series. I do appreciate the fact that the dragons are the main characters here, as opposed to most fantasy when they are merely secondary or supplemental (think Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, or Christopher Paolini). Overall, the quest and multitude of characters and species brings to mind Lord of the Rings, and complicated fantasy fans would more than likely enjoy the developed characters and unique setting. I know that’s why I’ll be reading the second one, since spending all that time figuring out who was who would be a waste otherwise.

Liesl and Po

Liesl and PoTitle: Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Kei Acedera
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780449015025 (audiobook), 9780062014511 (hardcover)
Pages: 307 pages
Discs/CDs:  5 CDs, 5 hours and 55 minutes
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“I must take his ashes to the willow tree,” Liesl whispered suddenly, with certainty. “I must bury my father next to my mother. Then his soul will move Beyond.” She looked directly at the place where Po’s eyes should have been, if Po were not a ghost, and again Po felt the very core of its Essence shiver in response.
“And you must help me,” Liesl finished.
Po was unprepared for this. “Me?” it said unhappily. “Why me?” (92)

When a ghost appears in Liesl’s attic prison, Liesl asks for help in sending a message to her recently deceased father. The message Po brings back is anything but cheery, as Liesl father insists that he must go home to the willow tree, and that Liesl should be the one to take him there. Liesl steals the container of ashes from the mantle and rushes off to her old house, leaving her wicked stepmother behind. Little does Liesl know that the box she carries does not contain her father’s ashes, but a powerful magic that accidentally got delivered to the wrong address. Soon joined by the “useless” delivery boy called William who is fleeing his angry alchemist master, the three of them are thrust into events that they don’t quite understand, but nevertheless are intent on preventing in their efforts to improve their lives (or in Po’s case it’s death) for the better.

I thought I’d get behind this newest book about a girl and her ghost by Lauren Oliver. It’s narrated by Jim Dale for heaven’s sake, the one who did all those cool voices for The Emerald Atlas and Peter and the Starcatchers not to mention Harry Potter. But for the first time, I wasn’t feeling it with Dale. His attempts at the female voices fell flat to my ears, which I did not anticipate at all, and I didn’t pick up the suspense or excitement that I think this reading could have had.

But maybe he was tempering his voice to match the gray and bleak environment of the story’s setting. Maybe it was the material, because the story itself fell flat for me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for Lauren Oliver. For plenty of other people the story has really resonated with them. After reading the author’s note in the back, I truly wanted the book to resonate with me too. Oliver reveals that she wrote this story “during a concentrated two-month period.”

At the time, I was dealing with the sudden death of my best friend. The lasting impact of this loss reverberated through the months, and it made my world gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story. [...] And so my fantasies were transformed into the figure of a little girl who embarks on a journey not just to restore the ashes of a loved one to a peaceful place but to restore color and life to a world that has turned dim and gray.” (309-310)

If she had succeeded in doing this, I would have claimed her attempt a success, and that synopsis of the book makes it sound wonderful, but I didn’t really pick-up on that meaning and depth upon listening to the book. But upon reading the author’s note, I feel like I should have gotten A Monster Calls and instead got Casper.

It’s also meant to be a story of coincidences and mix-ups, but it just seemed like Oliver threw a whole bunch of bumbling characters together and loosely tied their stories to each other in a comedy of errors. Yes, mix-ups and coincidences are sometimes the basis for every story, but do there have to be so many of them in one story? For instance, if Liesl’s step-mother was such an evil woman, why did she bother locking Liesl up in the attic in the first place, an attic window that Will noticed but no one else? The Lady Premiere, the evil lady who ordered up this powerful magic in the first place, feels like a minor general “bad character” with almost no motivation for her actions presented to readers. Why in the world would so many people who have no connection to the events at hand continue to chase after the children? It reminded me towards the end of those old-fashioned black and white movies where the whole town is chasing a dog for no other reason than the dog stole and by this point has eaten a sausage.

Kei Acedera’s black and white drawings are appropriately dark and murky, and I thought Po was very well rendered considering the description of a non-gendered, cookie-cutter child-shaped ghost. In fact, all of the characters were instantly recognizable, and while the facial expressions seemed relatively uniform, the postures told the emotions of the characters very well. For fans of Casper, this mad-cap tale of a ghost and it’s girl will find readers, but while it was an interesting story, it just didn’t do it for me.

The Peculiar

Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
ISBN: 978006219518
Pages: 376 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

Then a great many things happened at once. Bartholomew, staring so intently, nodded forward a bit so that the tip of his nose brushed against the windowpane. And the moment it did, there was a quick, sharp movement in the yard below, and the lady reached behind her and jerked apart the coils of hair at the back of her head. Bartholomew’s blood turned to smoke in his veins. There, staring directly up at him, was another face, a tiny, brown, ugly face like a twisted root, all wrinkles and sharp teeth.
With a muffled yelp, he scrabbled away from the window, splinters driving into his palms. It didn’t see me, it didn’t see me. It couldn’t ever have known I was here.
But it had. Those wet black eyes had looked into his. For an instant they had been filled with a terrible anger. And then the creature’s lips had curled back and it had smiled. (23-24)

Bartholomew had been told by his mother time and again to not draw attention to himself. He and his sister are Peculiars, half faery and half human, feared and distrusted and occasionally loathed by both races as oddities. So when he gets spotted while observing a beautiful lady, a lady who whisks away a neighboring Peculiar into a whirlwind of black feathers, Bartholomew is understandably concerned. Peculiars seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate, and the skins of their bodies are being found in the river. His concern for his friend turns to fear for his own family as he and his sister might be marked as the next to be taken.

While this book was billed as “part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure”, I really didn’t get a steampunk feel from it. Certainly not in the way the Sherlock Holmes movies or Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is steampunk. Just because there is a clockwork bird and an automaton doesn’t make it steampunk. I’ll agree however about the murder mystery and gothic fantasy. Bachmann knows how to set the scene for the action that follows:

Fog slunk among the headstones of St. Mary, Queen of Martyrs, that night. It smelled of charcoal and rot, and spread in slow shapes down the sloping graveyard. Above, clouds drifted, snuffing out the moon. Somewhere in the maze of streets beyond the wall a dog barked. (205)

Readers might get a little lost in the culture and interactions of faeries and humans, as Bachmann thrusts you into the world from the beginning and worries about explaining things later. While it makes the story flow more naturally, assuming the reader know what they need to know, it helps that Bartholomew and the other main character we see things through, Arthur Jelliby, are somewhat clueless and trying to figure things out as well. Arthur Jelliby is someone who would rather not be investigating the disappearance of Peculiars, as that isn’t really his job, but finds himself being drawn in by coincidences, natural curiosity, and dare I say a sense of duty. I found myself being very sympathetic to both his and Bartholomew’s plight, as the stories intertwine and they are both just trying to get back to normal lives after they unwillingly became involved in this predicament.

I was not informed that this debut book (which it says in the back jacket Bachmann wrote when he was sixteen) is the first in a series, which proved very frustrating to me. Bachmann has nailed building tension by shifting viewpoints after a suspenseful turn of events or a Hannibal Lecter-esque piece of dialogue, where you know something bad is right around the corner. And that, unfortunately, was how the book ended. I definitely foresee a change of setting for book two as the reason for Bartholomew getting involved as yet to be resolved. (That’s really all I can say without spoiling plot points). The good news is that it appears Arthur Jelliby will be along for the ride as well, and we can only hope that Bartholomew and Jelliby interact a little more in book two.

2 the Point Tuesday — The Seven Tales of Trinket

Each month where I work, the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: The Seven Tales of Trinket
Author: Shelley Moore Thomas
Illustrator: Dan Craig
ISBN: 9780374367459
Pages: 369 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2012.

“What are you going to do with it?” Thomas asked.
“What do you think?” My fingers trailed yet another direction, over the mountains to the forest.
He looked at me with eyes that widened as he understood my purpose.
“You are not going to follow it!” He spit when he yelled, which made it a good thing that Thomas the Pig Boy yelled very little.
“I am.”
“You are only eleven.”
“Almost twelve. A year older than you.”
“What will you do out there?” Thomas asked, flicking the map with his hand.
“Why, find my father, of course.”
And I will leave this place, and all the pain, behind.
But I did not say this aloud.
Thomas thought for a moment.
“If you go, can I come?” (13-14)

After the death of her mother, strong-willed Trinket heads out to find her father, a wandering bard who never made it back home after his last trip. Accompanied by Thomas, the Pig Boy, and an old map, they are called upon to save a Gypsy seer, rescue a baby stolen by selkies, banish a banshee, trick a fairy and escape a deadly highwayman. Realizing that she could follow her father’s footsteps in more ways than one, she starts practicing to become a bard. The story she really wants to find an ending for though is her own, but no one seems to know where her father went. A story about bards and telling stories based on Celtic folklore begs to be read-aloud. Trinket does not walk an easy road and must make some hard decisions about the true meaning of friendship. Fans of the movie Brave will not be disappointed.

Picture book and early reader author Shelley Moore Thomas shows her experience and talent as a professional storyteller in her first middle-grade novel.

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