Book Review: The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Traitor’s Game
The Traitor’s Game, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-04537-6
Hardcover

Abruptly abandoning her beloved Lava Fields, based solely on a demand from her paternal parental unit, is aggravating. The fact that it’s been three years and no reason was given for the reunion, is infuriating. When Kestra’s security carriage is attacked on the journey home, she flips from frustrated to fiercely furious, forgetting all about fear.

Certainly, the people of Antora have a healthy respect for that anger. After all, her father is second in command to Lord Endrick. Those who actually know the scrappy, skilled teen are more realistically wary of her wrath. The band of rebels, however, has too much at stake and too pat a plan to be thwarted.

Kestra is kidnapped. Her guard and governess held as collateral.

One captor poses as her lady-in-waiting, the other her driver and Kestra is taken into Highwyn and tasked with finding the Olden Blade to overthrow evil Lord Endrick. No one actually knows that the magic dagger exists. If it does, and she is able to locate it; then she will have to determine how much, if any, of the legend is true. This seemingly insurmountable problem pales when Kestra realizes the reason for her return.

She is to be wed. Groom selected, arrangements made, the ceremony…stupidly soon. She has no say in the matter.

With several sticky situations to solve, and only a small window of time, the story flies faster than Lord Endrick’s condors. Along the way, secrets are revealed. Kestra begins to believe that she fell in love with the idea of her country, without ever knowing the realities of her world. Burdened by new knowledge, the difference between enemies and innocents becomes blurry, but she must choose someone to trust.

Kestra may be one of my favorite characters of all time. She is courageous, bold beyond belief and also positively petulant, with a tendency for tantrums. The perfect protagonist for this adventurous, action-packed fantasy. Mixed with a bit of magic, a completely captivating saga is created; a stellar start to a tempting trilogy (I’m guessing, here).

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

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Book Review: Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Frogkisser!
Garth Nix
Scholastic Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-338-05208-4
Hardcover

Start with a dash of Monty Python’s sly humor, add a double helping of the best of Brian Jaques, sprinkle with a triple pinch of classic fairy tale and stir gently. When done, you have this delight of a book. Princess Anya and her ditsy older sister Morven are worse than orphans. First their mother died, then their father, the king, after marrying their stepmother, who remarried the evil sorcerer, Duke Rikard. Stepmom is more interested in roaming far away to study botany instead of taking any interest in the princesses. Anya’s careful to remind everyone the duke is her stepstepfather.

Duke Rikard delights in growing his power, even though every increase drains his humanity. When he turns Morven’s current suitor into a frog and dumps him in the moat, Anya realizes she has to act. Little does she know that this decision will turn out to be much bigger and have further-reaching consequences than she could possibly imagine. She must go on a quest to gather ingredients needed to create a lip balm which will allow her to kiss an array of creatures so they can return to their original form. The list is daunting, druid blood, witches tears, three day old hail and freshly pulled Cockatrice feathers. Hardly a quick trip to Walmart.

Accompanied by Ardent, one of the Royal dogs, she sets off. Shortly after meeting a reformed witch, whose wannabe robber son Shrub, has been turned into a newt, Anya realizes the evil Duke has turned a pack of weasels into human sized baddies that are pursuing her and her companions.

In order to fulfill her quest, Anya braves a giant, a coven of bickering witches, Ethical robbers, unethical robbers, the Grand wizard (who lives in a hollowed-out dragon skeleton, a flying carpet with an attitude. That would be more than enough to deter most young girls, but Anya’s made of much sterner stuff, allowing her to do a lot of kissing that would turn most princesses into quivering masses of jello. She’s able to wrap her head around the realization that her initial quest was merely the tip of the iceberg, gather an army, and save the day. How she does that makes for a truly dandy read, great for tweens, teens and light fantasy loving adults. It would be a good family read-aloud choice and I’d love to see it as a movie.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2018.

Book Review: Girl Divided by Willow Rose

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Girl Divided is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel infused with magical
forces. If you like immersive worlds, strong characters, and a tale
that reads like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King combined, then
you’ll love Willow Rose’s provocative story.

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Purchase Link:

Amazon

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Girl Divided
Willow Rose
Buoy Media, January 2018
ISBN 978-1973279426
Trade Paperback

From the author—

They think she’s a monster, but she’s their only hope…

In a divided nation, 14-year-old Jetta belongs nowhere. Her face is split right down the middle: half-black and half-white. The non-white residents of her New Orleans camp call her a demon. The white oppressors who took over during the 2nd American Civil War have called her much worse…

After years as an outcast, Jetta uncovers her true heritage as the daughter of an African storm god and a Finnish death goddess. As she attempts to harness her terrible new abilities to turn the tide in the war, trouble comes to those she tries to help. Only Jetta has the power to heal her divided homeland… or destroy everything in her path…

It’s always nice to see diversity in fiction but Willow Rose has taken it to a new level by having a protagonist who is not only biracial but who also literally looks the part with a face that’s white on one side and black on the other. As you might anticipate, this makes life difficult for Jetta because, even in her future world, bigotry is still rampant. Whether the author’s choice to do this evidences her understanding of both white and black lives I’m not sure because I can only speak for the white side. To that end, I don’t think it quite works because, in this story, white people are almost universally bad.

I do think I might have connected better if I really understood the circumstances of this very different society (or is it so different?) Unfortunately, worldbuilding is a little weak so some answers are missing. What I did find especially interesting is the concept that two deities have created Jetta with the intent of causing vicious racial tension in America…and succeeding to the point of civil war. As a harbinger of what might come in reality if we don’t pay attention, Girl Divided is quite effective and thought-provoking.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

About the Author

The Queen of Scream aka Willow Rose is a #1 Amazon Best-selling Author and an Amazon ALL-star Author of more than 40 novels. She writes Mystery, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural thrillers, and Fantasy.

She lives on Florida’s Space Coast with her husband and two daughters. When she is not writing or reading, you will find her surfing and watch the dolphins play in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Willow’s books are fast-paced, nail-biting pageturners. Several of her books have reached the Kindle top 20 of ALL books in the US, UK, and Canada. She has sold more than two million books.

 

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card
Enter here

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Book Reviews: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater and Wild Lily by K.M. Peyton

All the Crooked Saints
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-93080-2
Hardcover

This story of the Soria family comes to you courtesy of quite the natty narrator. Conveyed in a quirky, yet compelling cadence, the tone is objective, but not unaffected. A twist on the third person point-of-view, presents a storyteller that isn’t simply reading the lines, but rather speaking with familiarity and fondness and perhaps, a hint of pride.

The small Colorado settlement of Bicho Raro is presently packed with pilgrims and the three young Soria cousins are puzzling over the predicament. On the surface, it looks like folks are seriously searching for answers; but upon closer inspection, they seem stubborn and somewhat silly not to consider the correctness of their query.

Here in the Colorado desert, radio waves reach for transistors as miracles search for saints and owls migrate towards the miracles. Previously, people would pop in for the magic, then proceed along life’s path. They still come, but now…no one leaves.

The cousins watch their kin drag themselves through the same dull, daily routines; following tired, old procedures while the pilgrims lurk about listlessly. Instead of answers though, each cousin comes up with a distinctly different (and slightly disturbing) question. Separately and secretly, they set out to seek solutions with the single goal of restoring Bicho Raro.

While the situations in All the Crooked Saints stem from fantasy and folklore, they nevertheless relate to real-life ruts. Interspersed with Spanish and Stiefvater-sly humor, the story has a subtle, sneaky effect. A pleasure to read, plenty to ponder, it is perfect for the Young Adult audience; but, I predict this story will resonate with all readers of all ages.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2017.

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Wild Lily
K.M. Peyton
David Fickling Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-08160-2
Hardcover

It is not typical, particularly in 1921, for a soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old to causally request an airplane for his birthday.  Antony’s English home, however, is eccentric at its tamest.  His father grants permission.  The mostly absent, mysterious man who makes mountains of money, is an indulgent single parent.  His only sibling is constantly chaperoned by her nurse-maids, so Antony has learned to enthusiastically embrace his freedom and entertain himself.

Care-free, full of fun and wholly inclusive, Antony does have a certain appeal.  On the other hand, his fierce focus on only a couple of arbitrary, short-term goals coupled with his disdain and dismissal of any actual problem, makes it difficult to qualify his redeeming qualities.

Lily is genuinely good.  Wearing responsibility like a second skin, she is raising her baby brother and working on her father’s gardening crew.  She bears her burdens intuitively, refusing to allow them to tame her ferocious appetite for life and furious joy for adventure.  At the tender age of thirteen, Lily has a laundry list of admirable traits.

Inexplicably, Lily is unquestionably in love with Antony.  Although this curious commitment could carry the story (it’s so beautifully written, I bet Ms. Peyton’s grocery lists are poetic), Wild Lily is not a romance.  Ample action and adventure balance brilliantly with tragedy, compassion and caring.  Mayhem, and maybe murder, make for a fast-pace and simple twists invoke suspense.

I found this to be an enjoyable and engrossing book.  When it ended, I was pleased and mostly satisfied.  Writing this review, however, made something click.  My perspective broadened and suddenly I understood Lily better. Now, I love her even more.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

Book Review: Spell Book & Scandal by Jen McConnel

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Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.