Book Review: The Maven Knight by Matthew Romeo @housemontegue

The Maven Knight
The Maven Knight Trilogy #1
Matthew Romeo
Matthew Romeo, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-578-42878-9
Trade Paperback

Mr. Romeo reaches out and pulls the reader right into a frenzied chaos with his Sci-Fi/Fantasy, The Maven Knight. Immediately invested in the action, in spite of not even knowing who is good and who is not, the dust settles soon enough to show that we have a small group of prisoners en route to their proper punishment.

Or so Sarina assumes. She groggily awakens to find her hands tied and tethered. A quick glance around shows the strangers surrounding her are similarly bound. Sarina doesn’t remember anything past tending bar at a banquet, but cannot fathom doing anything to get herself into this situation. Sure, she’s keeping a secret, but certainly not worthy of this retribution.

Talir, on the other hand, cannot specifically pinpoint his “crime”, but is oddly not particularly surprised to find himself in this predicament. Perhaps his cherished Maven armor, his last remnant of his father, is providing some comfort.

As the apparent criminals start to size each other up, their convoy is shot down. Soon, six people are stranded in the middle of nowhere with no reason in the world to want to work together. Except their lives may depend on it.

The saga unfolds from two separate points of view. What initially appeared to be a random sampling of ne’er-do-wells, now seems to be a carefully selected group. But to fully figure out the reason each person was chosen, secrets must be spilled and certain actions will require sincere apologies if there is to be any hope for survival.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.

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: Woven by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

wovenWoven
Michael Jensen and David Powers King
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-68572-6
Hardcover

When I was very young, I was in 4-H.  There were projects.  Mine: sewing.  Always, sewing.  Much to my chagrin, we did not live on a farm.  Sewing was difficult.  And frustrating.  At first.  But, I learned.  I realized this brand-new way to create and express myself.  Also, a pretty handy skill.  Like magic!

Imagine my delight (many years later) upon discovering Woven, the rare, needle-in-a-haystack book to spotlight sewing as actual magic.  Brilliant concept.  Mr. Jensen and Mr. King weave a wondrous yarn, spinning back to a time when royalty and peasants were distinctly different and most certainly did not mingle.  On the outside, each class is separate and easily identified.  Underneath, unseen…some souls are stitched together; hierarchy be damned.

It’s easy to envision everyone’s enchantment and immediate empathy. The authors unravel overt appearances; the true characters of the noble peasant boy and the prim, proper, petulant princess are displayed.  Your heart may feel a tug here and there.  Unapologetically honest and open-minded, Nels is as refreshing as an arctic breeze on a sticky-hot summer day when his bafflement turns to frustration as he hears prejudices against the traveling, gypsy-esque Vagas.  He flatly informs everyone: “You can’t blame a whole people for one crime.”

And.

(Yes, there’s more.)

Woven is a ghost story.    Also, an adventure with wonderful wrestling matches, smashing swords, and an epic quest to free two kingdoms, right countless wrongs and save their own lives.  I found Woven to be happy and hopeful without being determinedly cheerful, sickening sweet.  It hooked me and carried me along, weaving me right into the fabric of this fantastic and fanciful tale.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

The Letter for the KingThe Letter for the King
Tonke Dragt
David Fickling Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-81978-7
Hardcover

Upon discovering a character I admire and adore, I often aspire to become that character.  Emulate a new role model, envision greater goals and dream of different worlds to conquer.  In this case, though, I would never set myself up for that fall.  Merely a human being, a perfectly plausible person; Tiuri is genuinely good.  And kind.  I believe that Tiuri is truly and actually, altruistic.

His epic journey to deliver a message of monumental importance took place many years ago.  A mission that today could be as simple as “send”, was an adventure only for the courageous and strong then.  Traveling alone, on horseback at best; stumbling through the forest by sheer will, hiding from the knights who considered him a murderer and a thief, at worst.

Tiuri is brave.  No.  Make that, bold—often foolishly so.  Although, to be fair, no fault can ever be found.  If ever there was a quintessential example of will power (aside from Frog & Toad “Cookies”, that is), Tiuri conveys it.  Wise beyond his years he is also, oddly, naïve.  A sincere listener, Tiuri ponders then proceeds.  Complexly concurrent, he has an uncanny ability to act instinctively.

But I’ve buried the lead.

Tiuri should not even be embarking on this endeavor.  Moments before he fled his kingdom, fleet on a stolen horse, with the furious owner following; Tiuri had been locked inside a silent chapel, reflecting upon the duties he would perform as knight to his beloved king; beginning at sunrise.

Tiuri’s abrupt departure meant sacrificing what he had worked towards his whole life (all sixteen years of it).  His decision seems reckless and a bit ridiculous.  But things aren’t always as they seem, and this cunning theme cuts through narrative cleverly guiding Tiuri as he encounters a plethora of peculiar people during his travels.

The Letter for the King reads like an instant classic.  While the fiction is fresh, the feel is familiar.  Mystery and intrigue magnificently merge with action and adventure, appealing to all senses.  The colorful characters encountered keep loneliness at bay and Tiuri on his toes.  11-year-old-me would have read this book over and over and over.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

Book Review: Spirit Animals: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

Spirit Animals HuntedSpirit Animals
Book 2: Hunted
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, Inc., January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-52244-1
Hardcover

The orphaned, scruffy, wise-cracking Rollan; the painted, oft expressionless warrior Meilin; and Conor, the shepherd boy, had been tossed together without a choice. The small group was wary, at best. Abeke, with her bizarre elephant hair bracelet; had been “tricked” into aligning with the power-hungry Conquerors, and was not a welcome addition to the trio.

The four youngsters had only one thing in common, but it was paramount. Having recently come of age, sipped the sweet Nectar Ninani, each bonded with, not just any spirit animal, but one of the Four Fallen. There is but one tiny task. To save the world.

The success of the mission hinges on the cohesiveness of the team. The multi-faceted concept of trust is brilliantly displayed as Abeke must earn the trust of the group; Rollan must learn to trust, and Meilin must choose whether to trust her spirit animal or her own intuition.

This action-packed, mystery-filled adventure is completely captivating with colorful characters and carefully hidden life lessons. Ms. Stiefvater’s delightful descriptions of the determinedly cheerful Lord of Glengavin paints the picture of a red-bearded giant whole-heartedly, enthusiastically and unabashedly, displaying his wide range of emotions from toddler-like temper tantrums to giddy joy.

Hope springs eternal as feisty Dawson, young sibling of the horrible Devin, craftily displays whose side he is truly on. His abrupt, almost apologetic, kindness is endearing and serves to soften the utter rottenness of his fellow Conquerors.

The mysterious, heavily tattooed Finn is the honey on this November-Cake of a novel. The burden of scouting for the quarreling new Greencloaks doesn’t seem to rattle him. He patiently teaches them how to code; sending messages by pigeon. Gradually and quietly, his story is revealed. Subtle mentoring moments threaded throughout the adventure tie perfectly together at the story’s end.

Of course the last sentence isn’t true. The author is Maggie Stiefvater. And Spirit Animals is a series. As Hunted answers some questions, many mysteries remain unsolved, new quandaries have appeared and…..well, let’s just say the reader will be ecstatic to know that Blood Ties (Spirit Animals #3) is available.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2015.

Book Reviews: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhorn and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressThe Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Ariel Lawhorn
Doubleday, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-53762-9
Hardcover

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon is one of the best novels I’ve recently read.

Lawhon brilliantly reconstructs a real-life mystery – the unsolved disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in 1930. She does this through the eyes of his wife, their maid, and his mistress.

Lawhon jumps back and forth between 1930 and 1969, when the judge’s aging wife Stella Crater meets with the detective who had then been investigating Crater’s disappearance. They meet at Club Abbey, once a famous speakeasy during the Jazz Age. Every year since his disappearance, Stella Crater salutes her husband with a glass of Whiskey: “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are.”

The main part of the novel takes place in 1930s New York City and Lawhon paints a vividly entertaining picture of the time, complete with dancing girls and mobsters – the infamous Owney Madden is just one.

The tales of Stella, the wife, Maria, the maid, and Ritzi, the mistress, are skilfully intertwined, showing their complex relationships with each other and the judge leading up to his disappearance.

As a reader, I was so drawn to each of the women, which is a testament to Lawhon’s skill, since not much is known about the actual historical figures Stella, Maria, and Ritzi. Lawhon crafted wonderful, believable characters in an enticing setting.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a page-turner and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, March 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hollow CityHollow City
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-1-59474-612-3
Hardcover

Ransom Riggs‘s 2011 debut novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , began as a multi-media exercise. A collector of vintage black and white photographs, Riggs drew inspiration from found pictures of unknown children, who became the bizarre and magical characters in his novel. From this starting point, Riggs spun the tale of Jacob Portman, a lonely, discontented American teenager who travels to Wales to investigate mysterious photographs left behind by his dying grandfather. There, he discovers the titular home and its inhabitants, along with supernatural wonders – and horrors – that he has never imagined.

Uniquely, Miss Peregrine contains reproductions of the photographs that inspired the story. In the print edition, each picture is laid out on a page after the detailed verbal description of the images it contains. Because of this presentation, Miss Peregrine‘s readers had the chance to absorb the written description, imagine it for themselves, then turn the page and see the picture that inspired the passage. The result was a uniquely inventive reading experience that left audiences clamoring for more.

In Hollow City, Riggs revisits the world of the peculiar children. The sequel picks up exactly where the first novel left off, with Jacob and his companions fleeing the monstrous wights and hollows who want to devour them. This time, they are without the guidance of their guardian Miss Peregrine, who has been transformed into a bird. The children must then go on a mission to restore her to her natural form. In the traditions of quest fantasy, the characters encounter new friends and foes, and many bizarre and terrible obstacles, along their way. Once again, these adventures are accompanied by photographs – of sad clowns, bombed-out-cathedrals, and in one memorable case, a dog wearing aviator goggles and smoking a pipe.

Hollow City is the second book of a projected trilogy, and it has some of the structural problems associated with middle chapters. The plot is essentially concerned with getting the characters from point A to point B, and it piles on new problems and complications without really resolving any. Furthermore, the central conceit of the series – the relation of the story to the found images – sometimes feels more forced and less organic to the story that it did in the first novel.

At its best moments, though, Hollow City gives readers a spellbinding good time. Riggs writes rich, stylish prose, and he has created a memorable cast of characters. Jacob is an appealing narrator, flawed but wrestling honestly with his fears and weaknesses. Emma Bloom, the hot-tempered leader of the peculiars, functions as Jacob’s “love interest,” but she’s also a forceful and competent heroine in her own right. These characters and their many companions should be relatable not only to the older children and teens who are Riggs‘s primary audience, but to the many adult readers who have learned to appreciate today’s Young Adult fiction.

Overall, Hollow City does not always feel as fresh or as thrilling as its predecessor. However, it is by any standard a worthy follow-up, and people who loved the first book will not be disappointed.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, March 2014.