Book Review

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Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4/4 stars

October Daye is not your average private investigator living in San Francisco–she’s a changeling, an individual who is half faerie, half human.  After spending fourteen years turned into a koi fish by an enemy, one of her closest allies in the faerie world is murdered by an unknown enemy.  Her ally’s dying wish is for her to solve the crime–and when October hears this, she is literally cursed so that if she doesn’t do it, then she, too, will die!  With the help of her friends, allies, and even enemies in the human and faerie worlds, October goes forth to solve the crime, making disturbing discoveries along the way.

Fans of young adult authors such as Holly Black (Modern Faerie Tales trilogy, Curse Workers trilogy) and Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments series, Infernal Devices trilogy) will enjoy this book’s urban fantasy and action elements, such as the fae living beside humans in modern-day San Francisco and frequent fight scenes.  This is technically a book written for adults, although it has high teen appeal and is appropriate for teenagers, with nothing more violent than most teen books.  October is also a very interesting female heroine, with various strengths and flaws and a detailed history.  The side characters are also interesting, although not as developed.  The constantly-moving nature of the story and bits of dry humor sprinkled throughout keep the story moving and the reader does not know what will happen next, although, unlike many pure “action” books, there is enough pausing here and there paired with backstory to steady the constant flow and give the reader a chance to know the characters.  The mystery elements of the book are blended into the fantasy aspect well, while still being logical and believable.    If you’re interested in a fast-paced but thoughtful read which details the intricacies of the faerie world, Rosemary and Rue is one of the best books in the genre that I have read.

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Book Review

 

 

 

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Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Rating: 3/4 stars

Masterminds, one of Gordon Korman’s more recent books, follows a group of kids in the seemingly perfect town of Serenity, New Mexico; free of crime and violence and, incidentally, the nation’s top producer of orange traffic cones.  To say any more about the story would give most of it away, as the book is aimed at middle-grade readers and quite short.  If you’re looking for a quick, funny read, you will probably enjoy this book.

Like many of Korman’s books, the story is one of teamwork and how a group of kids with quirky talents can work together to pull off an outlandish plan.  Similar to his other books, such as the Swindle series, No More Dead Dogs, The Sixth-Grade Nickname Game, and The Chicken Doesn’t Skate, Korman takes a group of conflicting characters and forces them to work together through an outlandish situation.  The story also has a somewhat suspenseful theme that moves beyond comedic elementary-school scenes to an action plotline not entirely unlike another series Korman has contributed to, the bestselling 39 Clues series, although this book strikes a happy balance between realistic middle-grade situations and international conspiracy.

The best part of this book was the plotline, which was a fascinating concept for a teen interested in forensic psychology and fairly original in middle-grade literature.  Though the characters are not very well-developed, and the author makes things a bit too simple at different points, there are many hints to further aspects of the characters and plotline and there are sequels that will likely reveal more.

Book Review

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Rating: 4/4 stars

In Labyrinth Lost, Alex, a 15-year-old bruja (witch) from New York City wants to get rid of her powers.  In an attempt at casting a spell to banish her powers, she banishes her entire family to the parallel dimension of Los Lagos, a Wonderland-like world full of mysterious creatures, dangerous plants, and evil forces.  Alex and her newfound friends must journey through Los Lagos together to save her family before they are destroyed by a magical tree.

The concept of this book was a great combination of extremely original ideas and traditional tropes such as the hero’s quest, parallel dimensions, and teen witchcraft.  I also enjoyed the character development of Alex and her friends as they learn more about both themselves and their magic.  The book was a quick read and very rich and detailed, unlike some standalone books I have read.  If you enjoy stories that incorporate friendship, magic, and quests like the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, you will definitely enjoy this book.  Fans of stories related to Latin American culture and characters, such as Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, will appreciate the references to Cordova’s cultural background in the lore of her imagined world.  If you are looking for a quick read with a lot of adventure and magic, Labyrinth Lost is the perfect book for you.

Book Review

 

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Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn

Rating: 1/4 stars

Cyd Charisse has a lot of family problems.  Because she is her father’s illegitimate child, she was taken from New York to California to live with her mother and stepdad, who she doesn’t like.  One summer, after breaking up with her boyfriend, she goes to live with her birth dad in New York.  She meets her step-siblings, David and Lisbeth, and comes to realize that her family is somewhat okay despite their problems, as her birth dad is not very nice.

This wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, or I wouldn’t be bothering to write a review of it.  However, I think the author tried way too hard to try to make the book “relatable” to teens.  Firstly, Cyd is portrayed as a rebellious girl who doesn’t care about school and is obsessed with her boyfriend.  She is not only obsessed with her boyfriend, she constantly talks about other guys she likes and also does romantic/sexual things with them for no real reason.  I found this to be highly unrealistic as a student growing up in a world where most teens are uninterested in serious dating and it is more common to go to dances as friends than with a date.  Also, most teens who do date try to be at least a bit more mature than Cyd, respecting the other person and not just obsessing over their looks.

Another point is that most teenagers do not have hugely complicated family issues.  Although many teenagers do not get along with their families, and/or have highly dysfunctional families, having family problems is not a prerequisite for being a teenager as some authors seem to think.  The story would have worked just as well if Cyd’s parents were simply divorced or if she were adopted, both more realistic situations for a teenager, without the other drama.  If this book were clearly trying to be funny and unrealistic, it would have worked better than if the author tried to make it seem “relatable.”

I would not recommend this book, but if you’re looking for a wildly dramatic, short story that’s kind of funny, Gingerbread is a fun book to read.

Book Review

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Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams

Rating: 4/4 stars

Ingrid, a fairly average thirteen-year-old girl, lives in Echo Falls, New York with her parents and brother.  One day, she discovers a series of mysterious events which lead her to a very dangerous conspiracy.  To explain the plot more would give away the experience of reading the book.  Abrahams incorporates so many details and subplots in Ingrid’s world that it is the reader’s job to attempt to figure out what is relevant and what is not.

The best part of the story by far, though, is the characterization.  Ingrid, unlike many female fictional characters, is not established as particularly “special,” “extraordinary,” or even “really regular but somehow unique.”  She is written like a real, multifaceted girl, who plays soccer, performs in plays, spends time with her friends, hates math and history, and is fascinated with Sherlock Holmes and the art of deductive reasoning.  She isn’t a full-time investigator at the age of sixteen like Nancy Drew or a blank slate who does absolutely nothing until the “big story events” come along; she has to work around her family, friends, and school while developing her slightly-above-average skills in observation and analysis.

The story is also very much told through her point of view; the reader sees, hears, and smells the things that Ingrid does, while Abrahams still manages to slip in a few other things for the reader to think about that go unnoticed by the protagonist.  This storytelling creates a highly suspenseful, dramatic story without incorporating any sort of melodrama, horror, paranormal events, or even an “it’s actually aliens” deus ex machina at the end.  Despite the suspense and drama, the story still feels very realistic, as if it could happen to the reader themselves.  Fans of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this, as it is a similar storytelling style without the whole “brilliant, aloof, superhuman genius” idea that requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and even irrelevant details are described in the book, somewhat eliminating the flaw, in many of stories such as this, in which the “brilliant detective” is able to do what they are able to do because the author feeds them the details relevant to the story while ignoring everything else.  If you are looking for a fascinating mystery that will make you want to test out your own detective powers, then Down the Rabbit Hole, as well as the sequels, Behind the Curtain and Into the Dark, is the book for you.

Book Review

 

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A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

Rating: 2/4 stars

A Darkness Strange and Lovely, the sequel to Something Strange and Deadly, follows the protagonist in further adventures trying to contain the zombie problem that has been unleashed.  The book introduces some new characters while continuing the established plot and bringing up new questions.  In the first book, Eleanor Fitt, a teen girl in 1800’s Philadelphia, discovers that zombies have been unleashed upon her city.  She meets a group of scientists called the Spirit-Hunters who have found a way to destroy the zombies.  With their help, she finds out the root of the zombie epidemic and becomes determined to keep fighting.  In this sequel, she and the Spirit-Hunters travel to Paris to stop the growing zombie problem there and search for the secrets that will end the zombies once and for all.

The series’ settings, from 19th-century Philadelphia to Paris in the same time period, were promising but not really utilized.  The Philadelphia mentioned in the first book was atmospheric and interesting, but Paris wasn’t really a great backdrop for the story.  There was also a considerable lack of action, which was disappointing because the story lent itself more to being a plot-driven story than focusing on character feelings and other “blank screen time” that filled most of the book.  The character relationships were also disappointing, as little happened to continue their relationships from the first book, although the introduction of a new character was very interesting and promising for the next book in the series.  The plotline was somewhat interesting and set up for an interesting conclusion.

If you like historical fiction and zombies, I would recommend this book, although it was somewhat lacking in the action and steampunk elements I enjoyed from the first book.

 

Book Review

 

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A Stolen Kiss- by Kelsey Keating

A Stolen Kiss is a fun, imaginative book about a princess who is cursed to be a swan at every sunset by a sorceress named Gilda Harver, but this is no retelling of Swan Lake. Instead we find out that princess Maria’s curse has been dormant for years and it is only until her betrothed prince Humphrey tries to propose that the curse returns. Now, it is up to Gilda’s son Derek Harver (the palace stable-boy) to take Maria, Humphrey, and his “sister,” Sarah on a quest to find Gilda and reverse the curse once and for all. The story takes us through an enchanted but dangerous forest, and as the story continues Derek learns that he is more than just a stable-boy and a slave to the kingdom. As Derek realizes his own strengths we learn about the rules of magic in this universe, and the bond that Maria is bound to due to her curse. On this adventure we meet shapeshifters, cyclops’, as well as other creatures that you have never heard of before, and as the adventure unfolds Kelsey Keating makes clear the strength of evil and the merits of kindness and a good heart. There are plot twists as well as some romance to carry the story along, and it all comes down to an epic duel for Derek to realize his true abilities. A Stolen Kiss is a fun and fluffy mixture of fantasy and adventure that I personally enjoyed reading. While this book has similarities to other fantasies that you may have heard of, it also has its own unique twists, turns, and additions that make it worth a read. This book is great for winding down and relaxing on a cozy chair and diving into a story filled with adventure.