The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson

Information

Goodreads: The Song of Glory and Ghost
Series: The Outlaws of Time #2
Source: Giveaway hosted by Shannon at It Starts at Midnight
Published: April 2017

Summary

Sam Miracle failed to kill the Vulture when he had the chance.  Now he and the Lost Boys are stuck in time while Peter Eagle attempts to learn the skills that will one day make him Father Tiempo.  But when Peter is injured, Sam’s best friend Glory will be the one who has to learn to wield the sands of time and help Sam take down the Vulture for good.

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Review

“Take up the life that is yours.  Walk the lonely winding roads to the deaths that are yours.  Live with open hands.”

I admit I am a little confused that this book wrapped up the Vulture arc.  Book One left me with the impression that Sam and his friends were about to embark on a Horcrux-like quest to find one of the Vulture’s six other gardens so that they could defeat him.  I assumed that this would take several books.  Instead, I found that this book moves from focusing on Sam to focusing on Glory and has the duo end the Vulture without their having to find another time garden at all.  This was all very unexpected and my state throughout reading was largely one of bafflement.

I have seen other readers remark that they find N. D. Wilson’s fantasies challenging and do not understand them.  I find N. D. Wilson’s works sophisticated and believe that they possess more depth than many middle-grade books being written today.  However, I have never been confused by Wilson’s work until now.  Perhaps I was reading too fast, but I really felt that I did not understand the dynamics of time travel or the ways in which the characters were manipulating time to slow down, speed up, hide, and so forth.  I just decided to take it on faith that it all made sense and followed the action without trying to figure out how it was all working.

This book really focuses on Glory, and that is a relief.  Wilson has always impressed me with his remarkable diversity of female characters.  They are strong, all in different ways.  But that did not come across for me in Book One.  Here, however, we get two lovely depictions of womanhood: Millie, who loves to cook and rule over her household domain, and Glory, who loves to adventure and fight.  They are very different, but both valuable and valued.  And Glory?  She is way cooler than Sam, whose main ability is as a sharpshooter, but only because he has snakes attached to his arms.  That is, Sam does not really possess skills; he is merely magically enhanced.  Glory earns her skills.

(As an aside, there is a third female character whose name I forget.  And I cannot figure out why she is included in this book.  Her main function is to follow the heroes around and get in the way because she thinks they are cool.  Typically characters appear in MG and YA books to forward the plot in some way, so I am not sure what is happening here.  Is her presence some sort of statement?  An indication that “ordinary” people can be in stories, too?  An experiment to see what will happen if random characters show up and do nothing?  I have no idea, but am welcome to hear other interpretations.)

The main attraction of this book, however, is really the prose.  Wilson has a talent for writing breathtaking and provocative lines.  Take this example from Empire of Bones: “Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and the cowardly.”  Wilson writes stories that encourage readers to be good people.  He is inspirational.  And that is a rare and precious thing.

I really did not like enjoy the first book in this trilogy, The Legend of Sam Miracle.  I thought Sam was a boring protagonist and Glory all but a nonentity.  I did not initially plan to read the sequel.  However, the writing in this book, along with Glory’s glorious transformation, makes me hopeful that the third installment will be worth reading.

3 Stars

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Mini Reviews (8)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final installment in the Grishaverse trilogy brings back all the action and excitement of the first two books.  I did find myself confused by Alina’s motivations and her belief that she has to make a political alliance, as this seems to have sprung from nowhere considering her attitude in the previous two books.  Still, even though I found the ending surprisingly pat, I enjoyed the story and stayed up late at night to find out how it would wrap up.  (Source: Library) Four Stars.

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

The second installment of the Grishaverse trilogy is even more gripping than the first.  Leigh Bardugo expands upon her worldbuilding, introduces a couple of compelling new characters, and raises the stakes of the political game Alina finds herself enmeshed in.  As a bonus, the love triangle, fortunately, begins to fade.  Alina’s longing for the Darkling makes sense if one considers that she feels the struggle of being in an unequal relationship, one where she holds greater power and a higher social status.  But readers understand that her attraction to the Darkling is simply a symptom of her unease and a little bit of lust–she does not seriously consider herself as choosing between a man of integrity and a mass murderer.  If only we could have more YA books with no love triangles.  (Source: Library)  Four Stars.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

This is a debut!  In Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend introduces readers to a magical world where giant cats act as housekeepers, brave individuals ride dragons (or sometimes rhinoceroses), and shadows seem to come to life.  Morrigan Crow, treated as an outcast in her own world, where the community believes her cursed, longs to stay, but there is only one catch–she must pass four trials to become a member of the legendary Wundrous Society, or be sent back to die in her birth land.  Thus begins a marvelous, magical adventure where nothing is what it seems, everything is larger than life, and the characters grip readers’ heart from the start.  Add in Townsend’s laugh-out-loud sense of humor and perfect comedic timing and you have the perfect recipe for one of the most delightful middle grade fantasies on the market.  (Source: Library)  Five Stars.

Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

I had not planned on reading any more installments in the DC Super Hero Girls series after being put off by the first novel, which focuses on an annoyingly odd Wonder Woman.  Fortunately, the characterization seems to have improved.  Katana is not defined by one strange trait, as if she has no other facets.  Instead, she is allowed to be strong and confident, but sometimes unsure.  The plot is kind of random and I am not sure it really makes sense, but I do not think the younger readers this series is aimed at will care.  (Source:  Library)  Three Stars.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Information

Goodreads: Aru Shah and the End of Time
Series: Pandava Quest #1
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Summary

Aru Shah has never quite fit in at school.  Her peers are all fabulously wealthy.  She, on the other hand, never gets to travel on exotic vacations and lives, not in a swanky home, but in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.  She has taken to lying to try to be like everyone else.  But then her classmates dare her to prove than an ancient lamp really does contain a curse and Aru ends up waking an ancient evil.  Now she has only a handful of days to travel to the land of the dead, awaken some legendary weapons, and

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Review

“Tales are slippery, her mother had often said. The truth of a story depends on who is telling it.”

 

Aru Shah and the End of Time is a solid middle-grade fantasy, the first book published by Rick Riordan’s new imprint, dedicated to showcasing mythologies from various cultures.  While the story does not feel particularly new, it is exciting, fast-paced, and humorous.  Fans of Rick Riordan will obviously love it, but readers who enjoy fantasy in general will also find much to like here.

The story starts off briskly with Aru lighting the lamp that awakens the Sleeper and the end of time.  Though she has trouble fitting in at school because everyone there is fabulously wealthy except herself (I’m wondering how she got in this school, then?), readers do not ever see Aru in class. Rather, her classmates show up on her doorstep to challenge her for all her lies about being wealthy, too.  She lights the lamp on a dare because a schoolmate is filming her on his camera and she wishes to avoid her lies going viral.  (Pretty sure filming someone in their home without consent can’t be legal.  Isn’t filming a minor in their home without consent with intent to humiliate  going to backfire on this kid?  Seriously, I’m thinking Aru could have just threatened to get this kid expelled if he didn’t put his phone away.)

Anyway, the book pretty much starts with action and never flags.  The usual, expected plot bits happen, with Aru and one of her reincarnated Pandava siblings going to the otherworld to meet the Hindu gods and goddesses, be recognized by their godly fathers, and collect their weapons.  They are accompanied by a spiritual guide/humorous sidekick in the form of a pigeon, so the book takes on a bit of the feel of a Disney princess film.  Many adventures ensue, all with Aru still dressed in her Spiderman pajamas as she tries to save the world.  The bits of humor are often the most vibrant parts of the book.

Really, Aru Shah and the End of Time needs no reviews.  Fans of Rick Riordan, educators and librarians, and individuals who keep an eye on the book market were all expecting this book for a long time and I am sure it will sell well simply based on the fact that its from Riordan’s imprint.  Still, if you are wondering whether to read it, sure.  It’s a fun book and one that middle school children, especially, will find much to like about.

4 stars

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

Information

Goodreads: The Empty Grave
Series: Lockwood & Co. #5
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Lockwood & Co. are drawing near to discovering the source of the Problem.  But powerful forces are at work and not everyone wants them to uncover the truth.  Who knew that ghost hunters had more to fear from the living than from the dead?

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Review

“Mr Lockwood, you’ve impressed a lot of people over the years. Personally, I expected you to be ghost-touched long ago, but your agency has flourished. Impress me again now… Let them forget about you… Even now, it’s probably not too late.”

The Lockwood & Co. series has been a wild ride, full of horror, suspense, mystery, and danger.  While I eagerly anticipated the grand finale and the revealing of the final mysteries, it is bittersweet to reach the end.  Where else will we get this superb blend of action, heart, and humor?

The Empty Grave lives up to its predecessors in the best possible way.  All the beloved characters are back and they are in fine form.  George reaches new heights as a researcher.  Lockwood charms with his signature devil-may-care attitude.  Holly reassures us with her poise.  And Lucy delights us with her humor.  Even Kipps and the Skull feel like dear old friends.   Never before have they seemed to work together so seamlessly.

The story works up, as always, from some smaller cases to the final, overarching mystery.  This gives us time to enjoy watching our friends in action and to get reacquainted with their methods.  The Belle Dame Sans Merci is an interesting case–a ghost who ensnares the spirit and thus can kill slowly and at a distance.  Still, she can’t hold a candle to the real case, the one we’ve been working towards for five books.  What is the source of the Problem?  And how far will people go to cover up the truth?

The climax is everything readers could hope for.  Jonathan Stroud somehow always manages to up the danger and the drama, far past anything readers could expect.  A new twist is always around the corner, keeping the audience on the edges of their seats.  If you’ve stuck with Lockwood & Co. this far, you won’t want to miss this satisfying conclusion.

5 stars

Mini Reviews (6)

Piper by Jay Asher, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely

This graphic novel, illustrated by Eisner-nominated comic book artist Jeff Stokely, retells the story of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”  It proposes to expand upon it by adding the character of Maggie, a teenage girl who lost her hearing during childhood.  The other villagers now treat her cruelly because she is different, but she tries to see value in everyone. (Or so she says.  This does not explain her vengeful habit of writing stories in which the villagers all die gruesome deaths as punishment for being mean to her.)  But adding Maggie as a love interest does not really shed light on the story of the Pied Piper and the motivations of most of the characters remain obscure.  It seems like not explaining anything is supposed to make the readers think the characters are “complicated” and “mysterious,” but it’s really just confusing– much like watching an episode of Doctor Who written by Steven Moffat.  Ultimately, the artwork is the one redeeming quality this book has.  (Source: Library) Two Stars.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Now that I have finally read Six of Crows, I see why it remains a favorite among book bloggers.  The characters are criminals, rough around the edges and addicted to gambling, thrill-seeking, and money, but they still capture the sympathy of readers.  Leigh Bardugo makes them come alive in all their complexity, so that readers do not scorn their weaknesses, but hope that they can overcome them and become the better parts of themselves that they keep hidden.  The plot itself is gripping and complex, and it is all set in a wonderfully magical world.  But is the characters and their tenuous bonds to each other that really make the book.  (Source: Gift) Five Stars.

The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopolus

Zed, a half-Elf and son to a servant, and his best friend Brock, son to a successful merchant, dream of joining two of the High Guilds: the Mages and the Merchants.  Instead, they find themselves members of the Adventurers Guild, a motley crew who typically die young as their job is to protect the city from the monsters that lurk just outside the walls.  The resulting plot seems a lot like an RPG, so it’s not surprising that the author bio says both authors play D&D.  This is not necessarily bad.  I am more concerned that the characters are not engaging and have confusing (read: unexplained) motivations; it is just not normal for multiple characters to make major, dangerous deals without any sort of forethought.  It makes one wonder if they even know whose side they are supposed to be on.  The rest of the plot is pretty standard fantasy, nothing exciting but pleasantly engaging.  I am not particularly interested in reading the sequel.  (Source: Library) Three Stars.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7: Damage Per Second by G. Willow Wilson

I find the Ms. Marvel comics to be somewhat uneven in quality. Vol. 7, however, is one of the stronger installments. It is quickly paced, features some chilling moments for our heroine along with the necessity for hard choices, and highlights some of Kamala’s friends– a welcome addition to the story as some of their problems are far more interesting than hers. I like that this volume does not rehash Kamala’s feelings of stress and insecurity, but instead naturally shows the toll of keeping secrets. (Source: Library) Four Stars.

Sisters of Glass by Naomi Cyprus (with Spoilers)

 

Information

Goodreads: Sisters of Glass
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Nov. 2017

Summary

Halan is the heir to the Magi Kingdom, but, unlike the rest of the royal family, she possesses no magic.  Meanwhile, in another world, Nalah is the daughter of a poor glassblower and she possesses magic stronger than anyone has ever seen–but the law forbids her to use it.  A magic mirror is about to allow them to cross worlds.

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Review

The Thauma are dangerous.  They must be contained.

Sisters of Glass is a decently-paced novel with an entertaining premise and I was a little surprised that I have not seen anyone else review it.  It possesses many of the usual ingredients for a thrilling fantasy: a poor girl with powers the nobility fear, a princess itching to break free from the castle, and a magic mirror that connects two worlds. And, for the first half of the book, I was interested in learning more about the characters and their worlds.  Unfortunately, after the climax, I felt like the story went downhill.

Halan starts out as a typical spoiled princess.  Tired of attending balls and being kept in the castle for her “protection,” she has learned how to lie and manipulate others to get her way.  Nalah, meanwhile, is more likable, even if her defining characteristic at the start is how much she whines about not being allowed to go anywhere except the market.  By the climax of the novel, one would assume the characters had attained some growth.  Nalah has, but Halan has not.  In fact, it almost seems like she’s being willfully ignorant simply to ensure that we have some plot complications for the characters to solve.

I could perhaps spend time convincing myself that Halan is realistic.  That a spoiled princess might very well ignore the evidence of her own eyes in desperation because she does not want to admit that her lifestyle was wrong.  Or that she might endanger scores of people all to win her daddy’s love.  Still, it does not make her likable and it did not feel particularly realistic to me, perhaps because the reader’s time is split between Halan and Nalah, so they both feel like they could be a bit more fleshed out.  Halan, in the end, felt a little more like a plot device than a person.

The ending, however, was the real disappointment.  There is a battle, but it is not well-described, except for the fact that there are magical smoke items being thrown and some people have swords.  This kind of makes it feel like the king’s guard is useless and incompetent and that the rebels are really ill-prepared for people planning to overthrow a monarch.  After all, it’s not clear that they have more than colored smoke–which will also incapacitate their own forces.  When a book has been working it’s way up to a full-scale rebellion, a reader can be excused for expecting something a little more .  The author tries to provide a sense of epic action with the inclusion of a magic sword that allows an untrained child to immediately defeat everyone in sight without any effort, so the story can wrap up, the end.  However, that’s not really epic.  It’s just a deus ex machina.  But I want my rebellious peasants to overthrow a corrupt power because they are intelligent and strong and passionate–not because someone randomly picked up a powerful magic object.

Sisters of Glass starts out with a promising premise.  However, Halan’s part in the story feels too contrived and the ending is too pat for me to appreciate the story as a whole.  The author leaves room for a sequel, but I will not be rushing off to buy it, should it appear.

3 Stars

Mini Reviews (5)

Jack and Jill by Louisa may Alcott

It’s always a bit uncomfortable when you realized a book that was a childhood favorite has imperialistic undertones.  However, if you can get past that, Jack and Jill is in fine Alcott style.  It features a host of boys and girls busy pursuing their dreams, getting up (to us) old-fashioned entertainment, and even beginning to feel the first whispers of love.  I enjoy that, though the title focuses on two characters, their friends receive chapters of their own, making everyone feel chummy and sociable.  (I always thought it odd the March sisters didn’t really seem to have friends, aside from Annie Moffat.)  There’s no real plot here, just a year in the life of characters trying to do better and become better people.  It feels refreshingly wholesome and fans of Little Women will want to check out this story, as well.  (Source: Purchased) Four stars.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

For about half of the book, I could not get into the story because the authors so clearly think they and protagonist Doreen Green are funny–but I was not laughing.  Doreen just comes across as weird and awkward, and not always in an endearing sort of way.  The worst parts are the end notes, written (strangely) in first person, while the rest of the story is written in third person.  Doreen tries to be funny, but just isn’t.

The book is clearly meant to be fun and silly, so even the not-humorous parts are bizarre, with Squirrel Girl fighting a boy-villain and saving babies with the aid of squirrels.  Weird stuff happens like squirrels being held as ransom and zucchinis masquerading as the victims of villains.  I didn’t mind the weirdness–I assume that’s part of Squirrel Girl’s appeal for most people–but I disliked the forced jokes.  The best parts were the texts between Squirrel Girl and other Marvel heroes–these are actually amusing as they poke fun at the characters.  The rest of the story was not particularly memorable for me, except that I was pleasantly surprised that Doreen’s parents are present and actually care about her–a rarity in children’s literature.  The first in a series.  (Source: Library) Three Stars.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

I went into this volume believing it was another anthology of short stories featuring the intelligent Jeeves rescuing his employer’s friends from various awkward situations.  In fact, this is a novel dedicated to a series of difficulties: Bertie’s aunt needs money, his cousin broke off her engagement, and his friend is too shy to speak to the girl he loves.  Bertie is convinced he, and not Jeeves, will solve these crises and so ensues a series of mishaps only Bertie can create.  Readers will find themselves greatly entertained by the convoluted schemes and the mishaps they create.  This is Bertie and Jeeves in fine style.  If you’re looking for a light, comical story, look no farther.  (Source: Library) Four Stars.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

I enjoyed the humor of the first book in the series, Dealing with Dragons, and the ways in which Wrede plays with fairy tale tropes.  Unfortunately, the sequel lacks the magic of the first book.  King Mendenbar comes across as whiny, Cimorene as rude, and the magician Telemain as annoying.  This is odd as I think they are supposed to come across as delightfully unconventional, spunky, and funny, respectively.  The plot is dull and consists mainly of Mendenbar and Cimorene never getting where they want to go and running into random characters who are meant to be amusing but failed to amuse me.  I miss the charm and wit of the first book.  (Source: Library) Three Stars.

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