Starclimber: Space Whales And The Music Of The Spheres

Starclimber is written by Kenneth Oppel. It was published in 2009 by Eos. It is the sequel to Skybreaker.

Pilot-in-training Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, expert on high-altitude life-forms, are invited aboard the Starclimber, a vessel that literally climbs its way into the cosmos. Before they even set foot aboard the ship, catastrophe strikes: Kate announces she is engaged—and not to Matt. Despite this bombshell, Matt and Kate embark on their journey into space, but soon the ship is surrounded by strange and unsettling life-forms, and the crew is forced to combat devastating mechanical failure. For Matt, Kate, and the entire crew of the Starclimber, what began as an exciting race to the stars has now turned into a battle to save their lives.

Oppel’s version of space is gorgeous (music of the spheres! Space whales! Space coral!), and his method of getting Matt & Co. up there is so inventive. I absolutely love the concept of a “space elevator.” While the space trip is beautiful, it’s not without its dangers, and the novel has its tense moments. But Oppel paces it well, with humor in all the right spots to relieve the tension.

Although Kate and Matt’s romance gets incredibly cheesy at points, I love it. Matt continues to be jealous, but that jealousy is cover for an insecure streak a mile long, and Matt and Kate have possibly the most conflict they ever have had in this book. I love how their relationship is resolved (and the fact that when Kate openly announces it, everyone’s all “We know”), although slightly sad that we don’t get to see more at the end.

The moments of humor in this book were so great, and often very well-delivered. Chef Vlad continues to be awesome. I absolutely loved it when Kate kept calling James “George” and Matt kept correcting her.

These books are so inventive, so fun, and so satisfying to read that I am so sad that there’s only three. More, Oppel, more! Please?

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Slightly graphic descriptions of death

Genre: Steampunk, Young Adult

“Madam,” Chef Vlad said, still holding the lid tight, “if your monkey so much as peeks his adorable little head into my kitchen again, I will cook him. Do you understand this? Little Achoo, or whatever silly thing you’ve named him, will be all crispy. I will serve him with maybe an orange sauce and leeks!”

Chef Vlad then paused as if considering this properly for the first time. “I’ve never attempted such a thing, and it would be challenging, and yet—”

“Release him!” Miss Karr said sternly.

“Chef Vlad, why aren’t you in Paris?” I asked.

Chef Vlad’s cheeks filled with air and he gave an exaggerated sigh. “Paris is charming, for a time, Mr. Curse. It is like one of their delightful little pastries. It sits there, looking plump and smug and delicious, but let it sit too long and it curdles, becomes soggy and repellant. There is no energy in Paris, no dynamism. An artist like myself must move on. Also, I set fire to the French president.”

Overall Review:

Starclimber has one of the most inventive trips to space I’ve ever read, and it is a really gorgeous novel, even with its dangers. You can’t get any better than crystalline space coral, space whales, and exploding meteorite eggs. Also, this book is deliciously funny, and Matt and Kate are adorable. It’s the perfect blend of imagination, adventure and fun.

You can buy this here: Starclimber

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness: New Look!

Note: I’ve actually wanted to change the look of the blog for a while…so I finally did! I thought the black-on-peach text of the previous theme was a bit hard on the eyes, so now we have good old black-on-white. (And it will be much easier for me to hide spoilers!)

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is written by Andrew Peterson. It was published in 2008 by Waterbrook Press. It is the first book in the Wingfeather Saga.

Andrew Peterson spins a riveting tale-for-all-ages, following Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby and their trusty dog, Nugget, in escape from the vicious Fangs of Dang who seek the lost jewels of Anniera. Quirky characters and their world of wonders—from the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness to the deadly Glipwood Forest and beyond—set the stage for this epic adventure…

Thoughts:

When I first started reading the book, I thought, “This guy is trying way too hard to make this book quirky and fun.” Luckily, once the plot gets going, Peterson eases off the quirkiness just enough to make a nice blend of serious and not-so-serious.

I enjoyed the originality of the world and the fun characters, especially Peet (whose story actually gets really tragic towards the end). I thought that the three kids were a little flat and uninteresting, and Janner was annoying, but I really only noticed it at the beginning. Like the quirkiness, once Peterson gets things going, he gets better with handling his tone, the world, and the characters. I do wish he had done more with Leeli, though, who acted like (and was treated like) she was much younger than she was. I also wanted more screen time with her, so I hope she gets more.

Points to Peterson for making an obvious plot less obvious! After the Big Reveal, I thought, “Huh, that was actually pretty obvious,” but before the Reveal I didn’t think so. Or maybe I was just expecting a “What You See Is What You Get” sort of thing, so the Reveal was more surprising. I did figure it out beforehand, but only because Peterson throws in a hint a few chapters before he reveals it. I didn’t figure it out from the very beginning, which I tend to do if it’s an incredibly obvious Reveal. So, yes, points to Peterson for at least masking it.

Also, I thought this was pretty gruesome for a children’s/MG book. Or maybe I just don’t like reading about lizards eating dead things. Gross.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some slightly gruesome details involving flesh-eating lizards and their food, fighting/violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What do you think all these little pinholes are all over the map?” Tink asked.

“I dunno,” Janner shrugged. “Probably from mice. Or bugs. Look!” Janner pointed at an image of a dragon in the bottom, right corner of the map. “Does that look familiar to you?”

Tink shook his head.

“Remember the Annieran journal in the crate from Dang? That looks like the same dragon.”

Tink pointed to an inscription above the dragon. “The Jewels of Anniera,” he read, his face puzzled. “What are the Jewels of Anniera?”

Overall Review:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness starts off a bit too flat and quirky, but once the plot starts going everything evens out and gets better. I did enjoy the quirkiness, even if it was a little much at first, and I loved the quirky details of the world. Peterson did a good job disguising and twisting around his (pretty obvious in hindsight) plot. It’s not a fantastic book, but there’s definitely the potential there for the sequels.

You can buy this here: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga)

Fairy Tale Friday: Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight Ball was written by Jessica Day George. It was published in 2009 by Bloomsbury.

Summary/Blurb:

“Princess Rose is the eldest of twelve sisters condemned to dance each night for the wicked King Under Stone in his palace deep within the earth. It is a curse that has haunted the girls since their birth—and only death will set them free.

Then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure and a resolve that matches her own, and freedom suddenly begins to seem a little less impossible. To defeat the king and his dark court, they will need one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love.”

Thoughts:

Every time I read an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” I can’t help but make comparisons to the sublime Entwined. I will endeavor not to fall into a comparison game for this book, which is actually quite different from Entwined and really only brought up fond memories of the latter.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is fairly lore-heavy, and I love it when authors take the time to build up that lore within their story. The world is very well-developed with the lore and I enjoyed the little aspects of it that George throws in, not to mention the plot-related aspects. The story itself is incredibly close to the original fairy tale as well, with an added relationship between Rose and Galen (and of course, the lore expanded to include the King Under Stone).

I did think Lily’s story line at the end came out of nowhere and seemed a bit too Fairy Tale Happy Ending Convenient. I also thought the witchcraft bit with the “They Must Burn!” bishop was an old, tired trope to include, not to mention stereotypical. I’m not quite sure what the point of including that was, either, except to generate more tension perhaps. At least not all of the bishops were like that.

I also really liked how Galen basically knitted his way to victory. His fight with the King Under Stone is 90% knitting and 10% shooting a gun, which is awesome. Lily also gets to fire a gun, which was awesome as well, since she gets to shoot a gun and wear a ball gown at the same time.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Why hadn’t he fallen asleep as well? What were they to do if he was wide awake at midnight? Hope rose in her bosom. If Galen could resist the sleeping spell that had affected all the other suitors, then he might be able to uncover their secret and…what? Die horribly? She grimaced, her hope fading.

“Is something the matter?” Galen gave her a bland look.

“Oh, look at the time!” Jonquil jumped to her feet, almost knocking Hyacinth off the window seat. “I’ve got to change my shoes and—Why is he awake?

~George 147-148

Overall Review:

Princess of the Midnight Ball is an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” that really expands on the lore and world to create a beautiful setting with a predictable, but cute romance, and a hero who basically wins by knitting. There were a few convenient moments, as well as some stereotypical ones, but overall Princess of the Midnight Ball was a delight to read.

You can buy this here: Princess of the Midnight Ball

In The Afterlight: Solid Finish, But Predictable

Note: Possible changes are coming! Don’t be surprised if the entire look of the blog changes.

In The Afterlight is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the final book in the Darkest Minds trilogy. Also check out my reviews of the first book, The Darkest Minds, and the second, Never Fade.

Spoilers for the series.

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. Only Ruby can keep their highly dangerous prisoner in check. But with Clancy Gray, there’s no guarantee you’re fully in control, and everything comes with a price.

When the Children’s League disbands, Ruby rises up as a leader and forms an unlikely allegiance with Liam’s brother, Cole, who has a volatile secret of his own. There are still thousands of other Psi kids suffering in government “rehabilitation camps” all over the country. Freeing them—revealing the government’s unspeakable abuses in the process—is the mission Ruby has claimed since her own escape from Thurmond, the worst camp in the country.

But not everyone is supportive of the plan Ruby and Cole craft to free the camps. As tensions rise, competing ideals threaten the mission to uncover the cause of IAAN, the disease that killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others with powers the government will kill to keep contained. With the fate of a generation in their hands, there is no room for error. One wrong move could be the spark that sets the world on fire.”

Thoughts:

Bracken’s trilogy as a whole is fairly formulaic, but enjoyable nonetheless, and In The Afterlight, while pretty predictable, is a solid end to the series. Snarky Chubs is my favorite and Cole continues to be an intriguing character, although what I thought was going to happen with him didn’t actually happen. And Bracken never explained why he was the way he was.

I do wish that the romance had been a little more original. There was the usual “fall in love with guy, break up with him for reasons, get back together but have trouble trusting/agreeing/etc.” with the inclusion of “guy and girl sleep together and all their problems are solved.” Yeah…there’s nothing wrong with that portrayal of sex at all…

Books like these are best read close together, but it’s been a while since I’ve read Never Fade and as a result I think my connection to the characters faded a little bit. Ruby and Co. seemed to be really connected to characters like Zu, a connection that I just didn’t feel. Also, Vida’s connection to Cate didn’t make sense to me. Perhaps I would feel the connection more if I had a fresher memory of the events of The Darkest Minds.

The one glaring mar of this book was the ending. Everything was wrapped up a little too neatly, I thought, and Chub’s speech at the end almost completely ruined the book for me. You shouldn’t need one of your characters to give a speech talking about what your book is really about, because 1.) what happens in the book should have conveyed that already and 2.) it makes the message seem really shallow. I also had a really hard time buying what Chubs was saying because it made absolutely no sense. It was so unsubtle and out of place that it was really jarring, and it made the message lose a lot of depth.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, graphic imagery, death, swearing, kissing and non-graphic descriptions of sex.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

My hands shook like crazy as I tried to work the handle on the front door, the enormous metal indentation popping and protesting. There was so much adrenaline running through me, it was amazing I didn’t rip the whole thing off its hinges. “Liam? Liam, can you hear me?”

He turned toward me slowly, coming out of his stupor. “I told him it would roll.”

I almost sobbed in relief as I reached through the window and kissed him. “You did.”

“I told him.”

“You did, I know you did,” I said, low and soothing as I reached in to unbuckle his seatbelt.

Overall Review:

In The Afterlight is a solid finish to a formulaic and slightly predictable, yet fun trilogy. I didn’t buy some of the connections the characters had, but I am putting that down to the length of time that passed between my reading of each book rather than to any fault of Bracken’s. I absolutely hated the ending, however, since I thought it cheapened the book’s message and made Bracken sound like a cheerleader.

You can buy this here: In the Afterlight

The Magic Thief: A Good Plot With Lots And Lots Of Heartwarming Moments

The Magic Thief is written by Sarah Prineas. It was published in 2008 by HarperCollins. It is the first book in the Magic Thief series.

Summary/Blurb:

“Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery’s pocket and stole the wizard’s locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Astonished and intrigued, Nevery agrees to take Conn on as his apprentice, on the condition that the boy find a locus stone of his own within a month.

But with his wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet’s magic, time is running out of Conn to find his stone.”

Thoughts:

The Magic Thief reminds me of a cross between Jinx and Septimus Heape, which means that it is awesome. It’s such a cute book (and yes, “cute” is high praise from me. I like cute) and I absolutely love the “Gruff Man Takes Young Boy/Girl In As Apprentice” trope, because it inevitably leads to FEELS and hearts melting and wonderful father/son-type relationships.

It’s hard to pull off, but the “newcomer stumbles across new/correct way of understanding things” is done really well here. Conn is unique and obviously magically talented, of course, so that trope is not surprising, but Prineas incorporates it in a charming way, and it’s more understated than usual probably because Conn himself is a bit understated in manner.

Also, when Conn makes biscuits and their consistency is “like an egg. Hard and crusty on the outside, soft and runny on the inside,” and then he thinks “Not bad!” and you can just feel his excitement…I just about died with laughter. That’s just one example of the sly humor that Prineas weaves into the text. Another is when Conn gets turned into a cat and then stalks and pounces on Nevery’s foot.

My one negative on this book is that I feel that the magic is a little too generic. I also think “locus magicalicus” is a really clumsy name. “Keystone” and “locus stone” are much better.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

My balance felt so sure; I couldn’t fall if I tried. I leaped around the room, testing. It was the tail! It kept me perfectly balanced at all times. What fun! I practiced prowling, making no sound. My black fur blended easily into the shadows at the edges of the room.

Oh, what a wonderful thief a cat would make!

I made another whirlwind tour of the room.

At the table, Nevery slammed down the book he had been reading. “Perish it, boy, can’t you keep still?”

I crouched down on my haunches and stalked his foot. Pounce!

~Prineas 78

Overall Review:

The Magic Thief is an awesomely cute and funny story, and it has a recommendation by Diana Wynne Jones on the back cover so of course it’s good. I thought the magic elements were too generic, but Conn was a great protagonist and his relationship with Nevery is utterly heartwarming (and cute!).

You can buy this here: The Magic Thief

Fairy Tale Friday: A Question of Magic

A Question of Magic is written by E. D. Baker. It was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury.

Summary/Blurb:

“Serafina is living the normal life of a village girl when she gets a mysterious letter—her first letter ever—from a great-aunt she’s never heard of. Her great-aunt is a Baba Yaga, a person with magical abilities, who lives in an even more magical cottage.

Serafina’s life takes an amazing turn when she is summoned to the cottage to become the new Baba Yaga! But leaving behind her home, her family, and the boy she loves isn’t easy. As Serafinag rows into her incredible new role, she discovers that strangers can ask her one question and she must answer truthfully. It’s like a glimpse into a crystal ball…but telling the future doesn’t always mean knowing the right answers.”

Thoughts:

I have a love/hate relationship with Baker’s works. I love the first two Tales of the Frog Princess books, but have problems with the next two. I love the first two Wide-Awake Princess books, but have problems with the third. I picked this book of Baker’s because it was a departure from those two universes. But my feelings ended up being mixed.

First, this is much more serious in tone than either the Frog Princess books or the Wide-Awake Princess books. By serious, I mean not as focused on humor or funny situations. There is actually a distinct lack of humor in this book that I found slightly disconcerting, after reading seven Baker books with humor as a main feature. I congratulate Baker for stepping away from her humorous writing to tackle something a bit less silly, but overall the lack of humor made the book feel really flat.

I don’t know whether it was the lack of humor or just Baker trying something different, but the writing was a mechanical type of “she sat down, she decided to go to sleep, she slept, she woke up in the morning” which made the whole book a little boring to read, honestly. I also thought that it was unnecessary for Baker to say “Serafina said in her Baba Yaga voice” every time she answered a question. The plot wasn’t all that impressive, I didn’t buy the romance, and all Serafina really did was just mope around and futilely look for blue rose tea. When Alex was describing his adventure at the end, I thought, “Wow, I wish I had read that instead!” The whole book was really rather odd, and slow, and such a difference from Baker’s other books that it seemed very un-Baker-like.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“No, I’m not going to let you in without announcing you. She’s in charge here, not you! Baba Yaga! There’s someone here to—Ow! Stop hitting me, old woman!”

Serafina peeked out the window to see an old woman rap the skull with her cane. The gate swung wide, even though Boris was gnashing his teeth at their visitor.

~Baker 86

Overall Review:

A Question of Magic was really disappointing. I think Baker writes better when she goes the silly/humorous route, and the more serious tone of this book just made everything seem a little boring and mechanical. I wasn’t invested in the plot, the romance, or Serafina’s character, and I found myself glad when the book was over.

You can buy this here: A Question of Magic

Skybreaker: Continuing The Awesomeness Of The First Book

Skybreaker is written by Kenneth Oppel. It was published in 2006 by Eos. It is the sequel to Airborn.

Summary/Blurb:

Former cabin boy Matt Cruse, now a student at the prestigious Airship Academy, is first to identify the Hyperion, the private airship of a reclusive and fabulously wealthy inventor that disappeared forty years ago with its owner. Armed with the Hyperion’s coordinates, which only he possesses, Matt, heiress Kate de Vries, and a mysterious young gypsy board the Sagarmatha, an airship fitted with the new skybreaker engines that will allow them to reach the Hyperion, 20,000 feet above the earth’s surface. Pursued by others who want the Hyperion and will stop at nothing to get it, and surrounded by dangerous high-altitude life forms, Matt and his companions are soon fighting not only for the Hyperion but for their very lives.

Thoughts:

Airborn is good, but Skybreaker is great. It has a much faster pace at the beginning than Airborn, and most of the book takes place in a frozen airship that’s spooky at first, and then turns dangerous with the presence of electrical squid jellyfish, and yes they’re as terrifying (and awesome) as they sound. Oppel does tension so well and it’s particularly noticeable in this book, which is built around tension. Skybreaker is also deliciously funny, in a very subtle, situational sort of way. And the humor is so nicely mixed with the tension and the overall ambience that it feels very natural.

Matt’s money angst is so adorable, and so utterly appropriate for this time period (alternate as it is). His jealousy could come off as annoying or overdone, but I think it’s well done, because Oppel is very careful not to harp on it. Plus, it’s just such a realistic worry that someone like Matt might have in that situation. Why wouldn’t he think that the rich girl would marry the rich man who can give her everything, as opposed to the poor boy who can’t? Plus, he’s sixteen, so it’s to be expected that he would blow things out of proportion a bit.

I absolutely love the world that Oppel has created here. It was so inventive in the first book, and in this book Oppel expands even more on it. I love great worldbuilding.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, slightly graphic descriptions of death

Genre: Steampunk, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“He wasn’t just an inventor. He was also an avid collector. He had one of the most extensive collections of taxidermy in the world.” She paused, and lowered her voice. “He had specimens he never showed to the public.”

My skin crawled. “Like what?”

“No one knows. Some people say he had animals that had been extinct for centuries, or creatures everyone thought were imaginary. And it’s all up there in the Hyperion. The entire ship is like a floating zoological museum—a museum that’s never been seen before.”

~Oppel 38

Overall Review:

Skybreaker expands on the world of Airborn and delivers an even faster-paced adventure with a seemingly haunted ghost ship that turns dangerous, romance angst, and some wonderful moments of humor in between all the tension. A fantastic adventure with a fantastic male protagonist.

You can buy this here: Skybreaker

Sunrise: Surprisingly Better Than The First Two

Sunrise is written by Mike Mullin. It was published in 2014 by Tanglewood. It is the sequel to Ashen Winter.

Summary/Blurb:

“The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other and gangs of cannibals roam the countryside. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.

When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task.”

Thoughts:

Okay, so despite my trepidation after finishing Ashen Winter, I did grab this book after seeing it on the shelf at the library. And…I was pleasantly surprised.

Alex did annoy me a little, especially on page 2 when he’s all “They don’t consider me an adult even though I’m sixteen.” Chill, Alex. No, you’re not an adult. Sorry. Mullin still has the tendency to have his characters explain their own growth to the reader, but I think the fact that this book takes place within a huge amount of time (I think Alex is twenty at the end?) works well in his favor. It’s less noticeable. His descriptions are also weird (why is it necessary to say that Alex and Darla “fell across each other in the shape of an X”?), and his action in general still had that clunky, tell-y type feel to it, but I didn’t mind it or notice it as much.

Most of my time while I was reading, I was thinking, “This is what the first two books should have been like!” This book was survival at its finest: building something that could withstand the disaster, initiating new (or old) rules, eking out a living on a harsh landscape. It reminded me somewhat of Hatchet, except with more people. There’s very little worldbuilding and much more of Alex & Co. learning to build their own life on this world. In other words, Mullin knew that the last book is not a good place to still be developing atmosphere and world.

I actually think the ending was too nicely wrapped up in a bow, too convenient, too “I’m obviously going for a happy ending despite this awful world.” Or maybe it’s because I still don’t care for Darla, and I care less for Darla and Alex and their “Our relationship is so much more special than anyone else’s” attitude. Although I applaud Alex’s decision to start a family.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, graphic descriptions, death, swearing.

Genre: Survival, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

I grabbed another ear and started peeling back its wilted brown sheath. It was moldy too. We sampled ears out of every bag we’d harvested. They were all moldy, although some of them only had a light dusting of mold, while others were almost uniformly black with it.

I held out one of the last moldy ears. “You sure we can’t eat this? What happens if we do?”

“I don’t know,” Darla said.

“I’m going to try it—”

“That’s not—”

“I’ll cut a handful of kernels off this ear and boil them ‘til they’re mush. If I don’t get sick, we’ll try a little more.”

Darla was scowling at me. “It’s not safe.”

“We need the food.”

~Mullin 187

Overall Review:

Sunrise is better than both Ashfall and Ashen Winter, mainly because Mullin goes full-out survival mode and has time speed by with overarching descriptions so that the characters have less time to be annoying. I still don’t like Darla, and I still don’t particularly care for the characters, but Sunrise is at least a good survival story.

You can buy this here: Sunrise (Ashfall Trilogy)

Fairy Tale Friday: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle is written by Christopher Healy. It was published in 2013 by Walden Pond Press. It is the sequel to The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.

Summary/Blurb:

“Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don’t you? They’re the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses—Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose—to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms.

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening—even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.”

Thoughts:

Healy has a knack of making the most random and crazy scenarios work, and all with a tone of ridiculousness that flows naturally and doesn’t seem forced in the least bit (some books that have this same tone feel like they’re trying too hard). Even the cover art references how ridiculously awesomely cool this book is.

All the princes took a step up in capability this book, although they still remained their bumbling, weird selves. I was most proud of Frederic, but Liam’s existential crisis was great, too. I loved the “we’re making this up as we go along” plot to storm the Bandit King’s castle and how surprisingly well it worked out. I was also impressed with the twists that Healy managed to pull off in a type of book that usually relies more on its humor than its plot to carry it along. In other words, Healy delivers on the humor and the plot.

That being said, though, I must admit that at the beginning of the book I absolutely hated the fact that the princes were continuously made out to be fools. I don’t find that to be funny at all. There’s a fine line between “bumbling” and “foolish” and Healy went too far in the “foolish” direction, I think. I found myself thinking that if Healy does the same sort of thing in the next book that I would be really mad. It undermines the characters’ development and just ruins the atmosphere, in my opinion.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Excuse me, Ruffian,” Ella interjected. “You always wear that cape, right? Because Frederic was insisting that villains never wear capes.”

“I’m not a villain,” Ruffian whined. “Bounty hunting is a legitimate profession. And anyway, I’m wearing a cowl.”

“Aha!” said Frederic, sitting back and folding his arms in a very satisfied manner. “Thank you, Mr. Ruffian.”

“I thought it was a cloak,” Briar said.

“No. Cloaks are just long capes,” Frederic said.

Briar rubbed the fabric of Ruffian’s cowl between her thumb and forefinger. “Why aren’t you wearing a cloak? I wanted a henchman draped in a mysterious cloak.”

“How could the name of the garment possibly make a difference?” Ruffian asked.

“It sounds scarier,” Briar said. “‘Cowl’ is the least terrifying word I’ve ever heard.”

“Oh, I disagree,” Duncan added. ‘It makes me think of cow-owls. And those are horrifying. MOO-WHO! MOO-WHO!”

~Healy 124-125

Overall Review:

I started out slightly annoyed at the start of The Hero’s Guide to Storming a Castle, since Healy seemed determined to beat the “bumbling incompetent princes” theme to the ground. However, all the princes, but especially Frederic and Liam, got some very nice development and some upgrades in the competency department, which made me able to enjoy the ridiculousness more.

You can buy this here: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

How To Catch A Bogle: From Pie To Terror In Thirty Pages

How To Catch A Bogle is written by Catherine Jinks. It was published in 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Summary/Blurb:

“In the mean streets of Victorian London, orphans must do the most dangerous and unsavory jobs just to survive. Which is why Birdie considers herself lucky to be apprenticed to Alfred the Bogler, a man who traps and kills monsters for a living. It’s a far better life than mudlarking for flotsam in the stinky Thames or toshing things from the even stinkier sewers.

Sure, Birdie’s job is dangerous, since she is the bait for monsters who’d love a tasty child for dinner. But she’s fast and light on her feet, and she can sing like the bird she’s named for, so no bogle is every going to catch her. Or so Birdie thinks—until the orphans of London start to disappear…”

Thoughts:

So, when I first saw the title of this book and started reading, I thought, “Oh, this is a cute book. It’s about a girl helping to catch bogles and being utterly charming.” Then Miss Eames comes along, who’s all “BOGLES LIKE PIE. I BROUGHT A PIE. LET’S TRY TO MAKE THE BOGLE EAT THE PIE. LOOK AT MY PIE,” and I thought, “Yep, still cute. Still funny. Still charming.” And then, suddenly, the cute and funny novel I’m reading suddenly gets really dark when Birdie gets kidnapped and packed off to a sanitarium where she’s put in a strait jacket. And then a bogle almost kills everyone. Still a cute, funny book, but not nearly as light-hearted as the title implies (which is also historically accurate since Victorian London wasn’t a very fun place, especially for orphans)

Awwwww to Alfred and Birdie. I adore father/daughter relationships in books. Not awwwww to Ned and Birdie, because it felt slightly creepy and Birdie’s ten, Ned (who could be ten, also, but seemed more like 12 or 13).

This is apparently the first book in a trilogy, although the book as it stands is completely stand-alone. I assume any other books will simply include the main cast of characters with a new plot.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: The sanitarium and the bogles could be scary for children.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Slowly, silently, something dim and dense surged out of the chimney and onto the hearth. It came in a cloud of soot that blurred its hulking silhouette. It had eyes as red as rubies, and curling horns, and flaring nostrils. Its black scales were like chips of slate. Birdie even caught a glimpse of arms unfolding, but her hand was shaking so violently that the image in the mirror wasn’t crystal clear.

~Jinks 16

Overall Review:

What started out cute and funny turned much darker about halfway through the book, but despite that How To Catch A Bogle has an interesting fantastic touch to the world of Victorian London, a compelling plot and characters, and a very sweet relationship between Alfred and Birdie. Also, Miss Eames and her pie will always make me laugh.

You can buy this here: How to Catch a Bogle