The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

The Sorcerer of the North, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Battle for Skandia.

Several years have passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, led the Skandians to victory against invaders, and Will is finally a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy—boring, even—until Lord Syron, master of a castle far in the north, is struck down by a mysterious illness. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is suddenly thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure, investigating fears of sorcery and trying to determine who is loyal to Lord Syron…and who is planning to betray him. Will and Alyss must battle growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time. Lord Syron is fading, but when Alyss is taken hostage, Will is forced to make a desperate choice between loyalty to his mission and loyalty to his friend.

Rating: 3/5

The Sorcerer of the North, like The Icebound Land, is another Part 1 of 2 novel in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, taking place several years after The Battle for Skandia. However, I think that it’s a better Part 1 than The Icebound Land is. It has more mystery, more suspense, and, frankly, has much less “I’m stretching this plot to fit a whole book” moments.

I had actually forgotten about one of the major twists in this story, and so I got to experience it fresh all over again—and it really is quite a good twist. It seems inevitable after it’s over, but Flanagan manages to imbibe the moment with enough shock and tension that you go with the moment rather than think, “Oh, right, of course that would happen.”

The Sorcerer of the North is also interesting in that since the first two books, magic hasn’t been mentioned. Ranger’s Apprentice seems like such a realistic world (even in its fantasy elements) that magic doesn’t seem to have a place. Then along comes a book like this one, and raises all sorts of questions, such as “Is there actually magic or is it just sleight of hand and trickery?” I like the ambiguous nature of the magical aspect of the books and thought it was incorporated well in this one.

The Sorcerer of the North is clearly just the first part of a two-part story, where the second part promises to be even bigger and better, but it lacks the stiltedness and slow pace of The Icebound Land and contains a great deal of mystery and suspense to help hook the reader into the next book. It’s not perfect, but at this point, these books really don’t need to be.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“It’s not for us to say what it is. But there are strange goings-on. Strange sights.”

“Particularly in Grimsdell Wood,” said a tall farmer and, once more, others agreed. “Strange sights, and sounds—unearthly sounds they are. They’d chill your blood. I’ve heard them once and that’s enough for me.”

It seemed that once their initial reluctance was overcome, people wanted to discuss the subject, as if it held a fascination for them that they wanted to share.

“What sort of things do you see?” Will asked.

“Lights, mainly—little balls of colored light that move through the threes. And dark shapes. Shapes that move just outside your vision’s range.”

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Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud was published in 2009 by Hyperion.

Halli Sveinsson has grown up in the House of Svein, hearing the legends of the heroes as all his forefathers did. Theirs is a peaceful society, where the violence of the past has been outlawed and disputes are settled by the Council. But young Halli has never quite seemed to fit in with the others. For starters, he is neither handsome nor tall, like his siblings. He’s stumpy and swarthy, with a quick mind and an aptitude for getting into trouble. Bored with everyday chores and sheepherding, he can’t help playing practical jokes on everyone, from Eyjolf, the old servant, to his brother and sister. But when he plays a trick on Ragnar of the House of Hakon, he goes too far, setting in motion a chain of events that will forever alter his destiny. Because of it, Halli will have to leave home and go on a hero’s quest. Along the way, he will encounter highway robbers, terrifying monsters, and a girl who may be as fearless as he is. In the end he will discover the truth about the legends, his family, and himself.

Rating: 2/5

In between his Bartimaeus trilogy and his Lockwood & Co. series, Stroud wrote this little Norse fantasy. Heroes of the Valley is, unfortunately, not a good representation of Stroud as an author, in my opinion. It’s not particularly funny, the main character is unlikeable for a good three quarters of the book, and the ending reveal is so random and strange that it falls flat on its face.

Halli is probably one of the most aggravating protagonists to read because he’s selfish, oafish, and unlikeable up to about the culmination of the plot, which happens close to the end of the book. Then he becomes fairly awesome, but it’s a sudden change, one that you can accept because of what he’s been through but still squint sideways at and wonder how, exactly, he changed so suddenly. I did like Aud, though. I don’t usually like female characters like her, but Aud was great.

Reading Heroes of the Valley after reading something like The Screaming Staircase is disappointing. It’s disappointing because I know Stroud is a better author than what this book shows. Heroes of the Valley is so generic, so absent of any of Stroud’s usual plot tricks and characterization that it almost feels as if it was written by a completely different person. To be honest, if this was the first book of Stroud’s I had picked up, I likely would not have picked up anything else of his. I’d recommend Stroud’s other works—but not this. There are better books to read.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death, rude humor.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Are there roads beyond the cairns?”

The old woman blinked. “Roads? Whatever do you mean?”

“Old ones that the settlers took. To get to this valley in the days before Svein. To other valleys, other people.”

Slowly, bemusedly, she shook her head. ‘If there were trails they will be lost. The settlement was long ago. Besides, there are no other valleys, no other people.”

“How do you know that?”

“How can there be roads, where the Trows are? They devour all who go there.”

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The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn was published in 2004 by Viking.

Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, agrees to take the foundling. She names him Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow in to teenagers, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be.

Rating: 5/5

I was not expecting to be so caught up in The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter as I was while reading. Looking at the cover, I thought it looked interesting but might ultimately end up being contrived or disappointing or any other number of things to make it less than appealing to me. Starting the first chapter, I thought it seemed interesting but might end up becoming a trudge.

And then I became completely enthralled.

I’m not even sure what it was. Something about the characters, the world, and the conflict caught me up. I had a hard time putting the book down; not because it’s particularly gripping, but because I wanted to know what happened next. I was fascinated by the “magic” of the book, by the Safe-Keepers, the Truth-Tellers, and the Dream-Makers. I was struck by the tight bonds between the characters and the way those bonds shone through in their gatherings together. And I was intrigued by the mystery of the book, of the question of fathers and mothers and familial ties.

Of course, I guessed correctly halfway through the book, if only because I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if this turned out to be true?” and lo and behold, I turned out to be right. It was not a surprising reveal, but it was a satisfying one, and there was another reveal that I did not guess that fulfilled the “shock factor” (if also the “okay, I think that’s stretching it a little bit” factor).

The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter was neither a trudge nor a disappointment. I ate up every word, even after I had figured most of the plot out, and I’m glad that a book that at first glanced seemed like another poor fantasy turned out to be so appealing to me. I like it when books surprise me. I hope Shinn’s novels continue to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some dark secrets are told in the book. Beware of hints and tellings of murder, infidelity, abortion and incest.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fiona gave him a sharp glance, then took the whistle from his hand. Putting her mouth against the blowhole and her fingers on the openings of the pipe, she breathed in.

But no sound came out.

She tried again and again, each time blowing harder, but the whistle would issue no music. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why doesn’t it work? Is it broken?”

Thomas shook his head. He was still standing with his hand against the trunk of the tree, watching her with his shadowed eyes. “Because a kirrenberry tree won’t make a sound,” he said. “You can cut its branches to make two sticks that you hit together along with the beat in a reel—but they make no sound. Hit it with an ax and the tree yields up no ringing noise. Fell it in the forest, and you will not hear it toppling to the ground. A whistle makes no music. Birds who land in its branches forget their own songs.”

Now she was frowning. “That makes no sense.”

He nodded. “That’s why the kirrenberry tree is planted in front of the house of every Safe-Keeper in every village from her to the Cormeon Sea. Because a kirrenberry tree signifies silence.”

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The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

The Battle for Skandia, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Icebound Land.

For Will and Evanlyn, freedom has never felt so fleeting. Still far from their homeland after escaping slavery in the icebound land of Skandia, the Ranger’s apprentice and the princess’s plan to return to Araluen are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive by a Temujai warrior. Though still weakened by warmweed’s toxic effects, Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, but an enemy scouting party has him fatally outnumbered. Will is certain death is close at hand until old friends make a daring, last-minute rescue. The reunion is cut short, however, when they make a horrifying discovery: Skandia’s borders have been breached by the entire Temujai army. And Araluen is next in their sights. If two kingdoms are to be saved, the unlikeliest of unions must be made. Will it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy? Or will past tensions spell doom for all?

Rating: 4/5

The Battle for Skandia might be one of my favorite Ranger’s Apprentice books. Part of the reason might be because it comes right after the disappointing, unresolved The Icebound Land and is so action-packed that it makes up for that slow pace. Or maybe it’s just because The Battle for Skandia is a thrilling read. I never knew I could be so gripped by descriptions of a battle.

I think one thing I like about Flanagan is that he writes battle scenes well. They’re descriptive, but he doesn’t use so many terms that someone unfamiliar with weapons or fighting would be lost. They’re also not so descriptive as to be tedious or read like an action movie script. He explains the mechanics and strategy well enough that the reader is swept up in the action rather than confused by everything going on. It reminds me a little bit of how Brian Jacques wrote his fighting scenes in the Redwall series, but Flanagan does it better.

The humor is still on point and Flanagan does a good job of balancing the tense fighting with light humor scattered throughout. I also appreciate how he makes the characters interesting and fresh, and gives the ones that appear less often memorable and distinctive traits so that when they do show up again they are remembered through what they do and say.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series might not be for everyone, but for me, The Battle for Skandia is a testament to what I love about the series: great action, humor, and interesting characters. It more than makes up for the disappointing book that comes before and makes me excited to read more.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What ‘what’ are you asking me?” he said. Then, thinking how to make his question clearer, he added, “Or to put it another way, why are you asking ‘what’?”

Controlling himself with enormous restraint, and making no secret of the fact, Halt said, very precisely: “You were about to ask a question.”

Horace frowned. “I was?”

Halt nodded. “You were. I saw you take a breath to ask it.”

“I see,” said Horace. “And what was it about?”

For just a second or two, Halt was speechless. He opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally found the strength to speak.

“That is what I was asking you,” he said. “When I said ‘what,’ I was asking you what you were about to ask me.”

“I wasn’t about to ask you ‘what,’” Horace replied, and Halt glared at him suspiciously.…

“Then what, if I may use that word once more, were you about to ask me?”

Horace drew breath once more, then hesitated. “I forget,” he said. “What were we talking about?”

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Six of Crows.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend to Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Rating: 4/5

I went into Crooked Kingdom knowing something big happens at the end, since people were screaming in Goodreads reviews about it, and I also had a fairly good idea about what that something bad would be. But before we talk about that, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the book.

I was pretty impressed with Bardugo in the Grisha trilogy, but she has clearly improved since then. Her writing is better, the plot is better, the characterization is hugely improved (except for one character, but I’ll get to that) and I thoroughly enjoyed this duology. Ruin and Rising let me down in the end, but Crooked Kingdom did not. My favorite moment of this book was the unexpected, small plot reveal made right at the end of the book, where I said “What?” out loud and then giggled in delight. I love authors who can so deftly weave a complex plot right under your nose and leave things hidden until the very end.

That being said, let’s move on to that Something Big that devastated most everyone who read the book—at least according to Goodreads. To be honest, I don’t know if the knowledge that something was going to happen ruined the moment for me, or if I would have felt as ambivalent about it even without knowing. And now I’m going to mention spoilers, so beware.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

Frankly, Matthias’s death didn’t affect me all that much because Matthias was probably my least favorite character. He was probably the blandest, most boring character of the bunch—and I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but as I said about the first book, Nina/Matthias was never my cup of tea.

Also, looking back, his death was incredibly telegraphed—there’s only so much “we’re going to be awesome and I’m going to change the minds of my people and everything will be roses and daisies” talk that can happen before you start thinking “this person is totally not going to fulfill this, probably because he’s going to die.” And Matthias also made the most sense as to which character would die; Kaz and Inej are too important and Bardugo probably would never dare to kill off either Jesper or Wylan, so it made sense that either Nina or Matthias would die. And since Nina gets a new power to struggle over, that left Matthias.  So, I’m inclined to think his death would not have surprised me even if I hadn’t been spoiled.

Bland Matthias aside, I really did enjoy Crooked Kingdom. It wasn’t quite as heist-centric as Six of Crows, but there was still a great capers plot and enough compelling and surprising twists to satisfy and surprise until the very end. Bardugo has definitely improved since the Grisha trilogy, and I would have to say that this duology is the stronger of the two series.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Homosexuality, violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“This is good for us,” said Kaz. “The Shu and the Fjerdans don’t know where to start looking for Kuwei, and all those diplos making trouble at the Stadhall are going to create some nice noise to distract Van Eck.”

“What happened at Smeet’s office?” Nina asked. “Did you find out where Van Eck is keeping her?”

“I have a pretty good idea. We strike tomorrow at midnight.”

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The Magician’s Tower by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The Magician’s Tower, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, was published in 2013 by Egmont. It is the sequel to The Wizard of Dark Street.

Despite her extraordinary magical abilities and sleuthing skills, Oona Crate’s detective agency has failed to take off. Bu a new challenge captures her attention—The Magician’s Tower Contest. Held every five years, no one has completed the array of dangerous tasks (such as racing on flying carpets or defeating a horde of angry apes). As the competition commences, a case emerges. A rare punchbowl—one with unparalleled magical powers—has disappeared from the carnival surrounding the Magician’s Tower. If Oona can find the culprit, she could use the bowl to answer her questions about her mother’s and sister’s tragic deaths so many years ago—was she really at fault?

Rating: 2/5

The Magician’s Tower is an underwhelming sequel to The Wizard of Dark Street. As much as I had my problems with the former, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the latter. The main problem, to me, is that Odyssey didn’t seem to have a set goal in mind for the sequel, so he cobbled together a few random things and threw in some old villains and ridiculous capers. The thing that redeemed The Wizard of Dark Street for me was the mystery; The Magician’s Tower mystery was set aside for some strange contest and its weakness showed in the rushed and contrived way it was explained, investigated, and solved.

That’s not to say I disliked The Magician’s Tower. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to stop reading it. But I thought Odyssey was simply rehashing a lot of things that had already been accomplished in the first book, and the villain reveal felt forced. Not to mention Oona seemed slightly less likeable in this book, or maybe I simply got more impatient with her “I know everything and only I can do things the right way and I won’t accept help” attitude.

I liked the eventual connection to the world and plot revealed in The Wizard of Dark Street, but I was hoping that Odyssey would do more with that than what he did. I wish there had been more overall setup to the contest as a whole, rather than a very rushed explanation at the beginning of the book. I wish that the entire book didn’t feel like some magical escapade meant to be funny but failing, with a weak mystery trying to thread its way through the nonsense.  Most of all, I wish that The Magician’s Tower felt less like a sequel written because the first book was popular and more like a sequel that actually wants to continue the story and expand on it.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Oh, now, Samuligan, look what you’ve done,” said the Wizard, who had been drenched with tea and dribbled some of his pie down his beard.

True to form, Samuligan reached into his pocket and pulled out an entire mop, which he proceeded to use to clean up the spillage.

“Is that what you are brooding about?” the Wizard asked Oona as Samuligan dabbed at his beard with the mop head. The Wizard swatted it away. “That business with the missing crystal ball?”

“It wasn’t a crystal ball,” Oona said irritably. “It was called the Punchbowl Oracle.”

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Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler

Baker’s Magic, by Diane Zahler, was published in 2016 by Capstone.

41llhj91h5l-_sx353_bo1204203200_Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. When a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee’s journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.

Rating: 4/5

I wasn’t impressed by the first work of Zahler’s I read, The Thirteenth Princess, but the title of Baker’s Magic is what drew my eye. I can’t resist magic done through baking (my favorite part of the overall disappointing A Pocket Full of Murder), a so-far underused trope (at least in what I’ve read), so I decided to give Zahler another go. And, luckily, Baker’s Magic is a pleasant read, full of whimsy and charm.

Bee herself is a good protagonist, full of a balanced mix of both passive and active actions that combine to make a fairly capable character. I also like that her skill lies in baking, a traditionally female role, and how she uses that role to accomplish what she desires. I’m a big fan of female characters accomplishing things through the roles they are given rather than overcoming or subverting those roles, so I liked Bee and her baking magic.

Speaking of subverting roles, Captain Zay was clearly the character filling the “non-traditional role because we have to show that anyone can do anything,” but she was also great. Her vernacular was amusing, and she was funny enough and understated enough that it helped bring another aspect of whimsy and charm to the novel. Also bringing humor through language was the princess, another good character. Honestly, there weren’t any characters that I absolutely hated or thought were unnecessary—a nice change from recent reads.

So, overall, I was pleased by Baker’s Magic. There were a few little bobbles here and there, as with any book, and I didn’t like absolutely everything that was done in terms of plot, but I liked the characters, the world, and especially the magic. This might have redeemed Zahler in my mind, enough to read something else by her perhaps.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The princess giggled. “That was the sorriest curtsy I’ve ever beheld,” she said. “Take care—you don’t want to drop those pastries!”

“They’re—they’re for you, Your Highness. Your Majesty. Your Ladyship.”

The princess laughed again. “Anika will suffice. And you are…?”

“Bee. I’m Bee.”

“What a superlative name! Perhaps I should be A for Anika, then?”

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The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

The Icebound Land, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Burning Bridge.

Kidnapped and taken to a frozen land after the fierce battle with Lord Morgarath, Will and Evanlyn are bound for Skandia as captives aboard a fearsome wolfship. Halt has sworn to rescue his young apprentice, and he will do anything to keep his promise—even defy his King. Expelled from the Rangers he has served so loyally, Halt is joined by Will’s friend Horace as he travels toward Skandia. On their way, they are challenged again and again by freelance knights—but Horace knows a thing or two about combat. Soon his skills begin to attract the attention of knights and warlords for miles around. But will he and halt be in time to rescue Will from a horrific life of slavery?

Rating: 3/5

The Icebound Land steps away from its focus on Will slightly, but only in the sense that Will is not one of the third-person narrators. The story switches between the two groups of Halt and Horace and Evanlyn and Will, with both Horace and Will taking a bit of a backseat (Will moreso, with very good reason). It’s great to have Halt as a narrator, because even with Flanagan’s occasionally stilted or over-the-top writing, Halt is wonderfully snarky and incredibly awesome. He also takes care of one of the antagonists in an incredibly anticlimactic matter which only underscores his awesomeness.

This book is really only the first part of a plot that will continue in the next book, and towards the end Flanagan throws in some hints as to what is to come. It’s actually quite light on plot, overall, which is probably why Flanagan threw in Halt and Horace as viewpoint characters and gave them some enemies to face—it adds to the book and Evanlyn and Will’s plot is depressing enough that the book needs the humor that the Halt and Horace plot brings.

However, the fact that The Icebound Land is only Part 1 of 2 really shows, and not a lot happens in the book at all. Halt and Horace’s adventure is fluff and not necessary or important to their characters at all, while Evanlyn and Will’s adventure is entirely necessary, but so short that it could not possibly sustain the novel on its own. Flanagan combining the two helps it out a little, but not completely. The Icebound Land reads like the prologue to a bigger story, and not at all reads like it’s complete in itself, if that makes sense. I don’t want to say it feels unfinished, but it definitely feels a little unsatisfying when it ends and you’re left with a feeling of irresolution.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“We must answer his demand. Are you sure you’re not taking on too much?” the Ranger said. “After all, he is a fully qualified knight.”

“Well…yes,” said Horace awkwardly. He didn’t want Halt to think he was boasting. “But he’s not actually very good, is he?”

“Isn’t he?” Halt asked sarcastically.

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Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, was published in 2013 by Harper.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. Girls belong at Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, learning to waltz, faint, and curtsy. But Hilary and her dearest friend, the gargoyle, have no use for such frivolous lessons—they are pirates! (Or very nearly.) To escape from a life of petticoats and politeness, Hilary answers a curious advertisement for a pirate crew and suddenly finds herself swept up in a seafaring adventure that may or may not involve a map with an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas. Will Hilary find the treasure in time? Will she become a true pirate after all? And what will become of the gargoyle?

Rating: 4/5

Despite the dreaded “girl defies propriety and runs away” plot trope, I really enjoyed Magic Marks the Spot. It has a tongue-in-cheek humor to it that’s quite funny (if a tad hard to swallow at times) and Carlson has a deft enough hand that I enjoyed the atmosphere of “not-quite-taking-itself-seriously” that the book displays. Sometimes those are hard to get right, but this book does it quite well.

I did find the plot a little predictable, though, and while some of the reveals may be surprising to younger readers, I doubt they would surprise older ones. I’m also disappointed at the way Hilary and Admiral Westfield’s relationship was handled—I would have liked a little more nuance and depth there rather than the ho-hum, apathetic approach we got. I doubt any girl would be able to so casually accept the things that happened as Hilary did, although maybe the tongue-in-cheek nature of the book has something to do with it.

So, even though I find the main plot trope used in this book stale and annoying, I did enjoy Magic Marks the Spot, mostly because of its humor, its cleverness (though the plot overall was predictable, there were some clever bits), and its ability to make me not care so much about the obviousness of some of the tropes used. This is a series I would like to come back to.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Miss Greyson smiled for the second time that day—the world was getting stranger and stranger by the minute—but Philomena didn’t smile back. “I’m terribly sorry,” said Philomena, “but Miss Pimm doesn’t receive visitors. You can leave Miss Westfield with me, and the porter will collect Miss Westfield’s bags.” She raised her eyebrows as the carriage driver deposited the golden traveling trunk on the doorstep. “I hope you have another pair of stockings in there.”

“I do.” Hilary met Philomena’s stare. “I have nineteen pairs, in fact. And a sword.”

Miss Greyson groaned and put her hand to her forehead.

“Excuse me?” said Philomena.

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2015 by Henry Holt.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone….A convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes…Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Rating: 4/5

Six of Crows is a little bit like Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Bardugo’s Grisha universe and some romance mixed in. It’s not necessary to have read Shadow and Bone or the other two books before reading this one, but they do help to fill in some of the gaps in the worldbuilding and some of the information about Ravka in this book is easier to understand and grasp the significance of if you’ve read the Grisha trilogy.

I loved the action and the complexity of Six of Crows, though it did get a bit tiresome at the end when Bardugo pulls the “here’s what a character did but oh, wait, you don’t know the full story and the ingenious thing they just pulled off until a little bit later.” I do like a limited narrator, so it was only the repetitiveness that grated at me a little, not the concept itself. The ending of the plot was a little obvious, but the reveals were good and even the parts that were obvious were gripping and suspenseful.

I do wish the romance would have been a little bit better, and I say that knowing that many people (according to reviews on Goodreads) loved it. I felt that it was a little predictable (six characters=an obvious three pairs of couples) and though the fan-favorite couple seems to be Nina and Matthias, I must admit that theirs was the most cliché, overused romance in the book, in my opinion. I’ve read maybe thirty different variants of the “I hate her but I love her” romance in various young adult novels. I much preferred the romance of Kaz and Inej, which is, if not less overused, at least less obvious about it.

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, flaws of predictability in romance and in some aspects of the plot aside, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for Kaz and his crew. Maybe an appearance by another character from the Grisha trilogy? One can only hope!

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Twenty million kruge. What kind of job would this be? Kaz didn’t know anything about espionage or government squabbles, but why should stealing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court be any different form liberating valuables from a mercher’s safe? The most well-protected safe in the world, he reminded himself. He’d need a very specialized team, a desperate team that wouldn’t balk at the real possibility that they’d never come back from this job.

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