Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner

Threads and Flames, by Esther Friesner, was published in 2010 by Viking.

It’s 1910, and Raise has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. She is enthralled, overwhelmed, and even frightened, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. How do you survive in a foreign land without a job, a place to live, or a command of the native language? Perseverance and the kindness of handsome young Gavrel lead Raisa to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists…until 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. Fabric and thread and life catch fire. And the flames burn hot enough to change Raisa—and the entire city—forever.

Rating: 3/5

Threads and Flames tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. I was given the impression that a lot of the book would focus on the fire, but the book focuses much more on Raisa’s life and what leads her to work at the factory. The fire is not until the last third of the novel, which surprised me, though I can’t say why. I supposed I was just expecting the fire to be a little bit more central to the novel.

The novel is much better in the middle than it is in the beginning and the end. Friesner’s writing is clumsy, moralizing, and stilted in places, especially apparent at the beginning, the end, and in the places where Raisa’s thoughts take up most of the page. Some of the antagonism of the book sometimes comes across as forced, such as the woman whom Raisa first works for who is almost melodramatically villainish, and most of the moments that are the most tense or the most meaningful seem too moralizing, probably because of Friesner’s tendency to tell, not show.

However, the middle of the book flows really well, probably because it’s absent of most of the significant and/or tense moments, and was my favorite part of the book. Friesner is certainly no Ruta Sepetys, but Raisa’s story is mostly engaging and keeps the reader interested into the end, even with the flaws. It’s a pity that the writing style is so obvious and preachy; otherwise, this book would have been excellent. Instead, Threads and Flames is good, but not a novel I would immediately recommend.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Anti-Semitism

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Your sister?” The man stood up from the table and came closer. He studied her face with as much concentration as if he expected to find a treasure map in her eyes. “You’re her sister? But she was beautiful!”

Raisa swallowed a sharp retort.

“We’re sisters all the same,” she replied mildly. “She was always sending money home so that I could join her over here. I just arrived yesterday, except they tell me she’s bene gone for weeks.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2w6TD65

1933 Newbery Medal: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, was published in 1932 by Henry Holt.

When Young Fu arrives with his mother in bustling 1920s Chungking, all he has seen of the world is the rural farming village where he has grown up. He knows nothing of city life. But the city, with its wonders and dangers, fascinates the thirteen-year-old boy, and he sets out to make the best of what it has to offer him.

Rating: 3/5

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze read much more like a modern novel than I was expecting. I suppose I was so used to the style of the 20s and 30s literature I’ve read that I thought Lewis’s writing would follow the same pattern. However, Young Fu was engaging, informative, and reminded me of more recent books such as The Golden Goblet and A Single Shard.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the book is that it seems long, especially in the middle. Young Fu is basically a series of events in Young Fu’s life and it starts to drag about halfway through. Part of the reason for the slow pace may be that Fu is not the most interesting of characters. He also is not a particularly relatable one, at least to me—I found him a little too smug and thought he conquered things a little too easily. His condescending air, though accurate for a teenager, is very hard to take and I found it hard to feel sorry for him or root for him during the times Lewis wants us to do so.

However, historically I liked the look at the turmoil in China right before the time of WWI and the rise of the Nationalist Party and Mao. It’s not a perspective prevalent in literature and the edition of the book I read (the 75th anniversary edition) included lots of information in the back about the time period and how China was transforming as a nation in terms of technology and politics. Lewis did a good job of weaving the politic tension in and showing the conflict between the “old ways” and the “new ways.”

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze is slow-going in the middle and I thought that Fu himself was not a particularly relatable character, but I liked the historical aspect of the novel and the way Lewis incorporated it in the novel. The writing style was evocative of a modern novel and lacked a lot of the language and stylistic choices and accompanying problems that I discovered in the earlier Newbery books. Overall, Young Fu is a deserving Newbery Medal winner—though it’s not my favorite so far.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

That night on Chair-Maker’s Way, Young Fu told his mother,” Today a foreign man bought a tray in our store.”

“He did not see you, I hope!”

“He did. Tang told me to carry brasses into his presence. Also, he spoke to me.” At his mother’s exclamation of fright, he reassured her, “Do not fear! He was ugly, but harmless.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2w8BtkX

Just Sayin’ by Dandi Daley Mackall

Disclaimer: Just Sayin’, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Nick and Cassie almost had their perfect family: their parents were getting married, and that meant a best-friend brother and a sweet little sister for Cassie, and Nick would have Cassie as his partner in crime. When their parents mysteriously call off their wedding and Cassie is left in her Gram’s care, Cassie and Nick become “almost-step” pen pals. Through letters, they scheme about how to get on their favorite game show, The Last Insult Standing, and just maybe figure out how to get their parents back together.

My rating: 3/5 

I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Mackall, so seeing another children’s/MG book pop up by her on the Tyndale website was exciting to me. And, while I didn’t enjoy Just Sayin’ quite as much as I did Lara, it was still an engaging read.

I like the whole concept of the “novel of letters”—the entire book consists of letters, texts, e-mails, and what-have-you between the characters, complete with different handwritings and paper backgrounds. It’s a nice touch, though perhaps a little distracting. Mackall does a great job of giving each character a distinct voice and communicating character development through a medium that’s rather restricting in what can be described or expanded.

The plot is a bit simple and resolves simply, too, and I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing. The important part of the book, to me, was Cassie’s development, not Travis and Jen’s relationship, so perhaps the simplicity of that particular aspect of the book doesn’t matter. And, speaking of Cassie’s development, I think the lessons she learned were communicated clearly and effectively, though perhaps her actions at the end during the insult contest were not quite realistic (though the actions themselves don’t contradict her character, so perhaps the realism of it is fine, after all).

Perhaps my biggest problem with Just Sayin’ is that, after the wonderful subtlety of Larger-Than-Life Lara, the straightforwardness of it falls a little flat. I mean, I think it’s great that Cassie was so profoundly affected by what she read about words and by her letter writing to Jesus, but that also could have been communicated effectively without also alienating a large portion of readers who perhaps most need to hear the message. It wasn’t preachy—perhaps cheesy, but not preachy—but I do prefer subtlety in a lot of cases. However, with or without that, Just Sayin’ still has a good message about the power of words, as well as some good things to say about friendship and family.

Warnings: Insults.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2vXs53q

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton, was published in 1968 by Macmillan.

The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend—two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms….Yes, the house held secrets…did it hold danger as well? Thomas was sure it did, but his obsession that the house give up its secrets led him on, through the terror entrapment in its labyrinth of tunnels and to an awesome confrontation with Pluto, the mysterious and formidable “devil” who jealously guarded the house. Then, suddenly, it was alarmingly clear—there was danger, and the Smalls were being warned to flee. But what kind of danger, and why, and what did it have to do with running slaves and the ordeals of a hundred years ago? Thomas searches, and in searching finds not only the answer to these secrets from the past, but a deeper sense of his own connection to that past.

Rating: 3/5

The House of Dies Drear is a bit of a spine-chilling suspense/mystery novel. Hamilton’s sparse writing helps contribute to the overall tension of the book, combining with the history and the mysteries of the past to create a creepy atmosphere. It’s a bit of a strange book, but you can tell how much Hamilton put into this book as it relates to her own history.

I suppose calling this book a mystery is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really a mystery; it’s more suspense. There is some mystery aspects to it, especially at the beginning, but the mystery is solved midway through and the rest of the book is the characters dealing with what they have discovered.

The House of Dies Drear holds a lot of information about the Underground Railroad and black culture, in general, including things like the church environment which was nice to see in a novel. Most novels these days (and movies) pretend like religion (or, at least, Christianity) doesn’t exist at all, and if it does, it’s some distorted version of it that the author uses as a strawman. Hamilton’s take was both historical and respectful, detailing how important things like church and the church experience are to people, especially when in a new situation.

The House of Dies Drear is an effectively creepy novel, and though it’s not the best thing I’ve read, it was certainly interesting and informative. I appreciated it for the passion so subtly conveyed by the author and for its historical worth. I probably won’t read it again, as it was a little too strange and not quite engaging enough for me, but it’s a good book.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

As soon as Thomas had entered the room, he understood what old Pluto had tried to do. He had arranged the furniture in a rigid progression, with the two long windows, not the open fireplace, as its focus. Thomas’ eyes swept from the fireplace to the windows, then out into the gray day, on and on, until he could see no farther.

It’s his warning, thought Thomas. He means for us to flee.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2fr64TF

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Halt’s Peril.

In his brief time as an Araluen warrior, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right. When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn’t long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his—but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.

Rating: 3/5

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is the last Ranger’s Apprentice book I’ve read before. And, at least in the edition I read, it’s marketed as the last book. As there are two more books after this one (though one is, I think, a prequel), clearly Flanagan returned to the series due to popular demand. I’ll be looking forward to reading the eleventh and twelfth books and experiencing them for the first time.

But, back to this book. It’s a stand-alone, which is good after the somewhat tiring formula of most of the other books, but I don’t think it’s as solid and engaging as Erak’s Ransom. There are new characters, new obstacles to surmount, and new enemies to defeat, but there’s never once the possibility that the characters might fail. Even when they’re at their lowest point, it’s never doubtful that they will come out on top in the end. Erak’s Ransom at least separated the characters and had them overcome individual obstacles, especially towards the end. Emperor’s separation of characters is not handled as well, with the girls essentially going to fetch a Deus ex Machina to save the day while the rest just waste time until they get back. There’s not really any sense of urgency because by this point, the reader knows that the rescue will come at the last minute.

There’s also some weird sort of time displacement, where Horace’s point of view is actually several months behind the others, but it’s often forgotten and seems as if it’s happening in real time with what’s happening with Will. In addition, since Horace’s chapters pretty much go over the same ground that was covered when the characters explained why they were going after Horace in the first place, some of his chapters feel meaningless, especially the chapter that depicts George going to send a message right after the chapter where Evanlyn explains that George sent a message.

So, perhaps the Ranger’s Apprentice formula is starting to wear a little thin, after all. I’m not saying The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is a bad book. I enjoyed reading it, as I enjoy reading all the Ranger’s Apprentice books. And this book is still better than the first two books in the series. But the formula is starting to get a little bit tiring, which is perhaps the reason why Flanagan switched to writing The Brotherband Chronicles after book twelve (also, there’s a moment in this book where Flanagan clearly took inspiration when writing the Brotherband Chronicles). As a stand-alone, it’s better than most of the Part 1’s in the series, but not as good as any of the Part 2’s or the other stand-alone, Erak’s Ransom (which is still my favorite of them all). I still enjoy the adventures of Horace, Will, Halt and Company, but ten books (or twelve, in this case) is a good time to start wrapping up a series or thinking of something new.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“What’s this Kurokuma business?”

The Senshi looked at [Horace] with a completely straight face.

“It’s a term of great respect,” he said. Several others within earshot nodded confirmation. They too managed to remain straight-faced. It was a skill the Nihon-Jan had perfected.

“Great respect,” one of them echoed. Horace studied them all carefully. Nobody was smiling. But he knew by now that that meant nothing with the Nihon-Jan. He sensed there was a joke that he was missing, but he couldn’t think of a way to find out what it might be. Best maintain his dignity, he thought.

“Well, I should think so,” he told them, and rode on.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2eSpv7w

1936 Newbery Medal: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, was published in 1935 by Macmillan.

Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew, plow than bake, and beat her brothers’ dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors—neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all. Caddie is brave, and her story is special—because it’s true, based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn.

Rating: 3/5

If you were to think of a typical Newbery Medal book, you’d probably think of many of the tropes and techniques in Caddie Woodlawn, which seems to me to be the earliest of what I can only call the “Newbery Medal” formula, or perhaps, more simply, the “coming of age” formula.

That’s not to say all Newbery Medals follow along with Caddie Woodlawn—clearly they don’t—but a lot of them do have the same type of formula to them: girl/boy is in the process of growing up, has adventures, learns lessons, does brave things, etc. They’re also fairly episodic in plot, with each chapter (perhaps two) being one particular episode in the protagonist’s life. There’s usually some sort of arc connecting them all together, whether it’s plot or a particular character. All these things are present in Caddie Woodlawn and, though it makes for a disjointed pace, it’s effective at communicating the coming-of-age aspect.

I’ve actually read Caddie Woodlawn before, 15 or more years ago, and the thing I remembered most of the book was the part where Caddie gets her friend to “cross her heart” and the friend freaks out because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone where Caddie is. This event takes place much earlier in the book than I expected—there’s a whole part with the settlers being afraid that they were going to be massacred and one would expect this to be the crowning moment of the book, the place for the protagonist to truly show off her bravery and end the book in a spectacular fashion. However, it happens about halfway through and, to be honest, the rest of the book falls a little flat after that particular escapade.

In fact, it’s after the “cross your heart” and the fear of massacre part where the book starts to feel very episodic and choppy. I mean, I enjoyed it for the most part, but I got a little bit tired of Caddie’s shenanigans towards the end. Brink includes some historical events and things, which are nice, but the book feels a trifle long and gets tiring by the end.

Caddie Woodlawn reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but much more choppy in terms of pace and a little bit less endearing and enduring. It’s definitely a step-up from much of the 1920s Newbery Medals I read, but the clear “coming of age” formula (not old when it was written, but very predictable and tired now) detracts a bit from it, and Caddie’s adventures get tiring, especially after the halfway point when the Big Event happens and the book keeps going on as if that wasn’t the biggest moment in the book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Well, I guess we’re even, Uncle Edmund,” said Caddie, gravely smiling. She held out her small, brown hand.

Uncle Edmund shook it hearty, but he said: “No, Caddie, we’re not even yet. I promised you a silver dollar.”

“You said if I beat you to the end of the lake on the raft, or if I wouldn’t tell Mother. But I didn’t beat you and I am going to tell Mother.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ufC6I5

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke, was published in 2004 by Chicken House.

Firedrake, Ben, and their furry friend, Sorrel, are in search of the mythical place where dragons can live in peace forever. Together they embark on a journey that takes them to magical lands where they meet marvelous creatures—and one ruthless villain. Along the way, they will discover allies in odd places, courage they didn’t know they had, and a hidden destiny that changes everything.

Rating: 3/5

Dragon Rider is not a bad book by any means. It is a fairly entertaining, suspense-filled tale of a dragon’s search for a home and the people, animals, and magical creatures that help him along the way. There’s a villain who is suitably villainous, a spy, a djinn, and lots and lots of travel. There’s nothing remarkably wrong with it nor are there any large flaws beyond character likeability (a subjective area, anyway).

However, Dragon Rider lacks something which makes it truly great. I’m not sure if it’s wonder, charm, imagination, or what, but there is a flatness that runs throughout the book that makes it one step short of enticing. It never goes beyond; it always stays comfortable and safe. I’m not sure if it’s because this is one of Funke’s first books (okay, more like fifth, but it’s still one of her early ones), if it’s the translation barrier (this was first written in German), or if this is just how Funke writes, but there is definitely some depth or something missing that is noticeable to someone who reads as many books as I do.

I remember quite liking this book as a kid, and I think I read it a couple of times, but, strangely, I barely remembered it—it didn’t have nearly as powerful an impression on me as some of the other books I read when I was younger. Maybe it has something to do with the flatness of the whole book, the rote-ness of it, the imaginative aspect of it that is so formulaic it loses its imaginativeness, if that makes sense.

Also, Sorrel was annoying.

I enjoyed Dragon Rider, but it didn’t grab me. It did nothing to make me remember it and, sadly, it did nothing to make me want to grab another book by Funke and dive in. I’ve actually read The Thief Lord, Inkheart, and Inkspell, many years ago, but I don’t have an inclination to reminisce; I didn’t before reading Dragon Rider and I don’t now. That doesn’t mean I won’t read another Funke book; it just means I’ll be hard-pressed before I pick one up.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Gilbert leaned slightly forward and whispered, “You’re not the only ones looking for the Rim of Heaven.”

“What?” gasped Sorrel, taken aback.

“Ravens have been turning up here for years,” Gilbert went on, still in a whisper. “Very peculiar ravens, if you ask me. They ask questions about the Rim of Heaven, but what they’re really interested in is the dragons said to be hiding there. Naturally I haven’t told them anything about the dragons in my dear cousin Rosa’s part of the world.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2sn4qE3

1929 Newbery Medal: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, was first published in 1928. I read the 1966 Simon & Schuster republication.

A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance.

Rating: 3/5

After a run of dry, plodding 1920s Newbery Medal winners, The Trumpeter of Krakow is like a breath of fresh air. While not as immediately enjoyable and enticing as The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, Kelly’s novel about Poland in the 15th century is authentic, informative, and full of tension as Joseph and his family evade the villain who is after the treasure their family is guarding.

I’m not sure how much of The Trumpeter of Krakow is based on history; the introduction implies that it’s at least somewhat inspired by a story from the 13th century. Regardless, the story is full of lots of historical elements, such as the exploration of alchemy, the wars between Poland, Russia, and the surrounding countries, the invasions by the Tartars/Tatars, and other bits of medieval history. It explains enough that the reader learns and understands a bit of the time period, but not so much that the reader gets overwhelmed. Kelly also clearly knows Poland and Krakow in particular, and there is lots of details given that make the book more authentic than a simple “this is a story set in Poland” vibe.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is a little dry in places, in parts due to the language and in parts due to the description, which while giving the novel an authentic feel also tends to slow down the pace, but for the most part the story of Joseph and his family carries throughout the novel, even towards the end when everything seems to have worked out and there are still a few chapters left to go.

It was refreshing to read this book after the problems I had with many of the other 1920s Newberys, so I’m hoping that this is a good sign and the books will continue to improve from here on out. If the Newberys in the 1930s are like The Trumpeter of Krakow, then I can’t complain (although maybe I will anyway; you never know!).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Cease—cease—cowards all!” [the scholar] shouted in a commanding tone of voice. “What persecution goes on here?”

“The man and the woman and boy are workers in magic, wizards and a witch,” said the leader roughly. “Keep your hands off, for we are admonishing them.”

“Wizards and witches—fiddlesticks!” shouted the newcomer, pulling himself up in the wagon until he stood beside Pan Andrew. “This is but an excuse for some such deed of violence as this city has seen too much of in the past twelve months. To attack an honest man—for to any but a blind man he appears as honest—a weak woman, and a defenseless boy—Cowards all, I say! Disperse, or I will call the king’s guards to disperse you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2up8pkn

Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan

Halt’s Peril, by John Flanagan, was published in 2010 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.

Rangers walk the line between life and death every day, but never before has that line appeared so thin or death felt so certain. Hot on the trail of the Outsiders—a cult that’s been making its way from kingdom to kingdom, connoting the innocent out of their few valuables—Will and Halt are ambushed by the cult’s deadly assassins. Pierced by a poisoned arrow, Will’s mentor is near death and in dire need of the one antidote that can save his life. Time is not on Will’s side as he journeys day and night through the harsh terrain to Grimsdell Wood in search of the one person with the power to cure Halt: Malkallam the Sorcerer.

Rating: 3/5

The Kings of Clonmel may have been, in my opinion, the best of the “Part 1’s” of Ranger’s Apprentice, but Halt’s Peril may be the worst “Part 2.” That’s not to say the book isn’t good—it’s Ranger’s Apprentice; of course it’s good. But it lacks the intensity of some of the earlier books and the relatively slow pace throughout the middle of the book—despite the fast paced events dealing with Halt being poisoned—drags the plot on a little. It’s weird to say that a book is slow-paced when it’s at its most intense, every-second-counts moment, but something was certainly off about the pacing of this book. Or maybe the problem is that I found the resolution with Tennyson to be unsatisfying and anti-climactic after the exciting parts that came before it.

Speaking of exciting parts, I haven’t read this book in ten or so years and I vividly remembered one scene dealing with Will and the Genovesan right at the tail end of the poisoning plot. As in, I remembered what happened and what the characters said almost exactly—it was such a pivotal, stand-out moment in the book that it stood out to me and remained in my memory even after ten (or so) years. That part of the book shows just how far Will has come—as well as how far he will go to protect the ones he loves. And that ice-cold statement at the end of that particular chapter. Dang. No wonder it stuck in my brain.

I wouldn’t say Ranger’s Apprentice is declining in quality, but Halt’s Peril was a bit of a misstep in several respects. While it featured a gripping, tense plot midway through the book, the lead-up to that part, and the resolution that followed it, weren’t as good, resulting in me having an oddly dissatisfied feeling when I finished. After all that tension, the ending could not stand up to the rest and felt anticlimactic and overly prolonged. I suppose it was only natural that Ranger’s Apprentice would falter a little bit, and I’m glad it happened nine books in as opposed to sooner, but it’s still a little disappointing.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Horace swung the cloak around him delightedly. Even though it was made for Halt’s smaller frame, the Ranger cloaks were of such a capacious design that it fitted him reasonably well. It would be far too short, of course, but on horseback that didn’t matter too much.

“I’ve always wanted one of these,” Horace said, grinning at the cloak. He pulled the deep cowl up over his head, hiding his face in its shadows, and gathered the gray-brown folds around him.

“Can you still see me?” he asked.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2sOIG6M

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, was published in 2017 by Katherine Tegen.

At Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens, girls train to become sorceresses by learning about Spells, Potions, Wards, Summonings…and, most important, Deportment. The city’s people need sorceresses to protect them, but the magical maidens are taught to behave themselves so they don’t frighten anyone. Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtseying—and sometimes she just can’t help but give people a Look. Her attitude often gets her in trouble, especially with the headmistress, the terrifying Miss Ellicott. Then Miss Ellicott mysteriously vanishes, along with all the other sorceresses in the city. Without any magic protecting the city, the fearsome Marauders threaten the lives of everyone that Chantel cares about…and even though Chantel and her friends were once banned from practicing battle spells, it’s now up to them to save the Kingdom. As they embark on this dangerous journey, Chantel must cope with a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and the patriarchs who want to control the new, fiery magic that burns inside her. But can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Rating: 3/5

I absolutely loved the Jinx trilogy, so I was excited to pick up this new book from Blackwood. The super cute cover also fueled my enthusiasm, as well as the idea of a magic school—because as overdone as those can be, they’re also fun to read about. And Blackwood did handle the magic school aspect well, with less emphasis on the schooling and more emphasis on the students.

I didn’t find Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded as immediately gripping and interesting as I found Jinx, however. The beginning of the book suffers from things happening much too quickly as well as an unoriginal character type and protagonist in Chantel, who luckily gets better as the book progresses. There’s also events and interactions in the first part of the book that are laid on entirely too thick, as well as a skewed sense of world—not much is built of the world, vague mentions of taxes are thrown around to incite tension, and many times “the people” or “the citizens” or such are mentioned but there is only a vague, amorphous idea attached. The city feels as if it’s inhabited only by the characters mentioned in the book by name and no others. It makes some of the final moments less tense and more vague, in my opinion. It’s nice that Chantel cares so much about her city and the people within it, but it’s harder to care with her when what she’s protecting is a faceless mass fighting another faceless mass.

The ending was also hard to swallow, particularly what happens to Chantel, but I suppose it’s believable in the sense that no one was going to argue with a girl riding a dragon. Still, I’m not particularly content—Chantel suddenly in charge seems like a little much. Perhaps the book was simply too small to get an adequate sense of development.

I enjoyed Miss Ellicott’s School, but I found too many flaws in it and had too many problems with it to be as content and happy as I was when I read Jinx. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like a majority of female protagonists; maybe because I like my fantasy worlds a little bit more developed and my plots a little less fast-paced. It’s a good book, but Blackwood has written better.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I have to do it because I’m the Chosen One,” said Anna. “It’s what she told me.”

“She told me I was the Chosen One too,” Chantel reminded her. “But she never said anything about coming up on the roof and spinning around.”

“She told me always to remember,” said Anna. “‘At the dawning of the day/Face the sun and turn away.’”

“Why?”

“How should I know? She just did,” said Anna. “Maybe it’s some kind of spell.”

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