The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, was published in 2017 by Bloomsbury.

All Aventurine wants to do is explore the world outside her family’s mountain cave. But as a young dragon, her tough scales haven’t fully developed yet, and the outside is too perilous—or so her family says. Aventurine is determined to fly on her own and prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl—no sharp teeth, no fire breath, no claws. Still, she’s the fiercest creature in these mountains, and she’s found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Rating: 4/5

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a charming story for both dragon-lovers and chocolate-lovers. I’m not a huge fan of the title, but the cover art is amazing and this book revived my interest in Burgis’s works (if you recall, I strongly disliked her Kat, Incorrigible series). Fierce girl (who is actually a dragon; hence, why she is fierce) works much better in a made-up fantasy world than in Regency England.

The plot is fairly formulaic, but Aventurine’s bumbles (and successes) as she struggles to make sense of human life rapidly endear her to the reader. Plus, there’s lots and lots of chocolate involved, which is a bonus. Perhaps some things were overdone—Aventurine wallows a little too long in self-inflicted misery, there’s one too many appearances from cruel-woman-who-sets-protagonist’s-teeth-on-edge, and it’s a little eyebrow-raising that so much drama could revolve around one little chocolate house—but the likeable protagonist, the interesting setting and the engaging plot help offset those.

I could have done without the constant reminders of Silke’s clothing, though. I really don’t understand why a girl wearing men’s clothes is supposed to be so empowering or different. I get it, in this fantasy world, women wear dresses, men wear pants, etc., so a girl wearing pants is supposed to scream forthrightness and strength and standing-up-against-the-man-ness. But all I could think about was how boring and formulaic a character Silke was, whose characterization was built on “she wears pants” and nothing else. I would much rather have a well-written female character in a dress than a boring, cliché female character in pants, but I guess the public wants the latter so that’s what authors are giving them.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has some flaws, but overall it’s a charming story with an interesting protagonist, a good plot, and a well-built world. I enjoyed reading it, despite my dislike of Silke, and the book has lifted my opinion of Burgis overall. I hope she writes more books like this one, and less like Kat, Incorrigible.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Chocolate houses were nothing like I’d expected.

When the scent of chocolate, growing stronger and stronger, led me to the open doorway of yet another yellow-and-white building, I stopped just outside it in disbelief.

Two humans nearly bumped into me from behind….I gave them both a narrow-eyed, accusing glance. “This building isn’t made of chocolate!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2j35ud3

Advertisements

1959 Newbery Medal: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, was published in 1958 by Houghton.

Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she has left behind. She is like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world. And in the stern Puritan community of her relatives, she soon feels caged as well, and lonely. In the meadows, the only place where she can feel completely free, she meets another lone and mysterious figure, the old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond. But when their friendship is discovered, Kit faces suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

Rating: 3/5

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an interesting book to read. I thought, with all the talk of witches on the back cover, that it would be connected to the Salem Witch Trials, but it’s not—Speare merely runs with the old idea of “Puritans thought there were such a thing as witches and accused women of witchcraft all the time” and builds a story around it. And, I get that, the Salem Witch Trials were obviously A Thing That Happened, but it’s a really cliché plot device to use and a little bit lazy, in my opinion.

Speare does deal quite fairly with Kit’s family members, though. She never shows us enough of the village to get an idea of the community, beyond the Reverend and the bitter woman who dislikes Kit from the beginning, but Judith, Mercy, and Kit’s aunt and uncle are all well-developed, particularly the uncle. She also shows a lot of difference in characters, which is something that some authors can forget when they are trying to portray certain people certain ways (The Scarlet Letter, for example, which has zero redeemable or relatable characters and every Puritan in that book is gray and stern). She doesn’t paint everyone with the same brush, basically.

For a children’s book, Kit is rather an old protagonist, and the book reads much more like a young adult novel, in my opinion, with the romance plot lines. I’m not a huge fan of “outsider comes in and shakes up community with new, “scandalous” ways” plots, and Kit did one too many stupid things for me to really like her, but I didn’t completely hate her, and I enjoyed seeing her grow throughout the novel. I liked what Speare did at the end, too, with her character because it matched what we know of Kit. She’s not one to be tied down, nor is her life with her Puritan relatives ever quite believable as a life for her.

I didn’t think The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a great book, but I didn’t think it was terrible, either. I liked the development of the characters, and even though Kit was annoying most of the time, she had her moments, and I liked that Speare was true to her character throughout. The plot aspect was underwhelming and I thought the overall tone of the book was slightly too old to really be a children’s book. A bit of a mixed reaction all around, but I went into it expecting to hate it and I didn’t, so there’s that.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: There’s some intense scenes at the end of the novel.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s (though it’s really more Middle Grade)

“Don’t the servants do that?” [Kit] inquired.

“We have no servants,” said her aunt quietly.

Surprise and chagrin left Kit speechless. “I can help with the work,” she offered finally, realizing that she sounded like an overeager child.

“In that dress!” Judith protested.

“I’ll find something else. Here, this calico will do, won’t it?”

“To work in?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zsZN2w

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, was published in 2016 by Candlewick.

All Nick wants is a place to shelter from the blizzard that hits after he runs away from his uncle’s. What he gets is someplace warm to live, plenty of hot food, and the company of two dogs, two cats, four goats, one pig, a flock of chickens, and a grumpy old man who won’t let him leave. Evil Wizard Books may be cozy and Smallbone Cove idyllic, but the wolf is at the door—literally. The Evil Wizard Fidelou and his pack of biker coyotes are howling at the village border, and its magical Sentries are slowly failing. For a three-hundred-year-old self-proclaimed evil wizard, Zachariah Smallbone seems strangely at a loss. It’s a good thing Nick was lying about not being able to read. Smallbone may not be willing to teach him magic, but the bookstore is. And Nick is more than willing to learn. Even if the bookstore is awfully bossy.

Rating: 4/5

The Evil Wizard Smallbone is the story of two wizards, who are pretty much destined to fight each other, and the events that lead to their confrontation, prominently featuring a boy apprentice who (of course) significantly assists in the defeat of the villain. It features an interesting take on magic that I really enjoyed; elemental magic is certainly not anything new but the way Nick learns it was entertaining and were my favorite parts of the book.

The world was tightly crafted, though a little confusing at times. Sherman is a good storyteller, which helped to smooth out some of the more awkward bits of world building, though I still raised my eyebrows a few times. For example, there’s really no explanation as to why Nick already believes magic is real even before he goes to Smallbone’s—and if he doesn’t think it’s real, he’s awfully calm when things get strange. Furthermore, Nick’s cousin seems to take it in stride that there’s a magical shape-shifter who can change him into a coyote with a pelt; in fact, he doesn’t even seem surprised by the fact that he can change into a coyote at all. There’s a few other things that are rough around the edges that Sherman hand waves away, but the latter are the most prominent examples that I can think of. Let’s just say that I found the characters’ reactions to things suspect.

However, I did really enjoy the plot aspect even if I found Fidelou to be an annoying villain. I liked that the focus was mainly on Nick and learning magic, rather than on Smallbone and his confrontation with Fidelou, and even though the lead-up to the confrontation was a little abrupt, it came to a satisfying, if not wholly unexpected conclusion.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone has a few problems in worldbuilding, but overall it’s satisfying, entertaining, and interesting in a lot of its magical elements. Nick is a good protagonist; Smallbone is the quintessential grumpy old wizard but it’s a trope I love so I liked his character. The other characters were memorable as well, though I could have done without the mundane biker gang. Sherman is a solid writer, though some of her skills need a little work.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Very good indeed. You’re an inspired liar, Foxkin. You don’t embroider unnecessarily, you give just the right details, and you know when to stop.”

Nick put on his best innocent look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fox by name, fox by nature.” Smallbone stared at him through curls of foul-smelling smoke. “You can’t fool me, you know. So you’d better not try. Now,” he went on, “it just so happens that I could use an apprentice.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2gR8GYo

The Tasters Guild by Susannah Appelbaum

The Tasters Guild, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2010 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Hollow Bettle.

After the perilous adventure of The Hollow Bettle, the dark reign of the Nightshades is over at last, and a new day has arrived in Caux, a land long ruled by poison and deceit. The ancient Prophecy—the coming of a Noble Child to cure the one, true King—has finally begun. But fear still grips the people of Caux, for they live in the shadow of the powerful, poisonous Tasters’ Guild. Sequestered high within its corrupt walls sits Vidal Verjouce, the Guild’s diabolical Director, his dark magic more potent than ever. Eleven-year-old Ivy, famed healer and Noble Child, and her friend and taster Rowan must venture inside the Guild itself if they are to find the door to their sister world, Pimcaux-and fulfill the Prophecy. But a deadly weed-once thought extinct-threatens their journey: scourge bracken, a plant dedicated to domination and destruction, also known, ominously, as Kingmaker. Who else has detected it? And will Ivy’s remarkable gift—her dominion over plants and nature—be enough to thwart it?

Rating: 2/5

The Tasters Guild is a decent follow-up to The Hollow Bettle, with more revelations (including a rather obvious one that at least the characters admit is obvious), some interesting plot mechanics, and a more established sense of danger and threat. Just like the first book, I still started on the fence about whether or not I would actually enjoy the book. I liked the first one enough to read the second, but now that I know what to expect in terms of style and voice, that gave me more opportunity to reflect on other things, such as characterization.

There are some prominent weaknesses of The Tasters Guild. For one, it highlights even more how absurd and rushed the ending of the first book is. There’s a whole lot of handwaving going on and I still don’t buy what happened as a plausible or realistic option. Once I noticed that, I noticed how specifically tailored the chapters in the book are to deflect attention. The beginning of each chapter is always a distraction, either through the use of filler or switching points of view in order to avoid explaining important details. I actually grew quite irritated with the way the chapters are structured. At least twice during the novel, some things happened that needed more explanation, but instead—chapter break, viewpoint switch, convenient hand waving.

I may get the last book just to finish out the trilogy, since I do think there is some promise yet even though I grew quite frustrated with The Tasters Guild. I still like the characters, even if both Rowan and Ivy seem to make the same mistakes over and over, and there were some plot developments that I thought were interesting that I would like to see resolved. I’d have to bear with the irritating chapter structures and the glossed-over worldbuilding and plot mechanics, though, and I’m not sure I’d end the trilogy in a very good mood if that’s the case.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Dumbcane has somehow come upon scourge bracken, and it, beyond anything else, must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Vidal Verjouce, or—”

“Or what?”

“Or all of Caux’s green earth will be reduced to ash. There will be no Prophecy to fulfill, no Doorway to Pimcaux.” Cecil walked over to Dumbcane’s window and upended the dead potted plants to illustrate. “Just blackness and destruction.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yY7IR1

Wildwood by Collin Meloy

Wildwood, by Collin Meloy, was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray.

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird. You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands from “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it. And this is where the crows take her brother. So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the mist of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends finds themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Rating: 2/5

Wildwood is a Narnia-esque fantasy novel that plucks unsuspecting children from their world into the midst of a world they knew nothing about. Meloy does this through a mysterious forest on the outskirts of Portland that Portia and her friend Curtis are drawn into when Portia’s brother is abducted by crows. Along the way, they encounter anthropomorphic animals, birds, and humans, as well as the White Witch—I mean, the Governess.

I wasn’t particularly enthralled by Wildwood—in fact, the book bored me. I did manage to finish it, if only because I want to make progress on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, but I didn’t like it much. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’ve read books that use the tropes better. It’s not so similar to Narnia as I made it sound, but it’s hard not to think of Narnia, or Oz, or something similar, while you’re reading this book. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I didn’t consider it to be. It was just a little bit too tame for me and not nearly magical or wondrous enough.

Wildwood really lacked the “wow” factor for me. It interested me enough to be able to finish it without much grumbling, but nothing about it amazed me or wanted me to get the next book to find out more about the magical world revealed in the book. If Meloy was trying to draw on Narnia vibes for this novel, he failed spectacularly. It’s not a bad book, or badly written, but it failed to engage me. Also, I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans in fantasy, to be honest, Narnia aside, so perhaps that’s why Wildwood fell so flat.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Birds? What birds?”

“The birds that kidnapped my brother. Crows, actually. A whole flock of ‘em. A murder. Did you know that? That a flock of crows is called a murder?”

Curtis’s face had dropped. “What do you mean, birds kidnapped your brother?” he stammered. “Like, birds?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2g8pMkA

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan, was published in 2013 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Lost Stories.

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his person demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

Rating: 3/5

The Royal Ranger is a good, albeit not entirely necessary, ending to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It has a tight plot, the same memorable descriptions and hijinks (although toned down a little bit), lots of character development, and introduces a female Ranger. Starting with plot, the main thread of the story was clear and developed well. It perhaps wasn’t as epic in scope as the stand-alone plots of Erak’s Ransom or The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but since the book is massive, there’s quite a lot of meat to it. It’s convenient that the person Will was looking for just so happened to be so heavily involved, but let’s chalk that up to Flanagan being reluctant to leave things uncertain (and prevent even more page length).

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly necessary. It’s nice to see the old heroes “all grown up,” but since Madelyn’s training is practically the same as Will’s (though Flanagan realizes this and does a few things differently) and since this is clearly not a reboot of the series I don’t really understand why Flanagan felt the need to tell this story. Unless fans were begging him for a female Ranger and this was the result. I really don’t feel like a continuation was necessary; The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a fine finale and the series really didn’t need a “20 years” later addition. (Also, how does Will have “steel-gray” hair? Assuming he was 20 in Emperor, that would make him 40 in this one, which is normally not a time when someone has completely gray hair. And his dog is still alive, which seems to say it’s been less than 20 years, which would put him in his 30s.Unless he prematurely grayed because of all the stuff he’s done. Or he was way older in Emperor than I thought).

I also found myself missing certain characters. The book focuses only on Will and Madelyn, with the other familiar characters only showing up at the beginning and end. The absence of Horace and Halt really stood out, as there was much less humor and verbal sparring.

I liked The Royal Ranger, but I found it unnecessary and a bit of a setback. After 10 books, I really don’t need Ranger training and technique explained to me again. There was also less humor and I really missed Horace and Halt. Madelyn was a good character, but as Flanagan doesn’t seem to be planning to reboot the series, she’s also an unnecessary one.

I’ll be reviewing more Flanagan, and I haven’t decided if it will be the prequels to this series (The Early Years) or if it will be Brotherband. I think I might take a break from Halt and Rangers and hang out with Skandians. Brotherband will be a nice change of pace.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“[Will] needs to take on an apprentice,” [Halt] said.

They all turned to look at him. The idea, once stated, seemed so obvious. Both Horace and Pauline nodded. This was what they had been getting at, without realizing it.

Gilan looked hopeful for a few seconds, then shook his head in frustration.

“Problem is,” he said, “we have no suitable candidates at the moment. And we can’t offer him someone substandard. He’ll simply refuse to take on someone who’s not up to scratch and he’ll be right. I won’t be able to blame him for that.”

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

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, was published in 2001 by Hyperion.

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius, and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit. These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous. Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them…but then they stop playing by the rules.

Rating: 1/5

I loved Artemis Fowl when I was a kid. I read every book except for the very last one, which was published after I had moved on to other genres. So, I was excited to reread this series and relive my enjoyment of them, or at least see what had attracted them to me.

To be honest, though, I really didn’t like the book at all. I’m not sure why I liked it so much when I was younger (probably still developing my sense of what I like in books), but it absolutely irritated me now. I hate the penchant a lot of male authors have for detailing things like guns/weapons, fighting, and technology in general in absurdly minute detail (I say male authors because I’ve only seen this writing style in male authors). I really don’t care what type of gun Butler carries or what its force is when it hits an object. I really don’t care what the name of Holly’s gun is or what it can do. Sometimes I can ignore things like that, but those sorts of details were so central to the book that I couldn’t.

The humor is also profoundly kiddish, which may have been what I liked about them as a kid. Now, as an adult, I find it grating. None of the humor in the book made me laugh. I can see that Colfer thinks he was being very clever with his development of the fairy world, and maybe he is being clever, but it did not appeal to me at all. I have no interest in finding out more about the world.

I’ve enjoyed rereading a lot of the books I read when I was child, but Artemis Fowl is one I did not like revisiting and have no wish to continue with the series. The writing style, the humor aimed at children, and even the world and story itself irritated me. I suppose not every childhood favorite can be an adulthood favorite, and Artemis Fowl certainly misses the mark by a long shot.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“Captain Short!” he roared, mindless of her headache. “What in the name of sanity happened here?”

Holly rose shakily to her feet. “I…That is…There was…” The sentences just wouldn’t come.

“You disobeyed a direct order. I told you to hang back! You know it’s forbidden to enter a human building without an invitation.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2x340Gk

The Hollow Bettle by Susannah Appelbaum

The Hollow Bettle, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2009 by Knopf.

There’s little joy left in the kingdom of Caux: the evil King Nightshade rules with terrible tyranny and the law of the land is poison or be poisoned. Worse, eleven-year-old Ivy’s uncle, a famous healer, has disappeared, and Ivy sets out to find him, joined by a young taster named Rowan. But these are corrupt times, and the children—enemies of the realm—are not alone. What exactly do Ivy and Rowan’s pursuers want? Is it Ivy’s prized red bettle, which, unlike any other gemstone in Caux, appears—impossibly—to be hollow? Is it the elixir she concocted—the one with the mysterious healing powers? Or could it be Ivy herself?

Rating: 3/5

As I started The Hollow Bettle, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to enjoy it. It seemed the type of quirky that I don’t like, the type of quirky to cover up mediocre plot and characters, the type of quirky that seems self-indulgent and unnecessary.

However, as the story wore on, I started to enjoy myself more and more. The world is pretty interesting, and even though the major plot trope is unoriginal, the setting and the characters themselves are intriguing enough to carry through. I wasn’t really a fan of the bouncing viewpoints or the narrator interposing his/herself for the sole purpose of suspense, but Ivy and Rowan grew on me over time, even if some of their fights started and ended abruptly.

The ending of the book was also good, if just a teensy bit convenient and a whole lot confusing. I’m not sure if the events warranted what happened and the thing with King Nightshade at the end was particularly difficult to swallow, if only because it seemed so abrupt and didn’t seem to follow from the events that occurred. However, Appelbaum manages the difficult task of both wrapping up the book and also leaving lots of things in suspense, without relying solely on a Wam! cliffhanger ending.

The Hollow Bettle is a little bit amateurish and clumsy, especially in terms of the plot and occasionally the interaction between the characters, but it is interesting and, eventually, endearing despite its flaws. The quirkiness grew on me and the end of the book was decent enough to make me curious to see what happens next. It’s not the most brilliant or the most groundbreaking fantasy out there, but it is interesting.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“But, Axle.” Ivy couldn’t hold back. “You said that the Good King Verdigris created great things, things to marvel at. This is just a doo! Show me this Rocamadour place! Got any drawings of that?”

Rowan bristled at the mention of the dark city of the Guild and thought how he’d be quite happy staring at either side of a plain old door instead. He looked in closer.

“Ah, Ivy. You are right—it is just a door. But there is an important question you need to ask yourself.” Axle sighed.

“May I?” Rowan was hoping to turn back the page to get a better look at the first image. Axle nodded and continued.

“What do you think of when you see a door?”

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

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Emperor of Nihon-Ja.

They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.

Rating: 2/5

I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.

As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.

My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.

The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”

Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”

Gilan looked up quickly. “You knew him?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2wmP7zW

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor, was published in 2016 by Katherine Tegen.

Eleven-year-old Perry T. Cook shouldn’t be living in a prison; he has committed no crime. Perry was born and raised at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C. So far, Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. Anyone who knows about the arrangement is quietly okay with it. But when Perry is discovered by the new, ambitious district attorney, Thomas VanLeer, everything changes. Forced to foster with the VanLeer family, Perry lives on “the outside” but feels trapped. His mom’s parole hearing is just weeks away, but the rule bending that allowed Perry to stay with her could mean she’ll get more prison time. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest to learn the whole truth behind their Blue River story. But will the facts help them or hurt them? Can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?

Rating: 5/5

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook has a premise that’s hard to buy, but is filled with so much heart, charm, and lovely moments that Connor (who acknowledges the lack of realism) gets away with it. Perry is sweet at the right times and strong at the right times, and although I’m not a huge fan of “kids know better than adults” trope, it works well here—because, let’s face it, sometimes the innocence of kids is exactly what makes them better able to handle and/or know certain things than adults.

Besides Perry, the adult characters in the novel are all fully fleshed-out. I was especially happy that VanLeer, the “villain” of the novel, was also three-dimensional—his motives are understandable, his failings are understandable, and Perry’s thoughts about him at the end of the novel are spot-on. Brian Morris, the other “villain,” also gets some dimension to his character, though his is not explained as well.

The only thing I’m disappointed in is that the resolution that I wanted to happen with Perry and his father didn’t happen. I suppose it’s understandable, and it’s probably more realistic this way, but I did want to see something there. However, Connor’s message running throughout that entire plot thread was a good one, showing how far someone will go to protect the ones they love and that sometimes, as time passes, the importance of setting things right/meting out proper justice is not as important as saving loved ones. Through Perry’s mother, Connor shows us that, just as Perry and his mother have no regrets, neither should we, the readers, have any regrets as to the revelations and outcomes of the novel.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a charming, heartwarming novel, chock-full of interesting characters and important messages. Perry’s sweetness is nicely tempered with his bouts of anger at his and his mother’s situation, VanLeer is understandable and relatable in his role as “villain,” and the rest of the characters get their own little moments to shine in ways that minor characters often don’t have. The novel did not end as I hoped it would, but upon reflection, it ended in the way that was best for what Connor was trying to say.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“You may know, I’m the Butler County district attorney,” Mr. VanLeer says. “Funny thing about that,” Big Ed says. “I always thought the DA was supposed to work for the people. And here it seems to me that you’re working against these people.” He fans his hand toward Mom and me.

“Well, I believe I’m righting a wrong in this case,” Mr. VanLeer says. He is still smiling and nodding. “Which brings me to my business. We all know why I’m here.”

“Here to take away our Morning Son,” Big Ed says.

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