The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs

The Curse of the Blue Figurine, by John Bellairs, was published in 1983 by Dial Books.

Whoever removes these things from the church does so at his own peril….Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the lord. Remigius Baart. Little does Johnny Dixon know when he takes a scroll inscribed with these words—along with a seemingly harmless figurine—from the town church that his life will be changed forever. On a bleak and stormy night his friend Professor Childermass relates the tale of mad Father Baart, whose ghost is said to haunt the church. And when Johnny unthinkingly returns there and accepts a magic ring from a mysterious stranger, he is plunged into a terrifying adventure—realizing too late that the tale of Father Baart is not just a legend, but the horrifying truth.

Rating: 2/5

The first book I ever read by John Bellairs was The House with a Clock in its Walls, which I tried to find at my library but, sadly, they didn’t have. I had to settle for The Curse of the Blue Figurine, which I’d read when I was a child (along with most of Bellairs’ other works). From what I remember about The House, I do think I prefer that book to this one, but I think if I reread The House I might have a similar opinion of it as I do The Curse of the Blue Figurine.

The horror element is done very well; it’s creepy and dark and there’s appropriate sights and smells and all those things that go into a good horror book. Professor Childermass is quite a funny character, and his grumpiness is the comic relief in what would be an otherwise dark novel.

I don’t have many problems with the plot; it’s simple but effective, and it makes for a simple, effective horror story. Some of the things that Johnny does that are probably more on the “why would you ever do that?” side of things are covered very well—like why in the world he carried the book out of the basement at all, or took it home with him.

The main problem I had was the writing (surprise), which I found clumsy and simplistic. I guess I should have been prepared for that, and I do realize that I am most picky on writing style, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Also, there is quite a glaring error in the book, where several times the characters say things like, “In the Bible, it says that Moses’s body was carried away by angels.” Not sure if that was a common belief in the 80s or if Bellairs was using some Jewish tradition and conflating it with the Bible, but either way, I laughed when I read it.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Horror elements.

Genre: Supernatural, Horror, Middle Grade

The inside of the book had been hollowed out. Only the outer part of each page was left. And in the hole that had been made were two things: a small rolled-up piece of yellowish paper tied with a faded red ribbon, and a strange little blue ceramic statue. The statue was shaped like an Egyptian mummy case. It had staring eyes and a tiny beaked nose and a smiling mouth and a scrolled goatee. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast in the Egyptian style. Apparently the mummy was supposed to be the mummy of a pharaoh, because it held in its hands the crook and the flail, the symbols of kingly power in ancient Egypt.

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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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Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson was published in 2012 by Shadow Mountain.

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

Rating: 4/5

You would think, with Blackmoore being so enjoyably bad, that I would avoid more books by the author. There’s only so much enjoyable nonsense I can take, after all. However, something compelled me to pick up another book by Donaldson (maybe because I saw that my library carried it). And, I must confess, I ate up Edenbrooke and its angsty romance even more than I love-hated Blackmoore.

Plain and simple, I enjoy romances like Edenbrooke’s. I delight in the angsty “I love him but he couldn’t possibly love me” type of self-denial that’s found in this book. I mean, it does tend to make the heroine seem a little dense at times, but there’s something about this particular romantic archetype that I enjoy every time I encounter it. And it doesn’t matter how poor the rest of the book is—I would read it simply because of that one element.

To be honest, though, Edenbrooke really isn’t all that bad. It was actually much better than I was expecting, and it lacked a lot of the contrivance that Blackmoore had, though there were some random parts that stretched the bounds of believability a little. I highly enjoyed every minute of it—I even teared up a time or two. It’s certainly not classic literature, but it’s far from the sort of trashy romance novel you’d be embarrassed to be seen reading. Edenbrooke was good enough that I might keep my eye on Donaldson to see what else she has up her sleeve.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction

I lifted my chin, feigning dignity. “I was hiding so that I would not be seen wet and muddy.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You were wet and muddy? Before you fell in the river?”

I cleared my throat. “I fell in twice.”

He pressed his lips together and looked off in the distance, as if trying to regain his composure. When he looked at me again, his eyes were brimming with laughter. “And may I ask how you came to fall in the river the first time?”

My face burned as I realized how silly I had been, how childish and inelegant. Of course, he already knew those things about me from my actions at the inn last night. Singing that song! Laughing, and then crying! And now falling into a river! I had never been more aware of my faults than I was at that moment.

“I was, er, twirling,” I said.

His lips twitched. “I cannot imagine it. You must demonstrate for me.”

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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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Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?

My rating: 3/5

Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.

However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.

But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.

Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kRVy6z

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 Sisters of Sugarcreek by Cathy Liggett

Disclaimer: The Sisters of Sugarcreek, by Cathy Liggett, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Lydia Gruber, a young Amish widow, faces an uncertain future. Without support or skills, how will she survive? With the loss of her beloved aunt, Jessica Holtz inherits Rose’s Knit One Quilt Too Cottage. Though determined to keep the sop open, she doesn’t know the first thing about knitting and quilting and begins to see her aunt’s dream slip through her fingers. Liz Cannon lost not only her dear friend Rose but her partner in the Secret Stitches Society—dedicated to delivering anonymous gifts of hope to troubled folks. She and Jessica decided to keep the society going, choosing Lydia for their first mission. The three women form an unlikely friendship in the aftermath of tragedy. As they walk together though triumph and heartbreak—through grief and new chances at love—they begin to discover that with friends by your side, a stitch of hope can be found anywhere.

My rating: 2/5

The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good in places, with interesting characters, realistic conflicts, and slightly-too-heavy-handed messages poking their heads out from plodding scenes, predictable romance, and a particularly annoying writing style. It dwells too long on angst and romance and not long enough on the deeper parts of the novel, such as Lydia’s uncertainty. To be honest, if Lydia had been the only main character, and thus the only viewpoint character, in the book, I might have enjoyed it a lot better.

Lydia’s story was, to me, the most interesting, but it often was set aside for Jessica’s boring and predictable romantic angst—I am heartily sick of the “best friend from high school was The One but she hasn’t seen him in years and now he’s back and she doesn’t know what to do because she still likes him but she doesn’t want to tell him so they dance around the subject forever while she keeps thinking about how perfect he is” trope—and Liz’s less interesting side plot. Also, I definitely think the secret behind Lydia’s husband was dealt with too quickly and brushed aside almost immediately. Or perhaps, since Lydia was my favorite, I just wanted more time spent with her and less time with the more unoriginal characters of Jessica and Liz and their plots.

Also, I don’t know why any editor would let an author get away with this, but seriously, Cathy Liggett—dependent clauses are called “dependent” for a reason. Sisters of Sugarcreek was littered with sentence fragments used for description purposes and/or emphasis, but all it accomplished was break up the writing and make it choppy and disjointed. All it emphasized was that Liggett needs a copy of The Elements of Style, or maybe stop relaying on the breaking up of sentences to do her emphasizing for her.

Overall, The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good only for Lydia’s sadly underdeveloped storyline, which communicates so much about uncertainty and growing out of that into confidence. However, Jessica and Liz cut into Lydia’s story with generic, predictable plots of their own, with love interests too perfect for me to take seriously (especially Derek; Daniel at least wobbles at the end for a decent “not perfect” finish) and slightly melodramatic conversations and problems. Add to that the author’s propensity for using fragments for descriptive purposes, and for most of the book I was looking forward for it to be over.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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

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.”

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

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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