book review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

I finished Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith several weeks ago, but I wanted to take some time to think about how I wanted to review it.

This book is about a misfit boy who finally feels at home when he starts attending a magical school.

If this sounds like Harry Potter, that’s because there are many similarities between Ewan Pendle and Harry Potter.  Ewan doesn’t fit in with the other children because of his ability to see monsters and is often bullied by his foster siblings.  Like Harry, Ewan is an orphan.  However, instead of living with an aunt and uncle, Ewan has been passed from foster home to foster home until Enola, the Grand Master at Firedrake Lyceum, takes him into her care. There are hints throughout the book that perhaps Ewan is known to some people in this new world, as Harry was famous in the wizarding world.  There is a Master at the school who seems to strongly dislike Ewan, as Snape disliked Harry.  Unfortunate events happen to Ewan, often outside of his control, that land him into trouble, just as Harry had a penchant for getting into mischief at Hogwarts.  The similarities don’t end there.  The white wraith conjures memories of the dementors.

This book is an okay book, but it could be a good book.  The magical world of Ewan Pendle was interesting, the characters were likeable, but I found myself thinking that this book needs a good editor.  It took me a little while to get into the story because of the repetitive descriptions.  There were some inconsistencies in the story, too.  First, the Does (Ewan’s foster parents at the beginning of the book) have four foster sons, besides Ewan.  The four pick on Ewan and though the Mr. and Mrs. Doe are not nasty to him specifically, the reader is told that he is their least favourite foster child.  Given the unwelcome behaviour, it is a wonder that Ewan is so hesitant to leave their care.  Another inconsistency has to do with Ewan seeing monsters.  He first starts seeing them at age 5 and the book states that having been passed off from foster home to foster home due to his babbling about monsters, Ewan quickly learned not to tell anyone about them.  Ewan himself is perplexed by why he is bandied about, but blames his special ability.  However, if he has learned to keep his mouth shut about the monsters, why is he being passed around yet again if his foster parents and siblings have no knowledge of his special ability?  Why are his foster brothers bullying him?

I think that readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Charlie Bone series would also enjoy this book.  Be warned that this book is the first in what will be a series, but there are no plans for the release of the second book yet.  The end of this book contains an impassioned plea from the author  to help with funding so that he may finish writing the next book .

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a complimentary copy of this e-book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

This book seems to fall into that magical realism category, right next to The Underground Railroad.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle is an odd and quirky blend of realism and fantasy.  The first part of the book was somewhat realistic, describing Apollo’s life from the mysterious disappearance of his father, Brian, to the struggles he faced being brought up by a single mother.  I was starting to think that the “changeling” was a metaphor.  Nope.  The latter part of the book was where everything became very strange with witches, trolls, and real changelings.

The problem that I have is that there are such serious issues brought up in the book in  realistic scenarios , but when you throw in trolls, it just doesn’t work for me.  It’s  as though those fantasy creatures detract attention from the very serious issues.  I don’t have a problem with monsters and magic in general and I quite enjoy fantasy books.  For me, the blending of the real world and the fantasy world just didn’t quite work.  As a reader, I felt cheated.

That being said, the book is well written and I was very interested in the story.  The author did a great job of portraying strong characters while still showing that they had flaws.  I enjoyed most of the story.  The eye rolling came in with the appearance of the witches and the changeling.

I lean towards liking this book because of the characters and would hesitantly recommend it to people who enjoy books like The Underground Railroad.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review e-copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book will be published June 13, 2017.

book review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

I procrastinated about reviewing this book because I wasn’t quite sure that I liked it.  The book started out strongly – there were 2 points-of-view.  The present was told by a bard and the past was told by the main character, Tea.  It’s obvious that something serious happened because the beginning of the book reveals that Tea has been banished to an island by herself.  I enjoyed the writing style, but I wish there had been more substance to the book and less of the airy descriptions.

There were also some holes in the story that didn’t make sense to me.  First, I didn’t understand how Tea was able to accidentally resurrect her brother, Fox, from death.  Supposedly, she has magical powers, but later in the book, in the descriptions of asha training, ashas (witches) have to draw ruins, sometimes using their own blood to create spells.  How does one accidentally draw ruins when one doesn’t know how to do it?  It occurs later on in the story, too, but with some sort of stone that amplified Tea’s powers.  I also didn’t understand the point of the heartglass.  Everyone has a heartglass (from what I can gather, some sort of stone) that changes colors according to their moods.  If you love and trust someone completely, you can exchange heartglasses with them, but it makes you vulnerable if they no longer love you at some point.  It’s also supposed to make  ashas weaker not to have their heartglass.  If you lose your heartglass and you don’t care about the person that you gave it to, you can have another one made for you at great expense.  It seems ridiculous to me.  You’re not born with these heartglasses attached to you so why bother going through the expense in the first place if it makes you vulnerable?  The book said that only really wealth people could afford to have another heartglass made.  How did the average person obtain a heartglass in the first place?  Maybe I missed something in the story that explained this?  It seemed like there were too many magical things going on in the story that the author couldn’t even keep track of them all.

I also didn’t understand some of the societal descriptions in the book.  People feared Bone Witches because they practiced “dark” arts.  Dark, in this case, means that they bring things back from the dead.  If they fear them, why would they call them Bone Witch, which is considered a derogatory term, instead of dark asha?  Throughout the book, there’s a hint that dark ashas are somehow bad, but they’re the ones protecting everyone from the daevas (monsters), at great personal risk.  The author said in the book that people fear and hate people they need.  That may be true of some people in a group, but I can’t see a whole society behaving like that.  Even if it were true, why would someone who was so useful and powerful need to dress up and entertain rich people at parties?!?

As if it weren’t enough that Tea has to face people who hate her and awful monsters, she also has to face an enemy known as the Faceless.  The Faceless appear to have strong powers, but we have no idea why they’re trying to harm everyone.  There’s no explanation about why some people have power and some don’t.  There’s no explanation about why some people are born with more power and others aren’t.

This leads me to my biggest problem with this book – it started a bunch of interesting characters and possible story lines, but then it never went anywhere.  I kept waiting for explanations or something and there was just nothing.  Fantasy books still have to make sense within the scope of that fantasy world.  I felt like this didn’t.  The ending of the book was supposed to be a cliffhanger to make the reader excited about the sequel.  I just felt disappointed that I read an entire book that was basically just a confusing prologue.

I don’t think I could recommend this book to others.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

book review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale was a book that I found hard to put down.  The characters were interesting, the plot was creative, and the writing was a mix of mythology and fantasy.  The book addressed Russian fairy tales, but it in itself was a fairy tale.  The writing style had a slight dream-like quality to it that is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s books, and yet it felt unique.  Katherine Arden did a magnificent job of spinning her world.  It was hard to tear myself away from her world.

The basic plot is that the main character, Vasilisa (Vasya), uses her special ability to see spirits to try to save her people.  Vasya’s mother dies giving birth to her and she gets a stepmother (Anna) who, while able to see the spirits, fears them.  The differences in their reactions to the same ability defines their personalities and their lives.  Vasilisa accepts her ability, talks to the spirits and befriends them while Anna shrieks and faints and tries to get rid of the spirits.  There is a bit of a clash between the old world versus the new.  The “new” is represented by Christianity and the “old” is represented by the old spirits.  The book doesn’t say that one is better than the other, but it does say that ignoring one for the sake of the other may have unintended consequences.  This is evident in the priest that comes to live in Vasya’s village and what happens to him towards the end of the book.  Maybe the author is trying to say that the old ways are part of our heritage, part of what makes us and therefore abandoning them is a bad idea?

Even if you don’t get any message from the book, the characters themselves, whether they were main characters or minor characters (other members of Vasya’s family), were interesting and well-developed.  The book itself was a pleasure to read just for the sake of reading.

The only people I would hesitate to recommend this book to would be ultra conservative Christians, just because they may be offended that the book deals with old spirits.  If you don’t mind that and can just appreciate a work of fiction, you should definitely read this book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-copy of this book to preview in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.  This book will be published January 10, 2017.

 

Book review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage by Vic James presents an interesting look at what happens when some are born with abilities and some are not.  This book is the first in a series and takes place in an alternate England where people who are born with magic are part of the elite, ruling class whereas people who don’t have magic are common citizens.

This book won’t be released until February 2017 so I don’t want to give the plot away.  Instead, I’ll discuss what I found most interesting about the book – the social dynamics between the two classes.

At some point in their lives, all commoners are required to serve 10 years as a slave.  During those 10 years, they have no rights.  Commoners may request assignment at a certain location, but otherwise have no say in where they will be.  Some are assigned to what amounts to labor camps.  Others may get assigned to serve in an aristocratic family, which sounds like it would be better than labor camps … except that, since they are slaves and have no rights, there are no rules or punishment for mistreatment or commoners.  For commoners, the big decision is when to serve out their 10 years.  If they serve it while they’re young, they will most likely survive, but may be maimed physically or emotionally.  If they wait until they’re too old, they won’t be able to survive the harsh demands of the physical labor.

While they are slave, if they don’t perform satisfactorily, they may have years added to their sentence.  If they do something really bad like murder someone, they may receive a life sentence of servitude.

Interestingly, people who have no magical powers but are born to a family with magical powers seem to be exempt from the 10-year servitude requirement.

Obviously, no one wants to become a slave for 10 years so why would they agree to it?  The answer is that the magical people could force them.  The actual magical abilities are somewhat of a mystery, but there are rumors of mind control, moving objects, destroying objects, making things appear, deleting memories.  Those with magical abilities don’t want to spend their whole time quashing rebellions so they give commoners some freedom.  Getting to choose when they become a slave is one of the freedoms.  When they are not slaves, they are considered citizens and have rights, similar to what we have today.  They may own property, be protected from harm by police, etc.  There is just enough “give” there to keep the commoners intent enough.

The book follows a family of commoners as they begin their sentence.  The family consists of Mom, Dad, Abi, Luke, and Daisy.  Abi is an intelligent 18-year-old who was accepted to medical schools.  However, she turns down her offers to serve her time with her family.  Abi requested that they all be assigned to an aristocratic family so that they could be together.  Abi’s request is approved, but approvals means little once you become a slave with no rights.  Luke is a few years younger than Abi and is bitter about having to give up the prime years of his life in slavery, but understands that his parents wanted to keep the family together.  Daisy is the baby of the family.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), this book is part of a series so it does end on somewhat of a cliffhanger.  Just a warning that you’re going to have to wait a while before the next book is released.  I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the other books in this series.

I received a complimentary e-book from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

 

book review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a re-telling of Cinderella, but in this version, Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic in a dystopian futuristic society.  Earthlings are dying of a plague called letumosis, for which there is no cure or vaccine.  In addition to thousands dying from letumosis, Earth is in a precarious truce with its neighbors on the moon, the Lunars.  Upon hearing that the Emperor of Earth contracted letumosis, the Lunar queen contacts the young prince, eager to get him to agree to her terms for a peace treaty.  Lunars are reported to have unusual abilities to manipulate or control others’ perceptions and thoughts so Earthlings are suspicious and afraid of Lunars.

Cinder suffered from a car accident in which her parents were killed when she was young.  This explains her cyborg leg and other parts.  She goes to live with a guardian who contracts letumosis shortly afterwards.  Her guardian is taken into isolation so she is left with his wife as her new guardian.  This new guardian plays the role of the wicked stepmother, not wanting Cinder around and treating her as a freak for having cyborg parts.  Cyborgs, in general, are treated as second class citizens in this society so Cinder has a double whammy, being both an orphan and a cyborg.

I think just about everyone knows the Cinderella story, but the story is predictable beyond that, too.  Even though the “cliffhanger” ending didn’t reveal any surprises, it was still a fun read because readers can’t help but to root for the skillful and mistreated mechanic.

This book is geared towards teens and is part of a 5-book series called the Lunar Chronicles.  The other books in the series are: Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and Winter.

book review: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in quite a while.  (This is saying a lot since I’ve been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman!)  The very first paragraph describes a girl walking on a road having just committed the murder of a police officer.  The book keeps drawing you in after that.

The writing was wonderful.  The plot and characters were thought out and well-developed.  There are many characters and they all have distinct personalities without being caricatures.  I’m actually struggling with how to write this review because I’m worried I won’t do it justice.  I don’t want to sound trite, but I really, really liked this book.  It is a longish book, but reading it, you hardly notice.  You can’t help but care about the characters and what is happening to them.  Usually, when I read books, I’m not very surprised.  With this book, the plot and the characters were so creative that they surprised me.  It wasn’t a whimsical, dream-like plot – it was so smart!

Here’s the general plot line:  Carolyn is a young woman who has grown up at a “library” with her Father.  Her Father appears to be some sort of god with special powers and the library is full of scrolls that teaches people how to gain these powers.  Carolyn has several adopted brothers and sisters – David (violent, warrior), Michael (gets along with beasts), Jennifer (healer, with the power to bring people back from the dead), Peter (mathematics), Margaret (walks in the land of the dead), Rachel (has ghost children), and there were a few more but these are the main ones.  Her Father trained them harshly, punishing them for disobedience cruelly.  Carolyn and her siblings are forced out of the home where they grew up and their Father goes missing.  They have a love/hate relationship with they Father – he is the caregiver they remember (being adopted at about the age of 8, they don’t remember much about their biological parents), but he was so cruel in his training of them that they fear and hate him.

Warning: slight spoiler alert

 

 

 

 

The book is about Carolyn’s journey.  She goes from innocence to a hardened person and eventually has to learn to become an enlightened person.  She is a planner, cautious and secretive.  She has some help along the way from two regular people – Steve and Erwin.  Steve, Erwin, and some others (but saying who would give too much away) end up being Carolyn’s reminder of humanity.

Read this book!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Book reviews: Neil Gaiman

I have been reading quite a bit of Neil Gaiman’s works lately so I thought I’d do one post for several of the books.  In addition to the three books I’ve reviewed previously (Coraline, Neverwhere, and American Gods), I have read Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Graveyard Book.  Anansi Boys is about siblings whose father was a spider god. Separated at birth, one of the boys takes after his father, both wielding powers and with a penchant for being a playboy.  The other is a typical person without any powers who has memories of being tricked and embarrassed by his father.  When the two siblings meet, there is rivalry between them, and there are outside forces that are out to harm them in order to get revenge for the things their father had done.  The book has similar themes to Gaiman’s other works – an average person thrown into extraordinary circumstances, forced to deal with supernatural forces and beings.  At the heart of this story is what true power is and knowing yourself enough to know that true power lies within.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is perhaps my favorite book of all the Gaiman books I have read (it’s a pretty close call between this one and American Gods).  This book has a dream like quality and, as a reader, it’s hard to know what is really happening.  The book drifts between the present and the past.  A man remembers his friendship with a household of supernatural beings and how the girl in the household disappeared after helping him.  He revisits the house and meets the mom and grandmother, both unchanged.  There is a little twist at the end of the book, but I don’t want to give anything away.  It is beautifully written.  If you are only going to read one Neil Gaiman book, I would recommend reading this one.

The Graveyard Book is about a baby whose family is murdered.  The baby accidentally crawled off just before the murders took place so he ends up being the only survivor.  He is adopted by a group of ghosts other supernatural beings at a graveyard.  He is granted limited powers while he is in the graveyard and grows up under the tutelage of a motley crew of ghosts, a witch, a vampire, and a werewolf.  It is a sweet book (despite the name) about acceptance and being different.  It reminds us that, no matter what we do in life, we will all end up dead so we should make the most of our lives.  It also questions what is good and what is bad, who is good, who is bad.

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

As you can tell from my last 3 reviews, I’m on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick.  American Gods is, on the surface, a story about a man (Shadow) who encounters different gods.  Some of the gods are old gods from mythology that we are familiar with – Odin, Horus, Bast, etc., – and some of them are ones that Gaiman has created (the god of television, technology).

In this story the two sides are headed towards an epic battle to see who will come out on top.  You could view it as the battle between the old world and the new world.  Our world has changed so rapidly with all of our technological advances that there’s a clash between the values that our ancestors brought with them to America and the values that we are developing in today’s wired society.

This is at the heart of what the book is about – it’s about America.  The proverbial melting pot, in this case, consists of gods and how we worship.  Fading, and almost forgotten, are the old gods who required sacrifices while the new gods gain power.

Shadow is asked to pick sides.  At times, both sides seem to be harming him.  At times the book is disturbing (sacrifices), but it has Gaiman’s recurring theme of alternate or between-worlds.  While there was no above or below world, Shadow does, at one point, travel to an in between where most people can’t see him.

Coins are another theme in this book.  Shadow likes to do tricks with coins.  He constantly performs coin tricks throughout the book.  He also receives special coins – first a gold one and then a silver one.  The coin tricks are symbolic of how the gods deal people and with each other.  Gaiman mentions several times that Shadow has to palm the coins and draw attention away the hand with the coins.  Wednesday does the same thing in his money scams.  He does it at a convenience store and ends up not paying for gas.  He does it at restaurants.  He also describes more ruses that follow the same principle to Shadow.

Spoiler warning – don’t read the next part if you haven’t read the book.

In the end, the reader learns that it’s all a false dichotomy.  It’s never a clear cut either/or situation.  It’s up to us to choose the third option.  We don’t need to forget about our past to adapt to our present or our future..

Book review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

As promised earlier, here is a review of an adult book called Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  It’s a fantasy fiction book that has great characters and an engaging storyline.  I’m really enjoying Neil Gaiman.  He has such imaginative stories.  It’s not your typical magicians and dragons fantasy fiction book.

Similar to Coraline, this book involves the protagonist (Richard Mayhew) being transported to a parallel universe.  This universe is place that is described as being the “cracks” and “forgotten areas” from our world.  For example, the London fog/mist has mostly disappeared due to better laws about emissions, but in alternate world, they still get the occasional fog/mist.  Once transported to this world, people from London Above (real/normal world) don’t always see or recognize you.  I really liked how this was done in the book – it’s almost as if people are forgotten in London Above once they become a part of the parallel universe.

The characters are great.  Richard Mayhew is a very normal person, not very capable, but basically has a good heart and manages to get by.  There’s also a bodyguard called Hunter, a girl named Door (who can open doors), the Marquis of Carabas (the roguish, likable character), an angel, two pretty darn sadistic bad guys, and some mysterious dangerous beasts & other dangers that aren’t always named.

The book was well written and it was incredibly imaginative.

After reading the book, I found that it had been made into a television series (or maybe it was written for television first?).  I’ll have to see if I can get a copy of it.