Quick Pick Reviews #5

The theme for this set of Quick Picks is that of Magical Realism. These books are about kids who live real lives, but there is some sort of magical element that appears.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Odessa Again // by Dana Reinhardt

{0F0CBFDF-EAE8-45E0-9405-6D224FD326B2}Img100 Odessa’s mom and dad are newly divorced and that means a lot of changes for Odessa and her brother, Oliver. Her new attic bedroom gives her the ability to allow for her change things about her day. I like the magic in this book and also the realism. In some ways this book was trying to be a little Parent-Trap. (And I love The Parent Trap movie!) But I like how it ultimately didn’t quite go that route with the happily-ever-after ending. Not that the ending was miserable. Just… realistic.


All the Answers // by Kate Messner

61v2HSzjk9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What would you do if you found a blue pencil that gave you all the answers to your questions? That’s exactly what happens to Ava. She starts with answers to math questions, but then she goes on to asking some tough questions. At first, I wasn’t sure about Ava sharing this knowledge of the pencil with her best friend, Sophie. But I soon realized that Sophie was able to get Ava to ask some crazier questions than she’d normally have done. And then, I liked how it came to Ava asking some crazy questions herself… especially the question about cancer.

The only thing I didn’t really like was the revelation of how the blue pencil works. To me, this is unnecessary. It brought me out of the story. If there is some magical element in a story, I don’t need an explanation, I should accept it on its own terms.


Joplin, Wishing // by Diane Stanley

Joplin, wishingJoplin inherits a mysterious broken platter from her grandfather. She has it pieced together, only to discover that the little dutch girl in the pattern, Sofie, has come to life. I liked this book well-enough. Joplin and Barrett make a nice team. And I really liked the neighbour, Chloe. I almost wished there were more of her. The “antiques dealer”, Lucius Doyle, makes a good antagonist. And the fact that he’s been around for a long time is really fascinating. And creepy. I didn’t “like” him, but I did like how he was portrayed. (Note: The ending was a little weird to me regarding how they solve Sofie’s problem. It felt like it didn’t quite belong in this book… more realism than magical.)


Advertisements

Review: The Crown’s Fate

Crown's FateBook: The Crown’s Fate
Authors: Evelyn Skye
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Sequel to The Crown’s Game… Vika is the Enchanter for Pasha, the Tsarevich-soon-to-be-Tsar. And Nikolai? He has been banished to a shadow-state. But now, he’s out to snatch the crown from Pasha. A whole new duel is put into place to see who will ultimately wear the crown. And Vika is caught in the middle.

**NOTE: This review is FULL OF SPOILERS for both The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate.**

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was glad the Nikolai was dead-dead. I like how he was turned into a shadow-creature, similar to the “mask” he wore when they started the Crown’s Game in the first book. (However, at times, it was really hard because his personality is SO different from the last book. See section below…)

2) I actually liked Vika better in this book. Not that I didn’t like her in the last book. But, this book definitely made me cheer more for her. I thought the band on her arm, forcing her to be at the beck and call of Pasha, a necessary plot point. All magic in these types of books MUST have some drawback. This is Vika’s thorn.

3) Yuliana. I hated Yuliana. And then I liked her and admired her. And then I hated her again. And then I liked her. She is such a conundrum for me.

4) The Decemberist Plot. I really liked how the author was able to fit in some historical Russian events, like the Decemberist Plot. As I was reading, I was trying to figure out how she was going to make it all work out with the fictional elements.

5) The Ending: The Good. There are things I love about the Ending and things I hated. My fairy-tale-happy-ending heart was very pleased overall with this ending. Vika and Nikolai will work together as Enchanters. Yay! (Unfortunately, it’s not all good. See below…)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was expecting a few things to play out. Like the volcano? They mention Vika’s mother in the first book in connection with the volcano, but I didn’t feel this was played out in this book. In other words, why mention it in the first place?! Let Vika’s parentage remain more mysterious. Not knowing anything is sometimes stronger than knowing it, but it never goes anywhere plot-wise. (And, no, taking us to the volcano in a dream doesn’t qualify as being important to the plot. That scene really could have taken place anywhere.) Note: Compare this to Nikolai’s backstory with his mother. Now that is key to the plot!

2) Opening scene in the Kazakh Steppe. Again, I was expecting this to somehow play out at the end. Did I miss something? Vika does this cool freeze-frame thing, but that’s it. We don’t hear about it anymore. Why???

3) After his father’s death, why is Pasha NOT considered the Tsar? In other royal circles, where it’s clear who is next in line for the throne (in this case, like Pasha, the son of the late Tsar), the heir is immediately considered to be the new monarch from the moment of the death of the old monarch. This doesn’t “wait” until the coronation. The coronation just confirms this. Now, granted, my knowledge of royal protocol comes from the British royal system. The statement announcing the death of George VI in 1952 was: “The King is dead. Long live the Queen!” The Queen, of course, being his daughter, Elizabeth II. Her coronation didn’t happen for over a year later, to give the people time to both mourn the death of their king (and her of her father), and prepare for the celebration of a new monarch. Maybe it’s different in Russia???

4) Not sure I fully believed in Nikolai’s sudden lust for the throne.

5) The Ending: The Bad. As mentioned before, there are things I love about the Ending and things I hated. I’m not sure I believed the Ending. I’m having trouble imagining in my mind the scene where Nikolai suddenly realizes what he’s done to Vika as he and Pasha rush over to her poor, unconscious body… And everybody just stands there? All 10,000+ of them? Waiting and watching as Nikolai does his thing with the hand (which made me think, Oh, so Vika’s like Luke Skywalker now!)… This time of reconciliation and forgiveness and understanding seemed to come too easily. Why didn’t this happen earlier? Why is this happening in front of a huge audience of Russians? When it comes down to it, I just didn’t believe it.

6) As I was reading, I predicted that Nikolai would not die in the end. (I was right.) But, I also predicted that Pasha would die. (I was wrong.) I primarily made this prediction based on Nikolai’s name. Because I knew there was a Nicholas I of Russia during this time period. I checked, and yes, Nicholas I does indeed succeed Alexander I in 1825. So, I was surprised that Evelyn Skye did not have this play out! All she had to do was kill Pasha. (Not by Nikolai’s hand, of course. That would have been awful!)

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I am probably being generous with this rating. It’s not as good as the first book, but I did find it an engaging-enough read. Since Nikolai is my favourite character in the book, I did find this book hard to read at times because he was so… different. And dark. Very dark.

Review: The Crown’s Game

The Crown's GameBook: The Crown’s Game
Authors: Evelyn Skye
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: It’s 1825 and two Enchanters are being groomed to help the Tsar Alexander rule Mighty Russia. But the Tsar can only have one Enchanter. This is where the Crown’s Game comes into play… Which will pit Vika against Nikolai in a deadly duel that neither of them asked for.

WHAT’S COOL

1) I must say that I really liked both Enchanters as soon as I met them. Usually, you’re drawn to the first protagonist you meet, but somehow the author pulls this off with BOTH her protagonists. Although, if I had to pick, I think I liked Nikolai slightly more. I liked his style of magic. (Maybe it was the putting the books in order at the library that tipped the balance!) Not that I didn’t like Vika. I liked her, too!

2) I liked the contrast between the Mentors: Sergei and Galina. Sergei is definitely more likeable, but I like how Skye humanizes Galina towards the middle/end of the book. Of course, being such as she is, she still has a trick up her sleeve that serves the plot. And ultimately, she comes off as self-serving.

3) Pasha and Yuliana. I generally liked Pasha, the Tsarevich. I definitely liked the friendship between him and Nikolai. Although I thought he was a little stalkerish when it came to Vika. Regarding, Yuliana. When she first comes into the story, I thought I would like Yuliana, but her character just went downhill for me. (Which is one of the reasons we have the ending of the book that we do. So, this is not necessarily a bad thing.)

4) Very cool how Evelyn Skye was able to incorporate some real Russian history into the book. (I’m glad she put the historical notes at the end, including where she deviated. Of course, this is historical fantasy, so don’t expect things to be super historical.)

5) I looked forward to seeing how each Enchantment would play out. In fact, the closer I got to the end, I actually forced myself to stay up (past my bedtime) to finish the book. I wanted to find out what happens!

WHAT’S NOT COOL

1) Some of names I thought were a little odd. Like Renata. I’ve never heard this name in connection with Russia and, frankly, it doesn’t seem like a Russian name to me.

2) I felt there were a lot of characters to keep track of. Almost too many. I’m not sure some of them were necessary… like Renata. Or even Ludmila.

3) For some reason, I didn’t like the overt Cinderella connections in the story. Like the glass pumpkin and the bakery called the Cinderella Bakery. It was too much “in your face”. I would have preferred a more subtle approach. (The masked ball was more subtle.)

4) The Ending. As I was reading this, I thought “This is a 4-star read!” And then came The End. Sigh. I’m not sure how it should have ended but, this ending was a let-down for me. I want to like it. I like the idea of the nobleness of what happens at the end. Here’s to hoping that the second book is able to revive this rating back to its 4-star place. (UPDATE: You can read my review of The Crown’s Fate here.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book had a bit of a Hunger Games vibe to it… albeit with an historical, Russian theme running through it… With magic, of course. I liked The Hunger Games, so this was a plus for me. (So close to being 4 stars!)

The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

Review: The Wizards of Once

wizards-of-onceBook: The Wizards of Once
Author: Cressida Cowell
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Xar is a Wizard (but without magic) and Wish is a Warrior (with a magic sword) in a place where Wizards and Warriors are taught to hate each other. Brought together, they form an odd team against a deadlier threat. The Witches, thought extinct, are back.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Xar and Wish are likeable, but also have their own quirks (and at times can be unlikeable!) I like that Xar is not just a copy of Hiccup. He shares some attributes with Hiccup, but he’s different enough.

2) I liked how Wish’s eye patch comes into the story. (I won’t spoil it.)

3) I really like the talking raven, Caliburn. I love his philosophy and his wisdom. Great character!

4) As with How to Train Your Dragon, the illustrations in the book are wonderful and unique. They add the extra oomph.

5) I like how the parents in this series are not quite the bumbling idiots from HTTYD. I respected them. I even feared them (especially Wish’s mother: Queen Sychorax). Yet, the children each seek approval and love from these parents, which ultimately humanizes them.  (Note: I noticed in the early HTTYD books, Cowell portrays her parents as 2D buffoons. But then in the later books, especially during the dragon rebellion, this changes slightly. I wonder if she rather regretted this earlier characterization?? And with this new series, I’m guessing she wanted to start with a different tone.)

6) The Witches make for a formidable foe. I like how she ties the plot points together. When we finally meet the Kingwitch, I was like: Yeah, that makes sense.

7) The Unknown Narrator is a nice touch. I have my guesses, but I can’t/won’t say for sure yet. I’m assuming this is something that will play itself out as the series continues.

8) I don’t like cliffhanger books. I like a book to have its own ending. This book has that! Yay! But, it’s also lets you know that there’s more to come. (Which is a good thing. Because now I am excited for Book 2, which probably won’t be out for a year and a day. But I’m cool with that.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t too crazy about Squeezjoos, the little baby sprite. He was a little too much like Toothless-meets-Jar Jar Binks. I like Toothless. I don’t care for Jar Jar.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Which is a high rating from me. (Rarely do I rate a book 5 stars.) This book is definitely written by the author of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has enough differences that it is its own book/series. I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I’m glad to say, it passed the test… with flying colours! 🙂