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1. Review and Giveaway: Prince’s Fire by Amy Raby

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I have had an eye on Amy Raby’s  Hearts and Thrones series since the first book, Assassin’s Gambit, came out last year.  When I had the opportunity to hop on the review tour for book 3, Prince’s Fire, I jumped.  I really enjoyed this book, and it wasn’t a hindrance that I dove into the series three books in.  I never felt lost, and all of the characters were introduced in ways that didn’t leave me wondering about their relationships with each other.  As soon as I get a chance, I am going to read Archer’s Sin, a novella featuring two of my favorite characters from Prince’s Fire. 

 

Prince Rayn is visiting Kjall to work out a trade agreement.  He is expected to fail miserably by his political enemies back home in Inya, so he’s surprised when he’s offered the hand of the imperial princess to strengthen the ties between the two kingdoms.  Inya is a smaller nation comprised of thousands of islands.  Weak militarily, Inya does have something that Emperor Lucien desperately wants; brimstone.  With the means to produce gun powder, Lucien believes that he will have the weapons to deter more wars for his kingdom.  He wants nothing more than to live in peace, leaving the warlike traditions of his father, Florian, far in the past. 

Rayn is mistrustful of the offer, and he doesn’t want to trade the brimstone to the Kjallians.  He’s still holding a grudge against Lucien’s father for murdering his aunt, and he refuses to listen to his advisor when he’s counseled to accept the princess as his bride.  She’s the daughter of a murderous lunatic, so surely her sanity, as well as Lucien’s, isn’t to be trusted.  This turns out to be an ironic position for Rayn to hold, because his own father is suffering for mental issues that are having an adverse effect on his own nation. 

Rayn’s refusal to see beyond Celeste’s father’s behavior irritated me to no end.  After meeting her, his impression of her was that she was shy and intelligent, but he would not forgive her for her father’s actions.  Since she was a young girl when Florian was terrorizing the world, it wasn’t like she could have intervened on behalf of the nations he was destroying.  It took Rayn better than half of the book to forgive Celeste for something that she had no control of, and I found that frustrating.

Celeste is a very intelligent woman.  She’s also suffering from a low self-esteem, thanks again to being the daughter of the emperor.  Kidnapped by one of Florian’s rivals, she was forced to marry him, and suffered from his abuse until Lucien rescued her.  Celeste wants to do nothing other than study her beloved mathematics, but when her brother suggests the union with Rayn, she’s intrigued by the handsome prince.  She’s hurt that he can’t forgive her for her lineage, but so be it.  If he refuses her, she’ll continue work on her math treatise and mend her wounded heart with the comforting nature of mathematics.

When an attempt is made on their lives, they are thrown together in a struggle for survival.  Thrown off a ship in the middle of the sea, they manage to make it to shore with the help of their magic.  Rayn is a fire mage, and he keeps them warm in the frigid water with his powers, while Celeste is a mind mage, who can compel creatures, like the shark that takes them to land, to help them.  I thought their magic complimented each other, and while I didn’t completely understand all of the nuances of the magic system, I found it interesting and I would like to know more about it.

As the attempts on Rayn’s life continue, the other thing about him that I found annoying surfaced.  In Inya, bodyguards are a sign of a weak king, and they aren’t employed, while in Kjall, they are part of imperial life.  This reinforces his poor impression of both Celeste and Lucien.   Rayn refuses to have bodyguards, even though it’s obvious that somebody wants him dead.  This, to me, was just another example of Rayn’s immaturity.  Dude!  The Land Council has made no secret that they are out to enrich themselves, at the expense of both your people and your family, so you need to get over yourself and do whatever is necessary to protect your kingdom! Argh!  Some people are just slow learners!

Well, it’s a good thing Celeste was around to give Rayn a helping hand.  She is obviously going to be the brains of the relationship!  After uncovering the plot to end Rayn’s life, Celeste decisively moves to save Rayn’s life, despite his rejection of her.  She steals her brother’s ship with the help of his wife, Vitala, and off they go in a desperate attempt to save the prince’s life, and his kingdom, too.  I guess if Rayn had been a little quicker on the uptake, the novel would have only been half the length, so I will try to overlook his stubbornness and inability to think outside of the box.

These minor quibbles aside (victim blaming is such a hot button for me), Prince’s Fire is an enjoyable, sexy read.  I’m looking forward to reading more stories set in Amy Raby’s Hearts and Thrones series.

Grade:  B

 

Prince’s Fire

Hearts and Thrones #3

By: Amy Raby

Releasing April 1st, 2014

Blurb

The imperial princess has been offered in marriage to the Prince of Inya as part of an alliance needed to ensure Kjall’s military prowess. And despite having been hurt in the past by men using her to gain power, Celeste finds herself falling for the passionate fire mage.

Prince Rayn has no intention of allying his country with the militaristic Kjallans. But his political enemies at home may be the greater threat. The princess’s beauty and intelligence catch him off guard, throwing an unexpected and dangerous hurdle in the way of his plans.

As a deadly political plot threatens Rayn’s life, the attraction between Celeste and Rayn ignites into a sizzling affair. But to save her people and herself, Celeste will have to discover if Rayn’s intentions are true or risk having her love burn her yet again….

Link to Follow Tour: http://tastybooktours.blogspot.com/2014/01/now-booking-tasty-review-tour-for_6800.html

Buy Links

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Princes-Fire-Hearts-Thrones-ebook/dp/B00F9EZCMI

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/princes-fire-amy-raby/1116934331?ean=9780451417848

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/princes-fire/id709600981?mt=11

Author Info

Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horses. Amy is a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist and a 2012 Daphne du Maurier winner.

Author Links

Website: http://amyraby.com/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/Amy.Raby.Author

Twitter: @amyraby

Excerpt

Celeste followed her older brother, Emperor Lucien of Kjall, down the sun-drenched pier at the docks of Riat. Shielding her eyes, she gazed at the Inyan ship Magefire which rode at double anchor in the harbor. It looked like an interloper among the heavy Kjallan warships. Its masts were higher, its lines sleeker, its hull paler in color.

Sailors and dock workers moved aside to clear a path for them. The emperor was an infrequent visitor to the docks. He moved at a brisk walk, limping almost imperceptibly on his wooden leg, his eager eyes fixed on the barrels rowed in earlier this morning.

Beside Celeste gamboled a large black and white dog, who darted longing glances at the ocean waves that lapped at the sides of the pier. And on all sides were the Legaciatti, their bodyguards and security staff.

“You’re going to love this,” said Lucien. “A stone that burns.”

Celeste smiled; she knew his real reason for dragging her out here. Celeste wasn’t naturally sociable except with a few trusted people. She had a tendency to lock herself with her work in her rooms, where the hours slipped by faster than she intended. Her brother interrupted her now and then, when he thought she needed sunshine and conversation.

The dock guards before the barrels stood straight and stiff, awed by the presence of the emperor. Lucien studied the label of the first barrel and signaled the nearest guard to open it. Celeste ran forward to see its contents revealed.

Inside was a bright yellow powder. Celeste scooped up a handful and let it sift through her fingers. “This isn’t stone.”

“It’s brimstone.” Lucien dug into the substance and cupped a handful of it, staring reverently as if it were powdered gold. “It’s been pulverized into this powder. Do you know where the Inyans gather it? Along the edge of a volcano.”

“What poor sod gets stuck with that job?” She had no personal experience with volcanoes, since there were none in Kjall, but everyone knew a volcano had destroyed the nation of Dori.

“A well-paid sod, I hope. But Inya’s volcanoes are more manageable than Dori’s. The Inyans have a system for controlling them. Ask the prince about it when you meet him.”

Celeste was trying not to think about the prince. He’d come in the Magefire to negotiate a trade agreement with Kjall and had brought the barrels of brimstone as a demonstration of good faith. What the prince didn’t know was that Lucien wanted more than a trade agreement. He wanted an alliance, and to secure it, he meant to offer Celeste’s hand in marriage. Celeste had never met the Inyan prince, and in a matter of months, he could be her husband.

Scooping up a double handful of brimstone, she asked, “Does it really burn?”

“Absolutely. Come and see.” Carrying his own handful, Lucien gestured her to follow. The black and white dog wagged its tail beseechingly, and he addressed it. “Oh, just get in the water, Patricus. Everyone knows you want to.”

With a joyous bark, the dog leapt off the pier and splashed into the ocean.

As they walked the length of the pier, passing by the staring dock workers, Celeste cradled the powdery treasure in the folds of her syrtos to shelter it from the breeze. At the end of the pier, they descended a wooden staircase to a sandy beach.

Lucien found an open space with nothing flammable around and, with the foot of his wooden leg, dug a crude hollow in the sand. “In there.”

Celeste poured her brimstone into the hollow, and Lucien added his. Though the brimstone had a consistency similar to the sand, it was a brighter yellow.

Lucien took Celeste’s hand and backed away from the hole, drawing her with him.

A bit of movement caught her eye—a dark shape appearing and disappearing among the white froth of the breakers. “Don’t light the brimstone yet. Patricus is coming.”

“I see him,” said Lucien.

Patricus burst from the waves and loped up the beach.

“He’s sopping wet,” said Lucien. “Shake it off, Patricus!”

The dog kept coming. His feet sank into the soft sand, but he pumped his legs and scrambled on, sending the sand flying out behind him.

“Shake it off!” Lucien commanded.

Patricus galloped to Lucien and shook, spraying sand and seawater all over him.

“Pox this animal.” Scowling, Lucien brushed sand off his imperial syrtos and turned to the Legaciatti, who were covering their faces to hide their grins. “Where were you? Some security detail.”

“We don’t interfere with the imperial dog, Emperor,” said one of the Legaciatti.

Lucien muttered to Celeste, “I don’t get half the respect Florian did.”

“They love you. Everyone does.” This was not true, of course. Lucien had numerous enemies. But Celeste felt that if those people truly knew Lucien, they would love him as much as she did.

Lucien grabbed Patricus by the scruff and gestured to the fire mage in his security detail. “Light the brimstone, Jasper.”

The fire mage waved his hand, and the yellow powder ignited.

Celeste gasped. The flame was blue. “Three gods, that can’t be right. It’s unnatural. Like a Vagabond fire.”

“It stinks like the Vagabond’s breath.” Lucien waved away the smoke.

Celeste got her first whiff of the fumes and choked. He was right; the burning brimstone smelled like something rotten. She backed away and so did Lucien, dragging Patricus with him.

Lucien beamed like a delighted schoolboy. “Have you ever seen the like?”

Holding her nose, Celeste shook her head.

“Only the gods could devise something so strange and wonderful. No wonder it’s needed for making the most important substance in the world.”

“Chocolate?” said Celeste.

Lucien gave her a look. “Gunpowder, as you well know. Put the fire out, Jasper.” When the fire was out, he released Patricus, who fell into step at his side, wagging his tail. He offered his arm to Celeste, and they headed to the carriage, followed by the Legaciatti.

“Where are the Inyans?” asked Celeste.

“Up at the palace,” said Lucien. “They’ve had a long sail. They need to rest, freshen up. So do we, I think, after that brimstone.”

“I wish you had told the prince in advance that you were going to offer him my hand.”

“And spoil the surprise?” Lucien grinned. “Trust me, it’s better he should see what he’s getting. If you can’t sell this alliance, no one can.”

Celeste shook her head. Lucien thought the world of her, but he was her brother and obviously biased. She was not as pretty as he suggested. “When will you make the proposal?” Her stomach knotted at the thought of seeing her potential marriage partner for the first time at a formal event, with everyone’s eyes on her. She’d heard a few things about the prince: that he was twenty-two years old, a good match to her own age of nineteen, and handsome. Those were points in his favor, but they were surface traits and told her little about whether she would be happy with the man. Or whether he would be happy with her.

“I don’t care for official presentations,” said Lucien. “The last one I attended turned into a fiasco. Instead I’ve arranged a small dinner party. You and me and Prince Rayn, plus a few officials to balance things out and keep the conversation flowing. What do you think?”

She let her breath out. “That sounds less intimidating.”

They had arrived at the imperial family coach, an imposing blue-and-gold conveyance which comfortably seated six and was drawn by a quartet of matched grays.

Lucien took her hand and squeezed it as he lifted her into the carriage. “Courage, sister. It will all work out.”

Giveaway ($10.00 Amazon or B&N Gift Card or Paperback Copy of PRINCE’S FIRE to Two Winners)

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2. Magelica’s Voyage Book Blast with Louise Courey Nadeau (Giveaway)

About the Book

Magelica's Voyage by Louise Courey NadeauTitle: Magelica’s Voyage | Author: Louise Courey Nadeau | Publication Date: August 24, 2013 | Publisher: Kite Readers | Pages: 48 | Recommended Ages: 5 to 10

Summary: Who ever heard of a girl being hatched from an egg the colour of sapphires? Magelica doesn’t know where she came from or who she really is. But when she’s transported to the Isle of Dreams in a flying bathtub, she launches into an adventure of discovery, and learns that wonderful things can happen when she uses her imagination, believes, opens her heart and trusts in love. Come fly with her and discover for yourself the power of imagination,gratitude,believing in yourself, and love! In this special first voyage, fantasy, adventure, magical illustrations, empowering messages, and a wonderful cast of enchanting characters come together as Magelica takes young girls and the special people in their lives on a fun, inspiring voyage about making your life magical.

* Available in English / French / Spanish *

 

Purchase

Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback) | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

 

Book Trailer

The Buzz

“Magelica’s Voyage is an inspiring, magical tale of a world that I did not want to leave. The author’s imagination takes off with vivid magical characters transformed into beautiful illustrations that your child will love. At the Isle Of Dreams anything is possible including Wally the wizard, the benevolent queen, Odin and even a Warblegrif. In the Festival Of Cheer the message is clear; just be yourself and let love be your guide. When you open this book you’ll instantly discover that magic is indeed in the air.” ~ 5 Star Review, StevieV, Amazon

“This is a wonderful, enchanting book! The story is so imaginative and the illustrations are beautiful! It is delightful to join Magelica on her adventure to the Isle of Dreams, and it is great to see such a positive, confident heroine. I highly recommend this book!” ~ 5 Star Review, Laurie J., Amazon

“Magelica is easy to love; a child who accepts herself as she is but who questions the very world around her, is someone many children will be able to relate to. Give this wonderful story a try- you won’t be sorry you did.” ~ 5 Star Review, Shelley V., Amazon

“Magelica’s Voyage by Louise Courey Nadeau is a beautifully written enchanting tale filled with alluring adventure. The story is magnificently illustrated, from the winsome depiction of Magelica to the creative Isle of Dreams, the authors gifted imagination is prevalent on every page. I found Magelica’s Voyage to be a charming story with a very special message for all. I highly recommend picking up a copy..” ~ 5 Star Review, Stacie T., Amazon

“I purchased the book in August and since then, my 2 kids request to read it for them every single time. I travel and I have to read it over FaceTime to them as they do not want to miss when their mom is unable….Same Timezone has helped. I recommend it to every kid between the age of 3 until 9 whether it is a girl or boy. The energy when reading it is indescribable. I bought 2 versions (the english and the spanish). Both are well made and I recommend it to every parent that cares about how their children should be raised! Great buy and thank you for the author.” ~ 5 Star Review, Hassan, Amazon

 

About the Author: Louise Courey Nadeau

Louise Courey Nadeau

Louise Courey Nadeau

A marketing and advertising executive, a tireless fundraiser for many charities, a painter, gardener and mother to two daughters and two sons, Louise’s passions keep growing. Sensing the need to do more for young children in our challenging world and inspired by life itself, Louise created MAGELICA, a young girl with fairy blood and her own questions about life. In the first book of Magelica’s Voyage trilogy, Louise takes our winged heroine along with her fun and wacky friends to new worlds of magic and adventure, where the reader discovers the magic of life and the power of love and how faith in the unknown can create confidence and a sense of empowerment . More than a decade in the making and with new stories underway, Louise and MAGELICA intend to spread their magical feathers and create a bond with children and their caregivers around the globe.

Book Website | Twitter | Facebook

 

* Book Blast Giveaway *

Amazon 25 gift cardAmazon 25 gift card

 

 

 

 

Prize: Two winners will each receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)

Contest ends: May 2, 11:59 pm, 2014

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Louise Courey Nadeau and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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1 Comments on Magelica’s Voyage Book Blast with Louise Courey Nadeau (Giveaway), last added: 4/4/2014
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3. A Rainbow of Birds by Janet Halfmann

rainbow

Papa Cardinal tells his chicks a story of how birds gave the world the rainbow in a story that has been passed down through generations.

A Rainbow of Birds by Janet Halfmann is a vibrant story of color that celebrates the tradition of storytelling. In this imaginative idea that capitalizes on legends and the ancient art of storytelling, children find a fanciful and fun story of how birds came together–sometimes after a squabble–to create the world’s first rainbow. In her trademark habit of educating and entertaining, Halfmann has included fun facts about rainbows, the magic of leprechauns, and rainbow activities and crafts.

Artist Jack Foster has truly outdone himself with the vibrant and occasionally zany characters depicted in this story. I always enjoy Foster’s work, but this book is so stunning it warrants special mention. Coupled with Halfmann’s delightful text, I could imagine and almost hear the story taking place through my office window.

Nature lovers, lovers of legends, and those who enjoy books where storytelling plays a role will want to snatch this one up right away.

Highly recommended!

Rating: :) :) :) :) :)

 

Paperback: 20 pagesrainbow inside
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc; large type edition edition (February 15, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616334622
ISBN-13: 978-1616334628

 

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.


4 Comments on A Rainbow of Birds by Janet Halfmann, last added: 4/1/2014
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4. The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book

Do you think there is an age at which you’ll stop reading aloud to your children?

Have you already reached that stage?

Why might you keep reading to an older child who can already read themselves?

These are some of the questions I’ve been contemplating as part of a discussion, initiated by Clara Vulliamy, about reading to big kids. I’ve also been thinking about books which I think work especially well as read-alouds to big kids, kids who can read perfectly well themselves.

the-good-little-devil The absurd, magical, funny collection of tales which make up The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari, with illustrations by Puig Rosado, translated by Sophie Lewis are curious and intriguing, and make for especially interesting read-alouds to “big” kids.

Adults in these fairy tales are often foolish and fooled, children save the day, taking everything in their stride, there is great humour, wit and cheekiness, as well as the occasional tinge of gruesomeness. Plot twists and turns which might leave my grown-up sensibilities unsatisfied perfectly resemble stories children will tell themselves, with little psychology, minimal internal reason, but plenty of pace. Talking potatoes, giants and shoes in love, witches hiding in cupboards – this book is full of off-beat, silly and enjoyable stories.

But one of the reasons why I think this book works particularly well as a read-aloud, as a shared experience with an adult, is that the book – translated from the French – is full of richness and new horizons that are easier to explore with someone else along for the ride. The book is set in Paris, and has a distinctly Gallic flavour (from the illustration featuring a naked female chest, to a helter skelter ride through French history, via a strong, albeit often tongue-in-cheek Roman Catholic presence), and whilst the wackiness of the tales will be enjoyed by older children reading alone, I think lots that could be missed on a solo reading might be fruitfully explored and doubly enjoyed with a grown-up around.

Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

Perhaps this all sounds a bit worthy and educational, and that’s not at all what I’m aiming at. Rather, I’m thinking about to what extent books are enjoyed with or without (some) background knowledge. The language and style of writing in this book is perfect for say 9 year olds to read themselves, (and it clearly is enjoyed by lots of children, having been translated into 17 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold around the world) but my experience of it was that it was a book which became considerably enriched by sharing it.

Library Mice says: “The Good Little Devil and Other Tales is the one book I’d recommend to any child of any age, from any country.
Julia Eccleshare says: “Delightful trickery abounds in this collection of magical tales all of which are spiced with a sophisticated sense of humour and sharp wit.
The Independent says: “[For] Readers of all ages who appreciate a good story and a kooky sense of humour“.

A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices des Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices de Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

One aspect that my kids and I particularly enjoyed about The Good Little Devil and Other Tales was the discovery Gripari wrote these stories with children: Gripari created them along with kids who would sit with him outside his favourite cafe in Rue Broca, Paris in the 1960s. As Gripari writes in his afterword:

The stories in the collection were. thus, not written by Monsieur Pierre alone. They were improvised by him in collaboration with his listeners – and whoever has not worked in this way may struggle to imagine all that the children could contribute, from solid ideas to poetic discoveries and even dramatic situations, often surprisingly bold ones.

My kids were so excited by the idea that kids just liked them had helped a “real author” write a “real book”. It was an inspirational moment for them, and with a glint in their eyes they were soon asking how they could turn their stories into books.

And so it was I started to investigate ways to turn M and J’s own words and pictures, stories and illustrations into books of their own. I soon realised that I was not only finding ways to support my kids desire to write, I was also discovering ways to store all those creations of theirs I can’t bear to part with, as well as objects that could be turned into unique Christmas or birthday presents for family members.

Here are 7 ways to turn your child’s words and pictures into a book. Some of these approaches could also be used by classes or creative writing/art groups, to create publications that could be used for fundraising projects.

1. The slip-in book

displaybookStationers and chemists sell a variety of display books that can be adapted for self publication. Choose the size you want and simply slip in your pictures and text! Photo albums often offer greater variety of binding, and come in many more sizes, so these are useful if you want to include documents which aren’t a standard size. Display books typically have either 20 or 40 pockets, giving you 40 or 80 pages in total. Depending on whether there is a separate pocket for a title page, you can use stickers to give your book a title.

Advantages: Very easy to produce, and cheap. Minimal printing required, and no typesetting needed! Older children can make these books themselves as all it requires is for them to slip the original into the binding.
Disadvantages: Only one copy of each book can be made this way (unless you photocopy the originals).
Cost: £ (Display books in my local stationers started at £2.50, and photo albums at £5 for larger ones)
Ideal for: Storage solutions, one-off books.

2. Comb bound

Comb_bind_examplesMany local stationers offer a cheap and quick option using comb binding. For this option you’ll need to prepare your images and texts so that they can be printed (normally at A4/letter size, not at smaller or nonstandard sizes), and this may involved scanning images and a certain amount of typesetting. Once you’ve prepared your document, binding can be very quick (a matter of minutes), and because you’ve prepared an electronic copy you can bind as many copies as you’d like. It’s possible to buy coil binders (£100-£300) and this might be an effective option for schools.

Advantages: Cheap and quick, good for multiple copies.
Disadvantages: Can look a bit “cheap” (I think slip in books look more appealing; they can look like real hard back books), can be a little flimsy.
Cost: £ (comb binding at my local stationers – Rymans, for UK folk – started at £3.49 for 25 sheets, going up to £7.49 for 450 sheets). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
Ideal for: short runs of books at a low price

3. Glue bound

Image Source:  University of Birmingham Bindery

Image Source: University of Birmingham Bindery

Is there a university near you? If so, they will often have a binding service, aimed at students with dissertations, but open to the public too. If you’re looking for something which looks a little more like a paperback than a comb bound book, a glue bound book might be for you. Again, you’ll need to prepare your text and images so they can be printed, but once you’ve done that, you can print and bind as many copies as you like.

Glue binding (sometimes known as Thermo binding) is quick (often a while-you-wait) service, and you can often get your pages printed and bound at A5 size rather than A4 (making the finished product look more like a “real” book).

Advantages: Finished book can look quite a lot like a “real” book, which is very satisfying!
Disadvantages: Glue binding is considered “temporary” and so isn’t ideal for books which are going to be read very many times. Glue binding won’t work if you’ve very few pages in your book; most binders I’ve spoken to recommend an absolute minimum of 24 sides (12 pages).
Cost: ££ (glue binding at my local university was £7.50 per book). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
Ideal for: When you want a cheapish option which looks like a real book. University binderies are also often able to give some advice on typesetting and layout, so if you’re not confident about your skills in those areas.

4. Self published via Amazon’s CreateSpace

createsapceCreateSpace is a fairly easy tool to use to create paperback books. It has an extremely clear step by step process you can follow. There’s quite a variety of formats, both in terms of size, black and white printing or full colour, or cream paper instead of white (the former being better if you want to be dyslexia friendly, though this option is only available for black and white printing). To make your life much easier, you can download templates with much of the formatting done for you (for example margins set up correctly) – I’d definitely recommend doing this, though it isn’t a requirement. Once you’ve downloaded the template you’ll fill it in with your child’s writing and images, just like you would in a word processing document.

Both my kids have used the template and typed straight into it (rather than writing by hand and then me typing up their words). Adding images works just like it does in a word document, the only thing I’ve found you need to be careful of is making sure your images are of a high enough resolution. When you/your child has finished their document (perhaps with multiple stories and images) you need to upload your work as a print-ready .pdf, .doc, .docx, or .rt. CreateSpace then checks everything is ok before you go on to design your book cover.

You can order M's first book by clicking on this photo!

You can order M’s first book by clicking on this photo!

Advantages: The CreateSpace step-by-step guide is thorough and pretty easy to use. The resulting books have definitely had the “wow” factor with my kids.
Disadvantages: For a whole variety of ethical reasons you might not want to deal with Amazon. Everything is done online so you may want to think about personal details. M has used a pen name, so her real name doesn’t appear online, and if you were publishing work by children in a school you might want to consider only using children’s first names, especially if the name of the school also appears on the book you create (this is less of a concern if you don’t make the book available for the public to buy).
Cost: ££ The cost to create the book is nil. The final purchase price depends partly on page number and the use of colour (the more pages, and the use of colour make books more expensive), and whether you want to sell book at cost or to make a profit. M’s book (64 pages, 6″x9″, full colour) has a public cost price of £6.24 (although price is actually set in $). although as the author M can order copies at about half that price (though there are then postage costs to pay).
Ideal for: Producing books which really look like paperback books. Great if you want family and friends to be able to buy their own copy. You can also choose to publish your book in Kindle format.

insidequeneldasfirstbook

5. Self published via Lulu

lulu-logoI’ve yet to use Lulu, but Juliet Clare Bell has a really useful post on using Lulu in school over on Picture Book Den. Having taken a quick look at Lulu it looks quite similar to CreateSpace, although you can do hard covers, and A5 and A4 sized books (CreateSpace mostly does standard US Trade sizes, and doesn’t offer hardbacks.)

6. Using the Scholastic We Are Writers scheme

we-are-writersThe Scholastic We Are Writers scheme is specifically designed with schools in mind. It costs nothing for the school to set up and publish, thought each final book costs £5.99 (though you can sell it for more if you wish to make a profit) subject to a minimum order quantity of 50 books. A nice feature is that the books come with an introduction written by a leading children’s author (although this isn’t personalised to your school)

Advantages: You can run We Are Writers as part of your Scholastic Book Fair to earn Scholastic Rewards for your school.
Disadvantages: Not ideal if you just want a few copies of the book you create. Although the cover is full colour, the interior of the book is black and white only, so not ideal if you wish to include artwork. Books must contain a minimum of 50 pages.
Cost: ££
Ideal for: Schools wanting to create books which are text based.

7. Book Creator for iPad

bookcreator200pxThe Book Creator App makes ‘fixed layout’ e-books and is apparently very easy for kids to use to create books with lots of images. I’ve not used it, but here’s a series of case studies where it has been used in the classroom, and it would seem families at home could also easily use this app (free for your 1st book, then up to $4.99 for unlimited use).

My thanks to @candyliongirl and @sue_cowley for helpful suggestions when exploring options for creating books.

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Good Little Devil from the publishers.

3 Comments on The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book, last added: 3/24/2014
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5. The Magician’s Doll $25 Book Blast with M. L. Roble

About the Book

The Magician's Doll by M.L.Roble

Title: The Magician’s Doll | Author: M.L. Roble | Publication Date: February 2, 2013

Publisher: Independent | Pages: 320 | Recommended Ages: 10+

Summary

“They are stronger. They are coming. They will arrive!”

Life would be so much better for twelve-year-old Natalie if she and her mother weren’t different; other kids wouldn’t pick on her; she wouldn’t have to get into fights. She would have friends. But Natalie has abilities that set her apart, and despite her very best efforts to have a normal life, her developing “gift” has a way of upending them all. Then one day a big top circus rolls into town bringing with it Beausoleil the Magician, his daughter Louisa, and his mysterious doll. Strange things are afoot with Beausoleil’s arrival, and in his wake, an eerie storm is approaching. Soon Natalie discovers there is more to her world and the people around her than she knew, and that being different is just the tip of the iceberg… The Magician’s Doll sparks readers’ imaginations with a tale of magical discoveries, profound friendships, a fight against evil, and the growth that comes with facing your fears and accepting who you are.

Purchase the Book

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | The Book Bin

The Buzz

“The story of exceptional and gifted beings secretly living among us is timeless; this exhilarating book is an impressive treatment of that classic storyline. The writing is fast and clear, with a well-developed plot and perfect buildup of action and suspense.” ~ 5 Star Review, G. Wagner, Amazon

“This is perfect for kids of the middle grade age. It forces them to look at the way they treat each other and their differences. It makes them look at what true friendship is and what they would do in certain circumstances. I am sure this book was written to be a wonderful story, yet I find it is a great example of teaching kids something without them realizing they are learning I will definitely continue to recommend this book to parents and students.” ~ 5 Star Review, Sandra S., Amazon

“I am a eighth grader, and was told to read this book by a friend. I am a huge fan of fantasy and magic, and thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found it well thought through with colorful characters from a variety of backgrounds. The concepts and ideas are fresh and interesting, I especially enjoyed the idea of travel through maps, like Phillipe. I would DEFINITELY recommend this book to all my friends, and will do so as soon as possible.” ~ 5 Star Review, Eugenia, Amazon

About the Author: M.L. Roble

M.L. RobleM. L. Roble’s desire to write a children’s novel stems from the nostalgia of her own middle grade reading years where she first experienced books like “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Shattered Stone”. There have been different books and genres since, but those years fueled an enchantment for story that continues to this day.

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* Book Blast Giveaway *

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Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)

Contest ends: April 11, 11:59 pm, 2014

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, M.L. Roble and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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6. The Mythomaniacs by Jules Bass | Dedicated Review

The Mythomaniacs is well-suited to middle-school readers but is also sure to enchant younger readers as a read-along story. It is also a great stepping-off point for introducing readers to some of the great classics: such as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky and the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

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7. Review and Giveaway–Gilded by Christina Farley

Review:

I loved this book!  Gilded is a fun fantasy based on Korean mythology, and it has a ton of action, death-defying fight scenes, and even a little romance.  Protagonist Jae Hwa Lee is not a shrinking violet; she is out there giving back as well as she gets.  I think I enjoyed the book so much because Jae Hwa doesn’t wait for a guy to save her (though one does help her throughout her adventures), and because it takes place in South Korea.  There aren’t enough books with Asian settings, so I am eager to try each one that I discover. The fact that I had such a great time reading this is like winning the lottery.

 

After moving to Seoul with her father, Jae Hwa discovers, much to her dismay, that her family is cursed.  Descended from Princess Yuhwa, the oldest daughter of each generation has been stalked, wooed, and killed by Haemosu, a Korean demigod.  He is still smarting after Princess Yuhwa’s rejection, and he won’t rest until he has his revenge.  That, unfortunately for Jae Hwa, means that she and everyone she loves is in grave danger of being abducted by Haemosu and trapped in his otherworldly kingdom. 

Jae Hwa is a black belt, as well as a skilled archer.  It’s a good thing she is, because she needs every advantage if she’s going to escape from Haemosu’s clutches.  She’s also suffering from a lot of pent up angry.  Since her mother’s death, things just haven’t gone right for her.  Her father works all he time, and how she’s been uprooted from her home and her friends.  She doesn’t feel like she fits into her new surroundings, and she just wants to go back home.

Then her grandfather tells her that the only way to save herself and her new friends is to leave the country, so she begs for her father to send her back to the States.  He flatly refuses, and tells her that her grandfather has lost his mind and believes in fairy tales ever since the disappearance of his sister, Sun.  When she meets her aunt, Eun, her father forbids his sister from discussing the crazy story fabricated by their father about the disappearance.  Wow! Talk about being in denial!  Jae Hwa’s father would have saved everyone so much heartache if he had just opened his mind – as well as his eyes- and accepted that things just weren’t right with their family.

Of course Eun ignores the order, and begins to teach Jae Hwa how to defend herself from Haemosu.  She is warned to never let him touch her, because that will put her under his power.  While on a school ski trip, the unthinkable happens, and Jae Hwa is taken by Haemosu to his kingdom.  Only her stubbornness saves her from getting stuck there and being Haemosu’s latest trophy bride.  As they continue to battle, Jae Hwa’s learns that she has powers of her own, and she is going to go down fighting.

Jae Hwa’s only challenge is not being whisked away by a mythical demigod; she must also train to protect herself, while keeping up with massive amounts of homework.  Good luck trying to have normal friendships, too!  With spiritual beings constantly tampering with her life, she just doesn’t have time to hang out and go shopping or catch the latest movie releases.  And that cute boy in her class?  Forget that!  How can she possibly concentrate on dating someone when all she wants is to go back to LA?  Oh, yeah – and stay alive!

Gilded is like a Korean comic in prose.  Jae Hwa faces one challenge after another, all while trying to do what’s best for her family and friends.  She wonders if she should just give up and go to Haemosu, but then she realizes that the deadly cycle of the curse will continue, and more helpless girls will meet their doom in Haemosu’s kingdom.  I didn’t like her at first, but as she begins to find herself, and feel comfortable in her own skin, she becomes a very likeable young woman.  She is tasked with an impossible job, and as Haemosu keeps getting the best of her, she despairs at ever breaking the curse.  She makes some really dumb decisions, but with so many lives at stake, it’s easy to forgive her for not always displaying good judgment.

If you enjoy fantasy or stories based on mythology, chances are you will also enjoy Gilded.  The setting and unrelenting action scenes made this book for me. 

 

YA Fantasy

Release date: Mar. 1, 2014

A Korean god. An ancient curse. Can she escape becoming GILDED?

A girl with a black belt and a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows discovers an ancient Korean god has been kidnapping the first-born daughters of her family for generations. And she’s next.

Sixteen-year-old Jae Hwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting in to a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next.                                       

But that’s not Jae’s only problem.

There’s also Marc. Irresistible and charming, Marc threatens to break the barriers around Jae’s heart. As the two grow closer, Jae must decide if she can trust him. But Marc has a secret of his own — one that could help Jae overturn the curse on her family for good. It turns out that Jae’s been wrong about a lot of things: her grandfather is her greatest ally, even the tough girl can fall in love, and Korea might just be the home she’s always been looking for.

Hardcover: 978-1477847015

Paperback: 978-1477810972

Ebook: ASIN: B00FN2KR3K

Audio: 978-1480589278

Available at Amazon, BAM, IndieBound and Barnes and Noble

“An amazing contemporary fantasy that explores the vast legends of Korea, this richly detailed novel kept me turning the pages well into the night. Jae Hwa starts off as a strong character and ends as a noble one, using both her brains and her brawn to win the day–she’s exactly the kind of girl YA literature needs.”

~from Beth Revis, NY Times Bestselling author of Across the Universe series

“Farley brings South Korea’s fascinating culture and mythology into vivid detail in this shining debut, and Jae is a compelling heroine. An exotic, thrilling read, GILDED had me utterly entranced!” 

~from Jessica Khoury, author of ORIGIN and VITRO

Online Presence

Website: ChristinaFarley.com

Twitter: @ChristinaFarley

YouTube: www.youtube.com/chocolateinspired

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ChristinaFarleyAuthor

Tumblr: http://christinafarley.tumblr.com/

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/16173250-gilded

CHRISTINA FARLEY, author of Gilded was born and raised in upstate New York. As a child, she loved to explore, which later inspired her to jump on a plane and travel the world. She taught at international schools in Asia for ten years, eight of which were in the mysterious and beautiful city of Seoul, Korea that became the setting of Gilded. Currently she lives in Clermont, FL with her husband and two sons—that is until the travel itch whisks her off to a new unknown. Gilded is her first novel. For more details, check out her website at www.christinafarley.com. Christina holds a master’s degree in education and has taught for eighteen years. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary.

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8. [PR] Viz Media Launches Phantom Thief Jeanne!

 

VIZ MEDIA LAUNCHES NEW SHOJO MANGA SERIES PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE

From Famed Manga Creator Arina Tanemura, A Young Girl With Magical Powers Becomes An Art Thief To Steal Paintings Possessed by Demons

San Francisco, CA, March 5, 2014 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), the largest publisher, distributor and licensor of manga and anime in North America, steals the hearts of manga (graphic novel) fans with the launch of the series – PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE. The new magical-girl fantasy by beloved creator Arina Tanemura, is now available from the Shojo Beat imprint with an age raging of ‘T’ for Teens and carries an MSRP of $10.99 U.S. / $12.99 CAN.

 

A digital version is also available for $6.99 (USD/CAN) on VIZManga.com and through the VIZ MANGA App for the Apple iPad®, iPhone® and iPod® touch, Android-powered smart phones, as well as through the Nook, Kobo, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay stores.

The remaining volumes of the 5-volume fantasy adventure series are scheduled to debut every other month.

High school student Maron Kusakabe has a secret – she’s Phantom Thief Jeanne. She sneaks into private art collections to steal paintings in which demons reside. Jeanne’s task is to seal the demons before they can devour human hearts. So far she’s been able to evade the police on her midnight outings, but now another thief has come onto the scene – Phantom Thief Sinbad – and he’s trying to take the paintings before she does!

“PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE is our translated editions of the beloved Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne series in Japan,” says Nancy Thistlethwaite, Editor. “These books feature new covers by Arina Tanemura and color pages. They are must-have for new and current fans alike.”

PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE creator Arina Tanemura began her manga career in 1996 when her short stories debuted in Ribon magazine. She gained further fame with the 1997 publication of I•O•N, and she has remained a major force in shojo manga ever since with popular series such as Time Stranger Kyoko, Full Moon, and The Gentlemen’s Alliance † (all of which are published in North America by VIZ Media). Both PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE and FULL MOON have been adapted into animated TV series.

For more information on PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE or other popular shojo manga titles from VIZ Media, please visit http://www.viz.com/manga/print/shojo-beat.

About VIZ Media, LLC

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, VIZ Media distributes, markets and licenses the best anime and manga titles direct from Japan.  Owned by three of Japan’s largest manga and animation companies, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, Co., Ltd., VIZ Media has the most extensive library of anime and manga for English speaking audiences in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. With its popular digital manga anthology WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP and blockbuster properties like NARUTO, BLEACH and INUYASHA, VIZ Media offers cutting-edge action, romance and family friendly properties for anime, manga, science fiction and fantasy fans of all ages.  VIZ Media properties are available as graphic novels, DVDs, animated television series, feature films, downloadable and streaming video and a variety of consumer products.  Learn more about VIZ Media, anime and manga at www.VIZ.com.

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9. Déjà vu

Pink portrait 2I don’t believe in  déjà vu, but I like the theory. One of my aunties who enjoyed being the centre of attention was being shown around a Scottish country house; she pointed at a portrait of Arabella Stuart and exclaimed That’s me! She was half way up the stairs at the time and had to be caught in mild-faint by the rest of the tour party.  I don’t believe in time travel either, or reincarnation, though if I did they’d be the same boring old thing, like remembering yesterday.  Alleycat knows more about the hidden kingdom than I do, but he only knows the theory.  We talk of these matters often, usually at midday, when he’s at his most sleepy-headed and leisurely. But Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever (so she claims) been to and fro in time, and she doesn’t know how she did it and can’t repeat the experience, so that’s no good. ????????????????????? Alleycat says that if time flows just one way you can’t expect to travel to and fro in it independent of the moment in which you happen to exist.  He has lots more to say, about stretching time out and making it flat or round like a loaf of dough, but all of these things are far beyond me and I just pretend to understand and nod my head when he’s talking.  Apparently his idea is to pop time in the oven, bake it a bit, then eat it and know everything there is to know about every possible instant. Whatever he pretends to believe, Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever accomplished the deed of travelling beyond the present, and this is her version of the story (at least it’s chapter 4  of it).


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10. A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd

Sometimes a book will just call out to you.  It tells you that it was meant for you and that you need to read it.  The first time I heard the title A Snicker of Magic, I was intrigued.  The first time I saw the delightful cover, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

Felicity Juniper Pickle is a collector of words.  Not in the same way that some of us are, she is lucky enough to see words.  Words surround certain people and things, and when Felicity sees them, she writes them down in her always present blue notebook.  When her little sister Frannie Jo asks for a poem, Felicity can pluck them out of the air and combine them into a soothing rhyme for her.

There are two things that Felicity Pickle cannot do, however.  She cannot comfortably speak those words in front of anyone, and she can't stay in one place too long.  The first thing she can work on, but the second thing is all because of her Mama.

Her Mama is cursed with a wandering heart.  She loads her girls up into her beat-up van and travels around with them.  This last jaunt has brought the Pickles home to where Mama grew up: Midnight Gulch.  Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, but a few generations ago the magic seemingly up and left town right along with the famous Threadbare brothers.

But for Felicity, Midnight Gulch does turn out to be a magical place.  First of all, she acquires her very first friend - Jonah Pickett.  And Jonah, it turns out, has a secret and a bit of a magical identity as well.  As he takes Felicity under his wing, she sees the things that could be -- the things that she didn't even know she was longing for as Mama shuttled them around "Per-clunkity-clunk, per-clunkity-clunk" across the country.

Natalie Lloyd has created the kind of world that readers want to jump into.  This small Tennessee town should exist and feels like it does.  Perfectly quirky, the characters are interwoven, layered and kind. Turns of phrase verily melt in your mouth, and beg to be read aloud.  This is a heart-song book, if ever there was one.

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11. Review: Night Owls by Lauren M Roy

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

While I love Urban Fantasy, I don’t often have the opportunity to read much of the genre because so many of the titles currently being released are part of a longer, multi-volume series, or, when a book comes along that I think is interesting, I just don’t have time to fit it into my jam-packed reading schedule.  I had seen several positive reviews for Night Owls, so I determined to make the time to read Lauren M Roy’s debut novel.  I’m so glad I did!  This is such a fun read, and it clicked for me within just the first few pages.  I couldn’t put it down and finished it in just a few hours.

 

Valerie is a battle weary vampire, who has settled down as far away from California and the terrible memories that still  haunt her ten years after a monster hunting mission gone bad.  Now the proprietor of a late night bookstore, Night Owls, she’s made herself comfortable in a small college town, making a new life, and new friends, for herself.  When Elly races into town, she destroys the peace that Val has built around herself.  After one of her most loyal customers is murdered, Val is determined to find out the reason for his death.  What she does is open a whole giant can of worms that threatens everything and everyone she loves.

Wow!  I loved the characters!  Val is a total badass, when she finally gives in and starts fighting the supernatural enemies plaguing her small town.  Elly is, too, but she has to rely on her wits and her training to get out of her scrapes.  She’s only human, after all, even if she has been taught since childhood how to track and neutralize Jackals, scary flesh eating monsters that prey on humans.  Cavale rocked, too!  I want him to have his own freaking book!  I wish he had had a larger role in the story – and don’t get me wrong, he had lots of page time, but I liked him so much I wanted to know more about him.  Val’s friend (he’s more like a vassal), Chaz was adorable, even though he has a lot to learn about fighting and slaying monsters. 

Things go to crap for Val after Justin, one of her employees, takes a peek inside the ancient book Professor Clearwater sends to her for safekeeping.  Justin’s been given strict instructions that no one is to open the book without Professor Clearwater there.  Oops!  Curiosity really does kill the cat! Kind of serves Justin right to trigger a ward on the book and have all of its magic jump right into him.  That is one complication that Val didn’t need, and when a pack of Jackals come to Night Owls, demanding the return of the book and its magic, she knows that they are in for the fight of their lives.

I am trying very hard not to gush about this read, but I can’t help myself.  It is FUN with all capital letters, and I can’t wait to read more by Roy.  The fight scenes are exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat, the paranormal characters are blast – I enjoyed being introduced to all of them, the good, the bad, and the indifferent to Val’s dire problem.  The story takes place over only a few days, but what a danger, adventure filled period that is!  Because Val is a vampire, her fatal flaw, as well as the Jackals, is that they can’t be out after sunrise.  That’s what makes loyal humans like Chaz so valuable.  There are many tasks that need to be completed during the daylight hours, so Val has a trusted agent take care of them.  When Chaz ends up a pawn in the quest for the magic in Justin’s head, Val becomes a very grumpy, and very anxious, vampire.  The Jackals will do anything to get back their book, and Val knows that there’s a deadline to rescuing Chaz.

If you are in the mood for a fast, action-packed read, filled with things that go bump in the night, look no further.  Night Owls is a blast, and I can’t wait for more adventures with Val, Elly, Chaz, and Cavale.

Grade:  B+/A-

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

About the book:

Night Owls bookstore is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees’ penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk…

Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away as possible from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren. She’s experienced that life, and the price she paid was far too high for her to ever want to return.

Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.

When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safekeeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors…

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12. Keeper of the Lost Cities: Books 1 and 2

Books: Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, Book 2)
Author: Shannon Messenger
Pages: 512 and 576
Age Range: 8-12

I don't recall whose recommendation inspired me to try this series, but I picked up the first one on Kindle recently, and I was completely hooked. In fact, I have to admit that I was hooked in spite of myself.

The first book, Keeper of the Lost Cities, starts with a 12 year old girl who has never quite fit in who discovers that she is actually an elf. And not just any elf, but a special elf, for whom elves have been searching for years. I'm so over this "chosen one" premise, with all its echoes of Harry Potter. (There's even a special school.) And yet ... I was hooked anyway, from Kindle sample to low price purchase of book 1 to the higher priced purchase of book 2. These books have even helped me to exercise, because I want to keep reading. Here, I'll talk her mainly about the first book, and endeavor to avoid spoilers for those new to the series. 

Naturally, I have been asking myself "what makes these books work for me, despite certain thematic parallels?" I think it boils down to a combination of relatable protagonist and thorough world-building. Oh, I have a technical quibble or two about the world-building. But I still love it. Like this:

"She stood at the edge of a glassy river lined with impossibly tall trees, fanning out their wide emerald leaves among the puffy white clouds. Across the river, a row of crystal castles glittered in the sunlight in a way that would make Walt Disney want to throw rocks at his "Magic Kingdom." To her right, a golden path led into a sprawling city, where the elaborate domed buildings seemed to be built from brick-size jewels -- each structure a different color. Snowcapped mountains surrounded the lush valley, and the crisp, cool air smelled like cinnamon and chocolate and sunshine." (Chapter 3, Page 19, Book 1)

Who wouldn't want to go there?

The main character, Sophie, has been hearing other people's thoughts ever since an accident that occurred when she was five. She has a photographic memory, and is about to graduate from high school at twelve. She loves her family, but looks nothing like them. So when a strange boy with gorgeous eyes comes along and tells her that she's actually a long-lost elf, well, this isn't as much of a shock as it might have been. 

Sophie quickly learns that she will have to give up her human family and go to live with the elves (they live in hidden cities, where humans aren't allowed). A kidnapping attempt convinces her that this is necessary, even as it breaks her heart. Once in the elf city, she has trouble fitting in at school, and with her new foster parents. She is insecure and anxious, and desperately wants to understand her own background. Her combination of gifted and vulnerable is, I think, what made her get under my skin. 

The elf city is full of fabulous buildings, interesting customs, and delicious (vegetarian) foods. It's a brighter, more glittery world than that of, say, the Harry Potter books, even as danger lurks. I found myself wanting to spend more time there. There are also interesting social aspects (it's quite hierarchical, for instance), which I expect to develop more as the series progresses. 

The plot is filled with conspiracies and hidden clues, set against the mishaps of a girl raised by humans adapting to elf-hood. I did see a couple of the twists coming, but I also puzzled over the motivations of the people leaving Sophie clues, and wondered who Sophie should trust. The ending is quite suspenseful.

Several of the supporting characters are strong, though I would like to see a couple of Sophie's friends fleshed out a bit. Age-wise, I think this book is fine for elementary school kids who are strong readers (it is long). But there are enough hints at crushes and peer groups to keep it relevant for middle schoolers, too. 

The second book picks up right where the first one leaves off, and has the same feel. Here are a few snippets from the books, to give you an impression of Sophie's voice:

"That night Sophie dreamed the Keebler elves were holding her hostage until she perfected all their cookie recipes. Then she told them she liked Oreos better, and they tried to drown her in a giant vat of fudge. She woke in a cold sweat and decided sleep was overrated."(Chapter Six, Book 1)

"There were many, many questions racing through Sophie's mind as she scratched her neck where the furry collar was tickling it. But the most important one was probably, "Why am I dressed like a shaggy elephant?" (Chapter Sixteen, Page 146, Book 2) 

While I can see these books perhaps not working for jaded adults who have read a lot of fantasy, I think that kids will really enjoy them. Personally, I've found the Keeper of the Lost Cities series to be addictive, and I look forward to the next book. Recommended for fantasy fans, boys or girls, age 8 and up. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: October 2012 and October 2013
Source of Book: Bought them both on Kindle

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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13. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy: Karen Foxlee

Book: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Author: Karen Foxlee
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a retelling of the Snow Queen by Karen Foxlee. I don't know the original story, so I can't comment on faithfulness to that tale. But Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy works well as an old-fashioned fantasy novel for middle grade readers. 

Ophelia is a glasses-wearing 11-year-old girl who believes in facts, not fantasy. She is mourning the recent death of her mother, who was a novelist specializing in horror stories. Ophelia also laments that change that her mother's death has wrought in her older sister, Alice. As the story begins, Ophelia and Alice's father has dragged them to a mysterious snow-covered city, where the dad, a sword expert, is working on a sword exhibition. The exhibition is in an enormous, rambling museum full of odd artifacts. Poking around one day, Ophelia is amazed to discover a boy in old-fashioned clothes who is locked in a room. Even though she on principal doesn't really believe in this boy, Ophelia is unable to resist his request for help. 

Ophelia reminds me a bit of Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, a lonely person with smudgy glasses mourning a missing parent, confronted with impossible occurrences. But of course Ophelia is her own quirky person. Like this:

"Everything in the world can be classified scientifically. For instance, I am from the kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Hominidae, genus Homo, species Home sapiens. I only eat class Pisces and only if they're called sardines. I don't believe in unicorns or dragons or anything magical, really." (Page 16, to the Boy)

"Of course she couldn't save the world. She was only eleven years old and rather small for her age, and also she had knock-knees. Dr. Singh told her mother she would probably grow out of them, especially if she wore medical shoes, but that wasn't the point. She had very bad asthma as well, made worse by cold weather and running and bad scares." (Page 17)

I did find Ophelia a bit slow to catch on to a couple of major plot points, and I think that young readers will, too. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ophelia plods along trying to do the right thing, and the reader gets to feel clever. Also, having figured things out ahead of time lends a tension to the book, as the reader worries about Alice's situation before Ophelia even realizes that there is a problem. 

The boy's story is told in the form of tales that he tells to Ophelia. It's more high fantasy (wizards, a village, great owls, etc.), but blends well with Ophelia's slightly more real-world story. Here's a snippet:

"And you might think a name is just a name, nothing but a word, but that is not the case. Your name is tacked to you. Where it has joined you, it has seeped into your skin and into your essence and into your soul. So when they plucked my name from me with their spell, it was as heavy as a rock in their hands but as invisible as the wind, and it wasn't just the memory of my name, but me myself. A tiny part of me that they took and stored away." (Page 21)

Lovely prose, I think! The entire book has an otherworldly, dreamlike feeling. The primary setting, the museum, is full of intriguing and sometimes creepy things (including ghosts). There's a literal clock ticking away the time in which the world can be saved. All set against a sub-text of Ophelia and her family coming to terms with the loss of Ophelia's mother.

It's a powerful book all around. And it has a great title and an appealing cover. I picked it up knowing very little about it, but certain that Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy had to be interesting. I was correct. Recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy, and anyone else who likes fairy tale retellings. Knowledge of the Snow Queen story is not necessary to appreciate the book.  

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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14. Bigger than a Bread Box: Laurel Snyder

Book: Bigger than a Bread Box
Author: Laurel Snyder
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

I love Laurel Snyder's writing. Good night, laila tov is one of my family's favorite bedtime stories, and I've reviewed both Any Which Wall and Penny Dreadful. I've been meaning to read Laurel's Bigger than a Bread Box for ages, having purchased a copy when it came out in paperback. But when the companion novel, Seven Stories Up, arrived on my doorstep, I finally brought Bigger than a Bread Box to the top of the pile. [Full disclosure, I'm Facebook friends with Laurel, and spent time with her at Kidlitcon a few years back, but I am certain that I would enjoy her books just as much without this connection.]

Bigger than a Bread Box is told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Rebecca Shapiro. Rebecca lives in Baltimore with her parents and her two-year-old brother, Lew. Until, that is, her mother packs up Rebecca and Lew and moves to Atlanta, leaving their unemployed father behind. Bigger than a Bread Box is about Rebecca's fury at her mother for breaking up their family, her adjustment to a new middle school, and her gradual realization of her brother's importance to her. There's also a magical bread box that has unexpected consequences.

Despite the presence of the magical bread box, Bigger than a Bread Box has a much more realistic feel than Snyder's previous novels. The family dynamics are the point - the magic is more of a device. An afterword explains that Snyder mined her own experience as a child of divorce in writing Bigger than a Bread Box. I think this genuine emotion comes through successfully, and than any child experiencing parental separation will find something to relate to in Rebecca's experience. Like this scene, in which Rebecca is trying to remind Lew about their father:

"Lew started humming, and I wondered if any of this mattered. None of that would add up to Dad for Lew, if he'd already started to forget. Dad would just sound like some guy, some noisy, short, skinny guy who liked fishy pizza. That wasn't Dad any more than home was just boarded-up row houses and seagulls and snowball stands." (Page 101, paperback)

I must admit that I almost wanted to stop reading about half-way through the book, when the price that Rebecca was going to have to pay for the magic became clear. The middle school dynamics, while not the central point of the book, are still authentic enough to resonate painfully. Kids who have sacrificed their authenticity on the altar of "cool" may be able to relate to this, too. 

Rebecca isn't perfect. She makes mistakes, is materialistic about certain things, and is pretty harsh to her mother. But she has redeeming qualities, of course, like an appreciation for poetry. My favorite thing about Rebecca, hands down, is her affection for her brother, and her gradual recognition of him as a person in his own right. There's a point in which she thinks about trying to go back to Baltimore on her own, but realizes that she could never leave Lew behind, and I liked her for that. (Interesting contrast to Eleanor of Eleanor and Park, though the two girls are in very different situations.)

Snyder touches on Rebecca's half-Jewish identity with a light touch. She also includes various nods to people who love books, as Rebecca does. She brings a slightly heavier hand to the topic of the lack of appreciation that mothers can feel. Like this quote from Rebecca's mother:

"I am juggling so much and I am overworked and I just want a little time to think things out for myself. Everyone seems to need something from me or want something, and I don't even know what feels right or wrong anymore, and there are so many people to think about." (Page 145, paperback) 

As a mother myself, I found a scene in which Rebecca is trying to think of a birthday present for her mother, and she realizes that she has no idea what her mother's interests are, sad.

Bigger than a Bread Box is a must-purchase title for elementary and middle school libraries (especially in Baltimore and Atlanta). This nuanced look at divorce and family, as well as middle school social structures, offers something for everyone. The magical element helps to keep things light, while also adding some insights about accountability. Recommended!

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 2011
Source of Book: Bought it

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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15. Book Review: Shadows



 Shadows

by Robin McKinley

It's not just that Maggie misses her father, or understandably resents her new stepfather, Val. No, it goes beyond that: Val has too many shadows. Whenever Maggie looks at him, she sees him surrounded by wiggly shadow shapes with too many appendages. It can't be magic, because there is no magic in Newworld. Anyone with the potential for magic must have a procedure to snip the gene before they reach puberty, and even though Val is an immigrant, he wouldn't have been allowed in if he had any magic.

Maggie tries not to think about it, and avoids Val as much as possible by throwing herself into her work at the local shelter, which isn't hard, since Maggie loves animals anyway. Then a cobey — a "coherence break" in the universe — opens nearby, and with one revelation after another, Maggie begins to discover that the world — and Newworld specifically — is full of surprises, among them that Val is not such a bad guy. When the situation goes from bad to worse, Maggie and her friends set out to set things right, accompanied by five very large dogs, a cantankerous Maine Coone cat, a friendly shadow named Hix, and one stubborn algebra book.

Shadows is a fun book with loads of teen appeal. Maggie's voice as the narrator is authentic and entertaining, if a bit rambly in parts, and there's gentle humor woven throughout the book. The pacing is excellent, perfectly balancing character development, excitement, humor, and reveals. All of the characters are interesting and well-developed, including animals, shadows, and semi-animate objects. Even the dogs each have distinctive personalities. Although Maggie finds she has some unusual abilities, she can't do it alone - it takes the combined efforts and abilities of everyone to succeed. There is romance, but it's not overdone and I like the direction that McKinley went with the it.

There are dystopian elements, such as soldiers in the streets with scanners, roadblocks, and forced genetic manipulation, but I wouldn't call this a dystopian book. The focus is not on fighting against a dystopian government, although there is certainly some of that. Instead, it's more about finding yourself and discovering that the world is a different place than you thought.

Shadows is a 2013 Cybils Awards Finalist in the YA Speculative Fiction category.

Who would like this book:

Readers of both traditional fantasy and dystopian stories will enjoy this, as it has elements of both. Dog lovers, cat lovers, and origami artists will also find a lot to appreciate.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.


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16. Guest Book Review: Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut by Hamilton Wende

arabella

 

Length: 126 pages
Publisher: Tafelberg; 1 edition (July 20, 2013)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, ages 9+
ASIN: B00GA25PRA

Stars: 4.5

Arabella lives with her mom and dad in Parkview, Johannesburg, South Africa. She has a happy, stable life, with all the love anyone could imagine from her parents and (four!) grandparents. Her eleventh birthday is the turning point in her life. She receives some unusual gifts, which change Arabella’s life forever.  But then things go horribly wrong. Her dad dies, and life turns dark, bleak, and hopeless. Thanks to her unusual birthday gifts, Arabella discovers a magical world at the bottom of her garden and amazing things happen. She is able to speak to the animals there, and discovers she has a special role to play once she is given a magic Mongongo nut by Khanyi, the mealie lady. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary and Arabella and her new friends must battle against the evil hadedas, led by their nasty king, Ozymandias, who has a wicked plan. At the same time, Arabella finds hope in the Book of Echoes; hope that with this new-found magic, she can turn back the clock to the happy times before her dad died. Is the magic this strong? Can Arabella defeat the hadedas’ nefarious plans?

Although all young readers will love this charming book, young South African readers will particularly relish it. Familiar names, places, creatures, and cultural references will resonate with readers, bringing this adventure right into their own back gardens. Arabella faces enormous challenges, and the biggest one is within. As the use of magic changes her, perhaps bringing out selfish desires, she has to learn to do what is right. Acceptance of grief is very difficult for a young person, and this is one of Arabella’s saddest tests. Self-sacrifice, loyalty, the meaning of friendship, and doing the right thing are also highlighted as Arabella’s final choice will sway the outcome of the battle. Author Hamilton Wende has perfectly captured Arabella’s character, giving poignant insight into just how difficult life choices are at that age. The hadedas are brilliantly malevolent … but fun! Lovely atmospherics abound, painting the most incredible pictures for a young imagination to enjoy. The author has a real gift for scenarios and I am sure this book will linger in readers’ minds long after the last page has been read. I would suggest a glossary at the back for non South African readers to understand several local terms. I must mention the superb cover by Rob Foote which adds to the ethereal, magical quality of the book.

First reviewed for Jozi Kids, South Africa

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.


1 Comments on Guest Book Review: Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut by Hamilton Wende, last added: 11/7/2013
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17. The Book Review Club - Magic Marks the Spot

The Very Nearly Honorable
League of Pirates
Book 1: Magic Marks the Spot
by Caroline Carlson
Middle Grade

To say I have been waiting for this book's release like a dog waiting for a mouthwatering steak is, well, an understatement. Caroline and I were fellow classmates at Vermont College. Go Extraordinary League of Cheese Sandwiches!

I had the awesome pleasure of getting to hear an excerpt of Magic Marks the Spot during our last residency. To say the deck was stacked in favor of my liking this book is to state the obvious. But don't let my bias sway you (much :-) My girls were there too, and they were literally lining up to buy the not-yet-sold ms before the reading was over.

This is one of those books you dream about coming along. The one you'd dearly love to write and happily disappear in when you found someone else has.

Basic plot: Hilary wants to be a pirate. Her father, the admiral, is for obvious reasons grandly opposed. Her mother, a member of high society, is swooningly opposed. Hilary's magical gargoyle, and sidekick, is swashbuckingly not. The two escape boarding school to try out their piratical-ness on the high seas and find adventure galore.

Got your google browser open to download a copy?

Carlson keeps the reader magically entertained while at the same choosing Pirates of the Caribbean humor over blood and gore, which, for young readers, is such a godsend. There is no persisting nightmares in which dementors chase said child, or take up residence in her closet (which happened many many nights to my youngest after we read one of the Harry Potter books). Instead, there is laughter and merriment and general tomfoolery all around. 

From a writer's perspective, admittedly, the lack of gore and ever present possibility of sudden death  gentles the emotional ride for readers. At the same time, a young reader isn't emotionally put through the ringer either.

If for no other reason than authorly curiosity, read the story and ask yourself, what does this mean to have a plot that doesn't hinge on pain of death, but rather, uses humor to skirt the darkness that could overwhelm? It's definitely had me thinking for a long long while.

While I sit in my ivory tower and mull, check out Barry Summy's website for an autumnal gourd o' reading plenty!

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18. Review: Would Be Witch by Kimberly Frost

Would-Be Witch (A Southern Witch Novel)

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the small town of Duvall, Texas, the only thing that causes more trouble than gossip is magic.

The family magic seems to have skipped over Tammy Jo Trask. All she gets in the way of the supernatural are a few untimely visits from the long-dead, smart-mouthed family ghost Edie. But when her locket—an heirloom that happens to hold Edie’s soul—is stolen in the midst of a town-wide crime spree, it’s time for Tammy to find her inner witch.

After a few bad experiences with her magic, Tammy turns to the only one who can help: the very rich and highly magical Bryn Lyons. He might have all the answers, but the locket isn’t the only thing passed down in Tammy’s family. She also inherited a warning…to stay away from anyone named Lyons

Review:

Would Be Witch is a very fun read.  I’m surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did because a love triangle, something that doesn’t usually work for me, is central to the plot.  I thought it was well done, and I could see Tammy Jo being conflicted over Bryn and Zach.  Bryn is new, off-limits, and dangerous, while Zach, her ex-husband, has been a steady anchor her entire life.  Marrying young, she quickly discovered that being his wife was a lot less romantic than being his girlfriend, so she filed for divorce, over his objections.  Their relationship is a hot mess, just like the rest of Tammy Jo’s life.  Maybe I liked the story so much because Tammy Jo is propelled from one crazy adventure to another, with hardly a moment to catch her breath. 

Things get started with Tammy Jo losing her job at the bakery.  Her pride won’t allow her to sell the cake she’s just slaved over to her old rival from her high school days.  She’s rather be unemployed and keep possession of said cake than  accept insults and a reduced price in exchange for her masterpiece.  She figures it will keep her fed for a few days until she finds a new job, anyway.  Then she’s involved in a fender bender, is robbed of a family heirloom, and is being stalked by werewolves.  Because Tammy Jo comes from a long line of witches, she takes everything in stride, except for losing the necklace that houses the soul of Edie, her great, great grandmother’s twin sister.  Devastated by the loss of her relative, she wishes that magic hadn’t skipped over her, because she really could have used the help tracking down the thieves and the stolen ghost.

This is a rollercoaster read.  Tammy Jo has to juggle Zach, a sheriff’s deputy, and Bryn, a warlock whose family she is supposed to have nothing to do with, for reasons unknown to her.  With her mom and her aunt both gone, she has no magical help, so she’s determined to use Bryn to assist her on the magic side.  She doesn’t realize that there are strict rules about magic and when it can be used, and unless she agrees to be his apprentice, he’s not letting her see any spells from his spell book!  I loved the back and forth between Tammy Jo and her suitors.  Zack is a good ole boy who doesn’t believe in magic or in Edie, and Bryn comes off as just a little shady.  I was always wondering whether he had her best interests at heart, and more often than not doubted that he did. 

In addition to the guys feuding over her, she’s also being pursued by a pack of very angry and vengeful werewolves.  They have accused her of killing one of their pack, and nothing she said allowed her to reason with them.  They are scary, murderous monsters, too, so every time Tammy Jo got a bug up her butt and decided that she had to go do something dangerous and foolish, I was stressed that the wolves would get a hold of her and tear her to shreds.  While I appreciated her courage and determination, there were a few times I wished she would just chill somewhere safe until someone could give her a helping hand.  At least she had Mercutio, her kitty companion, to rely on.  While I am usually a dog person, this cat was pretty cool, and I was a bit hopeful that he would start talking.  Instead, he gets into a lot of fights, so he really did have Tammy Jo’s back.

As the tangled and twisted tale unfolded, a few things became apparent.  One, that Tammy Jo really did need a keeper.  She is constantly getting herself into hot water, some of which she  can’t get back out of.  Two, nobody in her tiny town was trustworthy, and several people even had grudges against her, which made figuring out who to trust an impossible task.  And three, maybe magic hadn’t skipped her generation after all, leading her to so many more complications. With no one around to show her how to harness her magic, she just makes everything that she’s trying to fix that much worse.  Mix in a zombie, a visiting vampire, and an offended hairdresser, and Tammy Jo just doesn’t know what to do to keep herself safe and locate her missing necklace.

Would Be Witch is a fast paced and energetic read with fun characters and more danger than you can shake a stick at.  I am looking forward to Barely Bewitched, the next book in the series.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy provided by author

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19. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop: Kate Saunders

Book: The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
Author: Kate Saunders
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9 and up

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop has such an appealing cover and title that I pulled it immediately onto my short stack of books to read, without any real idea of what it was about. It wasn't quite what I expected (the chocolate shop in the book is long closed, and was never called The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop in the first place), but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop is an adventure set in a modern-day version of London in which magic lurks around every corner, carefully hidden from non-magical folk. But no, it's not a Harry Potter knock-off. It's a lighter concoction, with a vain immortal talking cat, parents who are self-absorbed to the extent of missing, well, everything, and a villain who ends up being more pathetic than scary. 

The story begins when eleven-year-old twins Oz and Lily move with their parents into a house that their dad has just inherited from his great uncle. The house includes the workshop for the chocolate shop that the uncle used to run with his triplet brothers. Oz and Lily soon learn that the family was brought to house so that they, together with a magical young neighbor, could use their innate magic to help stop a crime. The whole thing is over-the-top ridiculous (eleven year olds working for a secret division of MI6, an invisible elephant ghost?), but quite entertaining. There are a couple of more serious elements to the story, but nothing as dark as you'll see in most current middle grade fantasy. 

I found the characterization in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to be a little thin - I never had much of an impression of Caydon, the neighbor who joins Oz and Lily in their quest. Even Oz and Lily won't stay with me as characters, I don't think. But Saunders is great at building worlds that kids will find appealing, and that goes a long way. Like this:

"For a long moment they stood in silence, gazing around a large room that looked like a dusty cave crammed with extraordinary objects. It was dominated by a large, deep fireplace with a grill like a barbecue. A big metal cylinder, festooned with cobwebs, loomed in one corner and in the middle of the room was a long bench with a marble top. On top of this stood a flat, smooth stone with an ashy grate underneath it..." (Page 9) 

"This was amazing. He was in a cavern, its roof hidden by thick black shadows. The desert of darkness was punctuated by little puddles of lamplight, showing groups of furniture like rooms in an invisible house. At the far end of the space Oz saw a laboratory gleaming with glass tubes and jars. One pool of light contained a carved wooden bed covered with a faced green quilt; another contained a white bathtub like a boat, half hidden behind a screen covered with pictures of castles." (Page 79)

Although Saunders wraps everything up neatly at the end of The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, it would be a shame to let her Secret Ministry of the Unexplained (SMU) (not to mention the talking roses on Lily's wallpaper) fade away. Perhaps we'll see other adventures for Lily, Oz, and their talking cat. I, for one, would not be able to resist reading them. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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20. Rump: The True Story Of Rumplestiltskin, by Liesel Shurtliff

Imagine being named Rump.  Imagine it.  Imagine what other kids could do with your name.  Especially when you live in a place that believes that your name is the key to your destiny.

Rump lives on the Mountain with his Gran.  His mother died when he was born, and Rump just knows there is more to his name, but his Gran does not know what it is.  Life in the Mountain is rather bleak.  The residents almost all work in the mines looking for the ever elusive gold to trade in to the miller for food.  One day Rump notices an old spinning wheel in with the firewood.  He asks his Gran about it and it turns out this was his mother's spinning wheel.  Even though it is beaten up, Rump polishes it up, thrilled to have something that belonged to her.

On rations day, Rump and his friend Red are on their way home when they see Kessler the peddler.  Aside from the regular wares, Kessler also deals in magic.  Against Red's advice, Rump trades some grain for a bit of magic.  The trick does go a bit wrong, and Red states that there are consequences for *all* magic, no matter how small, but Rump finds himself hungry for more.

Soon enough Rump discovers why the gold loving pixies of the kingdom have always favored him.  He finds he is able to spin hay into fine gold thread.  He promises himself he will only spin enough to get more food for him and Gran, but promises to oneself often go unfulfilled.  Before Rump knows it, he is bargaining away his own magic for a fraction of what it's worth.

This new twist on the Rumplestiltskin story will have readers looking at Rump with fresh eyes.  This magical world with its gold hungry pixies, message delivering gnomes, magic hoarding trolls, magical aunties and fierce best-friends pretty much begs for a film treatment.  There are pearls of wisdom dropped throughout the text, and readers will likely have many moments of taking pause to ponder over some of the ideas.  Happily, I read on twitter that there will be more titles coming from Shurtliff - one featuring Jack and another featuring Red.  I for one can't wait!

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21. Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George

I was scrolling through my blogposts on this here blog because I was SURE that I had blogged Tuesdays at the Castle back when I read it.  No dice.  I really enjoyed that one, and you can get Jen Robinson's take on it over here.

Wednesdays in the Tower starts with an egg.  Celie is surprised because Castle Glower doesn't change on Wednesdays, but all of a sudden the school room isn't at the top of the spiral staircase.  Celie follows all the way up to a new outdoor room that slopes toward the center where there is a nest with a huge orange egg.  Celie cannot believe her eyes, and quickly heads over and lays her hands on the egg. She is surprised to find it hot to the touch.  When Celie runs down the stairs to spread the news of the egg, she finds she can't.  Nobody is listening to her, and what's more, only she can find that extra staircase!

The nest room isn't the only change that is coming over Castle Glower.  There is that mysterious armor gallery that appeared along with its magical tendencies.  The fabric room is another new one.  Before this, Celie and her family just accepted the castle's changes without really thinking about them, but some of these new changes have them thinking more deeply.  Where do the rooms go when they disappear?  Why is the castle suddenly becoming more fortress like?

In this installment, readers are treated to the real history of Castle Glower and Sleyne.  We learn in real time just as Celie and her family are learning.  Maybe some of the tapestries in the castle are more than just decorative.  Perhaps they are telling the stories of the castle.

Wednesdays in the Tower really should be read after reading Tuesdays at the Castle.  Jessica Day George doesn't  fill in the blanks with backstory, and if you haven't read the first book, you will be slightly off kilter.  That said, I really enjoyed the character and world building - Prince Lulath is a favorite of mine.  The cliff hanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

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22. Cover Reveal – Alchemy by Sheena Boekweg, Melanie Crouse, and Sabrina West

I have a cover reveal this morning, thanks to GCReading Book Tours.   The premise of magical infection sounds interesting. Does anyone have this on their TBR mountain?

 
"Do you want me to be dangerous?" he asked, his voice husky and low.
I gulped, and for a moment I was incapable of speech. But he was quiet, waiting. "No. I don’t."
"Then I’m not dangerous at all," he murmured. His gaze moved from my eyes to my mouth. "You’ve never been safer than you are at this moment." I shivered as his breath tickled my skin. Our lips were mere millimeters apart when the sky shattered in a kaleidoscope of colored light.


We didn’t know how much we had to lose until we were infected with magic. Sam was in love, Juliette was the main caretaker for her siblings, and Ana and her dad planned the best parties in New York. But we lost it all when we were shipped to Chebeague, an exclusive school for newly infected mages.

Everyone knows about the mages, those who survive the infection and end up with magical abilities. We’ve seen the power of magic, the high-paying jobs, and the world fame. But we never saw the cost. We didn’t know we’d be forced to give up everything: sanity, family, even the right to talk on the phone.

We didn’t know mage was just another word for prisoner.

 
 

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23. The Funny Adventures of Little Nani by Cinta Garcia de la Rosa

TC&TBC

Typically I read the first chapter of a book, but with this short story collection, I am reading the first story in the book and discussing it.

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BLURB: Little Nani is a little girl who likes helping people. However, when she helps people the results can be a bit unexpected. Why is that? Little Nani is a witch! Or at least she wants to be a witch. With her magic wand, she will try to cast different spells to help her friends, but she won’t be successful all the time. Follow Little Nani in her funny adventures and meet her extraordinary friends. Funny ostriches, horses that love reading, super-fast turtles, grumpy zombies… Little Nani has lots of friends! You can also draw your own characters! Little Nani is willing to become a good witch. Will she manage to do it? Who knows? Read the stories and discover what happens next!

COVER: Since the top illustration comes from the first story, I’m guessing these postage stamp or postcard type bordered illustrations contain drawings from different stories in the collection. I love the color scheme and the darker contrasting colors of the borders.

FIRST CHAPTER: The Funny Adventures of Little Nani is about a girl with a magic wand whose spells often go awry. In this opening story, “Little Nani and Some Unexpected Events,” Little Nani tries out the wand she got from a correspondence course and tries to make her friends, Big Billy and Skinny Nikki, grow up faster. That’s definitely not what happens.

This looks like it will be a cute book. I can only judge it based upon the first story I read, but all the characters have unique personalities and lovers of magic and fantasy will enjoy the horse who loves to read. Little Nani appears to be an independent-minded girl who leaps before she looks, which tends to create a bit of chaos for her and her friends. By including pauses in the story called “Drawing Time!” the author makes this an interactive adventure for young readers, who are asked to draw certain scenes from the book. I haven’t seen this before in a book, but I like it.

KEEP READING: If I were basing this review solely upon the uniquely crafted characters and the interactive aspect of it, I would say definitely. The thing that gives me pause is the dragged out dialogue. Big Billy appears riding a horse, which he tries to convince Little Nani to ride. She declines because she’s allergic to horses and can’t touch them. But as Big Billy points out, she’s stroking the horse’s head. It goes back and forth like this for a few seconds, before Skinny Nikki arrives. Skinny Nikki wants to ride, but Big Billy says no because he wants Little Nani to ride with him, to which Skinny Nikki replies, “But Little Nani won’t ride with you. She’s allergic to horses.” And then they start going on and on about how Little Nani wants to ride an ostrich, but she doesn’t have an ostrich, so she can’t ride one.

What I ended up doing is downloading another short story in the series for my Kindle (this book has all the stories in it, but they can also be purchased separately). It appears this dragged out conversation might be the way Little Nani interacts with others. In “Little Nani and The Flying Muffin” it is about how bored she is on a rainy day. She whines “I’m bored!” three times while Big Billy and Skinny Nikki get aggravated over her whining and Horse tries to convince her to listen to the story he’s reading to her.

Children probably won’t notice it. I just didn’t care for this style of conversation. I would probably still keep going. It’s one of those “don’t bite your nose off to spite your face” moments. If you like the characters and the story is funny, is it worth abandoning the book simply because one of the characters is a bit repetitive? No, you keep going and enjoy the rest.

Overall, this is a really cute story and I’m thinking it will be a hit with youngsters, especially those who enjoy humor.

File Size: 1577 KB
Print Length: 144 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00DGXKOWM

I downloaded a free sample of this book to my Kindle. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

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24. Book Review: Conjured

Conjured

by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Eve remembers nothing. No past, and not even any recent memories. Eve isn't even her real name – she has no idea who she really is. All she knows is that she's in the witness protection program, and that she can do magic. Any use of magic, though, causes incapacitating visions of a strange carnival, and a Magician and a Storyteller. Eve begins to suspect that the visions are actually memories, but who are the Magician and the Storyteller? And more important, who is Eve?

A magical serial killer is on the loose, and Eve may be the key to finding him, if only she can remember in time. As Eve tries to unravel the mystery of her life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who she can trust. The Witsec agents? Patti, the library manager? Zach, the boy in the library that she wants to kiss? Or handsome, cocky Aidan, who has magic of his own? It seems that everyone has their own idea of what Eve should be doing. But in order to decide what to do, Eve must first figure out who she is.

Review: Conjured is an exquisitely crafted book that stands out for its tight writing, unique story, and intriguing character arc. Durst obviously spent time and care on the writing: every word is carefully chosen and rich with meaning, from smells, sounds and colors, to the use of point of view.

It must have been exceptionally difficult to write a character who is essentially a tabula rasa at the beginning, and do it in an engaging way, but Durst succeeded admirably. Eve is engaging, and the reader becomes her as her character journey unfolds. An important theme of this book is defining who you are for yourself, rather than allowing your past or other people to define who you are.

Conjured is mysterious, suspenseful, and oh so creepy. The descriptions are evocative and convey a strong sense of atmosphere, whether the deliciously comforting atmosphere in the library where Eve works, (obviously written by a book lover!) or the bizarre and creepy atmosphere in her visions.

Put this in the hands of anyone who enjoys the creepy, mysterious, and atmospheric books, or someone who is just looking for something a little bit different.


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FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.



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25. Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco | Review

This should be a sad tale but instead is up-lifting. Much of that is due to the protagonist’s wry voice: Twelve-year-old Bee (short for Beatrice) is an orphan and works for a traveling carnival, living in the back of a truck with nineteen-year-old Pauline.

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