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Review – The Monstore by Tara Lazar

Review - The Monstore by Tara Lazar

Review - The Monstore by Tara LazarReview – The Monstore by Tara Lazar, illustrated by James Burks is a delightfully quirky take on the age-old sibling battle.

As the older sister of a pesky younger brother, I can fully relate to Zack’s dilemma of getting away from his sister’s attentions. I remember always having to be the better child, since I was older and I “knew better.” Younger siblings can take advantage of such things.

Zack heads to the Monstore to find a solution to his pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to the big keep out sign on his room. He buys a monster to scare her away. What ensures is a delightfully quirky tale of the solution gone wrong. Gracie is harder to scare then he knows.

The art is bright and colorful and just as quirky as the story. Mr. Burks imaginative and offbeat monsters are a delight to behold.

This book will be a delight to child and parent alike and will stand up to the test of multiple re-readings at bedtime.

Note: For this review – The Monstore by Tara Lazar  I received a copy from the publisher.

 

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Review: The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion

What could be better than a day off from school to attend a fair with games and rides and heaps of your favorite foods? For nearly 12-year-old Miller it’s the chance to explore with his best friend without parental supervision. To that end he’s spent the last few weeks being extra helpful and responsible in the hopes that his parents will allow him free reign at this year’s fair.

But fate conspires against him from all angles.

He serves up his father’s prize pie entry as a snack to his friend, his 6-year-old sister and her friends by accident. He was doing his best to be responsible. Then he learns his mother has to work late, and worse yet, she has to work on Fair Day and expects him to be chaperoned by the mother of one of his sister’s friends. Miller frets he’ll be the laughing-stock of his classmates and he’ll never live it down.

Fair Day dawns and things continue to speed downhill like an out of control train.

Miller ends up on his own, sort of, but he has more responsibility than he knows what to do with.

A masterly crafted tale that captures all the nuance and concerns of a pre-teen boy who wants nothing more than a little bit of well-earned freedom. The reader is drawn into the story and, like the proverbial train wreck, can’t look away until the very satisfying end.

Recommended for pre-teen readers

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

The Hangman in the Mirror book coverThe heroine of the tale, Françoise Laurent, is a 15-year-old living in the slums of colonial New France, Canada. Even in the slums, her family is among the lowest and poorest of families. It’s a tough life, between her parents raging alcoholism and having to beg for rotten scraps of food, there really is not much Françoise has going for her.

Things get drastically worse when the measles sweep through the town leaving both of her parents dead. The future as a laundry woman for the neighborhood holds no attraction for her. Françoise believes if only she can become a lady’s maid, then her fate will be changed. When she reveals her grand plan, the local ladies scoff at her. But one of them makes it possible by calling in a favor to get the required letter of reference.

Françoise becomes a lady’s maid and settles into her new life after a rocky start. But her high-handed ways and her natural inclination to distrust anyone alienate her from the rest of the household staff. Her inability to foster friendship is ultimately her undoing. That and a purloined pair of gloves from her mistress.

Charged with stealing, Françoise is sent to prison with the sentence of hanging over her head. As luck would have it, there is no hangman, so she awaits her hanging until one can be found.

Françoise has a habit of concocting wildly imaginative stories. She uses this ability to ensnare a fellow prisoner into loving her, and ultimately becoming her savior.

I enjoyed this tale, even though at times the narrative felt a bit forced. According the jacket notes, this is based on historical accounts of the real-life events. The story ends where the historical records do, leaving the reader unsatisfied with a less than clear ending.

I felt as a character Françoise was not fully developed and much of her motivation was hidden behind her prickly personality. I would have liked to see more growth on her part. The character portrayed in the book was a conniving know-it-all without much in way of redeeming qualities to soften her and make her more likeable. I would have liked to see the something she possessed which made her co-prisoner fall in love with her, sight unseen, to take on the most reviled occupation in the colonies and make her his bride.

Good for an older teen as many of the scenes are quite graphic and disturbing in nature.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger

Prescious Bones book coverWritten in first person, Precious Bones (called Bones) tells her story of growing up in the swamps of Florida in the early 20th century.

Cars, telephones and even electricity are a bit of a luxury in this corner of the world. But that doesn’t bother Bones in the least. She has enough to eat and a loving mama and papa. Her backyard is the Florida Everglades.

Life is far from ideal, but Bones is satisfied with things being just the way they are. The lazy days of summer stretch out in front of her, and for a 10-year old like her, that’s about as perfect as things can get.

Until a real estate developer turns up dead near her father’s land. And if that wasn’t enough, a nasty neighbor is soon to follow, his body is discovered on the railroad tracks. The law accuses her father of committing the murders.

Bones is thrown into confusion and self-doubt. She doesn’t think her father could do such horrible things. Could he?

A historical setting, a cast of characters both good and bad, and a young girl finding out that the world isn’t as simple as she thought set the tone for this murder mystery.

Written for the pre-teen, I recommend this book to just about everyone who likes a good whodunit. Quick and fun read with just enough tension to keep readers on the edge of their seat without being really scary.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Dust Girl book coverDust Girl is set in Depression era Kansas during the height of the Dust Bowl. Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run with her mother. All her life she’s hidden her heritage. But its even more of a secret than she knows.

Callie’s health is at risk because of the constant dust storms but her mother refuses to leave the hotel she manages with Callie’s help. Callie watches as neighbor after neighbor abandon the town in search of a safer life.

One day her mother disappears during a dust storm. During Callie’s panicked search for her mother she encounters a strange hobo who tells her things about herself and her mysterious father that set her head spinning. He points her in the direction of California as the place to find her parents.

Getting to California with no money and no help is a huge undertaking. Callie won’t give up. She has to find her parents. She meets a hobo her own age named Jack, and together they take on the storm ravage country-side, hunger and prejudice as they head west.

In one town they meet a strange pair of musicians and Callie learns that not only is her mysterious father a dark-skinned singer, he’s also Fae royalty. Which means so is she.

The warring factions of the fairy world all want Callie for their own hidden agendas. It’s up to Callie to figure it all out and keep herself and Jack alive.

The historical setting for this book is quite realistic. Descriptions of dust storm and portals between worlds are so well done, the reader feels as if she’s right there.

This is the first book of a trilogy and while the wrap-up is concise, it leaves the reader wide open to jump on the sequel book as soon as possible. Not all of Callie’s questions are answered, she and Jack have still a long way to go to reach California, and what of Callie’s fairy family? Can she trust any of them?

Good book for pre-teens and teens who like lots of action, magic and evil fairies.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Candlewax book cover 9780983987703Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Princess Catherine of Lackaney, the heroine of this fantasy tale, has a typical dilemma. Her parents have betrothed her to a king of the foreign kingdom, Candlewax, without her consent. So she does what every self-respecting princess in a similar situation does. She runs away from home.

But that’s where the clichéd storyline veers from the tried and true path of runaway princesses.

Catherine meets a beast of myth, a farrier cat named Spelopokos (Pokos for short), who informs her that she is “the Catherine” of legend who will save the kingdom from the evil trodliks, vermin that eat everything in their path.

A necklace she received from her grandmother marks her as the person of prophecy. Pokos is the last farrier cat in Lackaney. The farrier cats are the only thing keeping the trodliks at bay. Pokos needs a mate, and Catherine is drafted to help him find one. They have to leave Lackaney, cross through Candlewax and pass through an enchanted gateway into a forbidden land. Her necklace is really an object of power. Both its value and Catherine’s own true history have been kept from her. She doesn’t know what to believe or who to trust as everything she’s known crashes down around her.

This book has a good dose of magical elements, and for the reader who adores Medieval settings, the world building is top-notch. Good guys turn out to be villainous and the one person she ran away to avoid turns out to be the very person who supports her the most in fulfilling the prophecy and rescue of the kingdom.

But don’t let the idea of a Knight in Shining Armor rear its ugly head. Catherine is the savior in this tale and the knight her trusty sidekick. She does the heavy lifting and in the end its her wits that enable a happy ending.

There were a few places where action was lacking, but for the most part the premise was interesting and original enough to keep me reading. I did have trouble muddling through the first chapters before the originality of the plot had me hooked, but after that, I couldn’t put the book down.

This is a great read for an older teen, especially one interested in strong female characters.

Note: I received an ARC of Candlewax by C Bailey Sims for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan coverChengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang takes place in ancient China. Historical details add an intriguing layer to this coming of age story of a young orphan boy as he sets out on a dangerous journey to find his roots.

Chengli never knew his father, his mother died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by a household cook. But Chengli feels pulled by the desert winds to head off to parts unknown in search of the truth about his father, and in a way, himself.

He leaves the safety of his servant life and charms his way into a caravan heading into the desert, hiring on as a camel and donkey drover. A boy his own age befriends him as the caravan makes its way out past the Great Wall into the vast emptiness beyond.

An imperial princess being escorted to her husband by the caravan soon demands Chengli attend her. He does his best, and learns the craft of negotiation from his new friend. But things are not all they seem. Intrigues abound. Chengli must decide between friendship, honor, duty and mere survival along the way.

The story is masterfully written. The plot takes unexpected turns that add to character growth and keep the reader glued to the book. And always in the back of Chengli’s mind (and the reader’s) is finding someone who can tell him about his father.

At the end, Chengli discovers who he really is, and manages to do so with his honor, integrity and limbs intact.

A thrilling read for a pre-teen or young teen.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan book coverGift by Andrea J. Buchanan: Daisy is finally managing to fit in at the new school where she’s a sophomore. No one here knows her checkered past, or the awful secret of her freakish nature.

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan book coverGift by Andrea J. Buchanan: Daisy is finally managing to fit in at the new school where she’s a sophomore. No one here knows her checkered past, or the awful secret of her freakish nature. No one, that is but her best friend, Danielle.

Danielle doesn’t care that Daisy is odd, lives in a trailer park and doesn’t own a TV, laptop or even the basic necessity for any teen – a cell phone. She gets it.

Daisy is a powerhouse. Literally. She can think the lights on, or fry an entire room of computer equipment with a sneeze. Which is why she left her last school. She isn’t really a troublemaker that her permanent file makes her out to be. But, with a lot of meditation and breathing exercises she’s managed to get her gift (or more likely, curse) under control. Or has she?

When Daisy’s favorite English teacher sends her after a classmate, Vivi, Daisy’s world becomes topsy-turvy. Vivian is being haunted, after Daisy befriends Vivi, so are she and Danielle.

The only good thing happening in Daisy’s life right now is swoon-worthy, senior, Kevin, likes her and becomes her boyfriend.

Vivi’s ghost, the haunting of both Daisy and Danielle, a mysterious haunted house and Daisy’s electrifying nature all collide to make a book unlike any I’ve ever read.

Gift is a truly magnificent creation of storyline, character and atmosphere. I literally was surprised by plot twist more than once. This book is a combination of murder mystery, contemporary fantasy and horror. (This is an e-book only publication. I also understand that the iPad version has interactive features such as moving text, live links to a character’s Facebook page and music. None of these features were available on my Nook version.)

Upon completion of the novel portion of the book, there is also a short graphic novel from Vivi’s point of view, followed by pages torn from Danielle’s diary. While interesting, I don’t feel they added much to the already completed novel, but just reiterated what the reader already witnessed.

This is a highly recommended book. Run out and get it if you like ghost stories. Or even if you don’t.

Note: I received an ARC of Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway book coverOrdinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Abby’s judging on her twelfth birthday did not go well. In fact, it didn’t even start.

In the world where Abby lives, everyone is magical. Having magical abilities is a given, it’s just a matter of finding out how strong your talents are on judging day and then going off to the right school to be trained properly. Unless you are unlucky enough to be an “ord.” Ords have no magic, not an ounce.

Abby is an ord.

What happens to her now? Before her big sister and the current king, she would face a life of discrimination and servitude. The laws the king recently enacted and the school he just built to teach her and others like her how to function without magic makes a future possible. But she still must battle prejudice among the population, and danger at every turn from magical beings and people who want to use her for their own gain.

Ms. Rubino-Bradway’s world building is sumptuous. Details on the how, the why and the where are masterfully spun. The story has depth without being heavy and I enjoyed the ups and downs Abby faced as she spent her first year at school, away from her very loving family.

The biggest complaint, and it’s not a minor issue, is the obvious need for a thorough copy-editing on this galley. Minor typos can be forgiven, and do slip through in many manuscripts, but this text was literally littered with misplaced words, missing words, added words and other technical bugs that pushed the reader out of the story like a boomerang. Hopefully, given the release date of May, much of this will be resolved when the book hits bookstore shelves. If it isn’t, I wouldn’t recommend spending limit entertainment dollars on this one. Which would be a shame since the author penned a masterful tale.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The last song by eva wiseman coverThe Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Fourteen-year-old Isabel is a pampered young lady of the Spanish gentry in the late 1400s in Inquisition Spain. Raised as a devote Catholic, she has no clue about her family’s dangerous secret.

But as she comes of age, she begins to question some of her parent’s odd habits, such as never serving pork, even though it’s far cheaper than mutton; or bathing before sundown every Friday.

When she is betrothed to a cruel, distasteful man her own age, instead of the promised man of her own choosing, she questions her parents motives even closer. When she accidentally overhears the servants talking, her quick mind begins to piece together the pieces of the puzzle. She confronts her parents who finally reveal the truth. Outwardly, they practice Catholicism, but they really hold to their forebears’ religion – Judaism. Isabel is warned to not reveal this knowledge to a soul because it could mean their lives.

Isabel is unable to keep this dark secret to herself and confides in a newfound friend, the silversmith’s son. The story that unfolds after this confession is one of danger and intrigue. Her life no longer the safe and secure one she believed it to be, Isabel questions everything she has ever known.

I was excited to receive this galley for review since my ancestors come from the very city where the story takes place. My great of greats grandparents might have found themselves in the very same dire situation.

The historical nature of this book is well done. Because of the age group of the readership, I do question some of the more graphic depictions of inhumanity by the Inquisition to the people caught in its vice-like grip. I found some of the scenes to be quite upsetting and scary. Parents of younger pre-teen and early teen readers might want to review the book before giving it to their children as the more sensitive reader may become distressed by such portions.

Outside of the intensity of the imagery, I found the book very engaging, and couldn’t put it down. I do feel as if the character development was lacking and wished there was a deeper understanding of the motivations behind Isabel, her parents and the secondary characters’ actions.  At a little over 200 pages, the book is a fast read. Recommended for braver young teens.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Echo Nouveau by Echo Chernik

Echo Nouveau by Echo Chernik

Echo Nouveau by Echo ChernikEcho Nouveau by Echo Chernik

I have been a long time fan of Ms. Chernik’s detailed Art Nouveau style work. When I heard she was releasing an autobiographical book, I had to have a copy.

Much of the work included is already available to be viewed on her website or her social networking sites, but what really makes me drool is the detail in the work I can observe on the printed page that just is lost when viewing a low resolution web image. The book is a tall 12” x 8”. The single-page, full-color plates are large enough to be able to see tiny details in the art, something that is often lost when the images are smaller.

That alone would have made the book worth the purchase for me. But there’s more.

Also included are tips on working in the industry, breaking in to licensing, dealing with different types of clients and Echo’s sketches, photo reference and insider looks into her working process and career development.

The final page is a FAQ that sums up questions readers might have not covered in other portions of the book.

A great coffee table book for Art Nouveau aficionados and a great reference book for artists looking for some insight into how successful contemporary artist’s career has progressed.

Note: I purchased this book for my personal library. I have known Echo on-line for over a decade.

 

 

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Review: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe MarriottShadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Suzume is an innocent, fourteen year-old when her father and beloved cousin are brutally murdered in front of her by government assassins. In spite of everything, she manages to elude the soldiers as they hunt her down.

Her mother, returning from a trip finds Suzume emotionally distraught but refuses to acknowledge the tragedy and trauma of her courageous daughter. She heads to the home of a family friend who she subsequently marries.

Suzume’s grief turns inward as she tries to make sense of her feelings and new status as an unwelcome step-child.

The servant who helped her escape from the soldiers follows her to her step-father’s home and befriends Suzume. He introduces her to the magical skill of shadow-weaving, an innate power she was born with but has no clue how to use.

Things go all wrong after the birth of her mother’s baby boy. Suzume overhears the truth of her father’s demise. She runs and hides to escape only to have things go from bad to worse along the way. Eventually, she ends up with another shadow-weaver who trains her to become the Shadow Bride, the highest honor a non-royal woman can achieve in the Moonlit Land.

Suzume learns to rely on herself, get over the survivor’s guilt at her narrow escape from death, and in the end learns that there is more to life than avenging a past over which she had no control.

The Moonlit Land, though itself fictional, is a vivid depiction of Japanese and Chinese cultural and historical society. The world building immediately draws the reader into Suzume’s life, as a pampered child, a servant and eventually a courtesan’s sister.

There is a love interest with a visiting foreign dignitary’s son, which bumps this book firmly into the young adult classification but the most intimate scene in the book happens “off-stage.” Because of this, I recommend the book for more mature young teen readers.

This is book is a real nail biter, but I was often left wondering if Suzume would ever move along with her life instead of dwelling on the awful experiences of her past. More than once, I thought she was in serious need of psychiatric care.

The story ends in a true fairytale manner when the poor girl is whisked off by her Prince Charming. The twist to this tried and true plot is much deeper though and leaves the reader satisfied even though yearning to read more of the “happily ever after” part alluded to in the last chapter.

Note: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley for review.