Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows – Book Review

The Elandrian Chronicles #1 By: J.M. Bergen
Published On: February 2, 2019

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus is living an ordinary life. He has friends, a crush on a classmate, a good relationship with his mother, and is learning Kung Fu. But one day a musical note from an unknown source and a mysterious man lead Thomas to a unique bookstore that changes everything for Thomas. While in the bookstore, the owner gives Thomas the Book of Sorrows, but only after promising to follow a few strict rules. Eager to learn about magic and everything the book has to offer, he starts reading one chapter at a time.

What I was immediately drawn to was how much the world came to life in the background of the story. While Thomas walks down a street, I can almost hear the car horns blaring. He visits his friend Enrique’s house and can feel the liveliness of activity in the home. I can see a chess set waiting for players. All together, it adds to the ambiance of the story that not every middle grade story can capture as well.

The story hums along with Thomas receiving the book, to going to school and interacting with friends, and to learning about magic. The pace is quick and even and before you know it your at the end.

The characters are fun – especially Enrique and Professor Reilly. With Enrique, there was always a wave of activity around him that captured my attention. While Professor Reilly was almost always at the center of a funny scene. Also, Huxley played the part of the enigmatic shopkeeper well with his ‘many rules to agree upon’ before letting Thomas have the book.

While I found the story a fun adventure read there were a few points that bothered me that I am certain the younger me would not have even noticed. To move the narrative along Thomas gets taken without warning by people he trusts. As an adult, it concerned me that no one told him what was going on. How difficult could it have been for those around him to give Thomas a heads-up to keep him from getting scared? Later, these same adults whom Thomas trusts also lock him in a room without warning. As a reader, I understand what was transpiring, but once again couldn’t they have mentioned this part of the plan to Thomas ahead of time? Then last, I found Enrique’s travel explanation a bit implausible considering where he had to travel from and to. Would his mother believe that story and destination? But as I said – the younger middle-grade me would not have noticed any of this at all.

Overall, Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an engaging book that kids will find humorous, entertaining, and filled with the wonders of magic.

Description:

Thomas thinks he’s an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

Bob’s Saucer Repair – Book Review

Bob and Nikki Book #1 by Jerry Boyd
Published On: June 20, 2019

I’m not sure I’ve seen a book like this before and I’m not sure sure what to make of it. There are no chapters and it is 90-95% straight dialogue. There are no descriptors. No internal conversations that provide you with insight into characters motivations. No background information on any character. For example, Bob mentions to Nikki he knows someone who can help out. A few sentences later he is calling John and a few more after that John is at the house. We are never told what John looks like, history, hobbies. He’s called and then he shows up.

Bob’s Saucer Repair begins when Bob pulls up to his house one day and sees an alien trying to fix her spaceship. The spaceship needs some coolant and few other broken parts fixed and Bob is more than happy to help Nikki (the alien) out. She has to leave sooner than expected and Bob feels her absence because he rather liked her company – a lot. But as it turns out Bob’s help is so invaluable that the aliens come back and offer him a business opportunity to provide saucer repair to other aliens. Almost immediately upon accepting the job the real adventure starts happening.

The main characters are Bob and Nikki, but the group grows and John becomes an integral part to the space repair shop too. Although there are several different characters, I found their personalities were a little too similar to each other. As a result, there weren’t many distinguishing characteristics between them other than a few examples here and there. I also found that the human characters all accepted the idea of aliens and spaceships a bit quicker than one might expect.

While the novel does have some flaws, there is also a sense of joy that comes across in the writing. The story offers humor, romance, and a sense of sci-fi fun.

Description:

Ride along as Bob’s life goes from ordinary to out of this world. Helping a stranger in need changes everything. Spend a little time on a fun romp with Bob and Nikki.

The Unready Queen – Book Review

The Oddmire #2 By: William Ritter
Published On: June 23, 2020

To be honest, I was not a big fan of the first book, Changeling. There were moments of action or adventure that I found a little boring or underwhelming. And while I liked most of the characters there was one I didn’t like: Fable. Why am I saying what I didn’t enjoy about the first book? Because I rather enjoyed the second book in this coming of age story featuring Fable.

The Unready Queen starts off soon after the events of the first book. Tinn is receiving Goblin lessons and Fable is receiving magic lessons from her mom. Tinn’s lessons are going well. Fable’s are not. Fable would rather spend time in town with Tinn and Cole and even make new friends, such as Evie. While Fable is spending time in town, odd incidents involving fairy folk/forest creatures begin to manifest in town. Things start to escalate after new townsfolk start cutting down forest trees. As a result, tensions rise between not only the forest creatures and townspeople, but also between the forest inhabitants themselves.

Like the first book, the children’s mothers play a important role. But instead of Annie it is Raina, Fable’s mother, that is more central to this narrative. The story explores the relationship between Raina and Fable and parallels what many mother/daughter relationships struggle with. A mother trying to hold on. A daughter wanting more freedom.

What won me over to this book is how multiple story lines are interwoven together to create an overarching plot about the forest vs townspeople. Instead of a single story like last time, Tinn and Cole begin to have their own separate story lines. Fable begins to spend time outside of the forest and is able to learn more about the world. She is still naive, but the experience can only benefit her personal growth. Then various forest creatures, such as spriggans, take a more prominent role that is sure to continue into the next book.

The story ends with a feeling of foreboding and a cliffhanger that immediately makes you want to grab the next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

A Judgement in Stone – Book Review

By: Ruth Rendell
Published On: May 2, 1977

By the end of the first sentence we know that Eunice Parchman is the murderer. In truth, the first sentence is one of the best first sentences I have read in a book. It is clear, concise, and straight to the point. I love the first sentence because not only do we learn who the murderer is we also know who she murdered and why. This novel does not question her guilt because that is clear. Nor does it question whom she murdered. What it does do is take a closer look at what led up to that moment.

This is a true psychological thriller that takes a look at the makeup of the killer – her motivations, what shaped her life, and what she did to hide what embarrassed her. Who was she when no one was looking or cared to look? But there is more to this story than the murderer. There is a family involved and this book also lays out all the choices the family made along the way. Those moments of hesitation they felt about her character, but never acted on. Moments when they had a clear choice to change the direction their life was about to take in ‘what if’ conversations.

Judgement in Stone at times feels like a mix between an in-depth TV murder investigation and the narration of the Twilight Zone with its hindsight commentary of specific events that might have prevented their deaths. At times the narrator even implores the character to take another course of action. But they can’t change the past; instead the narrator can only show us how the character failed themselves. We can only see where the victims should have listened to their own doubts about incongruous behaviors.

The majority of the book leads up to the murders, but equally fascinating were the events following. The narrator once again tells you what her downfall is, but until there is an arrest doubts linger in my head. Eunice is so smug and self-satisfied in her belief that she’ll get away with it. She has taken care of everything and the investigators are none the wiser. This is the smallest part of the book, but is one of my two favorite sections. The other favorite being any time the narrator breaks the fourth wall.

A Judgement in Stone is one of Ruth Rendell’s best, if not the best work. The psychological motivations of both the Eunice and the family were expertly portrayed. The in-depth discussion within the story at what Eunice considered a weakness was fascinating. All in all, this is a thought-provoking book that will stay with me for quite a while. I am also certain that I will be hard pressed to find another equal to it.

Rating: 5 stars

Description:

What on earth could have provoked a modern day St. Valentine’s Day massacre?

On Valentine’s Day, four members of the Coverdale family–George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles–were murdered in the space of 15 minutes. Their housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, shot them, one by one, in the blue light of a televised performance of Don Giovanni. When Detective Chief Superintendent William Vetch arrests Miss Parchman two weeks later, he discovers a second tragedy: the key to the Valentine’s Day massacre hidden within a private humiliation Eunice Parchman has guarded all her life.  A brilliant rendering of character, motive, and the heady discovery of truth, A Judgement in Stone is among Ruth Rendell’s finest psychological thrillers. 

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians – Book Review

A Shadow Histories Book 1 By: H.G. Parry
Published On: June 23, 2020

Blending real historical moments with fantasy and magical realism, H.G. Parry creates a story spanning the abolitionist movement through French Revolution set in the late 18th century. Taking historical facts and altering them just enough to fit inside a world where the governance of magic is established by laws and where men such as William Pitt argue on behalf of the commoners who should have more rights and freedom in regards to magic use.

The breadth and scope of the what the author is undertaking is amazing. To research such a political span of time in European history and to adjust it in such a way to where parts of known history are now integrated with magic was truly phenomenal to read. Undeniably A Declaration of Rights of Magicians is an intelligent and well-thought out the book and I am left wondering if my knowledge of the actual subjects will forever be changed.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

However, merging the two together also comes at a cost. At times, I was drawn into an incredibly intriguing story and other times I felt like I was back in history class waiting for the bell to ring. It was during these times that I felt the story dragged a little or at least my excitement for the story diminished as we saw things occur off screen, but not on. I thoroughly love and appreciate the concept of the book, but there are other historical events or points in time I enjoy more than than the late 1700s. Maximilien Robespierre, William Pitt, Toussaint Breda, George-Jacques Danton, William Wilberforce among others were names learned long ago – mostly for a test.

Politics can be quite an intriguing subject none more so than the events leading up the French revolution and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction from an alternative world perspective or at least one that is slightly altered. But unfortunately for me, this story didn’t work out as much as I had hoped.

Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook Books for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos.

I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in the Principal’s Office – Picture Book Review

By: Jancee Dunn
Illustrated By: Scott Nash
Published On: June 16, 2020

Oh no! The student who owns a teddy bear has been called to the principal’s office. Not because they have done something wrong, but because their teddy bear has. How mischievous has teddy been? Quite.

That very morning teddy contacted all his stuffed animal friends and then they all sneaked into the kid’s backpacks. While the kids are learning the stuffed friends do all sorts of rascally things, such as making a mess at the cafeteria. Doesn’t sound bad on the surface, but when it includes writing their names on the walls with mustard and ketchup then it’s whole other story. Perhaps if they hadn’t gone to the gym and tied up the coach with a jump rope the principal may not have been all the upset. Or if they hadn’t poured a bottle of bubbles into… well, you get the idea.

While I liked the book, the adult in me thought a little more was needed to round out the story. Initially, my confusion started at the beginning by wondering why the student was in the office. Was the student the real culprit and the teddy just who they had used as an excuse? It turns out the instigator really is teddy. But then, I also would have liked to have seen teddy and friends experience some consequences for their actions. Perhaps the principal should have asked teddy and friends to help clean up, which is actually how I thought the story would end. Yes, teddy is called to the principal’s office, but I guess I’m not sure I agree with teddy looking really cute, which then helps him skirt out of any consequences for his actions.

The illustrations are very humorous, filled with many pastel colors or if not pastel, then they are still given a light-touch to them. I suspect many young kids will find this book really funny and expect a chuckle or two from them.

Thanks to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for the advanced ready copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 3 stars

Description:

What do your favorite toys get up to when you’re at school? Teddy and friends bring their creative mayhem to the classroom in a gleefully vicarious comic romp.

What would happen if your teddy bear stowed away in your backpack and followed you to school? And what if your teddy convinced all your friends’ stuffed animals to come along for the party? Would you believe they might sneak into the cafeteria to play Pizza Disc, head to the band room to put bubbles in the wind instruments, make a clever glue trap for the art teacher, and roll around in finger paint as well? Luckily, the principal remembers what it was like to be young and may let the rambunctious teddy bear and crew off just this once. Author Jancee Dunn and illustrator Scott Nash bring Teddy and friends back for more mischief in a high-spirited tale of uninhibited fun.

The Witches of Willow Cove – Book Review

By: Josh Roberts
Published On: May 26, 2020

Well, this was quite a fun middle grade read. Full of mystery, history, friendships, bullies, jealousy, rivalries and magic. As an adult I enjoyed it. The younger middle-grade me would have devoured it.

What the description doesn’t do justice to is the fact that this is an ensemble cast. While it is true that Abby Shepherd is the main character, it is also true that her best friend Robby – a nonmagical person – plays a significant role as well. Even then there are several others with large ‘screen time’ such as Amethyst, whose hair color matches her name, Zeus, Becca, and Piper just to name a few. The strength of the book lies with these characters and the different avenues they take to learn the truth about recent events and the town’s history. Doing so helps the plotting of the story continually move forward, but the variety of characters also help provide a realistic town and school setting. After all, this is the age where kids start ‘noticing’ each other.

It all starts on the night certain girls turn 13. That’s when their magical abilities begin to manifest themselves. Some of the magic they experience seems to be person-specific and other types of magic is general to all. While our new magic users are becoming adjusted to this rather huge change two seemingly unrelated individuals mysteriously disappear. There is too much coincidence going on and some of our cast is split on learning spells while others are researching the town’s history.

If there are any issues with the story it would be with how one of our main characters handled a disappearance of someone they knew. While the individual and their parent were upset I felt it was glossed over a bit to help ensure the main story line plot continued to move forward.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Toward the end, we get the hint that perhaps there are more sinister events coming their way, but that will be for a future book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.

But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove? 

The Glamourist – Book Review

The Vine Witch #2 By: Luanne G. Smith
Published On: June 9, 2020

It’s the relaxed atmosphere and mood that draws me to this series. High octane action/adventure novels are great, but the energy those give off often makes me feel a need to rush to the finish. Instead, The Glamourist is a simple story about the next chapter in Elena’s life with her new fiancee, Jean-Paul: Meeting the future mother-in-law. Of course it isn’t really as simple as that since Elena now has to contend with the Ministry of Lineages and Licenses along with finding ways to sneak off to help Yvette out.

Without trying to spoil anything if you haven’t read the first book in the series, in The Vine Witch there is a moment where Elena is thrown in jail and ends up in a cell with two other women – Yvette and Sidra. Without realizing it at the time, it is each of these women who the three books of the Vine Witch series focuses on. Elena is still the main character as she was in The Vine Witch, but The Glamourist now features Yvette’s story. Here Elena comes to the city to meet her future mother-in-law, but before she does she needs approval from the government to continue being a vine witch. The answer is ‘no’ – at least not unless you do one small thing that revolves around Yvette, who is still a condemned murderer and fugitive.

The Prologue opens the story by showing us what happens to Sidra and Yvette directly after the events of the last book. Yvette ‘accidentally’ steals a wish from Sidra and as a result they are now both bound to remain in the city until Yvette’s wish is completed. To say Sidra is unhappy is putting it mildly. She had vowed never to return to that city and is a tad angry about Yvette’s stolen wish. I highly suspect we will get to learn more about this and her vow in the next book.

The stolen wish from Sidra is actually the one piece of the story that befuddles me a bit. Although Sidra tries to explain it to Yvette I never quite understood how it happened or what the wish specifically was or why it locked them there in the city. The wish is what starts Yvette’s story so as a reader as long as I knew that the wish had to be fulfilled and had an inkling of an idea of what the wish was, then I was able to continue reading without too much issue. With all that said, I do wish I had a better grasp on it. But it really doesn’t take too long for us to figure out that this wish has something to do with Yvette learning more about her mother and finding a way to unlock her magic.

Although never explicitly pronounced, one gets the distinct impression that the story is set in Paris. With French phrases and terms sprinkled throughout the story and references to cars and gaslights, you can’t help but believe you are in France in the early 1910s – 1920s. References to various artists and paintings are plentiful giving the early 1920s a definite nod.

The story is told from three POVs: Elena’s, Yvette’s and Henri – a new character that Yvette knew from a long time ago. Elena and Yvette are where most of the story happens with Henri’s chapters occurring less frequently. I liked Henri, but in reality he wasn’t all that memorable. The characters that were memorable though were Alexandre – the owner of a curio shop where all items within are guaranteed to have been enchanted at one point in their life, and Marion – Jean-Paul’s mother who has an interest in the world beyond.

In the end I found I enjoyed this novel more than I did the first one, which felt a little uneven to me. But overall the pacing and tone feels more consistent with this story and would be a lovely choice if you’re looking for a light fantasy story with a dash of romance and one that has a slower pace to it.

Rating: 3.75

Description:

A spellbinding novel of bloodlines, self-discovery, and redemption by the author of the Washington Post bestseller The Vine Witch.

Abandoned as a child in turn-of-the-century Paris, Yvette Lenoir has longed to uncover the secrets of her magical heritage and tap her suppressed powers. But what brave and resourceful Yvette has done to survive the streets has made her a fugitive. With a price on her head, she clings to a memento from her past—what she believes to be a grimoire inherited from the mother she never knew. To unlock the secrets of her past, Yvette trusts in one woman to help solve the arcane riddles among its charmed pages.

Elena Boureanu is the vine witch of Château Renard, noted for its renowned wines. Even as she struggles with her own bloodline—and its poisonous threat to her future—Elena can’t ignore a friend on the run. Joined by a cunning thief, the proprietor of an enchanted-curio shop, and a bewitching black cat, Elena and Yvette are determined to decode Yvette’s mysterious keepsake. But what restless magic will be unleashed? And what are Yvette and Elena willing to risk to become the witches they were destined to be?

Changeling – Book Review

The Oddmire #1 By: William Ritter
Published On: July 16, 2019

Once upon a time, there was a child whom the goblins came to steal, and once upon a time, there was a child whom the goblins left behind.

William Ritter, Changeling

There is a classic feel to Changeling. Here middle grade readers are introduced to goblin folklore, which is then combined with contemporary elements. The premise of this story is mostly based on goblin changeling lore: a goblin substitutes a couple’s real baby for a goblin baby that looks identical. Sometimes the lore describes fairies doing this, but mostly I’ve seen goblins as the main culprit. But there is another folklore element that the story introduces readers too: The Hinkypunk.

It all starts when Kull, a goblin, goes to change one human baby for a goblin baby. Except Kull gets confused as to which is which and has to leave them both there. Everyone in town understands what has happened, but since the two boys are identical no one can tell them apart. Now they just wait for the day the goblin part of the boy reveals itself.

Changeling is very unique in this: Unlike most middle grade novels that separate the children from their parents so the kids can have an adventure, Changeling makes the mother extremely integral to the story. Annie (mother) is hands down my favorite character from the story as it revolves around her love for both boys. For 12 years Annie has raised them, loved them, helped them. No one and not even Kull can tell her that they are not both her sons. It’s a lovely theme and message: You do not have to be blood-related to be loved, to be a family, nor to be someone’s child.

If Annie is my favorite character, then Fable is my least favorite. Fable is an innocent, naive character that at times acts as if she were 5 years old and then other times surprises you by her boldness and loyalty to her new friends. Her naivete she displays contrasted against how she acts extremely bravely and assertively other times felt a little disjointed. In the end, I couldn’t reconcile the different parts to her character.

The story is sweet and adventurous with a lovely message. But there were moments in the story where I needed more dialogue to help bring me into the story as I felt like the action or events were being described to me instead of me experiencing it along with Cole and Tinn. I also didn’t understand why the story needed to take the boys the first wrong direction, but I can’t elaborate without spoiling. But in the end Changeling will certainly be a story that resonates with many readers.

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Description:

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

The Vine Witch – Book Review

The Vine Witch #1 By: Luanne G. Smith
Published On: October 1, 2019
No. of Pages: 263

Sometimes it’s all in the timing of when you read a book.

Initially, I picked The Vine Witch as one of my Amazon First Reads. They don’t always offer fantasy or science fiction, mostly it is thrillers and a non-fiction memoir. So when it was offered, I grabbed it. Except, I didn’t read it. I’m a mood reader and the mood wasn’t right. The first reviews I saw had it between 3 and 4 stars. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t inspire me to read it, so I put it on the back burner. But, The Glamourist (Vine Witch #2) is coming out soon and I really was drawn to the cover. So in addition to being a mood reader I am also someone who reads a book based solely on cover – I picked it up. But you can’t read book 2 without reading book 1, so that’s where I started.

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