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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Fantasy

Caraval
Garber, Stephanie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scarlett Dragna's impending marriage to a total stranger is her only hope. It'll get her away from her abusive father and allow her to save her younger sister. Her one regret is that she'll never have the opportunity to participate in Caraval - a traveling carnival/magic circus that patrons play like a game. She's written annual letters to Legend, the man in charge of Caraval. He's never responded. Until this year, when he replies to her request with a pair of tickets for this year's game. After a series of escalating events, Scarlett finds herself enmeshed in the strange game of Caraval, where nothing and no one are what they seem, and where one's thoughts, senses and "friends" are not to be trusted.

Most of the blurbs I've seen make this book seem similar to The Night Circus, but really all it has in common with that book is a ton of magical imagery and the concept of a travelling circus cloaked in mystery. Caraval is more like an extremely watered down version of The Magus by John Fowles. As I (unpopular opinion time) thought the Night Circus was only just ok, this was actually a plus for me as The Magus is a book that I LOVED. Unfortunately, however, the promise of Caraval's premise was never fully realized as the author got in her own way a lot. First, Scarlett has this weird power to see emotions as colors. I'm not sure why, as this never really went anywhere in terms of the character or plot. It does, however, give the author an opportunity to flex her purple muscles - the prose was not doing this book any favors. I skimmed a ton as the writing was overwrought. The characters were pretty bland - I can tell you that Scarlett loves her sister, is scared of her father, and has been obsessed with the Caraval since she was a child. That's about it. Scarlett falls into instalove, which has never not been annoying. The other major downside for me was that the premise had a ton of unrealized potential. Garber could have done a lot with unreliable narrators (remember, the concept is that once in the game, you can trust no one/nothing), or the mystery and atmosphere of the circus. There's relatively little chicanery. I'm hoping for more of...basically everything in the sequel.

Despite the lackluster characters and questionable writing, I found myself getting swept up in the story. Myriad problems notwithstanding, I liked it! I'll definitely check out the sequel, and I can see a lot of teens really loving this one. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Emissary
Locke, Thomas
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A fantastic world of adventure and legions come alive. Elves and dragons and ethereal powers colliding together in this fast paced journey where EVIL again is trying to 'take over'. It was an easy read and kind of a fun romp. A 'page turner' as they say that left me with a desire to get the next book quickly. It's also another '1st book' so it makes it easy to know what to read the next time. (check out my other "1st books" in the staff reviews. The main character has a noble upright spirit in him and his quest in part is about him becoming all that he can be. Many friends join him along the way and he soon learns that without them he will fail. If you like The Lord of the Rings series; you'll probable like the books that I read.

My curiosity is up about these reviews - so If I could get some feed back (at least 7) - I'll tell you the next "best fantasy saga", I have found, after the Lord of the Rings.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
A Cast of Stones
Carr, Patrick W
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book starts out really slowwwwww, but hang in there 'cause it starts picking up speed about a third of the way through. Errol Stone lives in a barrel of ale most of the time, he's an orphan and the one who was raising him was killed. It's a hard luck story that lifts you up at the end. He discovers he has hidden talents and true friends that help him overcome life. He has to fight through with work and is discovers a great adventure to live. Most of the stories I like are about people that overcome the odds and learn how to live uprightly. This is another '1st book' and I'm looking forward to the next. I read books that are "clean" from bad language and lustful sex. There's plenty of those, no challenge to find them, so I seek out those that are not. A little Romance and a Noble Spirit, mixed into a great Adventure are what I enjoy. The Return of Sir Percival and The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman are other '1st books' I have read, reviewed and enjoyed recently.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
Heartless
Meyer, Marissa
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In Marissa Meyer's (The Lunar Chronicles) new standalone novel, she explores the Queen of Heart's origin story. Lady Catherine Pinkerton wants nothing more than to open her own bakery with her maid, Mary Ann. But as the Kingdom of Hearts operates in a style similar to that of Victorian England, Catherine finds herself without the money or permission to do so. Worse yet, she's being courted by the king, a silly man that she has little interest in marrying, though she is under constant pressure from her mother to accept his advances. And then, at a royal ball, a hot new court jester with murky motivations appears alongside a Jabberwock and Catherine's life and the Kingdom of Hearts will never be the same.

This was a pretty hotly anticipated read for me, as I adored the Lunar Chronicles. And a lot of the best things about the Lunar Chronicles were present here too: Wonderland and its delightful, sinister, and delightfully sinister characters are definitely a part of the story without overwhelming the character development or seeming trite. It was brilliantly executed. The romance, for me, was just a bit overbearing, and I had a hard time investing in Jest, the love interest. He was introduced as a magician, and then all I could envision whenever he was around was GOB Bluth dancing around to Final Countdown. Decidedly not sexy. We also didn't really learn enough about him for me to ever really care about his fate. I really enjoyed the other parts, though - Catherine's struggles to do right by her parents while preserving her dreams of opening a bakery were realistic and relatable, and her transition from hero to villain was pretty believable in the context of everything that happened. Warning: the food is well described - this book will make you eat any and all baked goods in your house. Oh, and the last 100 pages, the end game, was fantastic. It's a lot of fast paced action laced with emotion, and it's marvelous.

While there was a bit too much romance in this one for my taste, I think those that enjoy a bit more romance in their fantasy reads, or those that love a well-written, somehow inventive fairy tale retelling will love this one. I liked it - 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Return of Sir Percival
O'Keefe, S. Alexander
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This Arthurian tale is about noble knights, impossible quests and miracles. Camelot has fallen. King Arthur Pendragon and his Round Table of invincible knights have been destroyed. For tens years now the land has spiraled into chaos and destruction. Ruled by the evil Morgana and her hired barbarians, the people have no hope - all is lost. Guinevere, the Queen of the Britons, is hidden away in a far away abbey, safe from the assassins of Morgana - or is she? And where is Merlin the Wise, Arthur's trusted adviser? That old wizard was at the Battle of Camlann when the King fell, but has disappeared. Morgana's spies are searching the land for him and has vowed to take his head. A merchant ship approaches the shores of Albion hoping to avoid the Saxon Sea Wolves that hunt these waters now. But they're spotted, boarded and the butchering begins. Then two passengers emerge from the ship's hold. Like banshees from hell they move in deadly unison, destroying everyone in sight. Sir Percival, the last Knight of the Table, has returned.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce E.
Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I started off in love with this book. However, as it progressed I lost a little bit of interest in it. I guess Miggory Sow and Roscuru didn't appeal to me as much. But it finished strong. Great narrative voice and well paced. Well done overall.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
Saunders, George
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

“The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip” is a mere 82 pages, and features the witty lyricism of George Saunders, National Book Award finalist, and the whimsical illustrations of Lane Smith. One might call the story an adult fairy-tale, but I believe both young and old will find it humorous and intriguing.

The story introduces the reader to round, baseball-sized creatures called gappers. They are bright orange, not particularly intelligent, and simply love goats. Saunders explains that, “when a gapper gets near a goat it gives off a continual high-pitched happy shriek of pleasure that makes it impossible for the goat to sleep” (2). For the three families that make up the town of Frip, this is bad news. Goats are their livelihood and so the children of these families must brush gappers off their goats eight times a day to keep their goats happily producing milk. The gapper trouble increases for Capable and her father when a slightly more intelligent gapper takes charge of the goat-loving critters. He decides that the whole lot should gang up on a single house rather than splitting themselves between the three houses of Frip. The other two families rejoice in their gapper-less good fortune, but poor Capable and her goats are quickly overrun by the united forces of gappers.

This story is funny, very creative, and poignant in its understanding of human nature. It expresses the importance of community and kindness, and in a way that sounds only a little preachy. Overall, “The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip,” is definitely worth a read. It requires a single sitting to finish, and rewards the reader with plenty of laughs and a renewed sense of what it means to be a neighbor.

Reviewer's Name: Becca B.
Awards:
Genres:
Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Scamander, Newt
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Cute cute cute! This is a fun book that is chock full of imagination. I liked that is was inscribed as Harry Potter's copy but Ron Weasley had amusing handwritten notes in it. I think this book may be best enjoyed by devoted Harry Potter fans. If you've seen the Fantastic Beasts movie, you may enjoy trying to pick out the beasts featured in it. Fun!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Shadowshaper
Older, Daniel José
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Sierra Santiago is looking forward to the perfect summer. Class is finally out, she has a close group of friends to hang out and party with, and best of all she has the perfect summer gig: painting murals on the walls of old buildings in Brooklyn. But when she starts work on her first mural, she notices something strange going on with the other paintings around her. For one thing, they’re fading way faster than normal, and for another – well, it almost seems like they’re moving. Most confusing of all, when she gets home her grandfather – who hasn’t spoken since his stroke – suddenly wakes up and starts speaking directly to her: she HAS to finish the mural she’s painting, he says, and she needs to do it as fast as possible – before it’s too late. Sierra is thrown. What could a giant picture of a dragon have to with anything? And what does her grandfather mean about time running out? He leaves her with a riddle about a missing woman and more questions than answers.

Most infuriating of all, everyone in her family seems to know exactly what’s going on – but no one will tell her. Her mother even gets angry with her when she tries to ask about the connection between her grandfather and the murals. Something about the subject is just too dangerous to discuss. At first this seems ridiculous to her, but when she goes to a party with a group of her friends suddenly the danger is all too real. A zombie crashes the party and heads straight for her. Sierra is in shock, but Robbie, the quiet, artistic boy from her class that she’s been chatting with, knows what it is – and knows Sierra’s grandfather, too. Sierra escapes, but it’s a close call, and her problems are only just beginning.

Afraid and more confused than ever, she decides to go to the best place for research: the library. While she’s there, she discovers that an anthropologist, the mysterious Dr. Wick, was studying her grandfather and his group of friends just before he had a stroke and everything went wrong. Dr. Wick was researching a power called shadowshaping: the ability to imbue ancestral spirits into their artwork, whether it’s storytelling, music, or, you guessed it, painting murals. Sierra’s starting to put together the pieces, but time is running out – the murals are fading faster than ever and her grandfather’s group of friends, the shadowshapers, are dying one by one. Sure, they’re elderly men, and there’s not a mark on their bodies, but it can’t just be a coincidence, can it? And what about Dr. Wick – he went missing at the same time as her grandfather's a stroke, but is he a victim or a killer? Sierra sets out with Robbie and her group of friends in search of answers. Along the way, she’ll face the walking dead, living paintings, and her family’s tangled past.

I love fantasy, and this had such a unique premise that I had to pick it up, but sadly it fell far short of my expectations. First, the good: the magic system is very original and a lot of fun to read about; the idea of imbuing artwork with ancestral spirits is already interesting, but having murals and chalk drawings come to life to dance and fight and interact with the world made for great reading and some really cool action scenes. In addition, the cast is very diverse in terms of both race and sexuality, and Sierra’s budding relationship with Robbie felt natural rather than forced (and I say that as someone who usually hates romance in YA, but it was very subtle and actually rather sweet). Unfortunately, none of this could save the book from its biggest problem: the pacing. Usually I’m complaining about books that are bloated with filler, but this one had the opposite problem: way too many ideas, not enough space. In just 280 pages, there wasn’t enough room to develop all of the world-building and plot and character development that could have made this book great. As a result, it’s very uneven, and there’s no room for the plot to breathe; the book jumps around a lot from plot point to plot point, and most of the interactions between characters are, quite frankly, bizarre. Older forces awkward conversations that seemed designed to cram in as much background detail as possible before ending abruptly mid-stream so that Sierra can get to the next scene. It’s as if he’s written a check list of everything Sierra needs to do and he’s decided to follow it doggedly regardless of whether or not it flows. Details are introduced but then never followed up on or resolved in any way.

This is compounded by a second problem: the writing just isn’t very good. Part of that is just the book being aimed at a younger audience, and that aspect doesn’t bother me, but another part is awkward transitions between scenes, ham-fisted dialogue, and way too many editing errors for such a short read. These problems together made it honestly quite painful to get through, especially in the rushed beginning chapters when you can see Older trying to get to the main plot as quickly as possible at the expense of everything else. Basically, good idea, poor execution. I would give it 2.5 stars. I still think this has appeal for teens who love urban fantasy or who are looking for something different and original to read, but I wouldn’t call it good by any stretch of the imagination.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The Wicked + the Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act
Gillen, Kieron
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This series is really a must-read for fans of modern fantasy, mythology and pop culture. The Wicked + the Divine takes place in a world where a phenomenon called the Recurrence occurs every 90 years, causing a Pantheon of twelve deities from across human cultures to awaken within the bodies of young adults, granting them tremendous superhuman abilities. They will be loved, they will be hated, but two years after awakening, they will all be dead. The year is 2014 and the Recurrence has come again, and this new crop of gods blurs the line between the way deities were worshipped in ancient times and the way humankind worships its popular icons in the modern day. Though they are reincarnations of figures from antiquity- Lucifer, Woden, and Minerva, for example- their personas and appearances invoke modern musical icons like Daft Punk, David Bowie and Prince, and their worshippers stalk their instagram feeds and attend sold-out concert-like performances of their miracles.

However, all is not divine within the ranks of the Pantheon. Skeptics dismiss their claims of "godhood" and "miracles" as delusions, hallucinations or special effects, and point to the last Recurrence - which took place during the 1920s - as the product of the same sort of hoax as those performed under the umbrella of Spiritualism during that era. And, these new gods have all the hormones, the petty selfishness and the capriciousness of the teenagers and young adults they used to be, only now they have superhuman powers at their fingertips, and the weight of the knowledge that for all their strength they will all die before two years have passed. The mysterious goddess Ananke, who exists outside the cycle of the Pantheon, is the only being who seems to understand the forces at work behind the Recurrence, and she acts as something of a guiding light for the gods, though a cryptic and guarded one, at best. Into this tumultuous mix enters Laura, our narrator, a god-obsessed superfan who idolizes the Pantheon to the point of distraction. Though Laura wants nothing more in this life than to be a god herself, she settles for attending their tours, buying their merchandise and following them obsessively on social media, getting as close to them as she possibly can. That is, until she unexpectedly befriends the young Lucifer at a concert and finds herself suddenly drawn into the beautiful, deadly and miraculous world of intrigue that surrounds the members of the Pantheon.

This comic is incredible, both in terms of its writing and worldbuilding, and its art, which is both stunning and incredibly consistent. It is also a wonderful example of diversity and inclusiveness in what is, essentially, a superhero comic - Laura is part of a loving biracial family, Lucifer is a polyamorous, genderfluid woman who is a dead ringer for Bowie, and representation of queer characters, women and people of color abound. I collect this comic religiously (hah!) in both its individual issues and its trades, and I really cannot recommend it enough. However, when our rating says M/Mature, we MEAN it. While there isn't much in the way of graphic sexual content, there is some gore, frequent adult language, and a whole lot of adult situations.

Reviewer's Name: Matt H.
Awards:
Carry On
Rowell, Rainbow
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Rainbow Rowell's "Carry On" had me laughing and tearing up and cheering along the protagonists like a crazy person, which -- as I listened to the audiobook in my car -- I'm hoping didn't concern my fellow drivers. This book is not only a clever love letter to the Harry Potter universe/the concept of a "chosen one" narrative, it's one of the cutest teen fiction romances I've read in a long time. I'm going to try not to spoil anything, which is why this review is so very, very short, but... Awww. What a simultaneously goofy and emotional book.

As you may or may not know, "Carry On" takes place in the universe Cath is fangirl-ing over in Rowell's other novel, "Fangirl," but I'd say it works very well as its own independent story. You could read it as a set with "Fangirl," or just read it for its own sake, I imagine both ways are fun and interesting for different reasons.

Categories: Teen Fantasy, Just Plain (?) Fantasy (if you love the Harry Potter books, this is kind of intended for you, I think, regardless of age), GLBTQ Fiction, Humor (?), Romance, Satire/Reinterpretation

Reviewer's Name: Kate
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Valente, Catherynne M.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.

So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
The Hidden Oracle
Riordan, Rick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)

Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.

Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!

To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
Book Review: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Edwards, Julie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

**Spoiler Alert** Let me just say this, don't read this book out loud to your young child. It took forever to get through it and I was so sick and tired of it by the end that it turned into a chore. I didn't really get into it, it just seemed silly to me, but my daughter liked it. A major sticking point for me was the author's failure to explain why the antagonists of the book were actually on the side of the Whangdoodle in the end. Meh.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Thorne, Jack
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

SPOILER ALERT! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so of course I dug getting to learn more about Harry and his friends. I was very interested in the Scorpius/Albus relationship but hoped there had been a bit more about Scorpius's relationship with his father. I was mildly annoyed that Draco and Harry became friends and even that Draco showed a sensitive side. However, I liked how devoted he was to his son, just like his mother had been so devoted to him. The final chapters with Harry bonding with Albus didn't interest me much either. But still a good read and a great fix for my Harry Potter withdrawals. I would like to see it as a play.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Journey's End
Hawkins, Rachel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After her parents split, Georgia girl Nolie Stanhope finds herself spending her summer in a mysterious town called "Journey's End" in Scotland while her father investigates a mysterious fog (known as The Boundary) that's plagued the local village folk for centuries. Nolie is pretty excited - in addition to some sweet international travel, she's an avid ghost enthusiast, and feels like the summer might be promising in that department. And she is pretty immediately proven right! When Nolie and her new Scottish friend Bel see a weird dude walking down the beach, they think they've seen a ghost. Have they? And why is the Boundary suddenly moving closer to shore?

This was a pretty great MG ghost story. The setting is wonderful - Scotland sort of lends itself to mystery, and Hawkins imbues the village of Journey's End with a ton of charm, personality, and a touch of creepiness. Both of the lead characters, Bel and Nolie, were pretty well fleshed out with distinctive and likable personalities. Their friendship, while quickly formed, was believable and would be a great example for young girls. There's a bit of bullying and some exposition about the effects of divorce, so some important relatable issues are addressed. The Boundary itself is a fantastic and appropriately creepy mystery centerpiece. Really, my only complaint is that there was a ton of build-up to a mystery/ghost story that was pretty quickly and too easily resolved. But I'm a tough customer when it comes to middle grade reads, and overall, this one was pretty great so I'll go with the 4 star rating. I'll definitely be booktalking this one with sixth graders in the fall.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
A Monster Calls
Ness, Patrick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A Monster Calls is an award winning, simple, easy to read book about a very complicated, emotional issue. A young boy, Conor, faces the stark reality of his mother’s terminal illness. He has been suffering from a recurring nightmare and suddenly a new dream-like monster comes to him to see him through this upheaval. It is a short book that will have you emotionally tied up in knots written for young adults, but applicable to all people that are dealing with loss, closure and guilt. Conor’s internal struggle vividly comes to life in the form of the monster in this book. If you’re looking for a quick read that will pull you in and hold you, this is the book for you.

Reviewer's Name: Jenny G.
Impyrium
Neff, Henry
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

3000 years ago (aka present day), the earth suffered from "the Cataclysm" - an apocalyptic event that changed the literal shape of the earth (because earthquakes) as well as all of its political structures. In this future version of earth, technology has been all but outlawed, and magical folks are treated in a vastly superior way to those without magic. Hob Smythe is a non-magical miner living in the Dusk (outside of present-day Vancouver) who is recruited by a secret society called The Fellowship that wants non-magic folks to have the same rights as magic folks. He is quickly whisked away to the capital (Impyrium) where he is to spy on Hazel Faeregrine - the princess third in line to the throne that the Fellowship suspects is massively powerful. Meanwhile, Hazel is trying to learn how to wield her great magical power, while maneuvering and investigating interesting goings on in the palace.

As you can probably tell from that description, there is a lot of world-building that happens in this book. As a result, the beginning is a little slow, but after a few chapters, I found myself engrossed. Neff creates a dynamic world full of magic, demons, and dragons. The characters themselves are intelligent, likable (if a little gullible), and independent. If you like your heroes with pluck, you'll love Hazel and Hob. The story, once it gets going, is fairly complex, but in a really great way. There's a lot of plotting and conspiracies and it's really fun to try to figure out what is happening along with Hazel and Hob. A lot of little threads are introduced, and many plot points are tied up in the end while still paving the way for the next installment in the story. Additionally, there is fun social commentary in terms of non-magic vs. magic folks and their respective treatments.

I liked this enough that I immediately put the author's companion series, which is called The Tapestry and tells about the events of the Cataclysm, on hold. This is probably my favorite non-sequel middle grade read of the year. Recommended for fantasy readers of all ages. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Blue Sargent has unusual name, but she is an unusual girl. She lives in the small town of Henrietta, in a house filled with psychics, including her mother. Ever since she can remember she has been told that she if she kisses her true love he will die. Up until now Blue has tried to stay away from boys, especially the preppy rich ones that go to the boarding school in town. But when she gets involved with four boys from the Aglionby School who are searching for the burial site of a mythical Welsh king, Blue’s plans go out the window. As the hunt for the grave becomes more dangerous (ghosts and Latin speaking trees included), so too does Blue’s relationship with one of the boys named Gansey. Will Blue be able to be part of the quest without killing one of the Raven boys?

The Raven Boys is a dark and gritty fantasy, which turns the ‘true love’s kiss’ cliché on its head. For anyone looking for a more modern take on the fantasy genre or are interested in the paranormal, this is the book for them.

Reviewer's Name: K. S.
My Lady Jane
Hand, Cynthia, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was just delightful.

My Lady Jane is a semi-historical semi-fantastical look at the life of Lady Jane Grey, cousin to King Edward VI, who was queen for 9 days and then swiftly deposed and subsequently beheaded by Mary I (aka Bloody Mary). The book looks at the events through the perspectives of Edward, Jane, and Jane's new husband, Gifford Dudley (call him G). The authors decided to rewrite history a bit to give some folks shapeshifting powers and to give our Lady Jane a happy ending. The result was a charming, whimsical read written in the sarcastic and snarky prose of today, and it was marvelous.

The book is even more impressive when you consider that it has three authors, but felt as though it could have been written by one person (I'm sure that each author wrote from a different character's perspective, but it was never jarring). The characters were well fleshed out, each perspective was funny and interesting, and I never felt myself racing through one character's chapter to get to a character I liked better (because I liked them all). I'm a big sucker for court intrigue, and there is obviously a lot of that here. The fantasy elements are pretty small, and honestly, the book could've sort of been done without them, but they do give the authors an out for some of the less historical aspects of the book (like Edward's survival, for example).

I gave the book four stars instead of five as, though I loved the tone for most of the book, by the end it was feeling a bit twee. The book was also a bit overlong. Overall though, this is a great read that I would recommend to people who like quirky, well-written books about strong women with a touch of fantasy. I hope these authors team up to write another alternate history, because I'd so be there. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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