My son and I both love fantasy fiction, and we’re both suckers for ARCs from beloved authors… So, when I heard that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare were writing a middle-grade fantasy series together, I just knew I had to get my hands on a copy of this ARC. (The good news for anyone reading this review is that the book came out September 9th and you can read it without scheming to find an ARC!)
And do you know what was even better than opening a random, unexpected package to find a copy of this ARC? When it arrived in the mail on the very day that we were ready to start a new book. Awesomesauce! I knew these authors were awesome and that a collaboration between them was likely to be epic, but I also kinda expected that this book would be somewhat formulaic and predictable, like many of the other middle-grade fantasies I’ve read. Thankfully, I was wrong. Although there were some parallels to other books we’ve read, the story was fresh and there were a couple of plot twists that blew our minds!
Callum’s father has always taught him that magic is bad and that the Magisterium, a school that teaches adolescents how to hone their magical abilities, is evil. So, when Callum had to go in to test his magical acuity at the Magisterium, he did his best to fail. For some reason, nevertheless, Master Rufus chose Callum to be one of his apprentices. Even though neither he nor his father wanted him to attend, being selected meant that Callum had to go to the Magisterium… As soon as he started to learn how to use his magic and began to make friends, though, Callum started to wonder if maybe his dad was wrong after all…
This book is kinda hard to categorize by my usual standards. First of all, it’s technically a book for adults, which I don’t usually read (let alone review on here). BUT, Rainbow Rowell is a popular YA author and I think some older teens might check this one out after finishing Fangirl or Eleanor and Park. I mean, if she got *me* to read a book for grown ups, anything is possible! ;-) But, I digress… The main reason this book is hard to categorize is because it’s mostly realistic/contemporary fiction, but there’s a small science fiction/fantasy element wherein Georgie (the main character) is able to use the landline at her mother’s house to call her husband, Neal, back when he was still in college and hadn’t yet proposed.
I think this book resonated so much with me because I have been having a crazy time trying to find a good work/family balance in my life and Georgie’s life is my worst nightmare. She’s in over her head with work, her kids don’t really seem to miss her when she’s not around, her husband is resentful that she often puts work first, and she isn’t even sure if it’s possible to turn things around enough to save her marriage. As I read this book, I kept thinking about my own recent choices in which I put work first and wondered whether I had started straining my own marriage. I must have asked my husband at least 15 times over the course of 4 days whether he was OK with how things are going, so I’m pretty sure he’s happy that I am done with this book and will stop projecting Georgie’s problems into my life! I think my inability to separate the story from real life, nevertheless, is simply proof that Rainbow Rowell is a great author who knows how to write relatable and believable characters. If I had had the energy to stay up all night reading, I definitely would have finished this book in one big gulp.
Sam was always a bit of a loner. He found it difficult to connect with other people and had only a few friends. One night, while Sam was working at his fast-food job, he had an unusual encounter with a customer who took one look at him and started asking strange questions about where he came from and whether he was granted permission to move to Seattle. But, Sam had always lived in Seattle. And why would he have needed permission to move there anyway? So weird! Then, at the end of their shift, Sam and his friends got attacked by a huge man with superhuman strength. Things went from weird to scary pretty fast. It turned out that Sam never knew it but that he was a necromancer. Suddenly, many of the quirky things about himself and his family had supernatural explanations and started to make more sense. Sadly, “making more sense” and “making sense” aren’t exactly the same.
Lots of action, a bit of mystery, and sarcastic/twisted humor made this book hard to put down. Readers who enjoy books like Killer Pizza and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It should definitely check this one out. I know I’m looking forward to reading the sequel (Necromancing the Stone) when my “to be read” pile gets a little shorter, though I’m a little afraid those chapter titles will also get a bunch of songs stuck in my head. ;-)
Toby really wants to become a chef and often fantasizes about becoming famous like the people he watches on the Food Network. He doesn’t exactly have any cooking experience, though, and recognizes that as a major barrier to his dream. So, he decides to apply for a summer job at a new restaurant called Killer Pizza. Working in the KP kitchen is fun and, in addition to making new friends (Annabel and Strobe), Toby gets major satisfaction out of knowing that he has some natural culinary skills. It seems that this is definitely the perfect job… until he is let in on a little secret; Killer Pizza is actually just a front for a monster hunting organization! There’s nothing quite like hearing that MONSTERS ARE REAL and that some of them have taken up residence in your town. And, as if learning about the monster infestation wasn’t scary enough, Toby, Annabel, and Strobe find out that they’re being recruited as MCOs (Monster Combat Officers) to help actually hunt down and kill the monsters.
This book was not quite as gruesome as The Monstrumologist, but I could see fans of that book choosing this for a light summer read. It’s probably somewhere between R.L Stine’s Goosebumps series and his and Fear Street series. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Cirque Du Freak because it’s a little funny, just a bit creepy, and even a little gross, but still tame enough that it didn’t give me nightmares (which is all too easy a feat). If you’d rather have a horror story that might give you nightmares, though, you should head on over to read Ashes by Ilsa Bick. [shudder]
Somehow, my son and I didn’t hear about The 13-Story Tree House until after we already had our hands on this book… So, we went ahead and started this one with hopes that we would not be too confused. The good news is that a lack of familiarity didn’t take away from our enjoyment of this story. The bad news is that we had too little self-control to make this book last! ;-) We read this book in only two sittings. Granted, there are a lot of interior illustrations; but, we also read for about twice as long as normal for each of those two sittings. It was just so funny that we didn’t want to stop reading! Although it’s much sillier and more fantastic than the Wimpy Kid books, I think fans of that series should definitely check this one out — and to stay tuned for news about when The 39-Story Tree House and The 59-Story Tree House will make it to the US. (The 59-Storey Treehouse will be released in Australia on August 26th.)
Armstrong and Marr have done for Norse mythology what Rick Riordan has done for Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. So, Riordan fans who need something to read while they anxiously await the final Heroes of Olympus book [The Blood of Olympus, coming October 7th] should definitely check out Loki’s Wolves. Much like the Percy Jackson books, all the action and humor easily disguise the fact that you’re learning a metric ton of information about mythology. My only complaint is that there’s not a glossary and/or pronunciation guide. I mean, lots of kids have heard of Thor and Loki… but that might be as far as their previous knowledge of Norse mythology extends. And, even as an adult with a pretty decent grasp of language, I had a hard time figuring out how to say some of the more exotic names.
Matt Thorsen lives in a small town called Blackwell, South Dakota. He is extremely familiar with the legends of Norse mythology because his family are *literally* the descendants of Thor. Matt has never been as successful as his brothers in school, but he is becoming a pretty awesome boxer — which should come in handy now that he is responsible for saving the world. Seriously! Ragnarok (basically, the apocalypse) is approaching and Matt is going to have to find a way to work with the descendants of other Norse gods — some of whom haven’t traditionally gotten along with Thor, like Loki — if he wants to find a way to save himself, and the rest of the world, from sure death.
Today’s installment of I Read YA Week is RelationSHIP Day — and I am supposed to “play matchmaker to the YA universe.” While I am guessing most people will be matching up couples, I think I am going to be different and match up some BFFs. I recently listened to the audiobook of Grave Mercy, and I kept thinking of Katsa, from Graceling. After all, she was also an assassin with mystical powers who was being used as a pawn in someone else’s plans. I think these young women would find great comfort in each other’s company, and I can almost imagine them meeting up for tea or a glass of wine and to kvetch about the people they had to kill that week! (To learn more about Katsa’s story, check out my Graceling review.)
The really cool thing about Ismae is that she was fathered by Death — aka Saint Mortain. This was first discovered when she resisted the herbs her mother bought in an attempt to expel her from the womb. The turnip farmer who raised her as his child despised her and treated her terribly, then he sold her off as a bride to a brutish man when she was seventeen. On her wedding night, when her husband discovered the marks that had been left behind by the poison, he flew into a rage. Ismae managed to escape and was taken away to live in a convent with the Sisters of Mortain, who trained her to be handmaiden of Death. Ismae was trained to mix and administer a variety of poisons, to conceal and use all manner of weapons, and to use “womanly arts” to search potential targets for the mark of Mortain [which both confirmed that a person should be assassinated and also indicated how they would die]. Add in some double-agents, hidden plots, and a dash of romance, and you get an audiobook that made me sad to run into only light traffic on the way home!