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Review: Alice – The Wanderland Chronicles

Alice : The Wanderland Chronicles

by J.M. Sullivan

” ‘Rule number one: Always protect your queen.’ “

Alice Carroll is desperate.

A plague has been sweeping her city for an incalculable amount of time and although she and her sister have been able to avoid it up until now, death has now come knocking on their door. Trapped in a town that was once the flourishing and active site of a suburb set outside of Phoenix,  Alice has spent months watching as the people around her have fallen into complete complacency about the impending doom lurking right outside the walls that surround their metropolis. The population of her sector has fooled themselves into believing that the plague cannot darken their doorsteps, and that becoming one of the dreaded “momeraths” could not possibly happen to them.

” Like Dinah says, ‘We can only play the cards we’ve been dealt. It doesn’t do any good to wish about things you can’t change.’ “

After a scouting expedition leads Alice and her older sister Dinah outside of the confines of the sector, Alice is forced to helplessly watch as her sister falls victim to the fearful sickness that has been claiming lives all over the state. The MR-V virus attacks every system inside of their host, turning them into bloodthirsty violent killers who cannot be contained or satisfied. When Dinah begins to exhibit the signs of being a carrier for the fatal virus, Alice knows she has to do something. She’s heard whispers of a doctor miles away who is working towards a cure, and her mission is clear – she must find this man and beg for his help. Dinah is all she has left in this world and she refuses to lose her.

Leaving her precious Dinah in the care of a friend inside the sector, Alice sets out for the place that was once the thriving city of Phoenix, determined to find answers. Soon after arrival she is accosted by one of the terrible monsters that give her nightmares – a momerath set on tasting her blood and claiming her life in the process. Lucky for her, a chance encounter with a handsome (if somewhat erratic) young man named Chess leads her to temporary safety where she can formulate the next phase of her plan. But once she eventually finds the doctor she is looking for, Alice is dismayed to discover that he is scatterbrained and in a near constant state of confusion — and he insists that there is no cure for the disease that her sister is suffering from.

” ‘How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tale, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale.’ His eyes flicked meaningfully from the book to Alice before he continued. ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws, and welcomes little fishes in , with gently smiling jaws.’ Bug set the journal on his desk and gazed at Alice intently. Unable to decipher anything, she felt dumb. Clearly, it wasn’t the reaction Bug was hoping for. He sighed, then stood to pat her on the shoulder. ‘You’ll figure it out. but remember to be vigilant. Momerath can show up at any moment, and they’ll be hunting you.’ “

Alice finds herself wrapped up in the curious mystery surrounding Borogove Industries, a scientific research lab that sanctioned the creation of the drug that was eventually turned into the virus and subsequent plague. Her hunt leads her to the threshold of a woman thought to be sponsoring the creation of an antidote,  a woman reverently named The Red Queen. But while Alice hopes to find help and guidance from the woman in charge, she instead faces yet another challenge — mostly in controlling her temper. Alice doesn’t agree with the atrocities she experiences while under the Red Queen’s care, and fights to escape the false safety of the camp. After proving her worth and striking a bargain, Alice sets out once again, this time with the assistance of a team of elite soldiers that work under the tyrannical and deviant Queen’s employ. Alice storms the lab of Borogove in search of answers and a cure and as she unravels the convoluted riddle of the momerath disease, Alice finds herself plunging deeper into the heart of the matter than she ever intended. The path to salvation is wrought with puzzles and horrors, including an enlightening meeting with Dr. Matthew Hatta, creator of the drug, and Alice is forced to make some difficult decisions that will cling to the edges of her nightmares for years to come.

” ‘What about family?’ she asked. ‘And love?’

A wistful look flitted across Hatta’s features before he carefully arranged them back in place. ‘People get too invested in emotions,’ he said briskly. ‘It hinders them from processing information objectively and responding accordingly.’ 

‘But without emotions, what’s the point?’ she asked. Though she rarely got caught up in emotion, it didn’t mean she didn’t recognize their   value.  “

When the truth comes out, Alice is more confused than ever but stays the course — her eyes on the prize. She must get back to Dinah as soon as she can. Her sister’s life and Alice’s future depends on it. But sometimes going down the rabbit hole leads to more twists and turns than one may expect, and finding your way out of the darkness can prove to be nearly impossible.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is the debut novel from American author, J.M. Sullivan. As far as debuts go, Sullivan has gotten off to a great start in a series that is sure to be a curious addition to any mid-grade to YA reader’s library. Twisted tales are all the rage and while Sullivan could stand to push the envelope more with cleverness and parallels, the story was fresh and inspired. With the exception of a few out-of-place curse words, this novel is appropriate for those ages 10+. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars; I was hoping for a bit more expansion on the characters and there were more than a few plot holes. It is my understanding that this is set to be a series of books (if the cliffhanger is any indication) and am hoping for a bit more depth in the next installment. Readers who enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are encouraged to give this novel a try.

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Review: Kill All Happies

Kill All Happies

by Rachel Cohn

” If this party was a mess, it was my mess, and I had it under control. 

Mostly under control. 

Partly under control. 

Not really at all under control. “

Victoria Navarro has just graduated high school and is looking for a way to make the moment count. With one of her best friends jetting off to spend a year doing humanitarian work in Africa, and her own impending departure to San Francisco (thus completely dismantling the trio of girlfriends that have dubbed themselves “The Cuddle Huddle”), Vic is anxious to create some long-lasting memories and blow out of town with a bang. And it is imperative that she have her best friends, Fletch and Slick, right by her side.

Rancho Soldado, her sleepy hometown located in the shadow of Las Vegas, is just as ready for a big blow-out as she is. Happies, their resident safe place and iconic, tourist claim-to-fame, is closing up shop under the black cloud of bankruptcy. Bev Happie is ready to leave her childhood behind her and at the tender age of 75, is set on moving to Florida to begin anew with money made from the sale. Happies has been an institution in the town since her toddler years and although she’s sad to see it end, Bev has no idea how to make things work anymore. Rancho is just far enough off the map that tourism has tapered off steadily enough over the years and  hardly anyone comes through anymore – except the diehard Happies fans who are obsessed with the nostalgia that lives within the four walls of the restaurant and attached theme park.

When Bev finally gives in to Vic’s insistent begging, an idea is born. Vic is going to throw the biggest send-off party her town has ever seen; both for Happies and the graduating class. She will be able to say goodbye to life as she’s known it in style and maybe, just maybe, she’ll finally be able to hook up with the guy she’s had her eyes on for years.

” In a week, I was leaving Rancho Soldado, probably for good. In my eighteen years of living in this podunk desert nowhere, I hadn’t done a single thing for my town to remember me by, despite my many appearances at Town Council meetings with suggestions for improvements that Thrope made sure were never acted on. 

That could all change tonight. We’d party like Thrope never existed. We’d pretend a version of Rancho Soldado could exist without her overlord tyranny.

Last Call at Happies, brought to you by Victoria Navarro, who will at least give her friends and classmates one final celebration to remember her by, and bring Annette Thrope’s senior class party at Happies nightmares to fruition one last time. “

Getting everything put together on short notice isn’t going to be easy, especially with Vic’s arch nemesis, Miss. Ann Thrope dogging her every step. Thrope has been looking for any opportunity to ruin her life for years and Vic just knows that if her old teacher gets wind of the party-of-the-century due to debut this weekend, all bets will be off. Fortunately for the Senior Class, Vic Navarro has never backed down from a chance to undermine her sworn enemy. Life is looking up.

But as the party begins, it’s just one problem after another:

  • Jake, Vic’s love interest and Slick’s older brother, is in charge of the beer (courtesy of his broke-down car turned beer truck, christened The Chug Bug) but she can’t seem to get him alone. And everything has to be on the down-low because Slick has expressly forbid her best friend from touching her brother.
  • Evergrace Everdell, the weird and annoying homeschooled kid who wasn’t invited, shows up anyway and starts causing trouble. She’s spouting off nonsense about Vic not knowing the truth about her best friends, and it’s making her uneasy.
  • Zeke, the tall and emo brother to her crush, keeps following her around trying to be the voice of reason. Once he throws her cell phone into the night in an attempt to force her into having fun, she’s technologically crippled and becomes unable to find her friends in the growing crowd.
  • And despite orders that the party be kept as secret as possible and no social media posts made, everyone has blasted the news that last call at Happies is happening now. The result is tons of Happies fans have descended upon the town  and broken into the long since condemned and off-limits theme park in back of the old restaurant – breaking the one rule Bev gave to Vic in exchange for giving her a location for the party.

All hell has officially broken loose.

Don’t throw a party just to impress a guy.

I should have heeded my sister’s advice. How could this night suck more? ” 

Will Vic be able to find her friends and put some troubling rumors to rest? Will she finally be able to share more than a stolen kiss with the guy she’s been crushing on for years, without her best friend finding out? Will she be able to keep the party under control long enough that someone doesn’t inadvertently set the place on fire? Will she be able to host this evening of debauchery under Thrope’s nose and pull of the con of all cons?

And will she actually be able to say goodbye to Happies and Rancho Saldado for good?

Kill All Happies is the new book from Rachel Cohn, an author best known for her work on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Gingerbread. She is a writer who celebrates a strong, female protagonist and Vic Navarro, star of Kill All Happies, is no exception. Cohn has a way of offering interesting and quirky characters that readers will enjoy getting to know. While Kill All Happies does indeed have several of these wonderful additions (Zeke, the punk-rocker with a heart of gold; Chester, the stoner older brother with a few surprises up his sleeve; Mayor Jerry, the resident hippie) I found that the antagonist, Miss. Ann Thrope, was sorely lacking. I would have loved for her to be a meatier villain with more depth – and I also would have enjoyed a stronger resolution between  Vic and her mortal enemy. In fact, I would have preferred a stronger resolution for many things at the closing of the story. I was left wanting so much more.

Rating this book a 3.5 stars out of 5 is hard, because I did enjoy the story a lot. What I didn’t enjoy was what I felt to be an excessive use of profanity that in my opinion, dumbed the characters down. Not all teenagers feel the need to drop the F-bomb every other word just to get their points across, and I always find myself a bit annoyed when authors assume this. It’s as if they have in their head that this is how a teenager speaks, and so they elaborate upon that dialect. Another issue I had was while I appreciate a bit of reckless debauchery as a rite of passage for any kid in the middle of that awkward transition from older teenager to adult, I was a bit put off by the careless mentions of casual sex and hookups. I’m not an idiot, I know teenagers have sex, but I had a hard time believing that the majority of girls feel so unemotional about it. I think the author was using casual sex as a way to empower Vic and instead, it just made her appear a bit disconnected. Maybe I’m old and out of touch, but as the mother to a teenage daughter, it just seemed odd.

I loved – loved – loved the nostalgic feel of Happies and wish there was more background on the place that brought so many people – from all over the United States – together. It sounds like a place I would personally love to visit. Bev Happie was charming and a true staple in her community, which made it surprising that Rancho Saldado was okay with the place being closed down. But because Happies was so beloved, I had a hard time understanding how the devoted Happies fans would come into the old theme park and begin virtually destroying it via vandalism. It didn’t quite make sense and was out of place.

I recommend Kill All Happies to YA readers 16 and up, due to the language and sexual conversations. Please be advised that no actual sex is involved ( just talk of it, and is not graphic in nature).

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Review: The Cellar

The Cellar

by Natasha Preston

“ Four vases sat proudly on the side table behind the dining table and chairs; one held roses, one violets, one poppies.

The fourth was empty. “

Natasha Preston began her writing career on an online platform called Wattpad – and I hate to say it, but it shows.

I try not to judge books by their cover and in keeping with the trend, I try not to judge authors by their bios. But when Preston boasts ” I stumbled into writing completely by accident. I was searching the ‘app store’ and came across Wattpad – an amateur writing site,” the writer in me cannot help but be offended. She stumbled upon a site, threw some stuff against the wall, and as luck would have it – for her – some stuck.

One of the books that stuck relatively well was The Cellar.

The title gives you a great understanding as to what the book is about. While the storyline was not original, I was willing to give it a shot. A $2 book found in clearance by a NY Times bestselling author can’t be that bad, right?

A mentally deranged psychopath kidnaps women and keeps them trapped down in his cellar. He visits a few times a day to spend time with his hostages, and every once in a while, brings another woman down with him – to kill.  I feel like I’ve heard all this before. . . oh, wait –

Not too long ago, my daughter and I saw the movie Split, starring the enormously talented James McAvoy. The storyline is extremely similar, and so I think my expectations for this book were a little high, as the film was highly entertaining. I also figured if a story is so good that it is been plucked off of a highly-rated website and subsequently mass produced as a published work, then I figured it must be worth reading, right?

Um. Well.

I rarely consider leaving a book unfinished. I have this thing within me that forces me to finish all things that I begin. Call it a compulsion, call it a control issue (as I have many), but I have to end something before I can begin something else. And this book almost made me quit in the middle, which is something I’m not sure I can forgive it for. I really disliked this book. And I think I disliked it so much because I felt like it bamboozled me. The first 30 pages or so were not the best quality of words, but there was definitely an element of “becoming hooked.”  I’ve learned that expecting stellar writing styles from YA authors is a little unfair, and in my opinion, the same can be said of thriller writers. Thriller writers are there to get you into and through the story/mystery in a fast-paced manner because typically, there is just a lot going on while the person or persons tries to solve the crime or is involved in the crime. There isn’t a whole lot of fluff, especially if the book is not a part of a series. But one thing that YA authors consistently do well is character development, and that is something that I really love. I am a fan of detail and elaborations, and YA authors love to give it to their readers. A lot of focus is given on characters so that the focus of the young reader tends to stick; young readers are more visual retainers, and as such, they need detail. The storylines are typically not deep – although there are exceptions – but I can look beyond that and appreciate a good YA novel for what it is.

Not so much with this book, on either front. As I said earlier, I felt as if I’d read and seen this plot many times before. It wasn’t original in the least. Again, I could look past that if the author gave me something. . . and the character development? Forget it. I couldn’t tell you what anyone in the entire story looks like, what their hopes and dreams were, or even their last name. I was annoyed that the book hooked me  quickly with the action of the main character being kidnapped, her boyfriend on the hunt to find her, and her realization that she was now stuck in a basement with three other mysterious women. But as the pages were turned, chapter after chapter, the book became a monotonous monologue of “Oh my God, like, I hate it down here so much” and I wanted to throw this book out of the window.

Teenagers are not stupid, and a)writing them like they are and b)assuming that they are, as a reader, really pisses me off.

Colin grew up the son of a single mother, his father having been banished from his only son’s life when he was caught in bed with another woman. As a product of a broken home via adultery, Colin has come to hate women and crave family, even more now that his mother has passed away. His twisted solution to this is to create his own family by kidnapping women and holding them hostage in his fortified basement, where they will serve him meals, entertain him with Movie Nights, and generally listen to his day to day grievances. Occasionally he uses these women for sexual gratification, but only after he’s fallen in love with them and only on a very strict schedule (cue rolling of the eyes).

He also combats his childhood issues by murdering women that he feels are of a certain persuasion. There seems to be literally no shortage of prostitutes in his neighborhood and he goes out several times a week, picks one up, brings her home, and then murders her with a pen-knife in the basement in front of his “family.” Yes, you read that right – a pen-knife. That is his only weapon of choice (seriously, no other weapons whatsoever in this novel) and one that he uses to murder women with one stab. Yes, just the one. I have no idea what type of neighborhood Colin lives in that he is surrounded by prostitutes, but. . . there you have it. He must also be one lucky stabber, because it only takes one jab in the gut to kill the women he brings down to the cellar.

“Loneliness was like a terminal disease. With every passing day you faded just that little bit more. I had felt as if I were dying for the past four years and I’d had enough. Combing my hair one last time, I slid my wallet in my black pocket and picked up my keys. The girls’ room was finished and had been for three days now. There was just one thing missing before I would be ready for them — their clothes. 

On the way to the department store, I stopped off at my local florist to buy a bunch of yellow tulips for my mother. They were her favorite. I never liked them, but I appreciated their natural beauty and purity. “

Sometimes the women in his “family” act up or smart off, and when this happens, they get smacked around or pricked with the dreaded pen-knife. On occasion, he accidentally kills one of his family members and then has to replace her. He has this weird thing about needing four women in the basement at any given time – a Lily, Rose, Violet, and a Poppy. He keeps flowers representing each woman in a plastic vase on the table, and when one of these flowers dies, the woman counterpart gets a beating. As you can imagine, this happens quite a bit, as the flowers are cut and deprived of all sunlight. I’m sure there is some deeper meaning here, but it’s beyond me.

After he kills a “Lily,” he begins the hunt for a new one. He finds 16-year old Summer in a park on her way to a party. Why she is wandering around out at night alone, I have zero clue, but I do know that she can’t believe her boyfriend let her leave the house unattended. The reason I know this is because the author reminds the reader of this fact no less than 10 times, via Summer and her boyfriend’s point of view. Colin kidnaps Summer and throws her down in the cellar, where she spends the first few days cowering in fear and wishing she could see her boyfriend again. Not her mother, her father,  or her brother. . . just her boyfriend.

She took a few steps toward me, still holding out her hand as if she honestly expected me to take it. ‘Come on, Lily, it’s okay.’ I didn’t move. I couldn’t. She took another step. My heart raced in panic, and I pressed my back farther into the wall, trying to get away from her. What did they want from me?

‘I — I’m not Lily. Please tell him, please? I’m not Lily. I need to get out. Please help me,’ I begged., backing up the rest of the stairs until I came to the door. Turning, I slammed my fists against the metal, ignoring the pain that shot through my wrists. “

Several flashbacks of Summer and her boyfriend Lewis are actually quite sweet. He is her brother Henry’s best friend, and as such, he’s been involved in her life for a few years. The only engaging parts of this novel involved Lewis, and I enjoyed reading about their innocent progression from being friends to falling in love;  with the exception of one (very, very mild) sex scene, it’s all very above board. There is only one other sex scene, and it is between Summer and her captor, but again it is very mild (basically showing a scene before the incident, and a scene after. No in-between).

Summer spends the entirety of her captivity trying to escape, obviously. Why she and the other three women don’t band together and beat the you-know-what out of Colin is glossed over a bit and explained rather poorly. In fact, there are so many literary discrepancies in this book, it made my head hurt. The plot holes and writing style in this book were at times so difficult to bear, I had to force myself to plow through this book so I would be sure to actually finish it. I truly believe I’ve read better developed and written stories by 12-year olds.

The point of view begins to change about halfway through the book, becoming a combination of Summer-Lewis-Colin. I found Lewis to be the most interesting character in this entire book, and his quest to hunt Summer down is admirable and heroic, and something teenage girls will be sure to swoon over. He never gives up (and he’ll tell you about 500 times so you don’t forget – he is not giving up!) and of course, there is a very happy ending. Summer is thrilled to be reunited with not her mother, her father, or her brother – but her boyfriend!

I give The Cellar 2 out of 5 stars, and I am being generous. I only give The Cellar those two stars because of Lewis. Seriously. I am appalled by the 4 out of 5 star rating on Goodreads, and I have no idea what book they were reading because it obviously wasn’t this one. As a fan of the YA genre, I’ve read a lot of it, and I don’t appreciate authors who dumb things down for that audience. But I’m guessing that Preston didn’t dumb anything down on purpose; the bio she wrote about herself leaves a lot to be desired and her follow up to The Cellar has so many typos that it’s embarrassing. I suspect her style is just sloppy, uninformed, and shallow. If your child has read any of Natasha Preston’s work, has actually enjoyed it and wants to read more, I would recommend this book for any reader ages 13 and up (unless they are mature). The kidnapping is a bit scary, as is the murdering, and of course there are the two suggestive sex scenes.

And if you just have to have more – there is a sequel on Wattpad entitled You’ll Always Be Mine. I won’t be reading it.

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Recommendation: The Selection

The Selection

by Kiera Cass

” 35 girls. 

1 crown. 

The competition of a lifetime. “

There are few books that I have come across that have such beautiful covers as those of The Selection Series, by Kiera Cass. The series spans three books with an additional two in a spin-off series, along with one companion book full of novellas. All six books are undeniably lovely with vibrant colors and elaborately dressed young ladies.

It was the cover of the first book, The Selection, that made me pick it up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was the middle of summer and I was looking for a book to throw in my purse to read at karate lessons, gymnastics classes, and by the pool. I’d never really been into YA books until then, but the mysterious young lady in blue peeking over her shoulder at me pulled me in. And while I guess this novel is technically considered YA, it is my opinion that it is appropriate for mid-grade as well, appealing to ages as low as 10. The dialogue and subject matter are not overtly unique or high-end, but it’s an entertaining fairytale that young girls will swoon over.

The Selection’s plot is in short, a combination of the caste system and culling of The Hunger Games and the awkward and strange romance of The Bachelor. The time period appears to be set in the future, not quite dystopian, but with major faults.  Countries that are in creation in our modern day are now called by different names and are grouped together differently. The United States of America no longer in existence. The entire population is sorted into castes that each have their own way of life. Some are singers, some are actors, some are factory workers; it all depends upon your caste. There are a few hints as to what has happened to the former world, but a clear answer is never given. In any event, Caste 1 is the royal family, and their crown prince is in need of a wife.

Cue, the Selection.

America Singer is a member of Caste 5, set almost directly in the middle of the system. She is neither rich, nor poverty ridden. As a family of artists, her family has nearly everything it needs but not nearly enough of the things they want. Work is guaranteed but a few times per year, and times can definitely be hard with a family of seven. When news of the Selection breaks, her mother and younger sister May encourage her to enter, caught up in the hope that America could win and their situation could have forever stability. America is of the right age and has a quiet beauty; she’s also hardworking and talented. But the love she carries in secret for a boy in a caste lower than hers gives her severe pause. Only when Aspen, the sweet boy she’s known all her life, pushes her towards entering does she agree. He also sees the Selection as a step forward to a better life – for them both – as any young lady who participates will be rewarded with an immediate elevation of caste. For the people in America’s life, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime.

” ‘I think you should do it,’ he said suddenly.

‘Do what?’

‘Enter the Selection. I think you should do it.’

I glared at him. ‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘Mer, listen to me.’ His mouth was right to my ear. It wasn’t fair; he knew it distracted me. When his voice came, it was breathy and slow, like he was saying something romantic, though what he was suggesting was anything but. ‘If you had a chance for something better than this, and you didn’t take it because of me, I’ never forgive myself. I couldn’t stand it.’

I let out my breath in a quick huff. ‘It’s so ridiculous. Think of the thousands of girls entering. I won’t even get picked.’

‘If you won’t get picked, then why does it matter?’ His hands were rubbing up and down my arms now. I couldn’t argue when he did that. ‘All I want is for you to enter. I just want you to try. And if you go, then you go. And if you don’t, then at least I won’t have to beat myself up for holding you back.’

‘But I don’t love him, Aspen. I don’t even like him. I don’t even know him.’

‘No one knows him. That’s the thing, though, maybe you would like him.’

‘Aspen, stop. I love you.’

‘And I love you.’ He kissed me slowly to make his point. ‘And if you love me, you’ll do this so I won’t go crazy wondering what if.’ “

America is (of course) picked to join the formal group of Selection candidates and heads off to the castle for her extended stay with much trepidation. She is anxious about leaving Aspen behind and worried about fitting in. She’s never had fancy dresses, nor does she possess any refined skills; and the other ladies in the Selection have been culled from every caste from 2 to 8. She quickly befriends a sweet girl named Marlee and just as quickly, makes a frenemy with a higher-casted girl named Celeste.

Overcome with emotion and anxiety, America attempts to take solace in the castle grounds. The trees, grass, and flowers are nearly the only thing about the massive castle that seems the least bit familiar. But as she soon finds out, no one is allowed out of the castle proper without express permission, especially the Selection ladies. As she struggles to regain composure and push down her panic, she is met with a surprise – the handsome Prince Maxon. He escorts her outside and they share a few private moments together where she finds herself surprised to see that this process may not end up being as terrible as she’d initially thought.

All of the challenges, heartbreak, and frivolity of the Selection process is captured by cameras that are stream the footage to the outside world. Everyone in Illéa is anxiously awaiting each elimination, hopeful that their favorite will pass through to the next round. America and Maxon soon strike a deal – she will stick around to keep him company and help him make his final decision as long as he understands that he will never have her heart, and he will allow her to stay so that she may continue to send money and favors home to her family.

” ‘Wouldn’t it be much better for you if you had someone on the inside? Someone to help? Like, you know, a friend?’

‘A friend?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Let me stay, and I’ll help you. I’ll be your friend.’ He smiled at the words. ‘You don’t have to worry about pursuing me. You already know that I don’t have feelings for you. But you can talk to me anytime you like, and I’ll try and help. You said last night that you were looking for a confidante. Well, until you find one for good, I could be that person. If you want.’

His expression was affectionate but guarded. ‘I’ve met nearly every woman in this room, and I can’t think of one who would make a better friend. I’d be glad to have you stay.’ “

When Aspen, the boy from home, shows up unexpectedly, America is put in a terrible position. Having feelings for any other man while engaged in the Selection is considered treason, and she must choose which path to go down. Does she follow her heart? Or does she play the game?

The Selection is not a book that goes deep into any physical romance, so it is appropriate for most ages. It’s definitely a fairy tale and not written in an elevated form, so it is easy to grasp the concept and follow along. All in all, it’s a fun and quick read that any budding teenage girl would love to get wrapped up in. America is a strong and faithful girl with a great heart, and her love interests are positively dreamy. I give The Selection 3.5 stars (mostly because I am quite a bit older than the targeted audience).

The Selection is followed up by The Elite and The One. Several novellas have been compiled into The Prince and the Guard, and readers who enjoy America’s story will also enjoy The Heir and The Crown, two books that follow the Selection process of King Maxon’s daughter, Eadlyn.

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Review: Dream Magic

Dream Magic

by Joshua Khan

” The six legendary princes who’d brought magic into the world and founded the great houses of magic. Her ancestors.

Djinn, the master of fire.

Coral, lord of the seas.

Typhoon, ruler of the endless winds.

Herne, the antler-headed sorcerer who commanded the earth and the beasts.

Solar, the great shining one. 

And Solar’s twin, Prince Shadow. The first and greatest of the lords of darkness, and the founder of her family. “

When Dream Magic was sent to me for review, I was intrigued. The cover art by Ben Hibon is stunning, and after a quick flip through the pages, I was delighted to find that more of the superbly intricate and uniquely dark illustrations were included. My only complaint about these drawings is that there are so few – they are spread throughout the book almost like the tease of freshly baked bread wafting from a French bakery as you pass by, leaving my mouth watering as I craved more. The talented illustrator has many impressive credits attached to his resume; most notably for readers is his contribution to the animation direction of The Tale of The Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The cover is as alluring as it is mystical, with shadows oozing from every corner and crevice, and an eerie white light hovering over the character’s heads. I was hooked.

I was eager to crack this book open and reveal the secrets hidden within, already curious about the archer and apparent witch featured on the front cover, who seem to be teaming up against something that appeared to be spiders made from crystal. But before I entered into the world of Dream Magic, I did my due diligence, as I do with any book I am about to begin, and discovered that this was actually the second book of a mid-grade fantasy series.

I have to admit, learning that this was a series made me even more excited. I know that series that are not already published in their completion can sometimes put readers off, as they are afraid of getting caught up in a story only to have to wait an undeterminable amount of time for the next book to be published, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this particular set of books. The first book, Shadow Magic, came out in April of 2016 and this second book is due to be out for general sale next Monday. So here’s hoping that the trend continues and author Joshua Khan can crank another book out by this time next year.

My goal this year with my blog is to feature a review and a recommendation each week and not repeat authors all year long. I’ve found that this is going to be a lot harder than I’d originally thought. While, yes, I’ve read literally 1000’s of books, I’ve noticed that what I love most is getting caught up in a series and falling into a deep and meaningful cadence with a set of characters. I love watching them grow up and evolve. I love the transitions of relationships and the familiarity that serial books can lend. And as a result of my attachments to serial literature, I tend to read the same authors over and over. I was happy to have a new author thrown into my mix. I’m always on the hunt for a good book in this age bracket, as I have two children in it.

Shadow Magic is the tale of two characters set on a parallel path. Thorn is the 12-year old son of an assumed outlaw. But don’t let his age fool you. Thorn has grown up rough and tough, and he has a mouth to match. After his father took the blame for a crime Thorn committed, he had to leave the family home and strike out as far away as he could, leading the law away from his wife and children. Thorn waited as long as he could after his father’s hasty departure, but his guilt and shame over what he’d done to break up his family overtook his sense of reason and he had to follow. Instead of catching up to his dad, he is instead captured and sold into slavery – but not for long. He’s bought by a man named Tyburn, the executioner of House Shadow, rulers of the people in the faraway land of Gehenna. Thorn reluctantly travels with the quiet and esteemed executioner to a city that celebrates and honors their dead, and he tries not to become too offended at the strange customs of this dark land. But as is his lot in life, Thorn’s mouth keeps landing him in trouble.

Lily Shadow is an orphan, and has gone from being a typical and, moody 13-year old girl to the ruler of the land. The role of Lady Shadow was never one she intended to have, as she was the youngest child. But since her parents and brother have been murdered by a team of bandits and her family line ends with her, it is up to Lily to take command over everyone and everything, and it is not a task that is to be taken lightly. She’s feeling daunted by the task at hand – her impending marriage to a son of a rival House, but there are problems much closer at hand.

Thorn and Lily’s adventures in Shadow Magic are fast-paced and richly written, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I was thrilled to find a book that I know my son will bite into this summer. Dream Magic picks up right where its predecessor leaves off, throwing us into yet another set of obstacles wrought with magic and deception.

It looks like trolls are beginning to attack the citizens of Gehenna, or are they? Several houses have been broken into and their inhabitants carted off. But the work of trolls is usually a lot messier and with a lot less mystery. Thorn and his band of squires are in the midst of investigating the ongoing problem, but there’s another issue surrounding the castle and it’s lands – zombies. Ever since Lily performed the forbidden art of magic weeks ago, more and more of the dead are becoming UN-dead, and it’s becoming a cumbersome dilemma. What is Lily supposed to do with all of these “new” subjects? Where will they live and how will they make a living when they are literally falling apart around themselves?

And if Thorn doesn’t have enough on his full plate already, the constant train of suitors lining up for Lily’s affections are a burr in his side. Not that he’s into her that way – of course not! – but he’s getting tired of having to appease and bow down to yet another lord around the castle. With every “m’lord” that comes out of his mouth, he is reminding of his peasant lineage. And now Gabriel Solar – everyone’s favorite brat – is back with a new set of grievances, not to mention  the curious alchemist from another distant land that’s poking around. Everything is complicated, including the unspoken feelings swirling around and between Thorn and Lily, but the problems around the castle are taking up too much of their time for any exploration.

” Thorn shoved Devil off. Then, wearily, he dragged himself back out of the mass of twigs. ‘Thanks. You got here quick.’

‘You’ve a talent for getting into trouble, so I had to keep an eye on you.’ Old Colm tapped the snow off his peg leg. ‘And I can move on this if I have to.’ He looked over at the dead dog. ‘I thought you Herne folk had a way with animals.’

Thorn grimaced. The pain was really kicking in. ‘We do. Usually.’

‘So we’ve got the parents.’ Old Colm gestured at the two dead bodies. ‘What about the boys?’

‘Vanished.’ Thorn stood up and regretted it instantly, as a spell of dizziness struck him. He sucked in the fresh air and tried to clear his head. Blood dripped down his sleeve and decorated the snow with small crimson petals. 

He stared at the farmer and his wife. What had happened here? There was a way of finding out secrets even from the dead. ‘Lily will want to see these two.’

‘Will she?’ asked Old Colm suspiciously. He inspected the pair. ‘And why’s that? Seems to me we should bury them here, by their homes.’

Thorn bit his lip. He knew Old Colm had heard the rumors regarding Lily.

She was his friend, and while only thirteen, she was the ruler of Gehenna. She was also a Shadow, descended from the lord of darkness himself, the greatest necromancer the world had ever known. 

And death itself could not stop a Shadow. . . “

Lily knows she’s not supposed to practice magic. She knows it’s forbidden. But there has never been a ruler of the Land of Shadows who wasn’t a sorcerer, and she feels like it’s an important trade to learn. And now that she knows she’s halfway good at it, there really is no turning back. She spends night after night holed up in the Shadow Library, practicing her skills under the careful and encouraging eye of her father’s ghost. But it’s scary to think of how her people would treat her if they knew the truth. Women who are caught conjuring enchantments and illusions are historically put to the stake to burn, and she can’t imagine that she would be considered any different – even if she is the current Lady Shadow.

” The country was suffering a plague of the undead. On Halloween, the dead had come out of their graves, no one knew how many. First the people had been happy, overjoyed at seeing loved ones they’d lost and missed. Families had thrown resurrection parties. 

Now, three moths later, things were different. The undead had come home to roost and would not leave. There was no place for them here alongside the living. 

And not just zombies, but also ghosts and even the odd vampire. One bloodsucker had caused a lot of trouble in Witch Glade, draining livestock and attacking villages until he’d been captured and reburied, this time with an iron stake through his chest. The price of garlic had tripled. 

Lily gazed at the hour candle, wishing it would burn faster. She wanted his over and done with so she could get down to the castle library. A shiver of excitement went through her at the thought. Her studies were going well, learning what it really meant to belong to House Shadow. . . “

But after a strange encounter with a disfigured Court Jester in disguise, Lily is left locked out of the library and sealed off from her teacher and father, pulling her carefully maintained magical teachings up to a screeching halt. Why did the stranger care so much about the box of her father’s old and random correspondence he stole from the library? And why did he steal the key, locking the door to the library for who knows how long? Lily hardly has time to process the incident; news is traveling across Gehenna of a Troll King and an army making their way towards the castle, and she knows she doesn’t have enough guards and military to withstand a fight like that. Especially not with their leader, Tyburn the feared executioner, out of commission.

Thorn’s suspicions were correct. It wasn’t a band of trolls who have been carrying on in the countryside and terrorizing the folk of Gehenna. The culprits are actually crystalized spiders who upon biting their victim, send the fated person into a deep and dreamy sleep. But who is so desperate to put the citizens of the land to sleep, and why? Where are they being hidden, and how can he rescue them? Can he do it before the trolls bring war?

Fans of Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, and Hotel Transylvania will be delighted with this new fantasy series. In a land full of magic, a giant flying bat, a hero with a smart mouth, and a determined female ruler, Dream Magic will keep readers of all ages turning the page in an anxious quest for more. What I loved most about this book was how it spoke to so many ages AND to both boys and girls. I have a 13 year-old daughter and never have a hard time finding books for her to read, but my 11-year old son is another story. We’ve flown through Percy Jackson, The Jedi Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but he always needs something more, and doesn’t latch onto books that are solely female driven. Dream Magic is unique in that it has both a boy and a girl starring as the hero; both with equal billing and equal page time. The story is vividly written and thrilling, with no lull in the plot (which means that the young readers aren’t going to get bored, which I appreciate). I especially loved the scenes featuring Thorn riding his bat – the ever-opinionated Hades –  and how both Thorn and Lily were always so quick to think of things from different angles. Any time a problem came up, they would combat it with a mixture of common sense and ingenuity, always using violence as a last resort.

I recommend this book for readers ages 8 and up, and for boys and girls alike. I give Dream Magic 5 out of 5 stars. Look for it next week when it hits bookstores, libraries, and online markets near you.

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Review: The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

by A.K.R. Scott

” Nadja’s eyelids fell shut once more as his breath washed over her. The room spun, threatening her ability to remain standing. She slid one hand down across the hard plane of his chest. She could feel his heart racing and knew hers beat just as quickly. Their chests rose and fell together as Pax’s voice joined hers in the final refrain. 

‘The waves may crash and roll and roar

But I am my love’s forevermore.’ “

A.K.R Scott is an emerging fantasy author and is sure to make a splash onto the scene with her debut novel.  Inharmonic, the first installment of the Music Maker Series,  is full of all of the makings of a successful fantasy novel – a complex setting, cloaked figures with special powers, and a quest to find out the truth. The fictional world of Amrantir is peppered with deep woods filled with mystical trees, busy cities where music is in the forefront of culture and considered the most highly-valued trade, and creaky docks lined by wooden ships carrying precious cargo. Inharmonic transports readers into the depths of a land full of magic, all wrapped in a symphony of the sweetest composition.

Nadja is a girl sitting precariously on the cusp of becoming a woman –  but not in her manner of choosing. Instead, she will transition into her next phase of life by way of a marriage to a fellow member of her tribe, the Wanderers. She has grown up knowing the customs and traditions of her patriarchal society, but she has also been a reluctant participant, albeit silently. The partner that has been chosen for her and whose ways she shall adopt is a good man, and a handsome one to boot. But this does nothing to assuage the feelings that live deep in Nadja’s gut – the feelings of certainty that she is more than capable of forging her own path and making her own decisions without the express permission of a husband.

As the evening of her betrothal celebration unfolds, Nadja’s life begins to take a set of unrepairable turns. She comes across her young cousin, Kizzy, struggling against the nefarious and unwanted advances of an elder tribal leader, and in her haste to save her, Nadja commits what she believes to be murder. This one act spurs the bride-to-be to pack a bag and flee the confines and security of her camp, and she strikes out towards the city of Cantio in search of her uncle, with whom she has been told she can find sanctuary.

” There, the shock of the night dissipated, and the weight of everything she had been through hit her like a blow to the head. And now, with her meager supplies being looted by a pack of wolves, she truly had nothing and no one. To return to her tribe was suicide and continuing on her journey meant almost certain death. Nadja’s heart broke, and she wept as one mourning the loss of a loved one. But for her, it was the loss of everyone she had ever loved. Her body racked with sobs, and she stuffed the edge of her cloak into her mouth in a feeble attempt to muffle the noise. She cried until exhaustion overcame her and swept her away into a fitful slumber. “

When her Uncle Tau suggests enrolling in the local music conservatory as a further cover for the story he’s concocted for her, Nadja is trepidatious. She has some skill with a flute but doesn’t feel she is quite up to par with the elite members of the community who are also competing for a coveted spot in the illustrious school. Fate is on Nadja’s side, however, and she is accepted. The conservatory will provide her a much-needed place to hide from any of the tribal members attempting to hunt her down. It will also allow her to hone her musical skills and learn a thing or two.

Also accepted into the conservatory is Pax, an aspiring wood craftsman that she met while on her journey into the city. He is mischievous and full of flirtation, but for now, Nadja tries to push him to the background of her mind as she focuses on blending in the shadows. Unfortunately for her, Pax has other ideas. No matter how she tries to push him away, he always seems to find a reason to be around. Much to her growing digress, Nadja finds Pax becoming her hero in more ways than one, as he firmly inserts himself into her life.

” A heavy hand landed on Nadja’s shoulder. 

‘I’ll be partnering with Miss. Machinal.’

Nadja spun to face Pax, knocking away his hand. She stared at him in stunned silence for a moment as the amusement in his eyes belied the mask of innocence he wore. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again when her mind refused to cooperate with her lips. 

Instead, she whipped back around to tell the grandmaster there was a mistake, and she would most certainly not be partnering with Pax. However, by the time her instructor was halfway across the room, speaking with Petrin and a beet-red Helaine, Nadja desperately scanned the rest of the class, now only a handful of people since most of the students had already left. Finding everyone else paired off, she faced Pax, her eyes blazing. 

‘I did not agree to be your partner.’

Pax feigned surprise. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought that was why you were standing over here clearly not looking for a partner. You seemed to be waiting around for someone to come over and claim you.’ 

‘You have some nerve,’ she seethed.  “

As her time at the conservatory unfolds, Nadja begins to learn more about herself and her supposed heritage, and the questions that begin to appear, are at times, more than she can stomach. Her mind is at war with her beliefs of the balance of nature and the magic running in her veins, and soon she becomes embroiled in a situation that she is afraid she cannot fight her way out of. When her past finally catches up to her, she is not as prepared as she originally planned to be, and Nadja must rely on her instincts and emerging talents to carry her on.

Inharmonic is the first in a set of novels, and if the author’s website is any indication, there will be at least three. You can track the author’s progress with a clever widget on the blog portion of her website. This series has the makings of a trilogy at the very least, with possible spin-off stories involving minor but equally interesting characters. Readers who enjoy Inharmonic can sign up at the author’s website (www.akrscott.com) to receive a free copy of a novella entitled Heart of the Wood, featuring the heroic and engaging character, Pax.

I found the premise of Inharmonic to be original and intelligent, and while I have not read a weighty amount of fantasy books, I believe the underlying storyline to be unique. The story is about Nadja and her journey of discovering who she is outside of tribal tradition and law, but it is also centered around music and the power that sound has on the environment in which it lives. Cultivated melodies have the power to call on rain, can literally move mountains, and grow crops that would otherwise be laid waste by pests and disease. The author is obviously very well-versed in the language of music and while it does lend itself to the story well, at times it can be a bit much. If you don’t know a lot about music and its terms (like myself) you may find yourself lost and a bit bored with lengthy descriptions of the inner workings of song and harmony.

I was also confused as to the audience the author was writing for. I’ve found it nearly impossible to “write for the masses” in the literary world of today. The genres of the modern-day reading circles are very distinct and the lines clearly drawn as certain styles of writing invoke cult-like followings. The Young Adult genre is taken very seriously by the readers involved, and while the ages and subject matter suggested this was a YA book, the language was heavy-handed and almost too elegant and complicated for the average YA reader to understand and navigate without a dictionary. That being said, adult readers would find this intelligently written and appealing. However, the storyline was lost more than once in the face of overly-worded paragraphs full of detailed descriptions and dialogue was slowed to a turtle’s pace in the midst of formality.

I’ve found that most books involved in a series can be wordy with their first installment, as the author is excited to set the world up for their reader and also so that in future books, they are able to focus more on plot than setting. I am looking forward to the rest of the books in this series, as Inharmonic left me in a state of desperate wanting as it came to its close. I also appreciated the map in the front of the book, showing all the points of interest clearly marked. The author’s website has a fantastically interactive map with further detail and descriptions that I found delightful. I’m a fan of a good map, as the wife of a cartographer, and fantasy worlds are always made better with a pure path laid out.

I give Inharmonic 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for music-lovers and fantasy-lovers alike. I recommend this for readers over the age of 15, as the language overall is advanced and may be confusing for the average mid-grade or YA reader.

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Review: Lost in a Book

Lost in a Book

by Jennifer Donnelly

“The second vulture screeched. He shook his head, and then his wings. Death’s pale cheeks flushed with indignation. 

“I know there are rules, Truque!” she said. “I know I cannot go to the girl before her time. But what if she comes to me? What if I can bind her here? That changes things, doesn’t it?”

The vulture considered his mistress’s words, then dipped his head and grabbed the book with his sharp talons. Death opened a window, and the two birds swooped off into the night. As she watched them go, her sister’s words came back to her.

You have no idea how the story ends. 

Death’s bloodred lips curved into a grim, determined smile. 

“Oh, but I do,” she purred. Because I intend to write it!” “

Lost in a Book is a Disney sanctioned novel that I came across via FaceBook. The marketing for the book must be very good because ads for it popped up onto my feed multiple times a day! I follow several Beauty & the Beast groups and I guess those cookies are working in my favor. I am so glad I came across this sweet little book. It was really fun to read and a great perspective.

I don’t know much about Jennifer Donnelly other than she is very involved on her FaceBook page. I love it when authors take the time to interact with their fans, and she has many. There is something very charming about the back and forth between a fan giving a compliment and an author receiving it and responding. Social media is a great platform for celebrities and their adoring masses to come together, and the praise for this novel has been substantial.

Lost in a Book is the tale of Belle’s time as an unintended guest of the Beast’s enchanted castle. The time period (if you are going by the movie) is after she has arrived and tried to escape, only to be set upon by a pack of wolves in the forest and saved by her captor, the Beast. The Beast has gifted Belle with her very own library and she is determined to begin the task of tidying it up, along with the help of her friends and familiar faces – Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Chip. The library is a disaster of dust and grime and they spend a few days and many hours cleaning things up so that it can be a place for Belle to find sanctuary. Books have always helped Belle escape the tribulations of her life and she needs them now more than ever; being separated from her father is heartbreakingly difficult.

” “Reading became my sanctuary,” Belle continued. “I found so much in those books. I found histories that inspired me. Poems that delighted me. Novels that challenged me. . .” Belle paused, suddenly self-conscious. She looked down at her hands, and in a wistful voice said, “What I really found, though, was myself.”  “

What Belle doesn’t know is that a trap has been set for her. Two sisters, Death and Love, have been playing with her life on their chessboard of fate, watching her from a veritable distance. Love, of course, is hoping that Belle will begin to see the good in the Beast, allowing the spell to be broken and for the both of them to live happily ever after. Death on the other hand is hoping to claim Belle’s life as part of her collection. They place a bet on Belle’s life, each hoping that their wish will become reality, but what Love doesn’t know is that Death has decided to cheat. She places an enchanted book in Belle’s library, one that will come to life and tempt her into another world. If Belle takes three things from this magical world inside the book titled Nevermore, and leaves three things in return, then she will be bound to the world forever and as such, meet her eternal end.

Belle finds the book in secret room within the library and cannot hold herself back from entering. In it, she finds a world that is amazing and all that she has ever dreamed of. Inside the book of Nevermore is the city of Paris and it’s outskirts, parts of her country that Belle has always dreamed of visiting but never had the means. She also encounters a handsome duke named Henri and a startlingly curious Countess who offers to take Belle under her wing and show her the lays of the land.

” Belle was taken aback by the countess’s title. “Terres des Morts. . .” she echoed. “Land of the Dead? I’m not sure I wish to meet her!”

The young man laughed. “It’s a horrible title, I agree. It was given to an ancestor of the countess’s. After he’d won a particularly bloody battle. It is much more fierce than she is, I promise you.”

Belle hesitated. “What is this place?” she asked.

“A bit of magic, like all good books,” the man replied. “An escape. A place where you can leave cares and worries behind.” He smiled. “At least for a chapter or two.” He offered her his arm. 

Belle bit her lip. She cast a glance behind her. It wasn’t too late to leave. It wasn’t too late to run out of the chateau, down the drive, through the portal, and back to the Beast’s castle. 

But there, she could only read stories. Here, it seemed, she could live one.  “

Belle comes back from the book and is torn. She loved her adventure while visiting the magical land inside the book with the Countess and her new friends, but she also is finding a particular fondness for the inhabitants of the enchanted castle and the Beast. His behavior and demeanor are no doubt mercurial, but she is slowly beginning to see the good inside of him. He is making an effort and although it often feels as if he is taking one step forward and three steps back, everyone is hopeful that the Beast will honestly and valiantly earn Belle’s trust and eventually, her heart.

Belle had stood there for a long moment, staring at the empty doorway. 

The gift the Beast had bestowed upon her was so incredibly generous, it was almost unbelievable. She felt as if the Beast, who had caused her so much sorrow, was now doing everything in his power to undo it. 

Everything, that is, except letting her go. 

“What are you?” she’d whispered. 

Was the Beast the snarling savage who’d imprisoned her father, then herself? Was he the cultivated reader who could recite lines from a sixteenth-century poem? Was he her adversary? Her friend?

Or was he somehow all of these things? “

Despite the Beast’s best efforts, something always seems to go wrong in his attempts to woo and romance Belle. He plans an outing to take her ice skating and ends up coming down with a cold. He tries to hold a polite conversation with her and he cannot control his temper. The enchanted objects of the castle try to smooth things over but between the Beast’s rages and the sorrow Belle is feeling over the absence of her father in her life, she has a very hard time resisting the temptation that is the magical book and world of Nevermore. The Beast however, continues to try and connect.

Something was wrong — very wrong. The Beast could feel it. 

“Why aren’t you eating, Belle? Are you not well?” he asked. 

“I’m fine, thank you. Just not terribly hungry,” Belle said, giving him what was clearly a fake smile. She laid her spoon down. “I didn’t sleep well last night. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take my leave.” 

The Beast raised an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“To the library.”

“Would you like to go for a walk through the grounds instead? The brisk air will put some color back into your cheeks. You look so pale this morning. Surely you’ve noticed.”

“How could I?” Belle asked. “There aren’t any mirrors here.”

“True.”

“Because you broke them all.”

The Beast cleared his throat. “Also true,” he said. “Personally? I like books better than mirrors,” he added, trying to lighten the mood. “Mirrors only show us what w are. Books show us what we can be.” “

Little does she know, but her new best friend inside the book is none other than Death herself, working her own brand of magic against any love Belle may feel in the real world. She is able to persuade Belle into tasting several things from Nevermore which half binds her to the book, and she cunningly begins to try and find ways to steal things from Belle which will finish the trap. Belle is finding so much joy and solace in what she believes to be the perfect world that she ignores the warnings that Love has sent her way. She continues to go back and forth between the worlds and ignores the physical attachment she is beginning to form to the book. Each time she goes back and forth it proves to be more difficult to get back into the real world.

” “Goodbye, Madame Comtesse,” Belle said as they stepped into the drive. “And thank you again for everything.” 

There was a note of melancholy in Belle’s voice. The countess noticed it. “What’s the matter, child?” she asked. 

“Nothing,” Belle said wistfully. “At least, nothing that doesn’t make me sound like a complete ingrate. I just. . . I wish I didn’t have to leave. Ever. I wish Nevermore was real.” 

The countess smoothed a stray piece of hair off Belle’s forehead. Her touch was as cool as marble. “Does it matter if it’s not?” she asked. “Life can be so difficult, and stories help us escape those difficulties. It’s all right to lose yourself in one, Belle. Isn’t that what you’ve always done? And this one is your own story, for goodness’ sake! What harm can there possibly be in that?” “

Belle is being further manipulated by Death each time she enters the book and finally, things come to a head. She has bound herself to Nevermore by leaving three things and taking three things, and she must embark upon a perilous journey to escape if she wants to keep her life intact. Relying on Love’s emissaries and her own wits, she struggles through puzzles and problems to try and find her way out and back to her Beast — someone that she now realizes she cares more for than she did before.

Jennifer Donnelly brings a bright and appropriate new story to the beloved world of Beauty & the Beast; one that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. The narrative is such that a 10-year old and a 30-year old can each enjoy the story and appreciate the addition to a world they already love. I especially loved the nod to the original author of Beauty & the Beast’s tale, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The author wrote the story of Beauty and her Beast in the 1700’s and although it has been cut down and penned under other names as well, Donnelly used the original author’s last name Villeneuve as the name of the village Belle comes from.

Please note that Lost in a Book follows the storyline of the live-action film and not the cartoon. As a result, if you have not seen the live-action movie, you may find a few discrepancies. I really enjoyed this addition to my favorite fairy tale. I give Lost in a Book 4.5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for any and all age groups interested in learning more about Belle’s time in captivity at the Beast’s enchanted castle.

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Recommendation: The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments – Book 1

City of Bones

by Cassandra Clare

“Clary glanced at the spot where the boy had disappeared from, and said nothing. There wasn’t even a smear of blood there – nothing to show that the boy had ever existed. 

“They return to their home dimensions when they die,” said Jace. “In case you were wondering.” 

“Jace,” Alec hissed. “Be careful.” 

Jace drew his arm away. A ghoulish freckling of blood marked his face. He still reminded her of a lion, with his wide-spaced, light -colored eyes, and that tawny gold hair. “She can see us, Alec,” he said. “She already knows too much.” 

“So what do you want me to do with her,” Isabelle demanded.

“Let her go,” Jace said quietly. Isabelle shot him a surprised, almost angry look, but didn’t argue. The whip slithered away, freeing Clary’s arm. She rubbed her sore wrist and wondered how the hell she was going to get out of there. 

“Maybe we should bring her back with us,” Alec said. “I bet Hodge would like to talk to her.”

“No way are we bringing her to the Institute,” said Isabelle. “She’s a mundie.” 

“Or is she?” said Jace softly. 

Okay.

I will try to restrain myself on this post; I am already way too excited. The Shadowhunter Chronicles is my favorite literary series, second only to the magical world of  Harry Potter. I fell into this collection of books almost by accident, and it held me captivated for nearly a year as I combed religiously through the 12 (yes 12, and there are more to come!) books.

The Mortal Instruments is a set of 6 books that chronicle the lives of several different characters. Mainly, Clary Fray, a fifteen-year old teenager living in New York who spends her time dreaming of becoming a famous artist and prowling the streets in search of adventure with her childhood best friend and member of a band with no name, Simon Lewis. Clary encounters several puzzling strangers one evening in a downtown club, and watches in horror as they strike down another teenager. When the deceased vanishes before her eyes, Clary begins to suspect that something else is going on – something very wrong – and struggles to understand. The group of strangers – Jace, Alec, and Isabelle Lightwood, offer little information or sympathies, but find themselves as intrigued about her as she is about them.

Clary isn’t supposed to be able to see what was going on in the club. She shouldn’t have been able to see the murdered boy, who turns out wasn’t a boy at all, but a demon in full glamour. She shouldn’t have been able to see the other teenagers, who eventually reveal themselves to be of an elite fighting order called The Shadowhunters, a race of men and women born with angel blood and special powers – powers that are enhanced by the ancient runes they carve on themselves like tattoos. Their sole purpose is to preserve a balance between themselves and Downworlders, a sub-race that includes demons, vampires, werewolves, fairies, and other mythical and mystical creatures. They fancy themselves the true police of the world and use every opportunity as a way to strengthen their cause as they protect regular humans against evil.

“Sitting on a faded green sofa a few feet away from her was Jace. He was wearing the same dark clothes he’d had on the night before in the club. His arms were bare and covered with faint lines like old scars. His wrists bore wide metal cuffs; she could see the bone handle of a knife protruding from the left one. He was looking right at her, the side of his narrow mouth quirked in amusement. Worse than the feeling of being laughed at was Clary’s absolute conviction that he hadn’t been sitting there five minutes ago. 

“What is it?” Simon had followed her gaze, but it was obvious from the blank expression on his face that he couldn’t see Jace. 

But I see you. She stared at Jace as she thought it, and he raised his left hand to wave at her. A ring glittered on a slim finger. He got to his feet and began walking, unhurriedly, toward the door. Clary’s lips parted in surprise. He was leaving, just like that.

She felt Simon’s hand on her arm. He was saying her name, asking her if something was wrong. She barely heard him. “I’ll be right back,” she heard herself say, as she sprang off the couch, almost forgetting to set her coffee cup down. She raced toward the door, leaving Simon staring after her.”

Getting wrapped up in their world is difficult for Clary to manage, especially when her mother decides out of the blue that she is going to send her daughter away. But before she can, Jocelyn Fray is attacked and stolen away herself, leaving Clary at the mercy of the Shadowhunter’s hospitality. She moves into the New York Institute and begins a journey to find out who she really is. It’s obvious to everyone that she isn’t a regular “mundane”, but no one seems to know her lineage. A trip into the Silent City, a secret land hidden in a graveyard, leads to more questions when the mysterious Silent Brothers reveal that she has a block in her brain. A block that can only be removed by a warlock, as a warlock is the one who put it there in the first place.

After Clary discovers her mother has been kidnapped, she has to find out why. She and Jace inadvertently spy on her mother’s best friend, a curious fellow named Luke, and find that someone named Valentine is searching for something called The Mortal Cup, a talisman that when drunk from, can create Shadowhunters (a race that one typically is born into) from regular people. The process of becoming a Shadowhunter via the Cup is a perilous one, and not everyone survives. Valentine has held onto a hope for much of his life that he can procure this cup, create a huge army of Shadowhunters, and eradicate the entire Downworlder race, thus leaving the world pure.

As a teenager living in Idris, Valentine rallied a group of like-minded individuals together and they formed The Circle, a group whose sole purpose became destroying all Downworlders. Clary’s mother Jocelyn was involved in the group, and Valentine is convinced she is hiding the Cup. He has kidnapped her in an attempt to force her into revealing the Cup’s location. Clary decides that the only way to find her mother is to first find the Cup, and so she begins her quest.

” “So what are you Shadowhunters?”

“We are sometimes called the Nephilim,” said Hodge. “In the Bible they were the offspring of humans and angels. The legend of the origin of Shadowhunters is that they were created more than a thousand years ago, when humans were being overrun by demon invasions from other worlds. A warlock summoned the Angel Raziel, who mixed some of his own blood with the blood of men in a cup, and gave it to those men to drink. Those who drank the Angel’s blood became Shadowhunters, as did their children and their children’s children. The cup thereafter was know as the Mortal Cup. Though the legend may not be fact, what is true through the years, when Shadowhunter ranks were depleted, it was always possible to create more Shadowhunters using the Cup.” “

Enter one Magnus Bane, a cocky, handsome, and skeptical warlock hundreds of years old, who is none too thrilled to be forced into helping the Shadowhunter cause. He has apparently been blocking Clary’s brain since she was very small, a favor to her mother, who as it turns out was married to the single most terrifying Shadowhunter in the order’s history – Valentine himself, making the villain Clary’s father. Despite his reluctance, Magnus develops one strong reason for wanting to help Clary and her Shadowhunter friends. . . the reason being that one of those friends happens to be exactly the type of person Magnus could fall in love with.

” “Magnus. Magnus Bane?”

“That would be me.” The man blocking the doorway was as tall and thin as a rail, his hair a crown of dense black spikes. Clary guessed from the curve of his sleepy eyes and the gold tone of his evenly tanned skin that he was part Asian. He wore jeans and a black shirt covered with dozens of metal buckles. His eyes were crusted with a raccoon mask of charcoal glitter, his lips painted a dark shade of blue. He raked a ring-laden hand through his spiked hair and regarded them thoughtfully.

“Children of the Nephilim,” he said. “Well, well. I don’t recall inviting you.”  “

The story progresses and Clary, her best friend Simon, and the Shadowhunters begin to merge seamlessly into one another’s lives, despite initial protestations. The race to find the Cup is on, the quest to find Jocelyn is paramount, and the subsequent training of a new Shadowhunter is dawning on the horizon. The novel(s) is writ with underlying and complicated first-love romance, staggering adventure, unbreakable friendships and complicated relationships – all built around a world within a world, a true good and evil epic.

The Mortal Instruments is just one of (currently) four sub-series in the set of books written about the Shadowhunter order. In completion they are as follows (and in my opinion, should be read in this order):

Also included in the series are offshoots such as The Bane Chronicles (in my opinion, can be read at any time) and Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy (to be read after The Mortal Instruments, as it picks up right after the ending of City of Heavenly Fire; it is the account of Simon’s training told through short stories that were previously only available online). Several guides to Shadowhunting have been also been published and can be read at any time. They include: The Shadowhunter’s Codex, Shadowhunters and Downworlders, and A History of Notable Shadowhunters & Denizens of Downworld: Told in the Language of Flowers. An adult coloring book is set to be released April of 2017.

In addition to the multiple books in the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, a popular movie was made in 2013 for City of Bones, starring Lily Collins as Clary Fray and Jamie Bower Campbell as Jace Lightwood Herondale. A television series called Shadowhunters is currently on the Freeform Network and is several episodes into it’s successful second season. While the casting for both the movie and the television show has been close to the literary form, writers have taken complete liberty over the original storyline. Facets of the book are in both the movie and show, but readers should beware – the plot is far removed from the book.

I am certainly biased, because I truly fell in love with this series. I am a true serial reader, and getting to know characters inside and out through multiple books is my literary bread and butter. There is nothing I love more than finishing a book and picking up the next, over and over, without ever breaking the fantasy world I am immersed in. I am counting down the days until May when the new book comes out, and I highly recommend that you fall into the land of the Shadowhunters and take a break from reality.

I give City of Bones a 5 out of 5 star rating. I recommend this book for readers ages 15+ due to some mild language and brief sexual allusions.

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Review: Heartless

Heartless

by Marissa Meyer

“Cath shivered and had the strangest urge to give him a nervous wave. An acknowledgment that yes, she was aware that her dress was unduly red. But by the time her hand had lifted, the Joker’s attention had skipped on. She dropped her hand and exhaled. Once the hoop had made a full circle, a ghost smile lifted the corners of the stranger’s lips. He titled his head. The bells jingled. There was an intake of breath from the watchful crowd. “Ladies. Gentleman.” He spoke with precision. “Your Most Illustrious Majesty.” The King bounced on his toes like a child waiting for the Christmas feast. The Joker swung himself up in one fluid motion so he was standing inside the hoop. It spun another lazy half turn. They all listened, mesmerized by the hesitant creak of the rope that attached it to the chandelier.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?””

Have you ever wondered how the Queen of Hearts of Wonderland came to be so…heartless?

Have you ever asked yourself why the White Rabbit depends so much on a mystery woman named Mary Ann?

And how did the Mad Hatter get so mad?

Marissa Meyer, author of other such twisted tales as Fairest, Cinder, and Scarlett has tackled the Kingdom of Hearts in her new novel, Heartless. The story chronicles the life of one Catherine Pinkerton: the heiress to Rock Turtle Cove, a teenager who dreams of being a world class baker, a whimsical thinker, a devoted friend, and a vivaciously happy soul who lives under the thumb of two determined parents.

The story begins as Catherine and her handmaiden, Mary Anne, prepare for a party given by the King of Hearts, a tiny and silly little man who loves sweets – especially if said sweets come from a certain dark haired girl from Rock Turtle Cove. Catherine finds the attention of the King to be a bother, but she must do her duty by her parents and attend the soiree in style. In preparation for the gathering, she is busily at work in the kitchen, much to her mother’s constant digress, creating pastries with all the flair and pizzaz of a most dedicated confectioner. The famed Cheshire Cat is in attendance (both with and without his portly body) as she gets herself elbow deep in flour and sugar, and the reader soon realizes that the fanciful feline is somewhat of a constant companion for the young lady.

While in attendance at the party, Cath is swept into a magical and ridiculous situation with the new resident Joker, an attractive and mysterious rouge named Jest. She finds herself enraptured by his riddles and games, and also finds him a much preferred companion to that of the attentive and annoying King of Hearts.

“So long as we’re sharing secrets,” she said, “may I ask how you did it? The trick with Mr. Rabbit?”

“What trick?”

“You know. When you pulled him out of Jack’s hat.”

Jest frowned, his expression mildly concerned. “Sweetest Lady Pinkerton, I fear you’ve gone mad in this short time we’ve known each other.”

She peered up at him. “Have I?”

“To imagine that I pulled a rabbit out of a hat?” He stooped closer, his forehead conspiratorially close to hers, and whispered, “That would be impossible.”

She smothered a grin, trying to morph her expression into something equally devious. “As it so happens, Mr. Jest, I’ve sometimes come to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

While Catherine tries her very best not to get caught up in the enigmatic and alluring ways of Jest, she finds it difficult to contain her focus. Mary Ann, her close friend and business partner, tries fervently to keep her on track. The girls are trying to find a way to open up a bakery of their own but the task is proving to be difficult one. Cath’s parents are determined to capitalize on the affections the King has for their daughter, and will not entertain her dreams of being a business owner. The girls struggle to find investors and are feeling frantic, as the storefront of their dreams is about to become available. The current curious tenant is soon to be vacating the premises, taking his shop full of shoes elsewhere. Readers will enjoy the appearances of familiar characters, such as Mr. Caterpillar.

“He was staring at her and Mary Ann. He had not touched the boots on the counter, though coming closer she could see that he was wearing an assortment of shoes himself – all different styles of boots and slippers taking up his many small feet. “Who,” he said lazily, “are you?”

Despite Mary Ann’s and Cath’s greatest efforts, they cannot seem to gain any ground with their bakery. The biggest problem is coming from the castle – a determined and smitten little King who will do anything to attract the attentions of his most prized subject. Cath does her best to thwart his advances, but she is at a disadvantage due to her position as only daughter of her ambitious parents. Catherine also finds herself caught up in the romance that the forbidden relationship with the Joker brings; her eyes constantly searching him out while in the presence of the King, and she soon finds that Jest’s heart is going in the same direction as hers. However, they have no idea how to remove the well-meaning but obnoxious obstacle that is in front of them.

“The King was still clapping enthusiastically. “That was wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! Lady Pinkerton, wasn’t that wonderful?”

She cleared her throat and conceded. “It was indeed. What is the song? This was the first I’ve heard it.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, my lady,” said Jest. “It came to me just now.” Her eyes widened. Impossible. “Perhaps you are my muse,” he added, and the joking tone had returned. “I shall dedicate it to you, Lady Catherine Pinkerton, if it pleases.”

The King squealed. “Oh yes, that’s perfect! I shall have you play it again at our -” He cut off sharply. Cath stiffened, clenching the handkerchief in one fist. Jest’s suspicious look returned. The King fidgeted with the clasp of his velvet-lined cape. and his excitement was replaced with mumbled bashfulness. “At, er…the royal wedding.”

Cath wished she could disappear down a rabbit hole. 

Along the way of the King’s courtship, he watches in quiet dismay as his kingdom is taken prisoner by the fear of a creature lurking in the woods, coming out to devour innocents at inopportune times. The Jabberwock is a gruesome beast terrorizing the citizens of Hearts, and the King has no idea how to stop it – other than distracting his subjects with party after party. Catherine is caught up in the midst of a Jabberwock attack more than once – the first time happening at an amusing and informative tea party given by the area’s newest milliner – Hatta. Jest romantically whisks Catherine away from her home in the middle of the night to entertain her at the tea party, but the evening is cut short with a violent encounter by the beast.

After a second fight with the Jabberwock leaves Cath incapacitated, Jest carries her off to another land to have her healed, much to the digress and horror of her parents – and the King. It is viewed as a treasonous act, and Jest is now considered a criminal of the highest depravity to everyone but Lady Catherine Pinkerton, who has fallen completely head over heels in love. After the admittance of her feelings,  Jest finds himself bound to do some exposing of his own and as such, shares the real reason why he is in Hearts – to steal hers. . .her heart that is – and take it back to his native land of Chess, a kingdom only to be found by crossing through The Looking Glass.

“Her chest suddenly squeezed, forcing the air from her lungs. “You’ve been trying to steal my heart.” A muscle twitched in his jaw and he looked away. Mouth suddenly dry, Cath placed a hand to her collarbone, feeling the steady thumping beneath her skin. “Is that…has it all been for that? The tea party, the letters, what you said at the festival…all of it, no more than an attempt to steal my heart so you could take it back to your queen?” 

“The easiest way to steal something,” Jest murmured, “is for it to be given willingly.” 

Despite his nefarious initial intentions, Jest has fallen as deeply in love with Catherine as she has for him. But in doing so, Catherine is now in yet another impossible position. There is no way she is going to be allowed to be with Jest freely, and so she she must devise a plan that will give her freedom. What happens next is certainly something that no one could have foreseen or helped, and Catherine watches her life spin on a wheel that is completely out of her control.

We all know that there is indeed a Queen of Hearts. We all know how desperately controlling and how unwaveringly cruel she can be. Heartless is the path by which this queen is born, a creation of her environment and the lack of concern by which the people in her life treat her. The Queen came by her dreadful attitude and short-sided views honestly, and in the end one cannot truly blame her for her lack of empathy for the young girl who eventually comes wandering on in to Wonderland.

“But why? Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Her hand fell on the doorknob. “It’s not,” she spat, ripping open the door. “It’s just a stupid riddle. It is nothing but stuff and nonsense!”

Suddenly, inexplicably, the pocket watch fell silent. Hatta’s face slackened. his brow beaded with sweat. “Stuff and nonsense,” he whispered, the words cracking. “Nonsense and stuff and much of muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don’t you know? And it runs in my family, it’s a part of my blood and he’s here, Time has finally found me and I –” His voice shredded. His eyes burned. “I haven’t the slightest idea, Your Queenness. I find that I simply cannot recall why a raven is like a writing desk.” 

I read Marissa Meyer’s debut series, The Lunar Chronicles, earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed her unique and Star Wars-esque take on classic fairy tales. The set of 6 books spins an interesting tale centered around a cyborg named Cinder, who comes to the revelation that she is actually long lost princess who is duty bound  to overthrow an evil queen. The books were so much fun and I found so many characters in them that I really came to enjoy, namely Cress (a take on Rapunzel; she is a squeak of a girl kept prisoner on a spaceship where she is forced to use her computer skills to be a spy) and Thorne, the roguish rake who saves her in his own roundabout and hilarious way. The novels weave themselves in and out of several strong characters and their own stories, bringing them all together in a clever manner.

I found Heartless to be entertaining, but not as cleverly written as The Lunar Chronicles. The author would take us down a path that could lead to someplace that was curiously delightful, but then she would instead bring us back around somewhere else  that was a bit dull and overwritten. I was used to so many very strong female characters in her previous work, that I didn’t quite like how Catherine willingly let her life’s dreams slip away once she found love with Jest. She gave up her identity and never truly stood up for herself. Perhaps this is how it had to be written, to get the characters where they were in the end. I don’t know. I just know I would have appreciated seeing a bit more fire from Catherine in the middle of her story, considering how determined she was in the beginning. There were a few steps off the path that I did not understand and found to be a waste of time; this book could have benefited from a bit more editing, in my opinion (not to mention the numerous grammatical and spelling errors I found that drove me nuts).

I give Heartless 3 out of 5 stars, and I can say with wholeheartedness that any young person who has ever found themselves spellbound by the magic that is Wonderland will enjoy this novel – however, older minds may find themselves a bit bored.  It’s written in a true Young Adult sense of the genre, and I recommend it for any person over the age of 13, due to some infrequent but nonetheless evident allusion to carnal desires.