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Book Review: Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce (2nd Read)

Image via Goodreads | 2000 cover

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: The Circle Opens, book 1
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Summary (via Goodreads):
Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knows all about unusual magic – she herself spins and weaves it like thread. But when she witnessed a boy dancing a spell, even she is confounded. To her dismay, Sandry learns that as the mage who discovered the power of the young dancer, she must be his teacher. Before lessons can begin, however, Sandry and her uncle, Duke Vedris, get news of a mysterious murderer stalking a clan of local merchants. The killer employs the strangest magic of all: the ability to reduce essence to nothingness. As the murders mount and the killer grows bolder, Sandry’s teaching takes on a grave purpose. For it becomes clear to everyone that the killings can only be stopped by the combined workings of two people: the young teacher and her even younger student.

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My Review:
Magic Steps is just as wonderful as I remembered. It had me feeling bittersweet nostalgia and oh-so-happy. A great beginning for fans of Tamora Pierce who didn’t want the Circle of Magic stories to end. But Magic Steps remains a joy to read despite the gruesomeness of the plot.

Seeing Sandry really put to work all she has learned in the past four years was a joy to see. Strong willed and very intelligent, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren (a 14-year-old “stitch witch”) has all the makings of a great mage and leader. She’s so mature that I sometimes forget she’s just 14.

Such a thrilling book with many characters to know and love. There’s Duke Vedris, the ruler of Emelan who commands respects that’s fully earned – I’ve always enjoyed seeing his character in action. Kwaben and Oama, Sandry’s personal guards – I always love seeing kickass, loyal teams. Yazmin, a renowned dancer, who teaches Pasco to dance – she is a spitfire to love.

I like the humor Pasco’s character adds to the story. Here we have someone coming late into his magic – an anomaly in Pierce’s universe – who must quickly learn to control his newfound power and assist in a murder investigation. And he’s 12. That’s a lot for a 12-year-old boy wrap his head around. But I think coming from a family with generations of harriers made some of his actions and reactions pleasantly surprising.

However, I wish Pasco was a bit more in the foreground of the story. We get three different third-person limited points of view – the majority’s Sandry’s – and third person omniscient mixed in. A little jarring here and there for me but the way the story is woven works nonetheless.

There’s so much to love and talk about this story. Awesome universe. Interesting characters. Creative plot. Everything I love about Tamora Pierce’s remarkable stories. This was a fun re-read.

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ARC Book Review: The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl

Thank you to NetGalley and XC Publishing for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review. The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl is expected to be released October 15, 2017.

Image via NetGalley

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: The King’s Champion, book 1
Rating: 3/5
Recommend to Others?: Maybe

 

Book Summary (via NetGalley):
The first book in a fantasy series of swords, sorcery, and adventure.

A generation ago, a great war convulsed Cantwin. Amidst blood-soaked battles the Stormlifter kings rose up to save the kingdom by imprisoning the dark god Moleck in hell for all eternity.

Or so they thought.

Seventeen-year-old Lance thinks his life is just about perfect now that the prettiest girl in the village wants him. Sure, he dreams of fighting far off battles, but that’s nothing more than a fantasy. Until the elders order him away to find a name for himself.

In the dazzling capital, Lance navigates court intrigues with Prince Kieran’s unlikely friendship. Yet the glitter and gold obscures a dark conspiracy. Soon the two friends find themselves propelled to the edges of the world on a desperate quest. The stakes: Lance’s life, Kieran’s throne, and the survival of the Land itself.

Hunted by assassins, and haunted by the awakening of a strange and frightful power within them, they must find proof of Kieran’s claim to the throne before a dark god’s vengeance destroys them all. For the Power is summoning a champion, and it will not be denied.

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My Review:
This was an interesting read – okay but not what I expected. The material here is good but could be even better.

We have two great main characters – Lance and Kieran – whose adoring friendship I haven’t seen much of in YA. The story goes by quick, which, unfortunately, forces the friendship/brotherhood – and other events – to develop quickly. Lance and Kieran are very much alike with their upbringing the only stark differentiation. But I don’t feel what we get is enough to truly distinguish them as individuals.

I like the premise and setting but the pacing doesn’t help me become fully engrossed in the story. Things “skipped around” or were “cut out” a lot as if I was reading a condensed version of the story. This often made me think that there had to be more than what I was reading.

I liked that what “magic” we see seems to come from the Land in a kind of one-with-nature feel. But it’s effect leaves several questions for me and, I would have thought, from the characters.

Post-read I’m not 100% sure I will read the next book because it seems like I’d being going into book 2 still very much in the dark. But a part of me wants to read more of Lance and Kieran’s story because I love their friendship. I think the premise of book 2, Trials by Sword, will largely dictate my decision.


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ARC Book Review + Book Release Day: Me, Me, Me by Annika Dunklee, Illustrated by Lori Joy Smith

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review.
Happy Book Released Day to Me, Me, Me by Annika Dunklee!
Note: I received an e-ARC before the publication date

Image via NetGalley | Published September 5, 2017 by Kids Can Press

Genre: Picture Book, Children’s Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 (NetGalley rating was a 4)
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via NetGalley):
When best friends Annie, Lillemor and Lilianne learn their school will be having a talent show, Annie says they should enter as an all-girl singing group. Her friends are all in — until Annie tries to force everyone to go along with her choice of song, costumes, band name and lead singer. When Lillemor and Liliane tell Annie they’ve had enough of her “me, me, me” attitude, the band splits up, with Annie intent on performing solo. But it doesn’t take long for her to realize it’s just not the same without her friends. Can Annie find a way to make things right before it’s too late? Annika Dunklee’s trio of multicultural friends will charm and delight young children with their true-to-life relationships and spot-on dialogue, while Lori Joy Smith’s irresistible art brings a playful humor to the girls and their enthusiasm. Annie, the lovable, perfectly imperfect girl, will have readers rooting for her as she struggles to find her way to doing the right thing. With its positive, non-preachy approach, this book could easily spark conversations about friendships and dealing with hurt feelings. With select words in French and Swedish included in the story (with translations) as well as other details sprinkled throughout that illustrate the girls’ different backgrounds, this makes a terrific title for exploring other cultures in social studies classes. And the intriguing idea of a talent show shines a light on the performing arts and creativity within a school setting.

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My Review: [* slightly edited *]
While I wasn’t surprised by what happened, I did enjoy reading this book. Me, Me, Me is a lovely mixture of art, dialogue and language. It exposes kids to other languages – French and Swedish – and includes translations that are clearly indicated out of the way on the page. The only thing I had trouble with was telling who was who. You know who Annie is but which girl is Lillemor and which girl is Lilianne?

Annika Dunklee touches upon things all kids need to learn. That it is important to include, not exclude. You should be open and listen to all other’s ideas. Friends don’t boss each other around. That you should treat others the way you’d want to be treated. The illustrations by Lori Joy Smith are so cute and really suited the story and characters.

Playful but serious, I would recommend this book as a fun story to read to kids but also as a teaching tool on friendship.


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ARC Book Review: Blood Guard by Megan Erickson

Thank you to NetGalley and Loveswept for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review. Blood Guard by Megan Erickson is set to be released September 12, 2017.

Image via NetGalley

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: A Mission Novel, book 1
Rating: 4/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via NetGalley):
Enter a world of immortal danger and desire—and discover an incredible fate borne of blood.

Tendra: One minute, I’m a bartender in gritty Mission City; the next, I’m whisked away by a vampire named Athan who tells me that I’m the lifeblood of his clan. It sounds unbelievable, but he’s got evidence I can’t deny. Turns out, Athan belongs to an underground society of vampires who feed only on humans with their consent. Their enemies have no such qualms, and they want me dead. The only thing standing in their way is strong, sexy Athan. And the closer we get, the more tempted I am to let Athan feed. . . .

Athan: How could I have known when I snatched this snarky, beautiful human off the streets that she would change my destiny? As a loyal soldier, I must deliver Tendra to our future king—my brother. Empowered with the blood of ten generations of the Gregorie breed, she is fated to rule as our queen. But there’s something between us that’s so intoxicating, so carnal, I can’t help wanting Tendra for myself . . . even if it’s treason.

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My Review:
Warning: This book contains explicit romantic scenes and language. For mature readers only. Reader discretion advised.

Blood Guard by Megan Erickson is a new series involving vampires that I immediately fell in love with.

I’ll read anything about vampires as long as the plot and makeup of the vampires is different and unique. Blood Guard does a good job setting itself apart. I was intrigued by the concept the author developed and I think it was executed well.

Tendra is a protagonist to love. She’s bold and brave but knows her weaknesses. She has a great sense of humor and I love it when she makes references that Athan doesn’t understand – it’s adorable. I like her not-going-down-without-a-fight attitude.

Athan I really liked though there where times I had mixed feelings about his character and wasn’t quite sure why. He’s clearly a natural born leader. His path in life has always been focused on his duty as blood guard to the Gregorie Sanguivtia (Tendra). Yet sometimes his interactions with others wasn’t always consistent with what I believed his character to be. He has a dynamic personality but I couldn’t help but wonder at times “Is this the same guy you’re initially led to be believe?” But towards the end everything began to make sense. His emotions are so pure and raw; he is without a doubt a very likable and loveable character.

Themes of loyalty, duty, and self-sacrificing for the sake/good of others are heavily woven in this book. Each compliments the other and what Tendra and Athan go through, creating much tension and conflict that I liked.

I was worried that the majority of the book would be spent going from Point A to Point B. So happy that wasn’t the case but we could have gotten to Point B much sooner. There was also one moment a little more than halfway through that made me hesitate. I’m glad with what the author decided to create in that moment. It took me a moment to get used to this new idea presented. But once I did, I was all on board and really liked how it played out. I think it will provide great action and plot in the next book.

And then there’s Brex, Tendra’s cat. I loved him the most. He was so adorable and every scene he was in was just too cute for words.

Blood Guard was perhaps too short for me but still enjoyable. I’m very much invested in this story and am definitely going to be reading book 2, Blood Veil.


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ARC Book Review: Mustaches for Maddie by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown

Thank you to NetGalley and Shadow Mountain Publishing for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review.
Save the date!
Mustaches for Maddie is set to be released October 3, 2017.

 

Image via NetGalley | Published by Shadow Mountain Publishing

Genre: Middle Grade
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via Goodreads):

Maddie is a normal twelve-year-old girl. Well, except for the fake mustaches she carries in her pocket. She likes to make people laugh and slapping on a mustache, especially a fuzzy pink or neon green one, always gets a smile. Maddie hopes that the class queen, Cassie, will find her mustaches as funny as she does and want to play with her at recess. She’s been self-conscious lately because her right arm only feels normal when it’s curled against her chest and she’s constantly tripping over her feet. But that’s probably just part of growing up and not something weird, right?

When Maddie’s arm continues to bother her, her parents take her to a doctor who gives them a shocking diagnosis: the cause of the abnormal behavior of her limbs is a brain tumor and she must have surgery to remove it. She’s understandably afraid as he describes the procedure, but knows she must find a way to be brave and must face her fears–all of them–at the hospital, at home and at school.

She will need all of her courage not only to face her illness, but also to face Cassie at school. Both Cassie and Maddie are auditioning for the same role in the school play, but when Cassie accuses Maddie of lying about her tumor in order to get attention, Cassie’s bossiness turns into bullying.

And as Maddie’s surgery approaches, she begins to worry more and more about the outcome. What if something goes wrong? What if the doctors don’t get all the tumor out of her brain? What will happen to her family? What will happen to her?

It will take all of Maddie’s vibrant imagination, a lot of kindness-both given and received-and of course, the perfect mustache to overcome the tough stuff ahead of her.

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My Review:
Mustaches for Maddie is everything: charming, imaginative, funny, beautiful, heartwarming. Based on a true story about the authors’ daughter, Maddie, this novel will give you strength in your darkest times and prove that mustaches make everything better and funnier.

I loved this novel from the start. Maddie is innocent, bright, kind, and has a wild imagination. She wants to be friends with everyone and make people happy, even the most popular girl in her grade who’s not exactly the friendliest. When it’s discovered that Maddie has a brain tumor, she struggles to find strength to overcome this scary monster. It may take more than mustaches to pull through.

Maddie’s voice is clear, distinct, and her personality shines through every line. Her active imagination colors every word and phrase, making the reading experience extremely enjoyable. Her perspective on life made me think about my own, especially when I was her age. I felt included in her world. Maddie is a sweet, admirable individual who anyone would feel lucky to have as a friend.

This story is the perfect middle grade novel that should be included in school curriculum. Not to over-analyze but to teach kids how we should treat each other and to understand that everyone has struggles we may be too afraid to face on our own. And, of course, that mustaches are awesome. I like that there are discussion questions included at the end to help extend and guide the important discussions this novel brings up.

Mustaches for Maddie gets a golden mustache from me. Loved it and need to add this to my bookshelf. One of the best books of 2017 so far, one of my favorite books of 2017 and of all time, and my favorite middle grade novel. This novel is a must-read.


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ARC Book Review: All Things New by Lauren Miller

Thank you to NetGalley and Three Saints Press for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review. All Things New is set to be released August 1, 2017.

Image via NetGalley | Published by Three Saints Press

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via NetGalley):
From the author of Parallel and Free to Fall comes a novel about how it feels to be broken and what it means to be real.

Seventeen-year-old Jessa Gray has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn’t help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and noticeable scars, Jessa’s efforts to convince the world that she’s okay finally crumble—now she looks as shattered as she feels.

Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, but her anxiety only gets worse in the wake of the accident.  That is, until she meets Marshall, a boy with a heart defect whose kindness and generous spirit slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world—a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.

All Things New is a love story about perception and truth, physical and emotional pain, and the messy, complicated people we are behind the masks we put on for the world.

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My Review:
Beautiful, poignant, and honestly portrayed, All Things New is an enchanting story that gives hope for a brighter today and an even brighter tomorrow.

I underestimated how good All Things New would be – it was unbelievably fantastic!

The part before Jessa’s accident was annoying and I’m glad the author left that behind and didn’t physically drag it into the rest of the story. Jessa’s accident was heart-stopping and gave me pause. Afterwards, the story picks up and from then on it’s really difficult to stop reading (but why would you? it’s such a great book!).

What Jessa is going through is unfortunately more common than not. How she thinks, feels, behaves, and perceives things is exactly what someone with panic attacks and anxiety experiences. It’s an honest and raw portrayal of teenage mental health issues and mental health in general. She is a very relatable character even if you haven’t fully experienced all that she has.

I love Marshall – he is the bright spot in Jessa’s darkness, a bright spot we sometimes forget we have or feel we don’t have in our lives. Usually, someone with such a sunny disposition is a little off-putting for me in stories. But not Marshall. I think his heart condition, once he began to understand what it really meant, made him have a different, more positive outlook on life – sort of like Chris from the television show Parks and Recreation. Marshall is a great character. Silly, funny, kind. I’m glad that – although this is a love story – the focus wasn’t squarely on him; that he would be the end-all-fix-all – but on Jessa. And yet, I wish there was more development between Marshall and Jessa.

I am so thankful Lauren Miller wrote this story and that it will be shared with the world as it shares an important message. The story and writing is beautiful. The characters are raw and real. You will feel all the feels. 2017 has been a great year for new books so far and All Things New just made it better!


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Book Review: Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Image via Goodreads | Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via Goodreads):
As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.

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My Review:
This is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Dessen and I loved it. Once and for All is a beautiful story of love, second chances at love, and if happily-ever-afters exist.

This novel really pulls at the heart-strings, especially with what incites the conflict and every obstacle that follows. What made me pick up this book was that it involved wedding planning and the premise seemed really interesting. Those two things combined surely would make a great story, right? It did. Also, let’s not forget that the cover is simple but gorgeous.

Every character I loved and had something wonderfully special about them.

I’ve read stories with cynical main characters before but Louna – which, by the way, I love her name – has to be my favorite. There’s just something really likable about her that I can’t quite fully describe. She’s a cynic – and understandably so as you get further into the book – but her character is just so…on point and dynamic that her notions about love don’t deter a hopeless romantic like myself.

Ambrose I have a love-not-so-love feelings toward. I did not care for Ambrose for a majority of the story – probably because of his personality and overly cocky presence. But he’s not all bad. He has his moments. His character in the story is one thing that makes this story so good. In the early chapters of the book, I couldn’t see what effect he’d have on Louna by the end but his influence worked its way in well. Where their relationship ends up by the story’s conclusion I was 90-95% satisfied with.

Natalie Barrett (Louna’s mom) and William (Natalie’s partner at the company) are just darling. I loved them both and their back-stories. I found myself rooting for them as much as Louna. They are three lovable cynics. Louna’s best friend, Jilly, is great – the kind of friend everyone needs – and I love what the author chose as her family background.

I liked that the wedding planning business aspect was present throughout the entire story. I have no experience in that area but the weddings depicted in Once and for All I have no doubt have actually happened in real life. It was like watching an episode of Say Yes to the Dress. The story also flips back and forth between past and present a few times. I really enjoyed (contrary to the feels felt) those chapters that took place in the past and how Dessen placed them within the storyline so perfectly and with great affect.

As stated previously, this is my first time reading a book by Sarah Dessen. I’ve known about her books since (I think) This Lullaby was published and know her and her books are really popular. I never read any of her books way back then was because I was very much enthralled in fantasy worlds and knights and magic and shifters for a very long time (still am).

But I saw Once and for All on NetGalley. The cover looked so pretty so I was curious to see what it was about since I also recognized the author. I was very intrigued by the premise and wanted to read more. I’m glad I did. I have been missing out. Sarah Dessen is truly a talented writer and has a beautiful way of telling a story and crafting characters. Once and for All was a fantastic read and one of my favorite books of 2017 (so far). I highly recommend reading this book. I’m definitely going to check out her other novels.