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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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(My) Top Favorite Stand-Alone Novels (Not A Part Of A Series)

Mustaches for Maddie by Chad Morris, Shelly Brown | To Be Published: October 3, 2017

My ARC 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.”

The Green and the Gray by Timothy Zahn

Summary via Goodreads: Tree-hiding Greens and mountain-hiding Grays hide in Manhattan, alien refugees from a cataclysmic war, until two teens from opposing sides find both species have survived. On a cold October night, Roger and Caroline Whittier accept an unexpected burden at gunpoint: Melantha Green 12, the Peace Child ready to die, prevented by NYPD Detective Thomas Fierenzo.

All Things New by Lauren Miller

My ARC Review: “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.”

Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Sumamry 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.

Paintbrush by Hannah Bucchin

My ARC Review: “Hannah Bucchin’s debut novel, Paintbrush, was a delightful story that had me falling in love with the characters, on the edge of my seat with its plot, and feel all the feels with its touch of romance. This was a big win for me. And I look forward to reading more from her.”

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My Review:Eleanor & Park is a fantastic story of acceptance and first love. It’s a beautiful tale, so raw and open about the emotions the two title characters go through as their relationship with each other and those around them progresses and changes.”

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Summary via Goodreads: The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Summary via Goodreads: After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancé…

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson

Summary via Goodreads: For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy father and her oppressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet’s world changes. Defying her father’s wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house. Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom’s affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be fiancé have begun to track her down… 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Summary via Goodreads: Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate — a life and a role that she has never challenged… until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister’s Keeper is the story of one family’s struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning parable for all time.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Illustrated by Patricia Castelao

My Review:The One and Only Ivan surprised me. It reads like a lyrical diary but the tone and simplicity of each chapter shows that Ivan is an intelligent gorilla, as intelligent as a human (if not more, in his opinion). Anything Ivan points out, describes, compares and contrasts comes off as wise and/or humorous. A very quick read, The One and Only Ivan is a fun read for all.”


What are your favorite stand-alone novels?

As always, HAPPY READING!


Links to Images Used (In Order):

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/110979  ~  [Mustaches for Maddie]

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/216455.The_Green_and_the_Gray

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/108118  ~  [All Things New]

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32078787-once-and-for-all

https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/113051  ~  [Paintbrush]

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15745753-eleanor-park

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60931.Kindred

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/714569.A_Countess_Below_Stairs

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/963274.A_Company_of_Swans

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10917.My_Sister_s_Keeper

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11594337-the-one-and-only-ivan


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Happy Book Release Day! to Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, Pictures by Esmé Shapiro

Thank you again to NetGalley and Tundra Books for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review.

*title/author link leads to my review of Yak and Dove*


Image via NetGalley

Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, Pictures by Esmé Shapiro

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Picture Book
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Book Summary (via NetGalley):
Sometimes the unlikeliest friends form the greatest friendships. A funny, charming picture book from a dynamic duo.

Friends Yak and Dove are complete opposites. Yak is large and Dove is small. Yak has fur and Dove has feathers. Yak is polite. Dove is ill-mannered. Yak likes quiet. Dove likes noise. One day as Yak and Dove list their differences they come to the conclusion that maybe they aren’t meant to be friends. In the hope of finding a new best friend, Yak holds auditions. But when a small feathered contestant sings Yak’s favorite song, the two begin to think that maybe they are alike after all . . .

Yak and Dove whimsically captures the highs and lows of friendship through the three interconnected tales of two very different friends.


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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~

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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Happy Book Release Day! to Blood Guard by Megan Erickson

Thank you again to NetGalley and Loveswept for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review.

*title/author link leads to my review of Blood Guard*


Image via NetGalley

Blood Guard by Megan Erickson

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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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.