1 star · fiction · middle grade

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden: faeries, death, & mystery

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the accidental afterlife of thomas marsden

author : emma trevayne

pages : [hardcover] 247

favorite character : thomas

summary :

Grave robbing is a messy business. A bad business.

And for Thomas Marsden, on what was an unremarkable spring night in London, it becomes a very spooky business. For lying in an unmarked grave and half covered with dirt is a boy the spitting image of Thomas himself.

This is only the first clue that something very strange is happening. Others follow, but it is a fortune teller’s frightened screams that lead Thomas into a strange world of spiritualists, death and faery folk.

Faery folk with whom Thomas’s life is bizarrely linked. Faery folk who need his help.

Desperate to unearth the truth about himself and where he comes from, Thomas is about to discover magic, and ritual, and that sometimes, just sometimes, the things that make a boy ordinary are what make him extraordinary.

review :

I found this book at a library sale and was instantly attracted to the gorgeous cover and intriguing title. It seemed a little dark for a middle-grade book, enough so that I dove into it without reading anything about the book so I could get the full, uninhibited experience.

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden is kind of hard to pin down with it’s genre. Set in the past, with fantasy elements, a mystery plot, as well as a hero’s quest, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Paired with some confusing, rushed writing and my surprise at how unfinished this standalone book ended, this book left me unsatisfied and, mostly, disappointed.

Let me first state that I wanted this book to be standalone. It was only in the last thirty pages or so that I realized the plot couldn’t possibly wrap up each of its elements neatly in the space left to it. Unfortunately, Trevayne did try to finish it all before the pages ran out. It’s extremely hard to write a fantasy book as short as this one. Throwing in all of the half-heartedly realized plot elements that appear in this novel . . . It reads like someone got to the last week of NaNoWriMo and realized they needed to patch up the plot quickly enough to reach their goal on time, never again to revisit the manuscript and fix anything.

I’m still confused. There were points where the characters would literally have the answers to their quest handed to them, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, possibly because, again, there was no time in the novel for anything but easy answers. Elements so fully thrown in that I needed to read whole paragraphs several times over to try to understand what was happening, only to fail. I don’t want to spoil anything by leaving any examples, because these random moments would always serve to answer some part of the plot that hadn’t been mentioned until the page before.

Mostly, I’m frustrated with this book because it had the potential for so much more. It could have been a cute fantasy, or an interesting mystery. I love books that are complexly written and aimed toward children, because far too many authors in middlegrade tend to belittle their readers. No, what The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden needed was a thorough overhaul, or at least a duology to spread this cluttered plot out a little more.

1/5 stars

Fantasy · middle grade

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars

author : corey ann haydu

pages : [hardcover] 336

summary :

In the tradition of Sharon Creech and Wendy Mass, Corey Ann Haydu’s sparkling middle grade debut is a sister story with a twist of magic, a swirl of darkness, and a whole lot of hope.

Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she’s too little for most things—especially when it comes to dealing with their mother’s unpredictable moods and outbursts. This summer, Silly feels more alone than ever when her sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot: sporting sunburned cheeks smudged with glitter and gold hair that looks like tinsel.

When Silly is brought into her sisters’ world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she’s soon forced to wonder if it could tear them apart

review :

This is a middle grade novel but it deals with some pretty tough issues. Four sisters need to band together and decide what to do as they live with the reality of their mother’s mental illness and a father who’d really prefer to pretend to them that nothing is going wrong. As the story escalates, so too do the magical elements that make things a little easier for the girls because their mother’s illness is never explained to them, never defined, and they’re left in a helpless, spiraling situation.

Silly is the youngest girl so she often feels left out and then angry that she’s considered too childish whenever she wishes to join in on her sister’s adventures. Of course, she doesn’t realize that what the three older sisters are doing has magic to it until they finally let Silly in that inner circle. But is she ready to grow up, handle responsibility, and care for her sisters like they’ve been trying to protect her all these years?

I liked Rules for Stealing Stars because it wasn’t perfect. As much as it talked about fairy tales, this isn’t one; it’s real life and that means things are imperfect, parents don’t always have all of the answers, and no prince is going to come sweeping in to make everything okay. There is no magical cure for their mother. I also loved how through most of the story you’re left to wonder at the magic contained in the girls’ closets. Is it really there or all they all imagining it as a coping mechanism?

There were some things I didn’t really care for. The writing didn’t grasp me, though I think it will be great for younger readers who are just beginning to read about these situations where a parent is the one who might need extra help. The characters were confusing to me because they never seemed to stick to their own personality. I liked that the girls’ relationship often felt like one real sisters would have, but they all flip-flopped around so much that it became frustrating.

I really would recommend this as a book for younger readers because they will start to ask questions about and get an understanding of what a mental illness is and how it affects the individual, as well as the rest of their family.

Writing: 85%
Characters: 75%
Plot: 85%
Overall: 82%

3 stars