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

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5 stars · reread review · young adult

Reread Reflection: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

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How do you review a book after you’ve already read it? Review the reread!

Neal Shusterman is one of my all-time favorite authors. Unwind is simultaneously one of the most creative and one of the scariest novels I’ve ever read because this could totally happen in the future. I haven’t ever read book four, the last book, so now that I finally have it, that called for a reread of the series so I’m geared up for the conclusion. (Well, kind of. I really don’t want it to end, because I’ve been reading and loving these books for around eight years.)

Unwind is something you kind of have to read before you can really get it. It’s one of those books that sounds horrific when described (and is horrific in execution) but it’s still necessary. It’s still relevant. People today continue to fight over issues that, in this fictional universe, led to the Unwind Accords. That’s what makes these books so terrifying. They make us see what we as a country are totally capable of.

And yeah, I mean, people look at you kind of crazy when you try to describe these books. As in, “You know organ donors? Think doing that, but while you’re still alive, only parents decide to ‘donate’ their kids, and the kids have no choice about it, so they’re cut into a million different parts to help other people who were lucky enough to have parents who didn’t want to chop them into a million different parts.”

And then there are the complex characters, the ones you love, the ones you hate, the ones you hate that you’re beginning to feel empathy today. Shusterman takes societal misconceptions and turns them on their head. Kids who have anger problems, or acted out a lot–instead of getting the help and support they need, they’re being unwound. Even perfect kids, talented kids, are getting unwound because of messed-up reasons.

Unwind makes you think. It makes you cry. Most of all, it makes you want to read more, so it’s a good thing there are three more books after this one.

3 stars · fairy tale · young adult

Spelled by Betsy Schow is a fun mashup of fairytale madness

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Spelled

author : betsy schow

pages : [paperback] 345

favorite character : kato

summary :

Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.

Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Talk about unhappily ever after.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called “Kansas.” Now it’s up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse…before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

review :

If you’re someone who doesn’t have the patience for unlikable narrators, then Spelled isn’t the one for you. If you’re like me and can put up with Dot’s shenanigans, then I think you’ll really enjoy this book.

Spelled is the first in a series about fairy tales ranging from The Wizard of Oz to Cinderella to Greek mythology. There’s a little bit of everything in here, and it’s kind of awesome that even major fairy tales will just have a minor shoutout in the background of a scene. How casually it’s all thrown together just shows how usual this is for Dot, when her entire life revolves around these magical things and the so-called ‘rules’ of story that ensure the good guys win every time. All until Dot ruins the magic holding her world together and everything about happily ever after seems to become its opposite.

Dot is forced on a wild adventure with extremely unlikely (and also kind of unlikable) companions. It’s a little strange that out of three main characters, not a single one of them is inherently pleasant. I wasn’t sure of how to feel about that at first, but this isn’t your typical fairy tale. Just like Dot is fighting to get her normal life back together, she’s also fighting the magically satisfying character growth that’s coming her way.

And the worldbuilding was excellent! I love the nods to original stories, like Dot’s magical heels. Familiar but unique, all at once. The patchwork quality of the land was great as well, because you never knew which story connected with the other and would cause more magical mayhem.

This is a very quick and fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ll definitely be reading more of the series!

3.5/5 stars

3 stars · Fantasy · fiction · young adult

GLASS SWORD by Victoria Aveyard — are all trilogies the same nowadays?

glass-sword

Glass Sword

#2

author : victoria aveyard

pages : [hardcover] 444

memorable quote :

No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone.

favorite character : shade

summary :

If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

review :

Oh Glass Sword, how I wanted to love you!

Red Queen was the kind of book where as soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to buy a copy for myself because the one I’d been reading was from the library and I needed one for my own collection. So, when I heard Victoria Aveyard would be touring near me for the sequel, I hopped on the chance to meet her, get some signed copies, and hear her speak. It was a really fun event, and I wouldn’t mind going to one of hers again. Glass Sword sat aside for a while, waiting to be read. I finally picked it up, read about half of it, and then had to take a break because I ended up moving and forgot about it for a short while. When I picked it up again, I flew through the rest of it, but . . . Maybe it goes to show just how nonexistent the plot was, for how easily I could piece it all together again after such a long time away from the middle of the book. And I’m an exceptionally forgetful person.

Glass Sword suffers from the worst of second book in a trilogy syndrome. It’s ALL about setting up for book three and dealing with the aftermath from book one. There were some cool, world-building moments in here that I liked. Hints that we’ll get to see actual involvement from other countries and places in this world–such a rare thing in YA when these catastrophic events seem to take place in one country while all of the others casually ignore what’s going down. There are even some hints that we might find out more about what made the world come to this, Silvers ruling over the Reds, and usually in these fantasy/dystopian type stories, the world is plopped in front of us with little explanation. So if Aveyard can deal out all of this in book three, that would be awesome.

Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much decided that I’ll get book three out of the library, if I end up deciding to read it at all.

Glass Sword follows Mare as she builds up the resistance that will change everything, raise up the Reds who’ve been oppressed, and . . . Well. I’m still not entirely certain what her end goals will be. She clearly doesn’t consider Reds and Silvers equal, so it isn’t that she’s fighting for equality (even though she’s in a curiously unhealthy relationship with Cal when they snuggle when neither of them want to deal with their emotions). But she also doesn’t want to be put up as some ‘Red Queen’ to be a new ruling class of Reds. I understand that maybe she hasn’t figured it all out for herself yet, but she hasn’t really thought it through. Because we’re reading it all from her perspective, I would like to know her mind a little better, and I find it hard enough to fathom why she makes some of the decisions she does.

I really like the world of this book. I think I might like the direction in which it will be moving. I’m just not sure I’ll stick with it long enough to get to that point.

3/5 stars

5 stars · Fantasy · fiction · paranormal · young adult

Boo by Neil Smith will definitely make you cry

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Boo

author : neil smith

pages : [paperback] 310

favorite character : boo

summary :

When Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a ‘gommer’, a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from the volatile Johnny, a classmate killed at the same school, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives.

In a heartrending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.

review :

I can’t remember when this book first landed on my TBR pile. It’s been on my list for months, at least, if not since it was first released almost exactly a year ago. Finally I was able to get my hands onto a copy of it. I checked this book out of the library but, to be honest, I wish that I’d bought it. I feel like this is one of those books I need to read again over the years.

Boo  hooked me in immediately. I don’t know why unique books about the afterlife (Everlost and Elsewhere are two that immediately come to mind) constantly fascinate me. Maybe because even though each religion has their own idea of what comes after death, even individuals within that certain religion can have wildly different conceptions of what the afterlife exactly is like. Although I really hope that Smith’s version isn’t so true, because if I’d died at thirteen and ended up stuck in a town filled with other thirteen year olds, that’d have been miserable. Middle schoolers are terrible–well, for the most part–and Boo kind of shows that, alongside showing how even thirteen year olds can be mature if they’re forced to remain thirteen for several decades.

I loved how easily I could immerse myself in the world. Boo has his quirks, so he immediately finds a group of people who are able to love him in spite of it, people who may have their own insecurities about themselves. It’s never established whether or not Boo possibly had some form of autism and I like how it is just implied that he is different, and lonely, and incredibly smart (maybe too smart, sometimes). Boo likes to look at everything from a scientific point of view, has trouble connecting socially, and struggles with emotions. But he’s a great friend, very observant, and immediately tries to understand things about the afterlife that would have remained incomprehensible to the less scientifically inclined.

Because it was just so interesting to see his world, I read this book in about a day and a half. I just couldn’t stop reading because I needed to know what was going to happen next. There was so much mystery surrounding Boo’s and Johnny’s deaths, because most of the afterlife’s residents don’t remember much about how they died in order to protect their own happiness. I won’t go into much detail because I don’t want to spoil it, but throughout the book you’ll definitely cry. But it is so worth it.

I’m definitely going to be recommending this book. I’ll probably be buying a copy for myself, eventually. It was so amazing, lasting, and touching that I just can’t resist.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · Fantasy · mystery · paranormal · Uncategorized

Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

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Beware the Wild 

Beware the Wild #1

author : natalie c. parker

pages : [hardcover] 327

memorable quote :

Secrets are never so dangerous as when they’ve been forgotten.

favorite characters : lenora may

summary :

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp—the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance—and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

review :

I checked this book out of the library because I’ve been trying to methodically cut down on my TBR. To be honest, I’m not sure how long this one has been sitting patiently waiting for me to finally track it down and read it. I’m glad that I didn’t let it disappear in a sea of good intentions for reading because Beware the Wild is a 5 star book.

The mystery. The paranormal elements. The horror. It all blended together perfectly in a story that captivated just as much as it rattled me. The swamp that borders Sterling’s home has always held its secrets and she’s been content to keep away from it, until the day her brother runs into the swamp and Lenora May runs out . . to take his place. Things only grow stranger from there, as Sterling realizes she may be completely alone in unraveling this mystery before it is too late and she loses her brother to the swamp, forever.

I think it’s interesting, in stories like these, when nature itself seems to be a predator to humanity. The people in town like to pretend that the ‘swamp stories’ (their personal ghost stories) are all myth, though on the side they do as much as possible to superstitiously protect themselves from the swamp. There’s always the thought that maybe the swamp is nothing but normal . . . But I’ll pray for the evil to stay inside of it where it belongs, just in case. As the mysteries deepen and more questions arise, it becomes even more difficult to discern what is real and what is myth.

The characters were amazing, especially Lenora May. As soon as she emerged from the swamp I knew that I was going to be intrigued by her. Sterling was fascinating, too, because she needs to learn to come into her own to save her brother, after he’s basically saved her throughout her entire life. I also found this book interesting because Sterling has an eating disorder but this isn’t a book about eating disorders. It’s about the mysteries of the swamp. I loved how it was just one aspect of her character and how it was handled throughout the story, though I’d have liked to see more of what happened with that aspect after the paranormal excitement died down.

This book was amazing–and it turns out that there’s a sequel? If I’d known that before reading, I may have been disappointed, but because this book was so surprising and hooked me in, I definitely need to get my hands on book two.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

5 stars · action · Fantasy · series · young adult

Six of Crows convinced me that criminals are cool

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Six of Crows

Six of Crows #1

spin-off series of the Shadow and Bone trilogy

author: leigh bardugo

pages: [hardcover] 465

memorable quote:

Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet . . . he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns your heart.

favorite characters: nina & inej

summary:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

review:

Leigh Bardugo proves herself again and again, always reminding me exactly why she’s one of my favorite authors.Six of Crows is her newest book, set in the beautiful (and terribly violent) backdrop of her previously explored world, which debuted in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. You certainly don’t have to read the trilogy to enjoy this book–this series is meant to stand on its own. But there are familiar places, people, and things mentioned; it’s fun to pick up where the books converge. I also feel like this book doesn’t spend as much time concentrating on the world-building and explaining exactly who can do what here. But, if you’re quick to pick up on things and don’t mind a little mystery, by all means dive right in.

Six of Crows is wild from the start. It’s harsh. It’s gritty. Not to say that I couldn’t have expected that from the terrible things that happened in Shadow and Bone but, come on. This one has a lot more terrible things happening to children. People growing up in Ketterdam typically stay in Ketterdam. There’s nowhere to go, no way to really better yourself. And, if you end up in the city without having been born there . . . Chances are you had no other choice and are at the bottom of your luck. Or you’re some rich merch who’s going to have their pocket picked the second they step off a pleasure cruise.

Enter our cast of wonderfully eccentric characters, a heist worthy of a blockbuster action film mixed with fantasy mixed with romantic comedy, and you get Six of Crows. It seemed like every time a new character was introduced I wanted to call them my favorite. They all had their flaws, yes–I mean, they’re a bunch of criminals. But they’re also teenagers! And I’m beginning to realize how my love of YA doesn’t change that 22 year old me sees a 15 year old criminal and thinks Oh my God what happened to this poor baby to make their life this way? Yes, I’m looking at you, Wylan. Whereas everyone else seemed rather rugged and sharp, I just wanted to give him a big old hug and make sure he knows that he’s loved.

Maybe it’s a little corny, but you need someone innocent to think about when you read about all of the things that have happened to these characters as well as the terrible things they’ve had to do, just to survive. It’s hard to blame them when you know they would have been dead long ago if they were kinder and gentler in life. No one survives long in Ketterdam living like that. It’s kind of funny, how quickly you can go from reading about someone’s backstory–Kaz, for instance–and pitying them, and two pages later they do something so twisted that you’re wondering how you could have ever thought they needed to be pitied.

Inej. I can’t wait to see more of her in book two. If I was forced to pick a favorite, it would be her (though I think my favorite romantic pairing doesn’t involve her, though I won’t mention it to avoid any possible spoilers). She’s a tough little cookie. And I absolutely wish that I could move the way she does. She has a twin set of knives that she’s such a badass with, and she pretty much taught herself. She can sneak up on anyone, climb up anything, eavesdrop on any situation . . . If I needed some criminal superpowers, I’d want to take hers. And then both of us could go on to live good, easy lives, because she’s earned it.

I’ll be recommending this book to everyone, really. It’s fantastic. Full of energy, wonderful writing, unexpected moments, and delightful links to the other trilogy. Don’t skip over this book!!

5/5 stars