Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published: February 3rd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format: Paper Book
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magic, Fairytale, Beauty and the Beast
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen is a beautiful, simple read that takes the Beauty and the Beast tale and twists the characters and events into a new story that delves deeper into the nature of curses and three generations of a family caught in the snare of magic, pride, and jealousy. Beastkeeper is a small book. It barely cracks 200 pages long. While I like stories that don’t overreach themselves and become rambling and unfocused, I do feel as if Beastkeeper could have been a little bigger. There are so many interesting characters that we learn so little of, that I wish the book had been longer just so they could have been fleshed out more. It’s a tease and we end up wanting more with no hope of getting it.
I liked Sarah as a character. She feels true to her age; as in there is a lot of crying when she feels overwhelmed and moments where she wants to give up and leave but the story won’t let her and she’s forced to grow up a little and deal with everything. Beastkeeper is dark for a children’s story. The ending is less a happy ending and more a balanced ending. The dead stay dead and the characters move on and deal with their fates for the most part. This is not your everyday fairytale revision. Hellisen creates an atmosphere with her writing that perfectly matches her story. From the cold in the forest to the twisting maze of the tower, her writing is magical and sets the tone for beasts and witches alike.
I found Beastkeeper in the young adult section of my library but the story is much better suited to a middle grade genre. The age of the main character and the tone of the romance angle are better aimed toward younger audiences (and adults like me who just like middle grade books for the stories they offer). Plus, there is the absolutely gorgeous cover. I’m seriously in love with it. I spent several minutes picking the hidden creatures out of the trees. I highly recommend Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen for anyone who enjoys stories based in folklore and fairytales that have a touch of darkness to them.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published: October 6th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paper Book
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, GLBT, Paranormal, Magic
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I am unbelievably torn with Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. On one hand, I adore fanfiction. I read fanfiction and I write it. For me, the Simon Snow fanfiction bits of Fangirl were the bright spots among what turned out to be a rather slow and boring book. So when Rainbow Rowell announced she was going to write a proper book using the Simon Snow characters and world we caught little glances of in Fangirl, I was super excited. I wasn’t even put off by the 522 page count. But then I eagerly cracked my new copy of Carry On open and my heart sank. Rainbow Rowell had committed one of my biggest peeves; the changing POV. Every chapter, and sometimes ‘chapters’ were a couple of sentences long, was told from a different character’s point of view. I almost threw the book out the window. No. Just, no.
I’m not fond of first person narrative either. Add in the changing POV and I was incredibly annoyed. Each chapter would backtrack to retell the events that had just happened from another character’s point of view. So, we were getting each scene from a different person two or three times depending on who was there. Redundant and pointless. The length of the book was starting to make sense. I was about ready to pull my hair out. But, I’m a dedicated fanfiction shipper and I pushed through and read the whole book. (I don’t know why some person, an editor or proofreader, didn’t point out how much people dislike first person narrative and changing POV. They’re the number one and two criticisms on fanfiction or books in general. Why, Rainbow!? Why!?)
Being a fangirl and shipper often means that you are willing to read utter crap as long as it has your fandom and the characters you like. You have to wade through a lot of mediocrity to find those hidden gems in fanfiction. I’m used to it but I was disappointed to find it in a proper published book. If Rainbow’s goal in writing Carry On was to keep the fanfiction feel of the story, she accomplished that. But she accomplished it by keeping the worst traits of fanfiction, the stuff I personally have to look past to be able to enjoy a story. References to events before this book, in earlier school years, are sprinkled around the book and since we have no way to read those earlier books, this is just madness inducing. The plot was a bit muddled and could be confusing in places. It is also slow and meandering in the first half and a little rushed in the second half. The magic system is very creative and the details of Simon’s past and how the Insidious Humdrum was created are fantastic. In all, I loved the story and the characters of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell but the manner it was written in was not my cup of tea.
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I won an ARC of Uprooted by Naomi Novik from Goodreads and, to be honest, I put off reading it because of its size. It is 435 pages long. I’m the type of person that believes if you can’t tell a story in under or close to 350 pages, then you need to edit down. Longer books tend to be slow or rambling and drive me crazy. I end up losing my patience and giving up waiting for something interesting to bloody happen. But I was reading such good things from other reviewers that Uprooted piqued my interest and I gave in. And, man, am I glad I did! While Uprooted was a bit slow in places and the Dragon is a jerk without any redeemable characteristics, it wasn’t enough to completely put me off because the rest of the book is just that awesome in my opinion.
You have to understand that my taste for romance in books has soured over the years. So much so that I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a letter opener than read one more young adult book where the male is an asshole for mysterious brooding reasons and the female is a twit merely because of her gender. I’m sick of it. It’s completely put me off of YA books as a whole. But it is also very hard to find the stories that I find entertaining in the adult genre, where the romance is a little more palatable in my opinion. That’s why I was doubly pleased to find that Uprooted was being marketed as an adult genre novel. I saw the light of hope at the end of the dark, annoying romance tunnel.
Agnieszka and the Dragon are complete opposites and while a type of halting, grudging romance does develop between them, it does not take over the book or hinder Agnieszka in any way. The romance between them falls to the background and the main plot with the Wood and the history of the valley and its people takes center stage. There is more focus on the sisterly relationship and loyalty between Agnieszka and Kasia then the budding feelings between Agnieszka and the Dragon. In short, I don’t end up simmering in frustration and impatience because the main female character is so focused on the main male character being a jerk to her that the story stalls while we waste time on poorly contrived emotional angst. Agnieszka does not spend time pining for the Dragon but rather gets on with things. Thank god…
My peeves with this story are that the Dragon (who does have a name but that isn’t revealed until late in the book and so I won’t use it here) is a big old jerk. He has reasons for being a jerk but that just makes him fall into my loathed ‘asshole for mysterious brooding reasons’ category. If the Dragon was more of a driving force in the story, I probably would have liked it less. The beginning interactions between Agnieszka and the Dragon are also a little long and could be tightened up so the pace doesn’t slag. Same thing with Agnieszka and the royal palace and other mages. We all get that something fishy was happening under the surface of political intrigue and court maneuverings but that part could have sped up as well. Uprooted could have gotten a little more editing and been better off for it.
The fantasy genre has been growing by leaps and bounds the past couple of years. All you need to do is browse through a list of popular novels and TV shows to see that fantasy is becoming mainstream. And I am so thankful for that. Uprooted is firmly in the fairytale-esque tradition, playing off the whole ‘dragon kidnaps a princess for evil purposes’ story so familiar to us from childhood. But the story is so much more than that. It is so refreshing to see a capable, tenacious heroine in Agnieszka and a story rich in history, detail, and imagery. The malevolent Wood seems to have a life of its own within the story and the sense of creepy, malicious awareness reaches out to send cold chills up the reader’s spine. Everything in Uprooted is so vivid that putting down the book at the end of the day was a physical pain.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik captivated me. It was a touch slow but once the characters returned to the valley to confront the Wood and its far-reaching, evil manipulations and sorrowful past, the story picked up and I could hardly turn pages fast enough. The Wood is a character in itself in the book, much more than the flimsy creations in other fairytale novels. I was amazed by every detail and twist. The story telling in Uprooted is masterful and weaves a brilliant tale with excellent world-building and interesting characters. If you are looking for romance, you might be disappointed. But if you are looking for a fantasy fairytale novel suited toward adults, then Uprooted is definitely for you. Uprooted sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go until the end. Despite its failings, I completely enjoyed it.
Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.
Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.
Then Eli’s dream comes true.
Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.
It looks likes the average rating for The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett is about three stars. I find this a bit odd. I know why I have problems with it but my problems are rarely shared by other young adult book readers. Of course, my main problem with The Nightmare Affair, and really most young adult books, is the juvenile and asinine romance. On page 20 there was this line: “Eli pointed at me, his chest muscles flexing in a way that made me want to giggle.” I’ll admit, I nearly put the book down right there and then. That line was almost too much for me to take. But I persevered and finished it. My own rating fell around 3 stars as well, for annoying romance and rather formulaic plot.
What I Liked
The basic idea. A magical/supernatural creature that feeds on dreams? That is awesome! A whole secret school hiding a whole society of magical/supernatural creatures? That is awesome! I really enjoyed the world building in The Nightmare Affair.
What I Didn’t Like
The romance. I still cringe just thinking about it. I know there are only so many ways an author can express an interest between characters but – honestly? – when it begins to sound like the symptoms to some disease, you need to reevaluate how you are writing it. I know teen romance is awkward but the girl shouldn’t come off looking like she has mental problems and menopause. (There is medicine for hot flashes, you know!)
As awesome as the world building and details are, the plot and characters are a bit formulaic. Dusty is the quirky girl whose quirk, her poufy red hair, just adds to her appeal. Eli is the hot bad boy who is really not as bad as he seems. It goes on; there is a love triangle, an outcast best friend, and the main character is a special snowflake among all the snowflakes. Even the bad guy fits within the well-worn young adult plot template. The reader pretty much knows who the bad guy is just because it follows the pattern.
Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same young adult book over and over again with different characters and settings. I can see why The Nightmare Affair rates three stars for most everyone but books like this usually rate higher with the masses. For me, three stars means the novel was just okay. Not bad but not great either. The world building, nice pacing, and my love for all things magical and mythical save the book from being rated any lower. There is a decent amount to like in The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett. There could be improvements but I will definitely be reading the second book in the series just to see what happens next at Arkwell Academy.
“Down through the Way she fell, feeling the wind and the pressing darkness, the dizzy thump when she landed on the bank. She was through. The air felt softer here, the shadows deeper—and the pull of her connection to the land settled into her bones.”
In the Summerlands, time moves slowly, roots grow deeply, and change is not welcomed. But change is needed.
After defeating the wicked Mor and freeing her kin from deadly oaths made to this false ruler, Fer is now the rightful Lady of the land. Yet her people don’t know what to make of their new Lady’s strange ways, and neither do the High Ones, the rulers of the magical realm, for Fer is an outsider—half human.
To prove herself worthy of the Summerlands crown, Fer is summoned to compete in an epic contest where her strengths and skills will be tested and her loyalties challenged. Can she trust Rook, the puck she calls friend? Can she trust herself? If Fer fails, she will lose her land and the Way will be closed to her forever.
I’m trying to be better about reading series. I have a horrible time keeping track of when new books come out. Since I liked Winterling by Sarah Prineas so much, I was really pleased when I found the sequel Summerkin. I adore classic fairy tales and being a middle grade book, I knew Summerkin would be imaginative and adventurous. I had a few issues with it but I still enjoyed reading it.
What I Liked
Rook and Fer’s bees were my favorite characters. Rook is a mischievous puck and his friendship with Fer causes a lot of conflict with him. I loved all of the pucks really. The bees were really interesting and it was nice to see nature helping Fer in such a way.
The fairy folklore and law woven through the story is vastly fascinating. I’ve studied it a bit in my Pagan studies and especially find the law of three intriguing. (Being asked a question three times, swearing an oath three times, etc.) It was a pleasure seeing the fairy culture expanded in Summerkin and Prineas’ world building is exceptional.
What I Didn’t Like
It was predictable. When using the fairy tale theme in a novel, it’s best to change it up somehow and make it truly original. But I knew pretty much what was going to happen in Summerkin after a few chapters.
I could have done with some more character development. Rook gets most of the attention on that end and it leaves the other characters a little flat. As the main character, I would have liked more focus on Fer and her thoughts and we’re never given very much information on the bad guy. There are also a whole host of secondary characters that could have been amazing if given a little more attention. They end up as background scenery because they were no neglected.
Summerkin left me feeling a little bored and let down. I finished it but I wasn’t wowed and it lacked any punch. It’s filled with clichés and overused ‘pure-hearted maiden’ formulae that made the whole book predictable and Fer a little one-dimensional. Summerkin by Sarah Prineas was a comfortable magical read and gave a good hit of nostalgia to the heart but the plot was rote and the characters dull. It’s good for a lazy read but don’t expect anything exceptional.
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published April 5th 2011 by Atheneum
Format: Paper Book
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magical, Historical
Goodreads | Amazon
Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them.
But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost.
If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis has been on my to read shelf for some time and it’s only recently that I’ve gotten off my butt enough to go through my backlog of books. I’m sorry I waited so long! Kat, Incorrigible is a middle grade book and has the same original and imaginative quality to it that I expect from really great middle grade books. There is a host of likeable characters, a spot of magic, and a plot that ended up being more than I expected.
What I Liked
The plot of Kat, Incorrigible surprised me with a bit more depth than I was expecting. The book has a type of Matilda feel to it and the introduction of the Guardians extended the plot further than I was assuming it would be. It took a book that might have been just merely cute and predictable into something with a bit more meat on its bones.
I liked all the characters. Everybody has depth to them and I didn’t feel as if I were reading about cardboard cutouts. Kat is hilarious, her sisters are spot on in their rolls and play an active part in the plot rather than just being there for scenery, and even the bad guys are awesome, in a mustache twirling type of way.
I liked the setting and timeline. I found the Victorian aspects of proper manners and dress to be interesting. It added to the plot without being stifling. Younger readers might not care for the focus but older readers will find it to be a good detail.
What I Didn’t Like
There are times where Kat seems kind of bumbling. I know she’s young, only twelve, but at times she sort of annoyed me. She makes up for it by being stubborn, feisty, and independent. The sisters aren’t much better sometimes. Elissa is insipid and needs a good whack and Angeline is so self-involved and arrogant that I want to kick her. There were times when I just wanted to start throwing things.
There is not enough information given about the magical system and the Guardians. We’re left kind of wondering what the big fuss is all about. I’m hoping the sequel corrects this and we learn more as Kat’s training starts.
The plot and dialogue are a little wandering. I found myself waiting for things to happen, especially at the beginning, and some conversations between the three sisters are rather like beating your head against the wall. Yes, it’s very “family” but it’s also annoying.
Middle grade books are often my favorite and Kat, Incorrigible is no exception. It was a quick and fun read at under 300 pages and made my Saturday afternoon very enjoyable with a cup of tea and a comfy chair. If you are looking for a magical adventure but don’t want anything too heavy, than this novel is what you are looking for. There is nothing ground breaking but Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis is a great weekend read nonetheless.
Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia’s led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when it’s revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she’s ever known.
Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins – long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control – she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.
Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor’s history, forever.
I picked up The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal while browsing through the library. It had been on my to be read list for a little while but hadn’t generated a lot of excitement that I could see on the other blogs. I read the blurb and thought the story would be a pretty straight forward ‘finding your place in the world’ novel. There was a nice twist that made the novel a bit more exciting than I expected but otherwise the characters and situation in this book were pretty bland. The main character, Sinda, is too accepting of her fate and simply allows the people she thought were her parents to basically kick her out of her life and send her off to a relative she didn’t even know existed. While I can understand Sinda being in shock at that moment, she’s a bit too much like a doormat to inspire much reaction from the reader.
When Sinda arrives in her aunt’s small village, her situation is more amusing than pitying and the reveal of her magic is predictable. It’s only as she returns to the city that things start looking up, novel-wise. At first, I thought the rest of the plot would be Sinda’s ‘journey to self-acceptance’ that ends with her being best friends with the new princess and generally becoming the most awesome royal advisor ever to the new Nalia. But there is a twist, things start to happen, and Sinda grows a backbone and a personality. The romance is not overwhelming but not very interesting. Best friends since they were little, Sinda and Kiernan of course fall in love with each other. It’s clichéd. Thankfully, it’s not focused on until the point of nausea.
The False Princess is your pretty standard fantasy/ fairy tale novel. It’s got ties to Cinderella and The Prince and Pauper. Everything and everyone is a little bland. I greatly wanted to learn more about Sinda’s birthmother and also more about the queen, who apparently felt something for Sinda even if we’re shown that with only third party information. O’Neal missed a great chance for some angst that would have spiced things up. As it is, Sinda’s numb reaction to everything is a little boring after a while. The False Princess does get a little more interesting near the end, where there is actually action happening, but it’s a little too late to save the book. I liked The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, the second twist was good, but the majority of the novel was just okay.
The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams
Published October 5th 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Witches, Young Adult, Questing
Reading Level: It says Young Adult, but I think it would be fine for Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon
Deep in the walls of a witches’ cottage lays an ancient magical kitchen. Dangling over that kitchen’s cauldron, pinched between the fingers of two witches, is a toad. And the Toad has no idea how she got there, and no memory of even her name. All she knows is she doesn’t think she was always a Toad, or that she’s ever been here before. Determined to recover her memories she sets out on a journey to the oracle, and along the way picks up a rag-tag team of friends: an iron-handed imp, a carnivorous fairy, and a few friendly locals.
But the Kitchen won’t make it easy. It is pitch black, infinite, and impossible to navigate, a living maze. Hiding in dark corners are beastly, starving things. Worse yet are the Witches themselves, who have sent a procession of horrific, deadly monsters on her trail. With some courage and wisdom, the Toad just might find herself yet-and with that knowledge, the power to defeat the mighty Witches.
I want to take a moment to state that if I hadn’t been mindlessly browsing the shelves at my local library, I would have never found this book. So, the next time someone tells you that bookstores or libraries are outdated you can whack them in the head and remind them of the joys of aimlessly wandering around and finding a really great book that you would have had zero chance of coming across on the internet. The book I speak of is The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams. This book gave me warm book fuzzes; the type of pleasure I get from a great fantasy book that is without the irritating clichés I often have to ignore in Young Adult fantasy books these days.
I have to admit that The Witches’ Kitchen reads more like a Middle Grade book, even though it’s marked as Young Adult. It’s a little creepy but there is nothing in there I wouldn’t want a young child to read. Plus, The Witches’ Kitchen has that creativity and originality that I only see in Middle Grade books. It lacks any type of romance angle and has the type of characters that I adore. The Kitchen is a world onto itself with a set of rules and laws unlike ours. It is a world that constantly changes with dangers around every corner. I would liken the world-building and tone to Splintered by A.G. Howard but without the annoying main characters that made me dislike that book. The Kitchen is a dark place with dark creatures and it’s fascinating. The characters are great and the plot pace fast. The Witches’ Kitchen is under 300 pages long, so there are no slow parts.
Every once and a while, I will stumble across a book that is classic fantasy and I just get that buzz of pleasure a good fantasy gives me. It does have the quest fantasy cliché, where a group goes on a quest to find something or fix something. (The Lord of the Rings has the quest cliché.) The conflict is pretty predictable. (As in it is obvious why the Witches want Toad.) But the journey is amazing. My favorite part is the clock and the Widow spiders. The details and side stories just add to the magic of the book. There are a ton of great illustrations. I’m so pleased that I stumbled across The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams. It always pays to wander the bookshelves.
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain
Published February 26th 2011 by Julian Rosado-Machain
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 238 pages / 746 KB
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magic, Adventure
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon
GUARDIANS INC.: THE CYPHER is two stories in one. A glimpse into a multinational company that is in reality the oldest of secret societies, one that spans close to seven thousand years of existence, weaving in and out of history, guiding and protecting humanity from creatures and forces that most of us believe are only mythology and fairy tales.
The other is the story of Thomas Byrne, a young man thrust into secrets he shouldn’t be aware of and dangers he shouldn’t face but, that he ultimately will, for he is a Cypher. The only one who can steer humanity’s future.
The ultimate conspiracy theory is that Magic is real. Kept in check by technology but, every five hundred years the balance can shift and, if it does, technology will fail and those creatures we’ve driven into myth will come back with a vengeance.
To protect the present, Guardians Incorporated needs to know the future.
I adore middle grade books because they are usually the most creative, original, and adventurous of the books I read. I love young adult books but they often fall into a couple established patterns. Middle grade books seem to avoid doing that somehow. I’m more likely to take a chance on an unknown middle grade book than I am a young adult book for that reason. I took a chance on Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain because the Kindle ebook was being given away as a freebie. The story sucked me in from the get go and I’m so glad I took the chance.
There is a bit of a fake out in the beginning of the book where we think we might be getting a story that focuses on two people. But Thomas’ Gramps is soon shuffled off to the side and we get to focus on Thomas’ adventure with being the long awaited Cypher and the new and unusual world of magic and mythical creatures and a mansion that is more than what it seems that he has suddenly found himself in the middle of. The world-building in this book is fantastic and I found myself walking a couple blocks to the left just in case I could find those brick pillars. I couldn’t help it. The characters are likable and interesting. There is more than one twist and all are surprising and well done. The dynamic that we see a very short glance of between Thomas and his Gramps, Morgan, is interesting and I can’t wait to see grandson and grandfather pitted against each other in the second book.
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain is a prime example of why I love middle grade books. It displays the type of pure imagination and adventure that I look for in books of this reading level. The first book is short and a bit of a tease. I was able to get it as a freebie from Amazon and sure enough, I was sufficiently interested to go buy the second book. So, well played author, well played. You have hooked this reader.
It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake
Published January 3rd 2012 by Signet
Length: 299 pages
Genre: Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary fiction
Reading Level: Teen & Up
ISBN 0451235525 (ISBN 13:9780451235527)
Goodreads | Amazon
Until three weeks ago, Darcy and Harper were working dead-end jobs and trying to put their troubles behind them. Then their aunt Velma delivered a bombshell: They’re actually Wishcrafters – witches with the power to grant wishes with a mere spell. Wanting a fresh start, they head to their aunt’s magic-themed tourist town to master their newfound skills.
But their magic fails them when a wannabe witch turns up dead – strangled with Aunt Ve’s scarf – and Ve’s sweetheart, Sylar, is found looming over the body. Ve is standing by her man, but Darcy overheard Sylar wish that the victim would disappear – forever. With Harper distracted by her handsome new crush, Darcy is determined to sleuth her way to the truth. But it’s takes more than a wish to unravel this mystery…
I don’t read many mysteries. For one thing, I suck at them. My brain just doesn’t work like that and I often find myself fumbling after the main character, wondering how they made that intellectual leap. I feel like I should be taking notes or making some sort of flow chart. I have a horrible time keeping track of so many clues and facts. But there have been a slew of witchy mysteries coming out lately and I finally decided for October to bite the bullet and read some. I’m glad I did! I still fumbled but it was an enjoyable fumbling. For my first witchy mystery I read It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake.
First of all, cover love. Look at all the pretty! Secondly, kudos to Blake for such an original witchy power. Darcy can grant other people’s wishes. Sort of like a genie, only with a pointy hat. Another reason I don’t read many mysteries is because there is often a love story threaded through the rest of the plot. Of course, by ‘love story’ I mean basically ‘he’s cute/hot and does funny things to my body just by standing there’. For which my response is ‘They have medication for that. You should probably see a doctor’. The point is, it’s never believable and is almost always one-dimensional. I love Darcy. Her reaction to Nick, however, falls under ‘eye-roll’ for me.
I adored the setting. The Enchanted Village sounds like my type of place and all of the characters are awesome and quirky. Just like you would think a town full of secret witches would be. The murder mystery was okay. (Not that it’s hard to trick me or anything.) Of course, with a mystery anybody and everybody is a viable suspect. Throw in some witchy powers and general confusion and you have one sparkly mystery to solve. So, of course the real killer is the one person neither the reader nor Darcy thought it would be. I’m a tad disappointed because a really great mystery has the killer up front and center but still manages to make the audience think they are innocent. This killer isn’t a suspect because she is only mentioned in passing in the book. It could have been tighter and more ‘under your nose’ than it was presented.
It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake was a cute and fun read. It’s not very long but a light read that introduces a fantastic new heroine and an amazing location that I can’t wait to read more of in future books. The romance was a touch cliché for me but the characters themselves more than made up for the lack. As my first foray in witchy mysteries I think I picked a winner and will definitely be reading some more for October.
Rating: 3.5/5 (Between Okay and Good)