Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan and read by Michael Crouch

Summary from Goodreads:
Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin's chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn't naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus and his crew must sail to the farthest borders of Jotunheim and Niflheim in pursuit of Asgard's greatest threat. Will they succeed in their perilous journey, or is Ragnarok lurking on the horizon?
I always think I’ve had enough of this author, but something pulls me back in with each book he writes. I have nothing against Riordan. In fact, I have nothing but respect for the worlds he’s created and the kids he’s inspired to read. He is very formulaic and I always think for some reason that there is no way for his formula to possibly appeal to me again, but it does.  And honestly, this is one of my favorite books he’s written so far.
I love Norse mythology. I had zero to no knowledge of it ahead of reading these books and I love that these books have introduced me to some stories I didn’t know. I love the Norse Gods and how different, yet similar they are to the Greek and Roman ones of Riordan’s other books. But more than the Gods, I love the other characters and creatures. I love the elves and dwarves, and even the giants.
I’m not going to lie; the major reason I loved this book so much was my ship sailed! I was shipping two characters that I really thought were not going to end up together. I shipped them because I sensed this spark between them from the beginning. I loved that they made each other better people –more understanding and kinder. And I totally would have understood if Riordan kept this as a friendship that worked in this way, but I was secretly hoping he’d take it further. And he did! I shipped them as much, if not more than Percy and Annabeth, and like I never shipped any of the characters in his last series (where everyone paired off).
There was this kiss that happened. I literally had to pause the disc (by this point I brought them all into my house from my car because I couldn’t stop listening). All I did for five minutes was squee like a fangirl and hug a pillow to my chest in unexpected happiness.
Romance aside, the story was epic. I loved the whole arc about the mead and needing to best Loki in a match of words. Some of Magnus’ speech almost read like an homage to Harry Potter for me. The whole thing about love and friendship being what makes him better than Loki, was just so classic JK Rowling that I had nostalgia tears in my eyes, in a good way.
I love Magnus. I love that he knows he’s not a warrior and I love having the main character not be a warrior. I love that he genuinely admires and respects his crew. He wants to know all of them, and through this book, he really gets to know them. I loved the continued back-stories for old friends. And I super loved getting more story for other characters too. There was another moment (in Norway) that had me thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I know that Riordan reads a lot of great books.
Some of the ending battle scenes with the undead and the cold literally had me pacing while listening. The suspense and action, as always, was spot-on. I love the mythology. I loved the characters. I incredibly adored the romance. All in all, this was possibly my favorite Riordan book to date (formula and all). I give it a 10/10

Monday, December 11, 2017

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Summary from Goodreads:
Three friends, two love stories, one convention: this fun, feminist love letter to geek culture is all about fandom, friendship, and finding the courage to be yourself.

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, is an empowering novel for anyone who has ever felt that fandom is family.
I knew I was going to love this one. This book represents so much of what we are lacking in YA. It’s diverse. It tackles mental health. It covers fandoms in a way I’ve hoped and dreamed of in YA for some time. And it all takes place at a convention. Needless to say, the book would have to be all sorts of terrible if I didn’t like it. Thank goodness, I ate it up.
Reading it felt like attending my first con all over again –except maybe better. My first con was New York Comic Con –when I was in college and only just discovering fandoms and even what my fandoms were. Mine, was believe it or not, possibly more dramatic than the one in this book. It involved some serious ins and outs with my then boyfriend. And like Taylor, I’m not usually someone who loves giant crowds of people. It also involved me seriously taking a look at my life and what I wanted out of it, and realizing who my true friends were. So, I totally and 100% get how lives can change at these cons.
Also take note, when I went to Comic Con in New York, we bought tickets the day of…I’m pretty sure today you have to take a fan test to even qualify to get tickets –which are not sold at the door. And when I went, I had no idea what I was getting into and what I’d discover. It led to me going to other cons like Boston Anime Con and Leaky Con (my real fandom) and later ALA, Boston Comic Con, Walker Stalker Con, and BEA. And while there’s a lot of things I remember with a sour taste in my mouth from that weekend at my first con, I probably would never have had the courage to go into the big crowds I belonged to later, if I had never experienced it to begin with.
Needless to say, Taylor was like my spirit animal. And Jamie is like the dream guy all geeky girls dream about. But, weirdly, my favorite moments of the book were the ones that centered on Charlie. I became obsessed. I loved her character. I loved her star quality and her shine. And I super fell for her love story. Reading about her felt like guilty pleasure reading about the love life of Taylor Swift. It felt like celebrity gossip.
So, this book seriously had a lot going for it. It took place at a con and described the con in such a true to life way. The love stories were awesome. Sometimes it read like gossip magazines, in a good way. It was diverse and full of growing up moments. The one thing that did nag it me a little, throughout, was some of the cheesiness. Sometimes the snarky dialog came off as cheesy and not funny and sarcastic (like I think the author intended). There’s a lot of clichés in the conversations between Taylor and Jamie and not enough substance. And a lot of her Taylor’s online postings were super cheesy too. I wanted more substance there also. Though, I guess, she did always sound like a teen.
All in all though, this was amazing. I loved the concept. I super related to everything. And I could not put it down. I give it a 9/10.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Knife's Edge by Hope Larson and art by Rebecca Mock

Summary from Goodreads:
At the end of Compass South, twins Cleo and Alex were been reunited with their father, Mr. Dodge, on the ship Anita after a battle with the pirate Worley. Now, Cleo explains to Dodge and Alex that the pocket knife and pocket watch they have are keys to a treasure. So begins Knife's Edge, the second installment in Hope Larson's Four Points series—another high-speed story of treasure, family, and of course adventure on the high seas.
So, I read this book even faster than I read the first one. Thank goodness, I had both books and didn’t have to wait for the sequel to come out because that would have been a hard wait. I read this in one sitting. I liked it even more than I liked book 1.
For starters, this read a bit more like a family book than the first one did. The first one had a separated family. This one starts with the family back together again. And I loved this! I missed the other set of twins, though, I have to admit, things weren’t quite as confusing without them. I wasn’t as confused by which twin I was reading, as I was before. Granted, they were together a lot.
I also like that there are no evil captains or kidnappers –for the most part the twins are on a ship with a good captain. They are reunited with another long lost family member. And basically, this book is more about finding the treasure than it is about surviving all the predators out there. There still are predators: bad pirates are still on their trail and there are sharks too, but it never feels quite as bleak as the first book did.

What is different is how the characters handle and address Cleopatra. She is known to be a girl now. And she has to manage a family that’s not used to her being so wild and free. She has to fight for the right to be taught to use a sword. It’s interesting to watch her and her twin bicker about protection and what not. She rightly knows she can protect herself. He wasn’t with her on her past adventures and it’s fun watching them re-acquaint themselves with their newer versions. I also like that they forgive another character that was unkind to them in the first book, and he becomes one of their family/crew pretty quickly.

I like that this one deals with native peoples and storytelling. I loved watching the artist handle the storytelling –she made the stories float above the characters. Visually, this was pretty awesome. I also enjoyed getting the evil pirate’s story. His background was so interesting. All the gaps were filled in about the twins’ background also. There was still lots of sword fighting, sailing, pirates, battles, and treasure. The adventures were just as fun, if not more so.
All in all, this was a great sequel. It reads super fast. I loved the added family dynamics. I love the emphasis on stories and forgiveness. I loved learning about the twins’ history. The artwork was beautiful. I loved this. I give it a 9/10.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (247)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that allows bloggers to share which books we are most anticipating.

This week I am waiting on: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (4/24/18):

Description on Goodreads:
Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
Why I’m Waiting:
I only just discovered Becky Albertalli this year. And I’ve already re-read one of her books –with plans to re-read the other. I’ve also given her books as presents to people and I’m eagerly anticipating the movie that’s coming next year/secretly hoping the movie does it justice. I was both shocked and unbelievably excited to learn that Simon was getting a sequel. It’s not often that greatness can be followed with more greatness. I remember really liking Leah, and I’m glad she gets a more flushed out story. I can’t wait to re-visit other characters too. Basically, I just can’t wait.
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Compass South by Hope Larson and art by Rebecca Mock

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 1860 in New York City. When 12-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, they join the Black Hook Gang and are caught by the police pulling off a heist. They agree to reveal the identity of the gang in exchange for tickets to New Orleans. But once there, Alex is shanghaied to work on a ship that is heading for San Francisco via Cape Horn. Cleo stows away on a steamer to New Granada where she hopes to catch a train to San Francisco to find her brother. Neither Alexander nor Cleo realizes the real danger they are in — they are being followed by pirates who think they hold the key to treasure. How they outwit the pirates and find each other makes for a fast-paced, breathtaking adventure.
This is just what I needed; something light, fast-paced, and full of adventure. I’ve really gotten into graphic novels again this year. With books like this one, it’s easy to see why. The genre just keep expanding and pushing limits. And the artwork just keeps getting better.
The story kind of reads like a classic almost Charles Dickens orphan tale. There are twins with MIA parents. All they have of their parents are two items: a knife and a compass. A gang takes them in. They quickly betray the gang to save each other. Then they embark on an adventure to end all adventures. They want to get to San Francisco because of an ad in the paper from a father trying to find his twin red-headed sons. Cleopatra of course chops off her hair to disguise as a son and they want to go after the reward. The twins end up separated on two different ships, with pirates following them because apparently the compass and knife hold the key to a buried treasure. There’s sword fighting, pirates, secret codes, friendships, sailing, narrow escapes, kidnapping, and so much more.
It was hard to put the book down and I read it really fast. There was this old school vibe to the whole thing –like there were pieces of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. There were no fantastical elements, but it read a bit like a fantasy novel –with all the elements of a grand quest and all the high stakes sword fights one could possibly want.
The art was masterful. The illustrations really carried the plot along. I loved getting to see the sea, the ships, and the adventure through the artwork. Sometimes it was hard telling the two twins apart. I know this was intentional. But, really, it pulled me out of the story sometimes because I had to figure out who I was following.
There were some major gaps to the story about the twins’ background and how they get to be carrying the knife and compass. I had so many questions still at the end. Though, I know there’s a book 2. And by the time this posts, I’ll be long done with it, so hopefully those gaps get filled. All in all, this was a fun, easy to read distraction of a book. I’m definitely looking forward to reading book 2. This gets an 8/10.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Summary from Goodreads:
Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.
I’m not generally a big fan of stories or novellas that take place between novels –set in the same world as an author’s bigger series. Needless to say, I had not read any of these stories before. I’m so glad I got to read them for the first time in this format because the format is beautiful. The illustrations in here are just gorgeous. They are the stuff of dreams that any author would hope for.
And I know these are big words, but I have to say them; this is my favorite book by Leigh Bardugo. This book was pure fun to read. Sometimes books of short stories are too easy to put down –because of the large breaks between stories. This book was not like that. I just quickly devoured one story and then another. They were that good. I also just want to take a moment right now to relish the fact that we have a book of fantasy short stories, period. This is such a rare treat.
Also a treat, the worlds Bardugo weaves together with her dark, magical words. She excels at accomplishing the dark fairytale feel. Reading them felt like reading Brother’s Grimm fairy tales. Yet, they also felt uniquely special. They all tended to have endings different from what I was accustomed to. They also all tended to favor a strong female protagonist or antagonist. They were also all tales based off of, or with elements of ones I know.
I loved the first tale: “Ayama and the Thorn Wood.” It was a story filled with stories, and I always tend to favor those. I loved how it opened up everything and worked as the perfect first story. I also love how some of Bardugo’s stories appear to be about one thing, and then end up being something else entirely. I love the twist Bardugo gave to the Little Red Riding Hood story. I was pleasantly shocked and in awe of how that one resolved. And I think my favorite story of all was “The Soldier Prince.” It’s not often one gets to read retellings of the Nutcracker. What a dark, twisty version of that story it was too. I kept thinking, how did she come up with this, while reading it.
I also have major appreciation of the last story, “When Water Sang Fire.”  I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with the mermaids. I loved the elements of friendship. It made me think of the musical, Wicked, on many levels, even though it was such a little mermaid origin story. This was a story I guessed correctly on the outcome for. Normally, this would bother me because I was so surprised throughout. But, I kind of liked knowing this one; it helped me get through some of the tough stuff that happened at the end of it.
All of the tales are dark, twisty, and fun. I love the sense of feminism present throughout it all. I love the sense of magic and how things are rarely what they seem. I fell head over heals for the words. The writing is beautiful. The illustrations fit everything perfectly. I couldn’t wait to see how the illustrations changed throughout each story. It was quite impressive. All in all, Bardugo created an excellent book of redone fairytales. You don’t need to be familiar with her other work to appreciate it. You just need to love dark fairy tales. I give it a 10/10.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The book of Dust by Philip Pullman

Summary from Goodreads:
Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .
I feel like I have been waiting 15 years for this book. I kind of have been. I first read The Golden Compass for a high school book club, when I believe I was 16. I fell so in love with the book that I made my dad drive me to Barnes and Noble, find the next two in the series, and then purchase them all for me before I was even half way through it. I knew it would be a long-time favorite. And I was right. Since, I have re-read the series several times. I’ve listened to the audio books. I even dressed as The Amber Spyglass one year for Halloween. I had two other friends dressed as the rest of the series.
I get asked the question “What should I read next, after loving Harry Potter?” The Golden Compass is almost always my number one go-to for this question. That being said, I was a little skeptical going into this book. I don’t always respond well to authors revisiting series that have for a long time been completed. It’s hit or miss. But out of all my years of book geekdom, for all the times I was asked if there could be one book/one series that an author returned to, I always, always said I wished it was this one. I always wanted more. I wanted more hope for Will and Lyra. I wanted more answers about dust. I wanted more answers about the worlds and the universe. And finally, at some point last year, I learned that Pullman was returning to Lyra’s Oxford.
This book takes place when Lyra is a baby. It’s the story of how she came to be at Jordan College. And while it’s not the extended, happier ending I’ve been dreaming about since I was 16, it’s at least something. And I know there will be two more books. And I know Pullman is eventually going to get past the ending of The Amber Spyglass.
Keeping this all in mind, I knew this wasn’t going to be the book I was hoping for. I wasn’t hoping to see Lyra as a baby. Was anyone? But I read it, knowing the book I want will eventually happen. I wish I could say this book makes the wait better or easier. I was slightly disappointed.
It still felt the same. The world, the concept, the plot, and all of it read like it was part of the original series. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. It smelled and tasted like canon. That being said, it was extraordinarily slow. The first half of the book was about setting everything up in the second half of the book. It was about crazy, terrible things the Magisterium was requesting of children. It was about spying. It was about the every day of an extraordinary world (before everything is touched by adventure).
It’s also a lot darker than the previous series. There’s characters with mental illness. There’s sex and rape. There’s kidnapping and natural disasters. It’s the grittier side of Oxford, the side Lyra never had to see.
All of this darker, grittier stuff is certainly interesting. It was also kind of exciting to see the younger versions of characters I’ve known for 15 years. Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, and the Gyptians all brought a smile to my face. I kept waiting for another character who might turn up, and that was fun. I also thought the second half of the book was un-put-downable. Once Malcom and Alice were on the boat, it was one non-stop magical, suspenseful adventure.
The first half did drag. I almost put the book down and stopped reading several times. It was only my knowledge of a better second half (from reading reviews) that kept me dedicated. And I’m glad I stayed with it. I really am. It did feel like it took Pullman a little time to get used to this world again. Like the dragged-on details of the town were him getting re-acquainted with it all too.
All in all, I enjoyed this. It’s not the book I’ve been dreaming of –hopefully that will come soon. It had a very slow first half. And the second half picked up drastically. The world was darker, grittier, and more developed than ever before. The new characters were good. I grew to love them by the end. And best of all, it felt like the other books. I got to return to a world I never thought I’d have this chance to return to. I give it an 8/10.