Book Club Review: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”

16054808We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “A Night in the Museum,” Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am a pretty big fan of both “The Westing Game” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, so when our book club compatriot Katie picked “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”, I was pretty interested. The comparisons were made pretty starkly between this book and those classics, so I went in with highish, if not tentative, hopes. BIG SHOES TO FILL, MR. LEMONCELLO!

Overall, I did basically like this book, though most of that is probably because I’m a librarian and this book reads like a Valentine to the profession. While the characters themselves are fairly stock and two dimensional (Kyle is the imperfect but charming protagonist, Mr. Lemoncello is basically Willy Wonka, Charles is the priggish and snooty nemesis, etc), the little literary touches are great. There are multiple books referenced in this story, many more than I would have expected for the target audience of this book (middle grade and elementary school age), but I liked that Grabenstein was referencing Fyodor Dostoyevsky along with Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is filled with many puzzles and riddles as well, seeing as Mr. Lemoncello is an expert game maker, whose newest game is figuring out how to escape from the new library in town. But not only are the clues distributed in puzzles and riddles, to even get to the puzzles and riddles the characters have to utilize the library and its resources! What did I say about a Valentine to my profession???? From teaching about the Dewey Decimal system to the different functions of the public library, this is a pretty good introduction about how kids, inside and outside the story alike, can use the library to get the information they’re looking for.

This was a quick read that I was able to get through in an afternoon. I definitely see how kids would find it a fun read, but I do kind of wonder how well it would crossover to adults if they aren’t library-oriented. And while it’s true that there doesn’t have to be crossover from kid’s books to adult books, I always think it’s nice when a story can be appealing to all ages. I think that sometimes it did feel less like an homage to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Westing Game,” and teetered towards just kind of copying it and its themes. However, I did like that in this book teamwork and friendship definitely play more prevalent themes than they do in the previous books. I like that asking for help and partnership wasn’t derided or dismissed.

Overall I found this to be a fun and quick read, and I enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had a bit of a hard time knowing how to start this review or really work out what I think about this book. On one had, there’s no denying the appeal as a librarian to a book that is essentially a massive love letter to the profession. And for middle graders, the puzzles, games, and adventures are sure to please. But…I was still a bit “so so” on the book overall, and I think maybe it’s a case of what Kate said, this book not being written for adults and perhaps not crossing over as well as others of its kind. But maybe it’s also a bit of “author’s agenda is showing?”

If I wanted a guide to the wonders of the library in novel format, I wouldn’t look any further than this book. As an introduction to the library and to all the different ways a library can be a marvelous place for learning, for fun, and for so many others things, this book is spot on. But it’s almost too spot on. If that was the book’s goal, essentially to just be something that public libraries hand out to get kids interested in the library, than sure. But the novel portion of it seemed to be lacking, in my opinion.

Most of the children characters felt too much like stock characters with very little development or character growth. And the plot/adventures were a bit too close to set up of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And in the midst of all the library love, the narrative sometimes seemed to take a nose dive into the twee.

So, this all sounds pretty negative, and I don’t really mean it that way. For a middle grade reader, I’m sure this book would be a massive hit. And as a librarian, I can never complain about finding a good novel to brainwash the kiddies into loving the library as much as I do. But as an adult reader and book critic, this one was a bit too sugary sweet for me and the “teach kids about the library” agenda was a bit too on the nose.

I did enjoy all the book name dropping, as Kate mentioned as well, and I applaud the author for bringing in titles/authors that most middle graders will need to follow up on on their own. Hopefully using the newly discovered wonder that is the library!

Kate’s Rating 7: A fun and quick read that promotes librarianship. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s cute for what it is.

Serena’s Rating 6: Same. A fun, quick read that is in love with the library. But it didn’t translate as well for me, as an adult reader.

Book Club Questions:

1.) This book has several similarities to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Does it stand on its own, in your opinion?

2.) This book works very hard to teach children about the library. Of all the lessons, what do you think the book most successfully taught kids who are reading this book?

3.) What were a few of your favorite book references? What other works would you have included?

4.) Is there any character growth you would have liked to see added to any of the characters?

5.) This book is a hit with young readers. But as Kate and I have expressed, more of a challenge for older readers. Is there a way to make this more appealing for adults? Should this even be a concern?

The author has also provided this great reading guide for the book for kids, so if you read this with a group of children, this is a really fun, helpful resource! Here it is!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books about Books and Libraries”, and “The Games We Play”.

Find “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” at your library using WorldCat!

The Next Book Club Book Is “Beauty” by Robin McKinley

Serena’s Review: “The Paper Magician”

20727654Book: “The Paper Magician” by Charlie N. Holmberg

Publishing Info: 47North, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Review: I was very excited when this book showed up for me at the library. The description sounded like something that hit all of my book preferences, and, even better, it’s the first in a completed trilogy! There’s nothing like finding a good series that you can read all at once. Nowadays, I feel like I’m constantly stuck in a waiting game for the next book to be published in the million and one series that I am following all at once! So the ability to truly binge read something from start to finish is an opportunity that I very much value. However, while I did like portions of this book and will ultimately most likely continue the series, I’m also not invested enough to binge it either, which is too bad.

The set up, as mentioned above, is exactly what I like: a spunky heroine set in past period in time where magic is an established element of society. I also always enjoy the apprenticeship angle that is often found in these stories. And while I was recently relieved to find a lack of romance in “Jackaby,” I was warned ahead of time with this one that that was where we would be going, so I had already bought in to this formula. All this in its favor, the book was still very hit and miss for me.

A definite hit was the magic system that the author has created where magicians must “bond” with a type of material. Ceony has dreamed of bonding to metal, a powerful element that would allow her to create and manipulate powerful machines and weapons. But instead she gets assigned to paper, an element that has long been scorned and neglected, resulting in a deficit of this type of magician. I loved the description of this magic system. There was the more expected paper magic (like origami birds that come to life), but also some very creative takes on what one can accomplish with this type of material. At one point Ceony creates a perfect paper fan that is capable of producing massive forces of wind. There’s also a really interesting idea that has to do with bringing to life images read off paper, like scenes from a book brought to shadowy life. And while some of these things seem frivolous (we are likely to judge them similarly to Ceony herself), the author does a great job throughout the latter half of the story really pushing the boundaries of our expectations. There’s an especially interesting twist on the “story reading” magic towards the end that is probably the biggest hook for me to continue the series all together.

Ceony herself is a perfectly fine protagonist. We don’t get a lot from her, really. Through a few flashbacks, we see a bit of what has gone before in her life, but there are as many questions left unanswered as those that are resolved. In particular, there are several references to her fear of water that never get fully explored. And while I’m all for leaving clues for future stories, these felt a bit to roughly placed and stood out in an awkward way.

This is even more noticeable by the strange shift the book takes about halfway through to become a story completely comprised of flashback scenes. The method the author uses to get us to this place is interesting, but I’m not sure this flashback portion is ever quite earned. We’ve barely met Ceony and have had only a few scenes with her mentor, Thane. So, not only do we lose out on any growth in their relationships (all of these scenes take place in a type of alternative dimension where Thane is largely only present as re-incarnations of his past self), but we’re stuck reading half a book’s worth of a deep dive into a character we barely care about. Perhaps if this had happened in a second book in a series it would have played better. But in a book that’s only 220 pages long, we’re not given enough to begin with to sustain this type of ploy.

To end on a good note, I did enjoy the fact that Ceony was left to operate on her own throughout much of this book with only the company of her paper dog, Fennel. Let’s be honest, the dog was probably my favorite character and the only one that ever truly elicited an actual emotion from me!

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Even the Punisher breaks if you threaten the dog! (source)

I will probably continue the series, just based on the strength and uniqueness of the magic system. But I do have some questions as far as the actual quality of the writing (at points it felt very bland and stilted) as well as some of the story arc decisions (like the choice to sink the last half of the story into a flashback sequence for a character who has literally only had about 15 pages of time prior to this).

Rating 6: Very much a “fine” novel. I’m more invested in Fennel, however, than either Ceony or Thane.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Paper Magician” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Dueling Magicians”and “Female Apprentices Romance.”

Find “The Paper Magician” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Jackaby”

20312462Book: “Jackaby” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review: This was actually a book club book that I read a few years ago, but I wanted to review it here on the blog since I’m currently reading the sequel and I’m a librarian, so I’m naturally a completionist! Gotta have em all!

When this book showed up on our bookclub list, I was very excited. It was marketed as “Doctor Who” meets Sherlock Holmes, and while I’m not a complete nut for “Doctor Who” all told, I do love its wacky take on fantasy and science fiction. So combining that with “Sherlock Holmes” (my love of which has been well documented), seemed like it should be something that would be right up my alley! Ultimately, while I did like it, it was a bit more on the “meh” end of things than I would have liked.

Abigail Rook, fresh off the boat with dashed dreams of being an archaeologist like her father in hand, falls into a strange apprenticeship with an even stranger man: Jackaby, a paranormal investigator. Story aside (I’ll get to that a bit later on), this book lives and dies on these two main characters and right here is where we get into the general feeling of indifference.

Abigail herself is a likable character. Her personality, drive, and ability to make her way, even as ineptly as she does here, did feel a bit out of character for the time period. Yes, we’re on the cusp of the turn of the century, but there would still be some harsh realities facing her as a young woman alone in a new country. There’s nothing egregious going on as far as anachronisms or anything, but Abigail did feel a bit out of place for the time. That aside, I did enjoy her as a protagonist. She serves as our eyes into this new world, and her confusion is our confusion. As the story progresses, it becomes clear what role she will play as the Watson to Jackaby’s Holmes. Jackaby is nothing if not dense when it comes to social clues, and here is where Abigail fits in this puzzle. It’s not a super creative take, but it works for the story and she plays her part well.

I especially enjoyed the way Ritter approaches the small amount of romance in this story. Even that sentence is misleading as any romance that is seen here is strictly in the foreshadowing category. But what is most relieving is the fact that it is clear that this romantic angle will decidedly NOT focus on Abigail/Jackaby. I had definite concerns that this was going to be the romantic couple of the series, or *shudders* one corner of a love triangle. But, thankfully, we are introduced to a new character outside of the primary duo who seems to be set up to play this role going forward.

Jackaby himself was…ok? Honestly, I think some of my problems with the book had to do with him as a character. He was a bit too “preciously wacky,” if that makes sense? He’s obviously a creation based on  both Holmes and the Doctor, but the portrayal definitely falls more closely to the latter. It’s simply not unique enough. Jackaby could practically BE the Doctor, and it starts to feel derivative rather quickly.

To end on a good note, the world-building and the paranormal elements that were included were interesting and more unique. The villain character and several of the other beings were not the ones we’re used to seeing in this type of story, and I enjoyed diving into some of the history of these creatures. The supporting cast is also interesting, including the previously mentioned love interest who turns out to be more than he seems, as well as Jackaby’s current roommates, a ghost woman with unfinished business, and Jackaby’s previous apprentice who now lives an unfortunate, if still scholarly, life as a duck.

There were definitely strengths of the book, but it’s always going to be a struggle if the title character doesn’t live up to expectations. That said, if you enjoy “Doctor Who” and Sherlock Holmes this still might be a fun book to check out. Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the sequel “Beastly Bones.”

Rating 6: If I could, I’d give it a solid 6.5. Better than average, but rather underwhelming.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackaby” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Sherlock Holmes” and “Victorian Spiritualism Fiction.”

Find “Jackaby” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

27274343Book: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

Review: I am constantly running the risk, given my fiction tastes and predilections, that when I close a book I may be saying to myself ‘what the EFF was THAT?!’ And knowing this, I kind of try to brace myself for it, especially when a book is described as ‘edgy’ or ‘literary’ in a horror sense. Usually this jives with me just fine. With “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, I’m having a harder time making sense of what I read, what it meant, and what I thought of it. And I’ve been thinking about it! It’s one of those books that I think I’d have to go back and read again to really pick up on everything and to totally be able to unpack it. But…. I don’t have time, man. Not right now. Right now, there are other books to read.

So now I need to figure out what to say about this book without giving things away. Tricky tricky tricky.

Well for starters, Our Narrator, nameless as she is, has a very well done stream of consciousness voice. Her thoughts and feelings flow out, in regards to her boyfriend Jake, parts of her life before the events of the story, or just random passing musings. We know that she and Jake are going to meet his parents at their farm, her first meeting with them; we know that she’s been getting mysterious, stalker-esque phone calls; and we know that she’s thinking of ‘ending things’ with Jake, certain that it just won’t last. Why she thinks this is unclear, but her mind is pretty much made up. We know far more about Jake than we do Our Narrator, as she talks about how analytical he is, how his personality ticks, how he has bursts of passion but is almost always grounded in his earnestness. He works in a lab and is quite brilliant, but never lords it over her or puts on airs about it. It’s really quite stunning that we learn so much about Jake through her eyes, and yet learn so little about her outside of bits and pieces of stories.

This book builds up with unease from the get go. Our Narrator shares a number of disconcerting stories as the book goes on, stories from her experience in the past or moments happening as we read the book. They are always less in your face scary, and more ‘well that’s just weird and unsettling’. Like seeing a very tall man outside her window at night when she was a child, only seeing his chest and his hands and he wrung them together. Or the story of a neighborwoman bringing cookies to her family, asking her if she was ‘good or bad’, and then the Mom getting food poisoning from said cookies. It’s little things that just set your nerves on the slightest edge, that by the time you reach the serious crux of things that’s referenced in the description, you feel like you’re about to fall out of your chair. The suspense is taut and well done, and the imagery of shadows, unfamiliar hallways and faces, it’s all placed very well. You see clues and hints that come back later, but then when you’re done with it all you still have to go back and find everything. It’s meticulously crafted, and it definitely unsettled me.

But at the same time, the big confrontation came so late in the book, and it was so haphazard and chaotic, I had a hard time following it. Plus, there would be moments where the reader would be taken right out of it again, as Our Narrator would start on a tangent of waxing poetic on other, not as pressing matters as, say, the fact she’s lost in a strange labyrinthian school and can’t find her boyfriend. These moments of stopping and starting made the climax feel interrupted and jostled. There were other interruptions in the narrative as well, as between chapters we would get snippets of an italicized conversation between two faceless, nameless people, commenting on a terrible crime that has occurred. Obviously it has to do with what we’re all leading up to, but these interruptions worked a bit better because they felt like placeholders, and because they did give us more clues and puzzle pieces.

So what did I think of this book overall? I think I liked it. I know it disturbed me. I didn’t see where it was going at first, but then looking back at clues and references it started to come together. The problem was that getting there was so crazed and maniacal that at the end I was more overwhelmed than satisfied.

Rating 6: I THINK I pretty much liked it okay? But it gets kind of disorienting and also has the ability to take us into journeys that would amount to nothing, and distrupt the plot. It’s well done in a lot of ways, but you’ll have to read it twice (or more) to get it, I think.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “ALA Midwinter 2016”, and “Thrillers with Big Plot Twists”.

Find “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Cold Calling”

33837691Book: “Cold Calling” by Hadyn Wilks

Publishing Info: Dead Bird Press, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: You spend your days staring into a computer screen, trying to sell life insurance to young couples with new babies.

You spend your nights staring into a computer screen, extracting filth from and injecting bile into the internet.

You still live with the same dickhead housemate you went to university with.
Your only respite from computer screens are nights spent getting smashed with him at student bars, watching him prance around, trying to pull much younger girls.

Your life sucks and you suck at it.

One drunken night, you try something new.
Something terrible.
But something that brings you new energy, new drive, new desires.

You start eating the young.

Note: THERE WILL BE MANY SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.

Review: Oh, hey, hi! What’s up? Uh huh, uh huhhhhh, yeah, that’s cool. Oh, how did I spend my night, you ask? Oh you know. Watching ‘Top Model’… Eating some cake…

Reading a novella about a guy who eats babies…

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You read that right. Also, spoiler alert. (source)

Terrible etiquette, I apologize. But yeah. “Cold Calling”‘s main character eats babies. Okay, just hold on, hear me out here. I felt a need to get that spoiler out there because 1) I had no idea it was coming and I could have used something to soften THAT blow, and 2) I think that if you read the description you can kind of maybe guess that’s the end game. Even if you didn’t really want to believe that’s what was happening. Me getting this out there was not out of malevolence or spite, even if I was pretty well put off by it when I was reading this book. But, in spite of the fact that is just a reprehensible reality of this story, I do believe that there was a point to it. And once I kind of came around to that point, well, I was more willing to think about what the baby eating was kind of really about.

Our protagonist (“You” as he is referred mostly, as this is written in the second person, but Rhys by everyone else) is living a monotonous life in modern day Britain, working a cold calling job that is utterly thankless. Then he goes home and exists in the same sphere as his roommates, masturbates a bit to web cam porn, occasionally goes to the pub with his mates who aren’t really that good of mates if we’re being honest. His mates and those around him barb and bitch about the problems of society, usually pinning it all on immigrants, and then Rhys goes back and repeats it all over again, and again, and again. Until in a drunken blackout he finds the home of someone he’d cold called, murders the entire family, and brings the corpse of the baby home. And then he cooks it and eats it. And decides that yeah, he could do it again. It actually kind of smacked of an old school Ketchum novel, with balls to the wall violence and depravity that is meant to make the reader squirm and shake and question whether or not they could continue. I could also see the undertones of Chuck Palahniuk at his most disgusting and wretched (looking at YOU, “Guts”). I mean, horrific imagery and themes aside, I have to admit that Wilks can write, can craft words and sentences and soliloquies that leapt off the page as I was reading this book, my jaw fully agape in abject horror. Sometime the second person didn’t quite work or came off as scattered, but I do understand the choice behind it. And I think that I do see where Wilks was going. For me, the point is that for some people, the more deplorable realities of society crushes them and twists them into monsters that do absolutely horrible things. And then in turn, that same society refuses to see just what it was that really happened, or the role that it played, and then instead focuses on scapegoats that fit a narrative that are far more comfortable (i.e. everyone assuming that it had to be some ‘immigrant’ that had kidnapped these missing babies). Just to let the cycle start over again. It was as if ‘you’ were the symbol or product of an apathetic, cynical society that chewed people up and spit them out as mutants, which eventually led to the sacrifice and violent consumption of the innocent and innocence in itself. Which I really appreciated in these times.

And THAT, my friends, is why I really have no idea what to do with this story when it comes to saying what the HELL I thought about it!!!

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(source)

I guess I will say this. I definitely appreciated the underlying metaphor here that lots of innocent people get caught in the crossfire of awfulness that could have been prevented if perhaps an overarching selfishness or apathy was done away with or combated by those who have the power to do so. Yes, by having our protagonist devolve to a point and literally eat babies it was hitting the reader over the head. But I can’t say that it’s untrue. So fine, “Cold Calling”. Ultimately I jive with what you had to say. But DAMN if it wasn’t an absolutely nasty ass read and NOT for the faint of heart. It was too much even for me.

Rating 6: The writing is pretty good and the ultimate metaphor was one that I got and found pretty powerful. But I personally had a hard time with the implementation of said metaphor.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold Calling” is new and hasn’t found it’s way onto any Goodreads lists yet. But it would fit in on “Maneaters”, and “Cannibal Books”.

“Cold Calling” isn’t available of WorldCat as of now, but you can find it on Kindle Unlimited at Amazon.

 

Kate’s Review: “Fear the Drowning Deep”

23924355Book: “Fear the Drowning Deep” by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Publishing Info: Sky Pony Press, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

Review: So look, on paper this, to me, sounded like a straight up thriller with a supernatural twist to it. That’s why I’m reviewing this book that is, in actuality, pretty much just a straight up fantasy. Sorry, Serena, this is my genre today! That being said, there are definitely a number of strange and creepy things that really added to the potential of “Fear the Drowning Deep”. A witch’s apprentice? Murdered girls? ANCIENT EVIL IN THE WATER?

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Sign me up, I’m there! (source)’

But sadly, while I was all in and totally stoked, when I got to it, it didn’t quite live up to what I hoped it would. I think that what tripped this book up for me were a couple of things. One, my expectations were not met, and while that’s not the book’s fault, it nonetheless made it so I was setting myself up for a fall. The second thing is that it fell into too many traps of the fantasy romance YA genre, which I have become less and less forgiving of as time has gone on. You combine these two things, and then throw in a description that really played up more of a horror thriller angle than it was, and well, we’re bound to have some problems.

But hey, let’s start off with the things that I DID like about this story before we get into the negatives. First of all, I enjoyed the setting of this book, taking place on the Isle of Man in 1913. I don’t know much about the Isle of Man outside of the fact that the Bee Gees were from there, so seeing it in a historical setting with some of the mythology from the area were fun themes to explore. Bridey was an alright protagonist. I liked that she was a responsible teenager of her time, and while sometimes her aspirations kind of treaded towards the less pragmatic and more fanciful, by 1913 I think this is a more acceptable mentality for a teenage girl to have. I also really liked the storyline involving her and Morag, the island ‘witch’ whom Bridley apprentices for, just as her mother did when she was a girl. The parts of the story where Bridley was learning how to find ingredients for medicine, charms, and protection, were very intriguing to me, and I liked Morag’s role in the story as the misunderstood outsider. True, it got a bit aggravating when Bridley would dismiss Morag’s advice or warnings as superstitions or useless, because she has spent her whole life believing her to be some kind of witch! I have a hard time believing that she’d be so dense or haughty that she’d just toss this woman’s opinions out the window! It didn’t feel like it matched Bridley’s character, and that got a bit annoying.

I also liked the take and portrayals of various mythological creatures that you may not see as much in fantasy stories. Sure, we’ve all seen our fair share of dragons, vampires, and ghosts, but in this book we get sea serpents, Little Fellas, and fossegrims. Marsh has taken some long neglected mythologies and has given them a fresh perspective, and I think that this book could easily encourage interested parties to take a gander at these stories when they may not have otherwise.

However, a big strike against this book, for me, is that once again, we are met with the Dreaded Love Triangle. THIS time it’s between Bridley, her childhood friend Lugh, and the mysterious visitor Fynn, who washes up on shore one day with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Boy, a girl is torn between her true blue best friend and a strange and enigmatic newcomer. I sure haven’t read anything like THAT before.

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This is only compounded by the fact that a day before Fynn showed up, Bridley had been kissed by Lugh, and she had really quite liked it. But the moment that Fynn arrives, Lugh is completely out of her thoughts. It’s one thing if she was always a bit ambivalent about her feelings for him. It’s tired and worn out, but at least it’s realistic. Because MAN did she shift on a dime without any second thoughts. Plus, we got a ridiculous scene in which Finn and Lugh start fighting each other over her, and everyone felt a bit out of character all just for the drama. Lugh just didn’t feel like a character who even needed to be there, in all honesty. There was plenty of dramatics without Bridley having to be in the middle of a fight between the two stereotypes of romantic entanglements.

This book definitely had some things going for it, but overall “Fear the Drowning Deep” found itself in a couple of ruts that it never really pulled itself from. I really enjoyed the mythology aspect and the witch aspect, but there were too many well worn ideas that weren’t really reinvented to make it a complete stand out. Come for the mythos, try and tolerate the repetitiveness.

Rating 6: Though original in some ways, “Fear the Drowning Deep” wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, and fell into too many YA traps.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fear the Drowning Deep” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Sea Creatures”, and “All Things Celtic”.

Find “Fear the Drowning Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Wondrous”

32578571Book: “Wondrous” by Travis M. Riddle

Publishing Info: January 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC

Book Description: Miles went to sleep tucked tightly in bed in his Austin apartment and woke up in the middle of a damp, dark forest in the kingdom of Rompu, a land being torn apart by a civil war between its king and queen.

Miles has few companions in this vast kingdom, which is filled with fantastical animals and flora yet sprinkled with familiar items like digital clocks and vinyl records. As he searches for a way to return home, he discovers that certain memories trigger magical abilities: he can shoot fireballs from his palms, heal with nothing but a touch, and more. But as he struggles to make sense of this new world, his thoughts are punctuated by painful memories of his sick grandmother, quarreling parents, and an icy school therapist.

When Miles learns that a monstrous entity flying through the countryside and killing for sport was summoned from a portal to another realm, he believes this creature is the key to learning how to open another rift and return home. Tracking down this beast and mastering his newfound magical abilities may be the only way for Miles to help save Rompu and get back to his family in Texas.

Review:  I received an ARC for this book from the author, and after checking out the plot synopsis, it sounded like a book that might be up my alley! I always love an “other world” story where our hero is plopped down with as much confusion as we the readers have, and I was intrigued by the idea of the protagonist being such a young boy.

The story doesn’t waste any time getting started. I was a bit concerned after reading the first chapter and having Miles so suddenly transported to this new land with very little explanation for how/why he was transported and no backstory to support the reader’s interest in Miles story. While I still wish there had been a bit more set up to Miles’ trip to this new world, I was pleased to discover the clever way the author provided this backstory and connected Miles’ real life problems to his own burgeoning powers in this new world.

The magic system was rather simple, but the way Riddle connected the use of the power to Miles’ memories of his home life and the emotions that these memories inspired was an interesting take. I appreciated the inclusion of these aspects of Miles’ life. It would have been all too easy to simply write a fun, adventurous romp for this character. But instead, through Miles, Riddle addresses many aspects of childhood that are challenging, such as parental conflict, the death of aged relatives, and struggles with school.

I wavered back and forth with regards to my opinion of Miles himself. In many ways, he was a very likeable, young boy. But at other times, perhaps realistically, he came off as a spoiled brat and it became hard to understand the patience with which the adult beings in this new world had for him when they were in the midst of a very trying war. My other struggle with Miles was his age. Nine years old is very young, and at times it was hard to buy-in to Miles’ inner voice and thought process that sometimes verged into what felt like an older child’s range, perhaps 12 or so. Ultimately, I still did enjoy Miles when I could get past these few distractions.

As for these side character, they also had varying mileage. The species we meet are creative, but there were a few stylistic choices that sat oddly, like a frog-like species called Rompun speaking French. But these choices may work better for young readers.

Speaking of young readers, some of these concerns, simple world-building, a lack of depth to certain narrative choices like Miles trip to this land and the relationships between the different species that make up this world, could be explained by the target audience of this book. Though it isn’t explicitly stated anywhere in the book description, I’m guessing that this book is aimed towards middle grade readers. In this case, some of these choices make more sense (in particular, in the end there were a few rather implausible, narrow escapes for our supporting cast) if Riddle was wanting to keep the tone of the book more light. However, I would also suggest that middle grade fiction should still be held to a similar high standard with regards to some of these choices. It is possible to add depth to a fantasy world and create positive, but more believable, outcomes to dangerous situations that is still approachable to middle grade readers.

All in all, I had a fun time reading this book, but feel that it is an example of middle grade fiction that might be received better by its intended age range, rather than adult readers. If you have a middle grader who likes escapists fantasy, this might be the book for them!

Rating 6: A fun story, but had frustrating moments for me as an adult reader.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wondrous” has just been published, so it isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet. However, an obvious similar book would be “A Wrinkle in Time.” Both feature young protagonists thrust into new worlds with new alien beings.