Dream Magic: Complex, beautiful middle grade filled with adventure and heart

Goodness, I love a good middle grade. Some of my all-time favorite series are technically in the category meant for 8-12 year olds, but a good story bypasses age, and it looks like Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic have fallen into that grouping.

Frankly, these books blew me away. They were fun, dark, complex, intriguing, and filled to the brim with adventure. Shadow Magic hit shelves last year, and it’s sequel, Dream Magic, is out today in the US.

What’s it about? Here’s a quick summary:

In Book 2 of a three book series, things are dire for the inhabitants of Castle Gloom and the surrounding villages. The undead are leaving their graves in droves, a troll army is on the march from the north, and people are mysteriously disappearing from their homes. The people of Gehenna are blaming their misfortunes on Lilith Shadow, their young queen. They believe she has cursed them by using magic, a practice forbidden to women. With her trusty executioner among the missing and her blackguard soldiers busy battling trolls, it is up to Lily and her friend Thorn to root out the real cause of all the trouble. Their search will uncover ugly truths and eventually lead to a nightmarish confrontation with nothing less than the rulership of the realm at stake.

There are so many twists and turns in this book that it is wise beyond its years. These tweens are dealing with seriously adult issues, especially Lily, the reluctant ruler of the Shadow Kingdom. She must fight against fear, superstition and tradition to use her magic, while watching the enemies get closer on every side. Luckily she has Thorn in her life.

Thorn is a fabulous character. I think he’s extremely well written, and I love how he doesn’t blink about anyone’s status. You are a person, and that’s it. his blunt, honest way of looking at the world has a simplicity that makes him a great balance to the complexities of this political world he’s found himself in, and balances Lily nicely. Round this out with a host of diverse, interesting secondary characters, and this book is a definite page turner.

And then there’s the magic! This series has a great take on elemental magic, which is done really well. In addition, the new surprises that keep popping up (in the way of crystal spiders, flying ships, and dream-talking ghosts, among others) keep the action-packed adventure leading the story.

I can’t recommend this book enough, especially if you’re a fan of fantasy or really well done middle grade in the realms of Riordan or Mull. Be sure to read Shadow Magic first, as Dream Magic picks right up after. Read it aloud to your kids, or read it quietly to yourself. Just read it, fantasy fans. It’s a great escape that harks back to getting lost in a truly good story as a kid. And that’s a wonderful feeling we all need more of in our lives!

Pick up a copy of Dream Magic on Amazon!

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Seeker is a perfect balance of fantasy, scifi, and heart.

Today marks the release of Seeker, the first book in a trilogy from Arwen Elys Dayton. This fantasy-scifi mash-up is part adventure, part coming of age story, and is one of the coolest, most unique stories we’ve read in a long time. This book is getting a lot of buzz, has a large first printing, and has already been optioned for film by Columbia Pictures. We’re going to have an exclusive interview with the author, as well as a giveaway of this amazing book, so stay tuned this week!

My review is mildly spoilery, so if you want absolutely no clues on anything, read it after the book.

What’s it about? Here’s the official summary:

seeker“Fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Marie Lu’s Legend, and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series: your next obsession has arrived.”-School Library Journal

The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor.
As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world.
And she’ll be with the boy she loves–who’s also her best friend.
But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes.
Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.


I’m going to change up this review a bit. Here are ten things I loved about this book that I think readers will too:

1- There’s a fantastic, interesting love triangle between Quin, Shinobu, and John. It’s complicated, and wonderful, and I really love how things progress as the story goes on. I’m extremely interested in seeing how the relationships pan out over the next book.

2- The magic in Seeker is amazing. The Seekers can cut through the fabric of the world and show up somewhere else. The item that allows it is called an athame, and not only do they do this incredible thing, but they’re family herilooms, which ties into the story in an interesting way. There are also side characters called the Dreads that have a major role with this magic, and it’s really great how their stories play out in the book.

3- the weapons are really cool. There’s something called a whipsword, which can change between all sorts of weapons with just a flick of the wrist. I mean, imagine the possibilities with something like that. Katana? Ax? Broadsword? Whatever you’re in the mood for! There’s also this intense blaster called a Disruptor that’s really freaky. It sort of fries your energy, and it’s definitely an ominous thing to behold.

4- There’s a gigantic flying ship- and not just for the cool factor, but it actually serves an amazing purpose in the story which I found incredibly clever.

5- The family drama. Quin and her father have major, major issues throughout the story. They’re pretty messed up, and these struggles overcast the entire book, including things with her mom. These issues play a major role in where the story goes. There are also really complicated things with family in John’s life, things that are surprising (big-time!) and change what we think we know. Shinobu has some intense family stuff happen too. Needless to say, family is a major theme in the book.

6-The locations! The book takes place in Scotland, a futuristic London, and Hong Kong. Who would have guessed such incredibly different environments and cultures would blend so well into a fantastic story. They also help divide the action in the book, which helps it flow nicely. I don’t read a lot of books that have an Asian influence like this one did, and it was really fun to experience that in addition to the UK.

7-  the POV shifts. This book is told in third person, and we alternate between different characters, depending on what’s happening. This is part of what makes this a great story, because each character’s journey is so unique. I’ve become a big fan of books told this way, and Seeker fits right in.

8- The climax. Man, does stuff hit the fan at the end of this book. It’s kind of a crazy free-for-all, with all the things that are happening. But the author handles it seemingly effortlessly, and the climax flows from one intense moment to the next. It’s one of the best climaxes in a first book in a series I’ve read in a really long time.

9- The quiet moments. For all the adventure and running around that happens in this book, there are some fantastic calms before the storms, so to speak. There are pretty great one-on-one conversations between various characters, and it really gives this story heart. I think that’s why I like it so much, because it’s really balanced between the people and the world. And these moments play a big part in that.

10- An amazing scene where two characters do something absolutely bonkers. It involves parachutes, fireworks, night, crazy wind, heightened emotions … need I say more? I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of my favorite scenes.

This book hits the ground running, and doesn’t stop. There is a great balance between the characters and the world, and I think that’s one of the reasons I loved it so much- I was swept away by the fantastical elements, and yet it still had that intimate insight to the characters that helps readers really connect with the story. I was really impressed by the author’s juggling of all the elements of the story, and I felt really satisfied by the end, yet still want more. I can’t wait to see what happens with this series.

Have you read Seeker? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book! And stay tuned for more goodies: Tomorrow, February 11th, we’re posting a giveaway for a copy of this fab book, and on Thursday the 12th we’ll be posting the exclusive interview we did with the author at San Diego Comic Con! We sat on this one for a while to save it for now, and we’re really excited to share it with you. So be sure to stop back tomorrow and Thursday!

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Review: ‘Moth and Spark’ by Anne Leonard is classic fantasy with more romance

moth and sparkI’ve been getting more into adult epic fantasy lately. I can thank Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. When I had the opportunity to feature Anne Leonard and her new fantasy book  Moth and Spark, I jumped at the chance after reading the blurb. From the description it seemed to have all my favorite elements for an epic fantasy. And though it took me a bit to get into the book, I’m glad I kept reading.

Though I don’t usually like to, I’m going to use the online summary of the book for your reading pleasure (they say it really succinctly):

A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed—at any cost.

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

The hardest part of this book for me is something I struggle with in general with high fantasy: the unfamiliarity of the world. It took me a bit to sort out what was happening, who was bad, how the government of this world was run, but once I got it I really got it. I say this because I know a lot of people who read fantasy won’t struggle with this like I do, and that’s my main “complaint”, if you want to call it that.

The book starts with some serious stuff happening in a prologue, and so immediately you have some big knowledge that the main characters aren’t aware of at the start. It helps make sense of motivations and political moves, and the whole time I was reading the first half of the book I was so curious how the info given at the beginning was going to play into the rest of the story. It plays out well, and I thought it was a wise choice of the author to start the story like that.

There’s also a great romance element in this book, which I think balanced the heavier political game-playing nicely. At its core this story is an adventure for Corin and Tam, and their story is what kept the pages turning for me.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. I’m really glad I read it, and I can’t wait to see what the author does with book two. Between the romance and the way the dragons were presented this book was like a nice breath of fresh air being blown into epic fantasy.

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Review: Brandon Sanderson captivates in new superhero action-adventure YA ‘Steelheart’

Brandon Sanderson, best known for his epic fantasies Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and finisher of The Wheel of Timebrings a whole new YA epic adventure to the world with Steelheart. First in a new series, Steelheart follows the life of David, a normal human, secretly planning to kill Steelheart, a powerful Epic who rules over Chicago and ruined his life ten years prior.

What’s it about? Here’s the summary from Amazon:

steelheartFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson, comes the first book in a new, action-packed thrill ride of a series—Steelheart.

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

This book is straight action and adventure from start to finish. Brandon manages to completely captivate the reader from the first page. His writing is like magic, teasing and tempting, making you not want, but need to continue. The pacing is great, ebbing and flowing between wonderful action scenes and slower, more informative sections which delve into the backstory.

The premise is what captivated me to read this book in the first place: superheroes exist, but they’re all evil. I wanted to know what that world would be like. I wanted to see how regular humans would fight that, stand up for their freedoms. Following David, the protagonist, was a great and interesting journey as readers experience the technology humans are developing to slowly counter the Epics. And the greater mystery, why this all happened in the first place, always looms over, waiting to be discovered.

This was a fantastic book. Different than the usual YA I typically read, less romance, more action, violence, and adventure, and it was a nice change of pace. Brandon is a fantastic writer and the story was an easy read. I’m excited to see where the author is going to take the story next.

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Review: Kendare Blake brings a fresh, suspense-filled take on the ancient Greek gods in ‘Antigoddess’

Kendare Blake has a lot of fans, thanks to her awesome book Anna Dressed in Blood. She’s starting a new series with Antigoddess, which brings the greek gods roaring into today’s age in a wonderfully fresh way. What’s the book about? Here’s the summary:

Blake_antigoddessThe Goddess War begins in Antigoddess, the first installment of the new series by acclaimed author ofAnna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake.

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

I heard Kendare speak on a panel at SDCC, and I fell in love with her. This girl is freaking hilarious. And witty. And has some really poignant things to say. And all of these things are present in spades in Antigoddess. I laughed out loud frequently (it’s pretty funny hearing ancient immortals using current colloquialisms and pop-culture references with sarcasm, distain, and humor). I also really enjoyed the alternation of chapters between the main female protagonist, Cassandra (the reincarnation of an ancient prophetess, which is very cool), and some of the gods. It helps to see where they are coming from regarding the conflict that Cassandra gets pulled into the middle of, and it adds a lot of depth to the backstory, which helps me feel a lot more for the well-being of the characters.

There’s an interesting romance angle, but it isn’t front and center. There are nice little make-out bits shoved in here and there, but that’s not the point of this story. However, it adds a lot to the progression of the tale, and it rounds out the characters nicely. Plus, hey, who doesn’t want to make out with a hot golden god who can literally warm you with his touch? It’s pretty fun watching Cassandra experience all of these things.

There are a bit of f-bombs dropped, and some honest, real teen language (i.e. a bit crude sometimes), so if you’re put off by that be warned, it’s there. But it didn’t bother me, if anything it made what the teens (and ancient immortal gods) say feel more realistic.

If you’re a fan of mythology, this is a must-read. Also, there’s some great suspense and tension, as the book always has you wondering what’s around the next corner. This is another one that I fell asleep to reading, a sign that it’s impossible for me to put down. I can’t wait to see what happens as this series progresses.

Antigoddess is out today, September 10th, 2013, by Tor Teen.

Book Reviews, Books, Reviews

Review: Tad Williams goes to dark, creepy and awesome places in ‘Happy Hour in Hell’

Bobby Dollar is back! Tad Williams released his second book in this series today, Happy Hour in Hell. This time the earthly angel advocate isn’t just trying to save his own behind while trying to figure out a mystery … well, he sort of is. But this time he also heads down into the depths of Hell itself to save his demon girlfriend Caz from the clutches of her evil ex and hell lord. This book is packed with the same humor, creep-factor, and internal morality that readers enjoyed in book one, but even more so in book two.

What’s it about? Here’s the summary from amazon, in Bobby’s own words:

happy hour in hellI’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m
actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel,
and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They
don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they
have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess
of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not
because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the
nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of
Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on
me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell,
make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan-
demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out
from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers,
hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And
even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead
psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention
that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand
Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still
be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have
something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink,
will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Tad’s first book in this series, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, laid a great foundation for book two. But whereas book one had more detective elements, book two has a more classic “hero takes a journey” element, which I adore. Yes, he still has some mysterious things happening (including figuring out why an impossible-to-kill man/creature is after him), but for me the road through hell to rescue Caz, and all the experiences and questions that came with it, was the highlight of the book.

I also love how Tad bends the expected black and white nature of heaven and hell. Nothing in these books is absolute. There are some pretty decent people stuck in hell, and this begs the question, do they really deserve to suffer for all of eternity? Tad started blurring these lines in book one when a non-trustable demon and an angel of heaven came together, and these questions continue to be raised in the second book, but on a much bigger scale. Without giving too much away, I was surprised at how much this escalated, and it made me think, which for me is a sign of a good book.

Let’s not forget  the creeptastic-ness that is Happy Hour in Hell. Tad throws some intense and graphic stuff at the readers on occasion, but for me it made things feel more real, even in the unfamiliar elements of hell. I think he nails it, really takes the reader to a dark, gritty, sad place.

Fans of book one will definitely enjoy revisiting this world and these characters, and Tad delivers them in a most wonderful fashion in a way that only a Bobby Dollar book can do. Plus, there’s the whole creepy Hell thing. It’s kind of awesome.

Happy Hour in Hell comes out today, Tuesday September 3rd, 2013.