Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, NetGalley, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE REVENGE OF MAGIC by James Riley

I’ve loved every book James Riley has written. Both the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series are wonderfully unique and hilarious, and so I was very excited to see the announcement of his new series, The Revenge of Magic, for–count ’em–SEVEN books. Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and NetGalley for letting me get an advance read on this book. It comes out March 5, and while the tone is a bit different than that of James Riley’s previous books, it is a fantastic story full of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and hungering for the next book.

The Revenge of Magic by James RileyThirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Only those born after “Discovery Day” have the power to use the magic.

Now, on a vacation to Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald’s father is lost when a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking the city. Fort is devastated, until an opportunity for justice arrives six months later, when a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government run school, the Oppenheimer School, to learn magic from those same books.

But life’s no easier at the school, where secrets abound. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort seeing memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? If Fort doesn’t find out what’s hiding within the Oppenheimer School, more attacks will come, and this time, nothing will stop them!

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Fort’s father – Since I read an advanced reader copy, I can’t give you any quotes for this book, but please believe me that Fort’s father is entirely quote-worthy. The book begins with Fort and his father touring the Lincoln Memorial, while Fort’s father tells anyone within hearing distance about the wonderful feats Fort will accomplish someday. It’s both embarrassing for Fort and completely endearing. As the story progresses, Fort continues to hear his father’s voice in his head, as a sort of bolstering presence.

2. Cyrus – Cyrus, the student who practices clairvoyance, is the perfect foil for Fort. Every insult and strange look just slides right off him. Plus, he’s just awesome, and the rest of the kids don’t even recognize it. I expect he will continue to become more awesome as the series continues.

3. How the magic isn’t as expected – What I love most about James Riley’s books is that you’ll be reading and you think you know how things are going to work, and then he throws in a twist that turns everything around so you have a completely different perspective. THE REVENGE OF MAGIC is no exception to this rule, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, Fort has to rethink both his own goals and the overall strategy against the beings who attack (sorry, purposely vague).

4. The secrets – Everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else in this book. Some of them are because they’ve been told to keep secrets, others out of fear or to repress bad memories, but the end result is chaos. Fun times! Actually, since this is the first of seven books, I think the secrets are necessary. I expect there will be many more reveals.

5. The ending – I was not surprised to find James Riley leaving this book on a cliffhanger. It was like–bam!–here’s something for you readers to hold on to until the next book arrives. Very well done, Mr. Riley.

I did mention at the beginning of my post that this book’s tone was different from his others, and so I do think I should address that. One of my favorite things about his other books is the humor, and that’s not a big part of this one. It’s not completely devoid of humor, but it’s not a main focus like in the other books, I think because Fort is dealing with grief and anger during this book. Humor would seem out of place. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does come into play as the series progresses. Regardless, I still very much enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: MARIE ANTOINETTE: SERIAL KILLER by Katie Alender

Happy January! Sorry for the delay in putting up a review. I have been reading, but I’ve also been busy with some other news, as you may have seen from last week’s post. If you missed it, my debut book will be published in 2021!

In any case, today’s review is for Katie Alender’s MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER, which I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. One of the reasons I love the warehouse sale is that I find books that have been out a while to feature and hopefully bring back to readers’ attention. It also gives me the opportunity to find new authors I sometimes miss. Here’s the cover and description for MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie AlenderColette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots.

But a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette.

Colette knows her popular, status-obsessed friends won’t believe her, so she seeks out the help of a charming French boy. Together, they uncover a shocking secret involving a dark, hidden history. When Colette realizes she herself may hold the key to the mystery, her own life is suddenly in danger . . .

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The setting – It’s in France! Um, how many books have I reviewed on this blog that are set in France? I don’t even know. Probably enough to make it a category :). In any case, I love that they visit Versailles and the catacombs (I’d rather do that one in a book) and the Eiffel Tower. I’m just biding my time vicariously until I can return for real.

2. The history – Is it real history? Well, not really, but like many twists on history, there’s enough of the real history in there to make me curious and go look it up, and there was an author’s note in the back telling you which part was for real and which part was made up. I love it when an author takes something from history and says: But what if …

3. The ghost – And for this book, the author said, but what if Marie Antoinette came back as a ghost and started killing people? I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. It’s in the title, people. I’m just not going to tell you why because that’s the mystery you have to unravel as you read.

4. Colette’s character arc – There’s a moment at the beginning of the book where Colette’s brother does something nice for her and she basically says she’ll owe him. He says, “You don’t do nice things for people because you want to get something from them. You just do nice things to be nice.” She doesn’t understand this concept at all, and it’s a very important lesson for her to learn, not only as a person but for her final confrontation with the queen.

5. The relationships – I loved how this book was very much about friendship and how it should look and how Colette’s view of it changes as she grows. But I didn’t just label this point “friendships” because her other relationships change as a result too.

This book was a fun murder mystery sort of book on the one hand, but there was real character development happening that edged it into a read I will come back to again.

Have you read MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2018

I considered waiting until next week to post the list of my favorite reads of 2018, but my kids will be home, so I really don’t think I’ll get much more reading done. I’m only at 79 books completed, down from 100 last year, but I read quite a few adult books this year (still trying to weed out some books from my shelves downstairs to make room). Interestingly, I did reread a few old favorites I decided not to keep, but most of the adult books I reread this year were ones that ended up staying on my shelves.

Without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. (It seems the most fair way to do it 😀). Most of these actually were published in 2018, but a couple are books I just got around to this year.

Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterNOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter – This book had me from the moment Ally Carter posted the deal announcement on Twitter with the blurb that it was a gender-swapped YA Romancing the Stone set in Alaska. I mean, how could that not be amazing? But then Ally Carter came to St. Louis, and I got to hear her talk about the book and started reading it while I waited in line for her to sign it, and I’m pretty sure I finished the rest of it within a day because it was so high-stakes I couldn’t put it down. Plus, the banter between the Maddie and Logan was so perfect. Basically, the more I’m writing about this book and remembering it, I’m pretty sure it was my favorite read of the year. Funny how that happens.


My Plain JaneMY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – Despite the fact I’ve never read JANE EYRE (ducks away from Charlotte Brontë scholars and fellow English majors), I anxiously awaited this book because MY LADY JANE was my absolute favorite read of 2016. MY PLAIN JANE lived up to the previous collaboration by The Lady Janies, with a crazy mix of ghosts, pop culture references, author asides, and extra romance thrown into the classic JANE EYRE. I can’t wait to see what they do for MY CALAMITY JANE, and I hope their collaboration won’t end there!


Royals by Rachel HawkinsROYALS by Rachel Hawkins – I love to laugh, and this book had me laughing out loud throughout, plus I had a huge smile on my face at the end. Daisy’s voice was so spot-on, and that led to amazing banter with all of the characters, but I also just wanted all of them to keep talking. It was that sort of witty dialogue throughout. While this was a huge part of what made the book funny, the humor was also situational, so bonus points for putting the characters into crazy hijinks. And then there was the romance–just perfect!


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanCRAZY RICH ASIANS trilogy by Kevin Kwan – So I’m totally breaking my tradition here by including an adult series, but I have good reason. It’s been years since I’ve read anything new by an adult author. I read new middle grade and young adult authors all the time to stay abreast of the market, but the only new books I read by adult authors are by my old favorites, and I’ve even stopped reading some of them. But when I saw the preview for the movie version of this book, I thought it looked great, and as everyone knows, the book is always better than the movie. That definitely holds true in this case, although I loved the movie too. I had to keep reading through the rest of the series to see what happened to all of the characters, and I found it highly entertaining. It sort of reminded me of reading historical romance set in regency England, with all of the class differences, but a very different setting and a lot of emphasis on food. I am maybe the least adventurous eater on the planet, but I do love to read about it :). Also, if you have only seen the movie, I recommend you do read the books.


Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughBLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough – I read this book in a single day and then was so compelled by the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a girl who lived in seventeenth century Rome, I had to go look up more about her life. The verse, the art, the structure, the important message–it all merges together to make this book a must-read. Obviously many others agree, as it is winning and being nominated for awards left and right!

 


Story Thieves: Worlds Apart by James RileySTORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley – Do I have a book by James Riley on my list every year? Pretty much and for good reason. Every single one of them is amazingly creative, hilarious, and leaves me wanting more. Sadly, WORLDS APART was the finale of the STORY THIEVES series, but James Riley has a new series coming out. I’m sure it will be equally fantastic. If you haven’t read the STORY THIEVES series, WHY NOT??

 


Fearless by Kristin SmithFEARLESS by Kristin Smith – This third installment in Kristin Smith’s Deception Game series is a fast-paced read that kept me anxious to find out how Sierra, Trey, and Zane would survive–and who they would end up with. If you haven’t read this series, start at the beginning with CATALYST and move on to FORGOTTEN before you pick up FEARLESS. Kristin writes jaw-dropping twists, swoon-worthy love interests, and page-turning action.


Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillHERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill – It’s tricky to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Cristin Terrill does it masterfully. In fact, the main character in this book flat out says he’s a liar, and I still wanted to believe he was telling me the truth. The mystery, the twists, the family dynamics, and the ending–this book kept me clicking through pages non-stop, thinking I knew how things would go but not entirely sure and not entirely right either. I’m pretty good at figuring things out, so I love it when an author can fool me.


Nothing But Sky by Amy TruebloodNOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood – I love it when a fantastic story merges with learning something I never knew. That’s what happened for me with this wonderful historical. I can’t even imagine these young women who dared to walk along the wings of planes to entertain crowds in the 1920s with death-defying stunts. Amy Trueblood tells the story of Grace Lafferty gorgeously, with interesting historical tidbits sprinkled into her quest to reach the World Aviation Expo. Plus there’s romance. It’s one you don’t want to miss!


Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerEARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer – I loved this story of friendship and family set in futuristic Earth. More than anything, Jameson longs for a best friend, and when Astra moves in, he has that opportunity. I also love how well this book captures the feeling of maybe that’s so vital for middle grade readers. There’s an ever-present hope within the book, even when Jameson and Astra are facing some very tough truths. So well done.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year–so far :). Of the 79 books I’ve read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 38

Middle grade: 18

New adult: 1

Adult: 19

Non-fiction: 3

I can’t believe I read more adult books than middle grade! But unsurprisingly, the bulk of my reading remains young adult.

What were your favorite reads in 2018? Do we share any of the same? I’d love to discuss them with you!

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FLASHBACK by Shannon Messenger

Today I’m thrilled to have my ten-year-old join me for a review of book seven in MMGM founder Shannon Messenger’s KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series, FLASHBACK. We were especially excited about the release of this book because Shannon visited St. Louis last week, and we got to see her in person. I met her once before, when she came through for EXILE, the second book in the series, but it was my son’s first time meeting her, and he was ecstatic. I would share a picture–because he and his friend even went in costume and it was awesome–but I don’t post pictures of my kids publicly, so sorry. However, I am going to let my son take the lead on this review, because while I love these books, he has far surpassed me, reading the earlier books at least three times now. But first, here’s the cover and description, so if you haven’t read the other books in the series, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Still here? Okay then …

Flashback by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster doesn’t know what—or whom—to believe. And in a game with this many players, the worst mistake can be focusing on the wrong threat.

But when the Neverseen prove that Sophie’s far more vulnerable than she ever imagined, she realizes it’s time to change the rules. Her powerful abilities can only protect her so far. To face down ruthless enemies, she must learn to fight.

Unfortunately, battle training can’t help a beloved friend who’s facing a whole different danger—where the only solution involves one of the biggest risks Sophie and her friends have ever taken. And the distraction might be exactly what the villains have been waiting for.

On to the review, in the words of my ten-year-old super-fan. I did ask him to follow my five things format :).

This book is amazingly awesome, complex, and adventurously fun. But, warning: a lot of romance! Noooo! Well, it’s still really good.

Here are the things I loved most.

1. The alicorns – They are so energetic and exciting, and they’re always willing to help out Sophie and her friends just when they need them most. There’s some exciting drama with the alicorns in this book and I’m excited to see how it works out in the next book.

2. The Ballad of Bo and Ro – Once you read this book, this sentence will make a lot more sense. Keefe makes up this funny song, even though you don’t get to actually hear it, about the ogres Bo and Ro.

3. The butterbursts – Even better than custard bursts, mallowmelt, and rifflepuffs combined, found only in the secret teacher’s lounge of Foxfire, I would love to have these gooey treats and choose it over any dessert.

4. Tarina – A really cool and excellent bodyguard – a troll bodyguard – that helps Sophie with a tricky problem, Tarina is an awesome addition to FLASHBACK.

5. Meeting Shannon – Shannon Messenger is really, really nice. She loves cats and actually has a cat named Marty like Sophie in the first book. She hides cool meanings in the book, like Fitz’s name means “son of the king,” Sophie means “wisdom,” and Keefe means “good-looking.” I love what she said about how you should never let anyone tell you what you can’t read. Overall, I love her books, and I hope you read them.

So there you have it, a review from my ten-year-old. There are at least two more books expected in this series, although Shannon said at the event that a tenth is a possibility. After the cliffhanger at the end of FLASHBACK, we’re already anxious for book eight in the Mason house!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

BEHELD and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

For the past few months, I’ve been posting some mini-reviews on Instagram (you can follow me there @michelleimason). As I don’t want those books to be neglected here on my blog, when I have a few built up, I plan to do a roundup like I’ve done in the past. So here goes.

A few years ago I reviewed Alex Flinn’s modern fairy tale retellings, and I noticed she’d added another I’d missed. BEHELD follows Kendra, a witch, through four different tales over hundreds of years, starting with the Salem Witch Trials. I really enjoyed these four very different stories, held together by an over-arching story about Kendra searching for her lost love. Tales included were “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and “The Ugly Duckling.” As with her previous fairy tale retellings, there is a focus on beauty skewing perception, and the characters are far from perfect.


I appreciate when a book ends with a sense of hope, and both THE GIVER and THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR left me feeling hopeful for the characters. In each case, the situation leading up to the ending seemed pretty hopeless, and I wasn’t sure how the author could wrap up the story in a way that would seem believable and satisfying. These two books are very different, and while neither of them tied everything up in a bow at the end or assured me everything would turn out perfectly for the characters, I felt optimistic, and that was enough.


I loved the now and then format of LOVE SONGS & OTHER LIES by Jessica Pennington, which I couldn’t put down because I had to find out what happened in the past *and* how things would turn out in the present. Plus, I love anything with music, whether it’s rock stars (as here) or classical.

 


FEARLESS, book 3 in The Deception Game series by Kristin Smith, is a fast-paced read that will have you flipping–or swiping–quickly through pages. If you haven’t read this series, start at the beginning with CATALYST. Kristin writes jaw-dropping twists, swoon-worthy love interests, and page-turning action.

 


Since LOVE, LIFE AND THE LIST is about an artist, I snapped a picture of it with a painting I picked up in Montmartre from a street artist. This book, though … it made me cry, and that is rare. I loved it anyway. As much about friendship as anything, it’s another fantastic Kasie West book!

 


Have you read any of these? If so, let me know what you thought! I always like to discuss :).

NetGalley, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE À LA MODE by Stephanie Kate Strohm

I’ve read a couple books by Stephanie Kate Strohm now–in fact, IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU was one of my favorite reads in 2016–so I was thrilled when Disney-Hyperion approved my NetGalley request to read an ARC of LOVE À LA MODE. I mean, they’re attending culinary school in PARIS–this book checks off so many boxes for me, and fortunately it delivers. First of all, here’s the description.

Love A La Mode by Stephanie Kate StrohmTake two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The meet cute – Rosie and Henry’s meeting on the plane to Paris is just so adorable. I enjoy the sparks-flying, rub-each-other-the-wrong-way kind of setup as much as the next reader, but it’s refreshing to read about two characters who immediately connect because they have something in common and genuinely like each other.

2. The developing romance – I have to admit I got frustrated sometimes with the two protagonists as the story proceeded because they wouldn’t just TALK TO EACH OTHER about what was going on. However, I also felt it was completely believable, and so even thought it was frustrating, this falls into the category of something I love about the story. It felt real to me that these two characters were struggling through life and didn’t quite know how to share it.

3. The food! – I’m not an adventurous eater myself, but I love reading books about cooking. It’s my way of branching out into more interesting foods, and this book definitely delivers on that front. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the pastries, and I just want to fly to Paris right now and visit Chef Petit’s boulangerie …

4. The friendship – The friendships both Rosie and Henry developed were an integral part of the book, and I loved how well-developed the characters were.

5. The family – Both Rosie and Henry had complex family situations that led to them studying at the École. In Henry’s case, his relationship with his mom and what she expected of him exhausted him mentally and physically. I really appreciated the unexpected depth this added to the story.

LOVE À LA MODE comes out Nov. 27 (hey, that’s my birthday!), and I do highly recommend it. I haven’t been posting as many reviews lately because I’ve been busy with writing stuff, but this one really stood out to me as a fun read. Hopefully I’ll have others soon. Thanks again to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the read!

Character, Reading

On Sequels Ruining the Original

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, ever since an eagerly awaited sequel came in the mail this summer and from the first few pages had me going, “Whaaat?” I’m not going to call out this book specifically, which is part of the reason I waited so long to post about it (since I do list everything I read here on the blog).

In any case, I really loved the first book of this duology, enough that it has a review here, and I even pre-ordered the sequel so I wouldn’t forget about it. The first book left off on a total cliffhanger, but almost immediately the second book veered off in this completely disturbing direction. The further I read, the less engaged I was with the main characters. Based on everything they’d experienced in the first book and how the author had set them up, I found myself checking out more and more. By the end of the second book, the first book was completely ruined for me too, because with the cliffhanger ending of the first, you really can’t keep one without the other–a real bummer!

I’ve noticed this sequel issue with more than books. I had another experience recently that I wish I could erase, and I will totally call this one out. It was the musical “Love Never Dies,” which is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” I love Phantom. I sang one of the songs as a solo in our senior showcase in high school, and the stage production is always amazing. I was skeptical about a sequel, but I should have avoided it entirely because it was extremely disturbing on so many levels. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom all acted in ways that seemed at odds with their behavior in the first musical, and there were plot points that really warped events in the timeline of “Phantom” as well. If you have the opportunity to see “Love Never Dies,” DON’T. (This might be the first negative review I’ve ever written on my blog, but I’m still traumatized a month after watching it.)

Finally, while it isn’t exactly a sequel, I recently stopped watching the second season of a very popular TV show for the same reason the first book I mentioned bothered me so much. I binge-watched the first season. The characters were engaging, and the mystery kept me wanting to discover the solution. As I began watching the second season, I was increasingly disappointed. The mystery wasn’t so believable, and the characters started making decisions that didn’t line up with how they’d been established in the first season. It finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to follow their journeys anymore.

So why this rant about sucky sequels? As writers, I think we must be careful about the promises we make to readers in our books, and if we do write sequels or series, we must be consistent. As I mentioned above, what turned me off most was when the characters were inconsistent. I understand characters might change, but if they’re behavior goes completely off the rails, you have to make me believe it or I will check out as a reader/viewer.

I’ve never written a sequel myself, but that’s partially why I felt it was important to document these thoughts. Perhaps somewhere down the line an opportunity will arise where I’ll have a story that isn’t finished after one book. If it does, I want to remember the importance of character constancy and maintaining the essence of the first book. I think those are the keys to turning readers into true fans.

Have you had any experiences with sequels that have turned you off a book or other media series?