Book Review: The Petrified Flesh

review-cover-the petrified fleshTitle: The Petrified Flesh [Reckless 1]

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: Juvenile Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

Ever since Jacob Reckless was a child, he has been escaping to a hidden world through a portal in his father’s abandoned study. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. He’s also made many enemies and allies — most important, Fox, a beautiful shape-shifting vixen whom Jacob cares for more than he lets on.

But life in this other world is about to change. Tragedy strikes when Jacob’s younger brother, Will, follows him through the portal. Brutally attacked, Will is infected with a curse that is quickly transforming him into a Goyl — a ruthless killing machine, with skin made of stone.

Jacob is prepared to fight to save his brother, but in a land built on trickery and lies, Jacob will need all the wit, courage, and reckless spirit he can summon to reverse the dark spell — before it’s too late.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I had such high hopes for The Petrified Flesh by Cornelia Funke, so much so that I picked up all three books in the series at once before publication. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. As a caveat, if you’re a juvenile reader, you might really enjoy this book – because the plot and the fantasy worldbuilding were captivating. However, as an older reader, and someone who works as a copy editor and reviewer, I could not get into this book.

The major problem I had with the book was the writing itself. There were a lot of repeated words, redundant thoughts, Bad grammar, and missing punctuation – which, okay, some of that can be explained away as I was reading an early review copy that may or may not have been unedited… so take this particular opinion with a grain of salt. That being said, at this stage in a book’s release, where dates are set and it’s being sent out to reviewers, I don’t expect the book to be perfect, but I do expect a certain level of editing that I think this book lacked.

On top of this, the narrative voice kept using words that didn’t seem age-appropriate to the main character. I get it, big words are great for adults, but a 12-year-old isn’t going to say “desiccated” instead of “dried up”. There were other issues with the way the narrative was written, such as the big moments lacking impact, and the author’s aversion to writing in any sort of description or atmosphere. The book ended up feeling muddled and contorted. Five chapters in, I knew nothing about the characters, their lives, or the worldbuilding other than a bunch of unfamiliar names. I didn’t feel drawn in. I began to skim, and eventually, put the book down.

In the end, the book is okay for younger readers, but it’s not something I’d add to my shelf, and I can’t bring myself to push through it. This book just wasn’t for me.

Book Review: The Journal of Curious Letters

review-cover-the journal of curious lettersTitle: The Journal of Curious Letters [The 13th Reality 1]

Author: James Dashner

Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Action & Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

What if every choice you made created an alternate reality? InThe Journal of Curious Letters, Atticus Higginbottom, a.k.a. Tick, is an average thirteen-year-old boy until the day he receives a strange letter informing him that dangerous— perhaps even deadly—events have been set in motion that could result in the destruction of reality itself. Tick will be sent twelve riddles that, when solved, will reveal the time and place of an extraordinary happening. Will Tick have the courage to follow the twelve clues and discover the life he was meant to live? Tick’s journey continues in The Hunt for Dark Infinity! Mistress Jane and the Chi’karda are back. Tick and Mistress Jane race to find the deadly Dark Infinity weapon. But who will destroy it—and who will become its master?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

What a gem! I picked up this book for my 12-year-old daughter and we ended up reading it together. I’m glad to say that I honestly found this to be a joy to read.

The book was exceptionally well written and full of colorful characters. There were funny, heartwarming, action-filled, and even creepy moments throughout the book as Tick worked to solve the mystery of the 13 clues he received from one very odd Master George and his companions, Rutger and Mothball (who was definitely one of our favorite characters).

One of my favorite aspects of the book as a parent, though, was the relationship Tick had with his father. Where most children’s books seem to either omit the parents, or fall into the trope of having the parents not believe their children, James Dashner crafted The Journal of Curious Letters in such a way that not only did Tick turn to his father with his worries, but Tick’s father believed his son—and helped him! It was a great moment to witness in a children’s book, and I and my daughter had a great talk about how important it was for kids to talk to their parents about their worries, and for parents to listen to them and take them seriously.

Overall, we found loved the book. It was exciting, funny, and full of interesting characters. It’s a bit of a long book, but I’m not complaining—we never wanted to put it down, and often read 5-10  chapters together a night until it was finished.

Book Review: The Humming Room

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Title: The Humming Room

Author: Ellen Potter

Genre: Children’s, Juvenile, Mystery, adventure, fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw’s special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment’s notice. When her parents are murdered, it’s her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn’t believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.

Despite the best efforts of her uncle’s assistants, Roo discovers the house’s hidden room–a garden with a tragic secret.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

First: Gorgeous cover, and for once, entirely accurate to the story. I tip my hat to the artist.

The Humming Room is a reimagining of a familiar children’s classic: The Secret Garden. It’s a bit of  a short read (182 pages), but perfect for a younger audience. Unlike the original story of The Secret Garden, The Humming Room is a more modern retelling—but we’ll get more into that in a moment. As far as the technical aspect goes, the story is flawless. There were no misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctuation problems. The text was clear, easy-to-follow, and engaging. My only nitpick about the way it was written lies with the use of a few rather heavy-handed words. There was just a spattering of what I’d call “Thesaurus words” throughout the narrative that were a little big for your average middle-grade reader, one even made me pause and try to figure out how to pronounce it. These are few and far between though, and certainly didn’t deter me (Or the 4th grader I was reading the book with) from enjoying the story.

The story follows a young girl named Roo. Roo has led a hard life; she was raised in a broken down trailer by drug-dealer parents, and the story starts after they’ve been murdered, and Roo is left to her own devices. To be honest, the subject matter gave me a moment of pause. You don’t see a lot of children’s books where the parents aren’t loving and don’t work normal jobs. Roo was neglected. She steals, lies, and spent the first few chapters of the book living in a foster home where she was mistreated by the other foster children. It isn’t a pretty picture, and certainly not what I expected. Despite the strange and unconventional beginning, I have to admit that Ms. Potter did an excellent job breaching the subject. Sometimes children don’t grow up in a happy home. In reality children often do live in situations like Roo’s, and as much as parents would like to shield their children from believing this is true, I must commend the author on tackling the subject. If you have misgivings about such a sketchy beginning, then let me put your fears to rest: though Roo’s upbringing isn’t favorable, the topic was handled well. There was no gore, no outright mention of murder, and no visible drug use. The story is told from Roo’s point of view, and while the adults reading this book will understand clearly what has happened to Roo, the subject is skimmed over in a way that I think will keep most children from becoming upset. It’s not graphic, and it doesn’t give any images that will traumatize your children. I found that the subject matter was handled tastefully.

What follows from Roo’s rocky beginning is a story I think most children will identify with. The story is filled with a little girl’s attempts to understand the very grownup world around her. There is mystery, adventure, wonder, sadness, and even anger. Roo struggles throughout the book as she learns to come out of her shell and make friends. Sometimes she gets angry, sometimes she gets sad—and I think a lot of children will identify with her. Everyone has moments where they are so angry that they blow up and do outlandish things. Everyone gets sad and lonely, and like Roo, every child is curious and yearns for the mystery and adventure of the world around them.

I read this book along side a 10-year-old, and we both loved every minute of it. We finished the book in three days (sometimes reading up to six chapters at a time). We just couldn’t put it down!  Children will love this modern re-imagining of The Secret Garden, and I think adults will find the familiarity of the original story, hidden within it’s pages, a comfort. I loved the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a middle-grade reader. Though it’s not a happy story where everything is perfect and whimsical (not that the Secret Garden ever was!), I think it’s a wonderful adaptation of a classic story, and it could be a good opportunity to teach younger children that sometimes the world isn’t always perfect… but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy ending.

Book Review: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

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Title: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Box Set

Rating: 5 Stars

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genres: Fantasy, Children’s, Juvenile, Young Adult, Adventure

Description:

Collected together for the first time are Patricia C. Wrede’s hilarious adventure stories about Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper. Every one of Cimorene’s adventures is included in its paperback edition–Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons–in one handsome package that’s perfect for gift giving.

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Review:

This series was FANTASTIC. I first read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a  young teen in middle school, and the impression it left me with was so strong, that decades later I asked for a box set of the children’s books for Christmas. My family looked at me a little funny (being that I am now 30 years old), but lo and behold, I obtained the box set come Christmas morning. I spent the next few months reading through the four books (a chapter a day) with a 10 year old member of my family, and wasn’t surprised to find, that I still loved the series every bit as much as I did as a child.

The series follows the lives of a colorful cast of fantasy characters ranging from the princess who doesn’t  want to be a princess, to a baby dragon that wants to grow up too soon, an ill-tempered fire-witch, a boy who doesn’t realize he’s a prince, and a giant blue donkey that flies and used to be a rabbit. The pages are filled with humor, adventure, mystery, romance, magic battles, and familiar fairytale characters that have been adapted to this wonderfully entertaining series. The books are perfect for children of all ages, ranging from about 3rd grade on up—and even adults will love these light-hearted stories. I wouldn’t change a thing about these books… I’m only saddened that there weren’t more books to the series.

If you’re looking for a series of fantasy books to share with a child in your family (or at your school) you would do well to pick this series up. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Book Review: Talking To Dragons

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Title: Talking To Dragons [The Enchanted Forest Chronicles 4]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Juvenile, Children’s, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Always be polite to dragons!

That’s what Daystar’s mother taught him… and it’s a very wise lesson—one that might just help him after is mom hands him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house. Especially because his house sits on the edge of the Enchanted Forest and his mother is Queen Cimorene.

But the tricky part is figuring out what he’s supposed to do with the magic sword. Where is he supposed to go? And why does everyone he meets seem to know who he is?

It’s going to take a particularly hotheaded fire-witch, a very verbose lizard, and a badly behaved baby dragon to help him figure it all out.

And those good manners certainly won’t hurt!

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’m sad to have finally reached the end of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. This series was fantastic, and the last book, Talking To Dragons, went out with a bang. This book was a little different than the previous three in the series. It was told from the point of view of Daystar, Cimorene’s son, and follows an entirely new cast of characters (though the much-loved characters from the first three books still make an appearance). It is entirely stand alone, and easy to get into even if you haven’t read the previous books in the series. I’ll admit it took a little getting used to at the start—not because of the change of cast, but because unlike the previous three books, this book was not told from a third-person point of view, but first-person instead.

The narrative was clean, easy-to-follow, and engaging. It was well-edited with a decided lack of punctuation, spelling, or grammatical mistakes, and just like the previous books in the series, the narrative was filled with misadventures and humor. The book contained a colorful cast: an ill-tempered fire witch, a rural boy who is tragically new to adventuring, a baby dragon that wants all-too-quickly to grow up, and a curious little lizard named Suz. Their journey leads them deep into the heart of the dangerous and often-times confusing Enchanted Forest, through the perilous depths of the Caves of Chance, and straight into an all out war between the dragons and wizards. There’s romance, adventure, daring battles, mystery, and a good dose of humor within these pages that is sure to be enjoyed by children and adults of any age.

I loved this series, and I loved this book. It’s  perfect for younger readers as it is littered with familiar fairy tales, quirky characters, and silliness that would make any child grin from ear to ear. I read through this with a 10 year old, and by the end both of us were squealing in joy and laughing out loud and the antics of the characters. At one point we broke into a fit of laughter that lasted so long we had to set the book down for a few minutes just to get it out of our system. If you’re looking to introduce a child into the joys of reading fantasy, be sure to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.  If you’re an adult looking for some light-hearted reading, this is easily entertaining to readers of all ages. My only regret is that there wasn’t another book in the series. Alas, all series must end. I cannot recommend this book, and this series enough.

Book Review: Calling On Dragons

 

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Title: Calling On Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 3]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Princess Cimorene is now Queen Cimorene… and she’s faced with her first queenly crisis—the Enchanted Forest is threatened with complete destruction!

Those wizards are back—and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They’ve figured out a way to take over the forest once and for all… and what they have planned isn’t pretty.

With a little help from Kazul the dragon king, Morwen the witch, Telemain the magician, two cats, and a blue, flying donkey-rabbit named—what else?—Killer, Cimorene might just be able to stop them.

And some people think that being a queen is easy.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I can’t help but love this book and the others in it’s series. It is one of the funniest fantasy stories I’ve ever read, and even though It’s meant for Juvenile readers, I enjoyed it every bit as much as the 10 year old I’ve been reading it to.

The characters in this series are witty, stubborn, and sometimes short-tempered. They are vibrant and funny, and sure to make any child grin from ear to ear. I’ll admit, I can’t decide which character I liked best: Fiddlesticks the cat who has an alarming penchant for fish and a decided lack of common sense, or his mirror, Killer, the rabbit who can’t help but nibble on bits of magical things when he finds them. It’s no surprise the poor blotchy rabbit has turned himself into a 7’11” (at the ears) hovering, blue, insubstantial donkey with oversized wings. Killer made me laugh throughout the book.

The story was filled with adventure, hijinks, danger, and grumbly self-important wizards that have to ruin everyone’s day. The writing was engaging, clear, and easy to follow. Reading it aloud to a 10 year old, I was being begged for just “one more chapter!” on a daily basis. Most days we ended up reading three or four instead of one as we had originally planned.

Overall, I loved this book. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Would I recommend it to others? Honestly, if you have a kid, I’d make it mandatory. Any child will love this book, and it’s filled with messages of self-empowerment (males and females both!) amidst all the silliness. I think you’ll love it every bit as much as I do.

Book Review: Searching For Dragons

 

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Title: Searching For Dragons [Enchanted Forest Chronicles 2]

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Children’s, Juvenile, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper, is back—but where is Kazul the dragon? That’s what Cimorene is determined to find out.

Luckily—or perhaps not-so-luckily—she’s got help: Mendanbar, the not-very-kingly King of the Enchanted Forest, has joined her in her quest. So with the aid of a broken-down magic carpet, a leaky magical sword, and a few buckets of soapy lemon water, they set off across the Enchanted Forest to tackle the dragon-napping and save the King of the Dragons.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I cannot get enough of this series. Like the previous book in the series, Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons is a hilarious, witty romp of Juvenile Fantasy. The book follows Cimorene, a princess who doesn’t very much like the idea of being a princess, as she sets out on a mission to discover what has happened to Kazul, the King of the Dragons—her employer—who has gone mysteriously missing. She teams up with Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, as well as Morwen the Witch and Telemain the Sorcerer in order to defeat the conniving wizards in their plot to steal the magic out of the Enchanted Forest.

I’ll admit, even as an adult, this is still one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek fantasy series of all time. The characters are hilariously witty and sometimes outright absurd. Patricia C. Wrede has managed to piece together a children’s fiction that is both clever in it’s storyline, and deliciously fun for any age of reader.

In this particular story, I enjoyed the new dynamic of having a love interest pop up for Cimorene. I wasn’t sure how Ms. Wrede was going to handle a decidedly adult topic in a children’s book, but I think she handled it spectacularly well. I’ve been sharing this particular series with a 10-year old in my family over the past few weeks and we both squealed like the girls we are when the romance sub-plot of this story started to unfold. I think the author did a great job of building up the romance in a way that wasn’t in-your-face, and remained comfortable for younger audiences, while still managing to reach the point where the romance felt satisfying between the characters with little more than a few stolen kisses.

Honestly, I don’t have anything I can criticize this book for. The series is great, the novel was brilliant. I can’t wait to read book 3! Overall, I really enjoyed this story—every bit as much as the first—and I’d be happy to read it again, and share it with others. I highly recommend it for anyone who may have a younger family member to share it with, but it’s equally as entertaining for any adult who enjoys silly fantasy. I think you’ll enjoy this one.