Book Review: The Ash House

reviewcover-the ash houseTitle: The Ash House

Author: Angharad Walker

Genre: Middle-Grade, Mystery, Horror

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

When Eleven-year-old Sol arrives at the Ash House, desperate for a cure for his complex pain syndrome, he finds a community of strange children long abandoned by their mysterious Headmaster.

The children at the Ash House want the new boy to love their home as much as they do. They give him a name like theirs. They show him the dorms and tell him about the wonderful oasis that the Headmaster has created for them. But the new boy already has a name. Doesn’t he? At least he did before he walked through those gates…

This was supposed to be a healing refuge for children like him. Something between a school and a summer camp. With kids like him. With pain like his. But no one is allowed to get sick at the Ash House. NO ONE.

And then The Doctor arrives…

Strange things are about to happen at the mysterious Ash House. And the longer Sol spends on the mysterious grounds, the more he begins to forget who he is, the more the other children begin to distrust him, and the worse his pain becomes. But can he hold onto reality long enough to find an escape? And better yet, can he convince the others?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

The Ash House by Angharad Walker was a chilling tale of friendship, memory, and terror. The atmosphere of the story was unsettling and eerie in a way that is hard to explain. I’m still not sure I even have a complete grasp of what was going on at Ash House.

The book was extremely well written. The narrative was clear and flowed well, and I only found a few small typos. I loved the characters and the heavy mysteriousness of Ash House and its residents. My only real caution is that even though this is a middle-grade book, it may be a little too dark and confusing for some younger readers.

Overall, I loved the story, and if you enjoy mysteriously spooky stories, I suggest you give this one a try.

Book Review: TwoSpells

reviewcover-twospellsTitle: TwoSpells

Author: Mark Morrison

Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

Sarah and her twin brother Jon are heirs to an ancient magical realm and its most valuable treasure, an enchanted library. The library endows readers with the supernatural means of crossing into the uncharted inner-sanctum of the second dimension, inhabited with peculiar and sometimes perilous creatures.

The children are emboldened with a wondrous mystical gift that no other being has ever possessed. But fate intervenes and triggers a disastrous inter-dimensional war that disrupts the fabric of time and space spanning multiple universes, tearing destiny a new and savage pathway.

The two must rescue their world from a phantom hybrid alien race controlled by a demented dark-wizard, Jeremy Sermack. They will either assimilate or be exterminated.

Will they be the saviors the prophets spoke of, or will they retreat to the perceived safety of their distant homeland?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ve read some really great Middle-Grade fiction this year, but sadly, TwoSpells by Mark Morrison wasn’t on that list. I just could not get into this book.
 
The beginning was slow. What should have been a fast-paced terrifying wrench off the side of the road as the family’s car drifted across lanes, well, wasn’t. The omniscient voice of the narration gave the book a sort of “backseat” feel – like the story was being narrated by a 3rd party over the radio, rather than by someone living in the action of the scene. There were several times the point of view switched from being centered on the main character, Sarah, to being a 3rd person narrator, or, being in the point of view of the parents. It was weird to have it constantly switching, and it softened the impact of any tension going on.
 
Honestly, I think any middle-grade reader would be bored trying to get through this book if the first chapter or two are anything to go by. It didn’t feel engaging, and I wasn’t particularly drawn to any of the characters – and I think, for the most part, this is due to the narrator’s voice and point of view. I think if this had been rewritten in the first person, to put the reader more in the head of Sarah, or omniscient but stick to one  POV, rather than hopping around, it would have been better received. As it stands, it isn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t feel an inclination to push through it.

Book Review: The Lost Knight

reviewcover-the lost knightTitle: The Lost Knight [Lost Knight 1]

Author: Candy Atkins

Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

How am I supposed to save the world when I’m not strong, not brave, not smart, and not particularly good at most things?

I ran away from home the day after my thirteenth birthday when Auntie and her weird friend attacked me. Now I’m on the run with the Grim Reaper and a scary soldier. And I’m no longer on Earth.

They were expecting me to be a Knight. The savior that’s supposed to stop a war and prevent the invasion to Earth. But I’m not. They grabbed the wrong girl. I just don’t know how to tell them.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I couldn’t get into The Lost Knight by Candy Atkins. Although I liked the narrative voice that was used and the main character seemed interesting, something was bugging me about it as I read.

First, was the author’s penchant for arbitrarily skipping time without notice. You could be in three different locations anywhere from 2 minutes to 8 hours apart from sentence to sentence without a line break. There was no warning, no lead-up, just a sudden jump that made reading feel like stumbling through a rocky field.

The second, and more bothersome issue was the complete lack of atmosphere to the writing. The author skimmed over environments and situations with the bare minimum of details. This made it difficult to get absorbed into the story. It didn’t feel grounded or real without some sense of detail.

It would be easy to say that – hey, this is a middle grade book, it’s meant for children – and cut it some slack… but I’ve read a lot of middle grade books that were indistinguishable from their adult counterparts in writing quality. This book just wasn’t at that level yet. If you are a true middle grade reader, I’d say, give it a try. You may enjoy it more than an adult reader. If, however, you are an adult… maybe pass this one up.

Book Review: The Magician’s Workshop

reviewcover-the magician's workshopTitle: The Magician’s Workshop [Volume One]

Author: Christopher Hansen

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Reading The Magician’s Workshop by Christopher Hansen did not go how I expected. I was intrigued by the description of the book and was pretty excited to get started reading. The first chapter hit me in a way that I thought, “This is going to be a fun adventure.” I loved, what at the time, seemed to be the main character. I loved her relationship with her grandfather, the tension between her and her family, and how much of a duck out of place she was. The world-building was compelling, and I was excited to keep reading.

And then the second chapter hit…. And the third… and I was over it. The first chapter was exactly what I was looking for in a fantasy story, and then chapter two and three barreled in with a wild bunch of children, and the repeated thought of “this day is perfect” from one of the characters… Over and over, and it felt like filler. Two whole chapters could have been erased and not changed the story in the slightest, and it ruined that first chapter for me. So, I stopped reading. I’m DNFing this book – because I can’t push myself past those first three chapters. I don’t want to have to push myself to read a book where only 1/3 of the book is interesting to me. Maybe it gets better, I don’t know, but this is where the author lost me.

Book Review: Wondrous

reviewcover-wondrousTitle: Wondrous

Author: Travis M. Riddle

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

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.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

For a brief moment when I picked this book up, I had hope. The synopsis sounded interesting, and in general, I love middle-grade books, so I was excited to pick up Wondrous by Travis M. Riddle. At worst, it certainly couldn’t be less than 3 stars, could it?

Sigh – and then I started reading. I’ll be honest, I only got about three pages in. The narrative was so disjointed that it was hard to understand what was even going on. It was like trying to read the story through the experiences of a child with severe Attention Deficit Disorder. There was description in clipped sentences with no heart or internal voice behind it – like it’d been sucked dry of personality. The main character flipped a blanket and ended up in another world, and met a creature that wasn’t human… and there was no reaction.

Maybe the book has a fantastic plot, maybe it has amazing world-building – but if the entirety of this book is written as it was written in the first three pages, I don’t see how it could be enjoyed. I am setting this one aside as a DNF.

Book Review: The Passage at Moose Beach

reviewcover-the passage at moose beachTitle: The Passage At Moose Beach

Author: Michael Foster

Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy Adventure

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

In the wilds of Idaho, an adventurous young girl stumbles into an alternate dimension that’s plagued by a tyrannical creature and faces a life-threatening curse as she struggles to find her way home. Eleven-year-old Alicia encounters unusual, surprising friends and terrifying enemies as she embarks on an unexpected and magical journey in nature.

The story takes the reader to a land not so far from home, yet farther than imagined, perhaps another realm, that looks much like what we see around us on earth today, but nothing is what it seems. Alicia sets out on a difficult journey to discover a way home, finding compassion and friendship along the way. She meets a squirrel named Mickey, a jay named Briar, and Fiona, the enigmatic deer, who help her fight terrible foes and comes face to face with Bristleback, the fearsome mountain troll. Though Alicia and her friends help each other overcome crippling fear, can they find a way to stop “The Drying” which threatens them all?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wish I could say I enjoyed The Passage at Moose Beach by Michael Foster – The cover was cute, what I read of the synopsis sounded fun… but I’ll be honest, I was underwhelmed. The problem for me wasn’t the story or the plot itself, but rather the way the book was written.

Frankly, I found the prologue of the book to be useless in the context of the story – there wasn’t any information or particular scene there that was necessary to the whole of the book – it was more of a short synopsis of the setting than anything else. I thought, surely, the story will start in chapter one then… but after six pages of description of the setting – down to the weather patterns from month to month… I gave up. I did not finish this book. I was bored, and honestly, I can’t see a middle-grade reader sitting through that many pages of setting description without anything actually happening. I certainly can’t imagine the entire book being written this way without becoming a slog.

In the end, I set the book aside. The writing didn’t draw me in. A good editor might be able to shave this down into a more concise and engaging story, but I don’t think it’s there yet.

Book Review: The Last Windwitch

reviewcover- the last windwitchTitle: The Last Windwitch

Author: Jennifer Adam

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

This delightfully classic middle grade fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and The Book of Boy, follows an unlikely young witch as she discovers that she is the key to saving her kingdom.

Brida is content in her small village of Oak Hollow. There, she’s plenty occupied trying to convince her fickle magic to do what it’s meant to in her work as a hedgewitch’s apprentice—until she accidentally catches the attention of the wicked queen.

On the run from the queen’s huntsman and her all-seeing Crow spies, Brida discovers the truth about her family, her magic, and who she is destined to be—and that she may hold the power to defeating the wicked queen and setting the kingdom right again.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adam is a delightful Middle-Grade Fantasy, perfect for both children and adults alike. The story follows the young Brida, an orphan raised as an apprentice to a Hedgewitch – the only problem being that she isn’t very good at being an apprentice Hedgewitch. She’s terrible at identifying plants, and nothing she brews up ever seems to work correctly. The book follows her journey of self-discovery as old secrets and magics unfurl, and the little witch finds herself pitted against an evil Queen. The book is filled with magic, mystery, fantastical creatures, looming undead creatures, and one little girl struggling to find her place in the world.

I found the world-building engaging, the writing clear and easy to follow, and the characters delightful (well, all except a certain evil queen). I found myself pulled into the world of The Last Windwitch right away, and the story leapt along at a quick sprint without ever feeling rushed. If you enjoy Middle-Grade Fantasy, or stories that have that fairy-tale feel without being overly familiar, I highly recommend you pick up this little gem of a book. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: Cinders & Sparrows

reviewcover-cinders and sparrowsTitle: Cinders & Sparrows

Author: Stefan Bachmann

Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

When a scarecrow climbs over the garden wall, delivering twelve-year-old orphan Zita Brydgeborn a letter saying she has inherited a distant castle, she jumps at the chance of adventure. But little does she know that she is about to be thrust into a centuries-old battle between good and evil. Blackbird Castle was once home to a powerful dynasty of witches, all of them now dead under mysterious circumstances. Zita is the last of her line. And Zita, unfortunately, doesn’t know the first thing about being a witch.

As she begins her lessons in charms and spells with her guardian, Mrs. Cantanker, Zita makes new allies—a crow, a talking marble head, two castle servants just her age named Bram and Minnifer, and the silent ghost of a green-eyed girl. But who is friend and who is foe? Zita must race to untangle her past and find the magic to save the home she’s always hoped for. Because whatever claimed the souls of her family is now after her.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Cinders & Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann was a fantastic Middle-Grade Fantasy Adventure, full of magic, deception, the dead, and an adorable little ghost puppy. What more could a reader ask for? I sincerely enjoyed every moment of this fantastic tale.

The characters were endearing or in the case of a certain wanna-be-witch whom I shall not name… at least interesting. The setting was gloriously rich and full of fantastical creatures and magical nonsense to delight and enthrall any reader. The narrative was well-written, well-edited, and sucked me into the story from the very beginning until the very end.

I ended up reading through this little gem in one sitting and would heartily recommend it to any middle-grade reader (or older). Don’t let the fact that the main character is only 12 keep you from enjoying this book. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: Poseidon’s Academy

review-cover-poseidon's academyTitle: Poseidon’s Academy

Author: Sarah A. Vogler

Genre: Fantasy, Middle-Grade

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Getting sucked into a whirlpool, sleeping in monster-infested woods, and battling psycho sea-nymphs was not how Hailey planned to spend her first year of high school. But when you’re the only Zeus in the world, life tends to get a bit complicated…

The Great Battle saw the world changed forever when humans killed the gods and absorbed their powers. One power was coveted above all others: Zeus’s. Thirteen-year-old Hailey Woods is the first Zeus in over a century. Unlike everyone else, she hates her powers because of an ancient prophecy that claims a Zeus will have to save the world someday.

Hailey doesn’t want to save the world. She wants to be a normal teenager, whose biggest dilemma in life is deciding what to eat for lunch, rather than training to become the ultimate weapon. Poseidon’s Academy, an underwater palace where her powers don’t work, was meant to give her that opportunity. But when she arrives, she discovers the sea-nymphs living there are plotting to resurrect the gods, and Hailey must find a way to stop them before they can enact the prophecy.

So much for normal!

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

My review of Poseidon’s Academy by Sarah A. Vogler is a bit polarized. Although listed as Young Adult fiction, I assure you that this is very much a middle-grade book. The characters are 13-years-old, despite the fact that they’re on their way to high school. As a middle-grade book, if I were a middle-grade reader, I’d probably love this book. It was full of daring adventure, rule-breaking, and revenge against bullies.

As an adult reader, I do have some bones to pick, though. The editing of this book was lackluster. I came across various misused words, sentences that were incomplete, incorrect punctuation, and misspellings – and that’s taking into account and disregarding cultural differences, as the author is clearly from another country than my own. I found a time or two when the wrong tense was used, common says were butchered, and glaringly when the narrative contradicted itself on the first page. I’d venture to say that any middle-grade readers out there may not notice the majority of these mistakes, but as an editor, I was cringing. It should have been cleaned up.

My next major qualm was the world building – which, again, if I was thirteen, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but as an adult…. it was full of holes. To be honest, it was just flimsy in general. I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular, but for a book that was firmly rooted in a world very different from our own, a little more depth would have been nice. This was one of those books where the reader is presented with an outlandish world and expected to not question anything the author puts before them – and I find that hard to do. The characters, adults and children alike, lacked depth or any sort of individual characteristics to really make their personalities stand out. The adults often spoke and acted very much like the children – who acted older than they were. It was indistinguishable. Poor decisions and danger were around every corner, and there were no overall consequences…. and yet there was death and gore and torture – which, in combination with the rest of the lack of world-building, just kind of made it all fall apart. It was hard to distinguish the reading age meant for this book, other than the character’s own ages as an indicator.

Did I enjoy the book? Sure. It was cute, I like the concept behind the story, and it was fairly easy to read – which is why I gave this three stars. The book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. If you like middle-grade fantasy stories in the vein of Harry Potter, you’ll probably like this book – but if you’re an adult, you probably won’t enjoy it as much as you are meant to.

Book Review: The Tail of Emily Windsnap

review-cover-the tail of emily windsnapTitle: The Tail of Emily Windsnap [Emily Windsnap 1]

Author: Liz Kessler

Genre: Middle Grade, Children’s, Fantasy

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Everybody has a secret.

Mine’s a little different, though. I didn’t even know about it until the first day of swim class in seventh grade. You see, I’d never been allowed to go in the water before. As it turns out, swimming comes naturally to me. Very naturally. In fact. So naturally that you might even say… well, it’s true.

Here’s my secret:

I figured out that I’m a mermaid.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have to give this book a little bit of leeway because it was most definitely a middle-grade book geared towards young children. So, we’ll start off with the good—the book was extremely well edited. It was easy to read, fast-paced, and had enough humor and shocking moments to fully entertain my 13-year-old daughter (who I read it with). Emily’s adventure in becoming a mermaid and seeking out her father was an interesting plot, and it was very entertaining. My daughter loved the book!

From an adult’s point of view, though… It was cheesy. Very cheesy. The characters were one-dimensional, even pretty stereotyped at times. The twists in the book were ridiculously easy to see figure out well before the characters figured them out, and the world-building was rather unimaginative and well, silly. Mermaid reporters and underwater limo’s with seatbelts was a bit much.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun book, and my daughter was entertained… but as an adult, had I read this on my own, it would have easily gotten 1-star. The last few chapters of the book were a bit of a letdown, and definitely very unrealistically resolved, and even my daughter had to admit that it got pretty ridiculous. It didn’t feel like there was anything to learn from this book. There were no real life lessons or situations I could talk about with my daughter, other than the main character’s terrible decisions to lie to her mother, sneak away in the middle of the night to swim in the ocean, break into a prison (no, I’m not kidding), and generally cause havoc for all the adults in her life. She was a bratty 12-year-old that didn’t think about the consequences of her actions, and somehow avoided all of them. The book was pure fluff.

Overall I gave this book two stars, because although I wasn’t a fan of it, and it was definitely not geared towards me, my teenage daughter did enjoy it. Was it her favorite book? No. Was it a good book? Meh… It was entertainment and served its purpose, but I don’t know that I’d delve deeper into the series.