Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster
Publisher: Random House Bullseye Books
Release Date: 1961
Length: 256 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . .

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

my review

I had never read The Phantom Tollbooth as a child, and I had no idea what my students and I were about to embark on this past year while reading.

The Skinny

Milo is not your typical boy. No, he doesn’t find joy or even contentment in anything. Everything is boring and useless. What is this life even for? Until one day he arrives home to find a tollbooth waiting with a manual and coinage, ready to take him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Through a series of adventures and characters along the way, Milo travels around the kingdom and is soon tasked with rescuing twin princesses Rhyme and Reason. Nothing has been the same in the kingdom since they were banished, and many want them to set things to rights.

 

The Players

Milo – a young boy who is utterly bored with everything in life, nothing satisfies him or even slightly makes him content

Tock – a “watch dog” – a dog with a clock that can fly

The Humbug – a bug who can never make up his mind and is in general disagreeable, sometimes a hindrance

The Quote

You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.

The Highs and Lows

  • Milo. He is a young boy, but his character grated on my nerves…at first. Milo doesn’t see the point in anything. He doesn’t see the point in learning at all. Words didn’t matter. Slowly, as Milo traipsed from place to place, he slowly morphed and changed and grew. By the end of the book, he was the exact opposite of the boy he was at the beginning, and I liked that. He learns to talk to people and mean things, too.
  • Abstractions. Each of the places Milo visits and all of his tasks are rather abstract, so they aren’t really for younger readers. I’d say 10-12 is the right age to read this for the first time, especially independently. I read this with a group of my sixth-grade students, and I will say they remembered more intricacies and nuances of characters, actions, or words from previous days’ readings than I did. They also understood the jokes, which is 70% or more of the book. The play on words, puns, deeper meanings, and overall abstract language about abstract concepts were cause for pause and thought.

  • Adventures. As Milo moves around the Kingdom of Wisdome (see map), he has pitfalls and lessons learned along the way to his ultimate goal: reaching the Castle in the Sky and saving Rhyme and Reason. As Milo and Tock travel, they meet other characters (Whether Man, the Mathemagician, Kakofonous Discord, King Azaz the Unabridged to name a few) who help teach Milo something, and a few characters depart certain magical items to Milo that he will need to accomplish his mission. For example, he learns there is an almost limitless number of words, but choosing the right words for every occasion is important. He ends up in some serious situations and some funny ones, like when everyone else was eating such tasty treats at the King Azaz’s feast.
  • Lack of engagement. This is a slow book to wade through. Yes, you have to wade. Slowly. You want to finish the book, but you also want to move on to different, more engaging and fun reads. It takes a while to get through, but I appreciated the growth Milo experienced.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Norton Juster is an architect and planner, professor emeritus of design at Hampshire College, and the author of a number of highly acclaimed children’s books, including The Dot and the Line, which was made into an Academy Award-winning animated film. He has collaborated with Sheldon Harnick on the libretto for an opera based on The Phantom Tollbooth. The musical adaptation, with a score by Arnold Black, premiered in 1995. An amateur cook and professional eater, Mr. Juster lives with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Review: The Piper’s Price

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Piper’s Price
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Release Date: February 2017
Length: 309 pages
Series?: The Neverland Wars #2
Genre: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Fantasy, YA

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

Peter is plotting his retaliation against the latest bombing. Neverland needs an army, and Peter Pan is certain children will join him once they know what is at stake. The lost boys and girls are planning an invasion in suburbia to recruit, but in order to deliver their message, they will need the help of an old and dangerous associate—the infamous Pied Piper.

Hunting him down will require a spy in the real world, and Gwen soon finds herself in charge of locating the Piper and cutting an uncertain deal with him. She isn’t sure if Peter trusts her that much, or if he’s just trying to keep her away from him in Neverland. Are they friends, or just allies? But Peter might not even matter now that she’s nearly home and meeting with Jay again.

The Piper isn’t the only one hiding from the adults’ war on magic though, and when Gwen goes back to reality, she’ll have to confront one of Peter’s oldest friends… and one of his earliest enemies.

my review

The Skinny

Peter Pan must save Neverland! Grown ups in Reality have upped their game, and these are no longer idle threats. The War is near, and Peter cannot win it without more children. In order to gain the following Neverland needs, Peter needs the Piper’s help. Except they are nearly arch enemies. Then there’s the problem of some puzzling tokens that must be found to summon the Piper.

Since Peter can’t go himself, he sends Gwen back to Reality to hide with an old Native American friend. Peter’s perfect pairing is no surprise – Tiger Lily will help Gwen along the way and keep her safe from the Anomalous Activity Department. While gathering intel, Gwen is reunited with a friend of her own. Once returning to Reality, Gwen has no one besides Tiger Lily. Except there’s Jay – the boy she is crushing on – and whose party she literally vanished from at the end of the first book. He can keep a secret, but her magic might give her away.

Gwen also meets an interesting group of ladies while waiting for her moment to meet and lure the dangerous Pied Piper into Peter’s plan. Once it arrives, Gwen is thrown for quite a loop. Luring the Piper is much more difficult than she ever imagined – and the stakes are high.

 

The Players

Gwen – 16 years old, struggling with growing up and remaining innocent

Peter Pan – 14 years old, struggling to find the Piper and protect Neverland

Lasiandra – the blonde mermaid who developed a friendship with Gwen, despite mermaids not being trustworthy

Tiger Lily – a grown woman now, living in a trailer

Jay – Gwen’s crush, good at keeping secrets

Dawn – Tiger Lily’s friend, she agrees to help Gwen find one of the puzzle items

Piper – the magical pipe-playing man who lures children away,

 

The Quote

“This isn’t about you or your children. It’s about the greater issue of children’s autonomy and Neverland’s right to exist.”

 

The Highs and Lows

  • Plot. Unlike the first book that had an unclear plot line, there is a clear and strong plot that pulls in many characters and presents new situations and new information for readers that continue to make the war Peter is fighting more real. This book picks up a short time after the end of the first book when Gwen and her sister fled Jay’s party with the black coats of the Anomalous Activity Department on their heels. They want to strip Neverland of magic forever. The bombings are becoming more frequent and dangerous in Neverland.
  • Overarching Conflict. To preserve Neverland and prevent the grown-ups in Reality from stealing Neverland’s magic, Peter needs to recruit an army of children. For once, Peter has a plan. Unfortunately, it involves dealing with the devil: the Piper. Peter and Gwen must solve a riddle and bring the required tokens for the Piper to appear. Solving the riddles proves quite difficult and requires the help of others.
  • Lasiandra. The blonde-haired mermaid is more than meets the eye. While mermaids are not to be trusted, she somehow gains a glimmer of trust from Gwen. She and Gwen develop a friendship that is mutually beneficial. While Lasiandra is helping Gwen in the short term, she will reap her rewards in the long run. She provides Gwen with important information and also gifts her a mermaid scale for future use to call her when Gwen should need her.
  • Gwen’s Dilemmas. Gwen experiences a series of dilemmas throughout this installment. It made her more real and believable as a character. First of them all is the fact that Gwen is now 16 – the oldest of the Lost Boys of Neverland. For her, it is harder to engage in Neverland. In fact, she is losing the ability to fly. It is becoming cumbersome to play along with the Lost Boys and their games. Then there is the fact that Peter sends her away – back to reality, hiding out in Tiger Lily’s trailer. While Peter claims she is helping and doing the important work to finding the Piper, Gwen can’t help but wonder why Peter wanted to send her away from Neverland. Was she the right person for this job? Was this mission even real? Does Peter trust her? Is he going to follow through? Her doubts are real and even more real for a teenage girl. She doesn’t feel that she belongs in either place – Neverland or Reality.
  • Tiger Lily. Who knew she’d been living in Reality all this time? She is living as an actual Native American, leading a relatively quiet life. Apparently she, along with her friends (princesses?), were part of the MRP, Magic Relocation Program, and have denounced all things magic since. Most of them want nothing to do with magic – or Peter – anymore after all these years. Tiger Lily and her friend Dawn are the most helpful to Gwen. While Gwen hides out at Tiger Lily’s, she acts sort of like a surrogate parent, but more like an older, wiser friend. And she’s the only one who openly will help Peter, causing me to question what Peter had done in the past to these Neverland migrants.
  • Peter. Again Peter seemed one-dimensional and elusive. I was expecting him to have greater exposure in this book and to show character growth. The closest he came was his reassurance to Gwen about choosing and trusting her above all.
  • The Piper. He is revered as notorious and sinister. After solving the token riddles and presenting the Piper with them, Gwen soon finds she is in over her head. Acquiring the Piper’s assistance is not as easy as handing over a pirate patch and other baubles. His price is much higher: the crown of Princess Charlotte of Wales, a root cutting from the Never Tree, and of course his pipe. Ultimately, the Piper wants to be finished with the mermaids, whose magic can always find him thanks to the stars. So he needs something more powerful than them from Neverland – the Never Tree cutting. It could be the most damaging thing of all to Neverland.
  • Jay. I thought we saw the last of Jay when Gwen fled his party at the end of the first book, but her crush on him seems to have a hold over her. While contacting him at all was extremely risky, Jay seemingly knows how to keep secrets – and big ones. I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t spill the beans and give away her presence – especially to her parents – but I suppose that shows the distance and disconnect they had before she disappeared. What did Jay really know about Gwen anyway? They obviously weren’t that close. I did find it ironic though, that Gwen was the one with the crush on him, but anytime she told him to jump, he asked how high…or rather, what hour of the night and which remote location to meet at. There was more to Jay, though. He actually listened to and supported Gwen, unlike her parents or even Peter.

 

The last two-thirds of the book really rocketed the tension and the danger Gwen and Peter and all of their friends are in. While they secured the Piper, it comes at an additional cost, and the dark side of adulthood that Peter has pronounced all along is finally seen in itself. I hope this increased anxiety and action flows through into setting up another great plot line to come next.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

6545831Audrey Greathouse is a Seattle-based author of science-fiction and fantasy. Raised in the suburbs, she became a writer after being introduced to NaNoWriMo during her sophmore year of high school. Since then, she has drafted more than a dozen books, 100 sonnets, and 800 other poems, and a handful of short stories and one-act plays.

After dropping out of her university and beginning training as a circus performer on the aerial silks, she returned to school to study at Southern New Hampshire University College of Online and Continuing Education to earn her B.A. in English Language and Literature, with a minor in Computer Information Technologies.

Audrey Greathouse is a die-hard punk cabaret fan, and pianist of fourteen years. She’s usually somewhere along the west coast, and she is always writing.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Wish Upon A Bear

ABOUT THE BOOK

33232731Title: Wish Upon A Bear
Author: Harmony Raines
Release Date: December 2016
Length: 102 pages
Series?: Return to Bear Bluff #6
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance

Curvy girl Zara is used to working over the Holidays. The pay is good, and it fills the lonely hours, when everyone else is celebrating with their family. This year is different. As a newly qualified teacher, she’s given herself a Christmas vacation.
So, when she is invited by her old friend Dylan and his family, to spend the holidays in Bear Bluff, she agrees. There she finds something much better than a gift under the Christmas tree!

Theo can’t believe his luck. He arrives to help Dylan mend his grandpa’s roof, and instead meets his mate! All his Christmases have come at once. There is only one thing that is stopping him having his best Christmas ever—Dominic.

Dominic is a young offender who is shadowing Theo as part of the project Dylan has set up to help young people who need a fresh start. The problem is, Theo has a feeling Dominic is about to skip town, and break his probation. Can he and Zara work together, to make sure everyone in Bear Bluff has the best Christmas ever?

And will Zara’s dreams all come true, when she makes a wish upon a bear?

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

 

my review

The Players

Zara – a curvy girl with a bad past; she has no family and is eager to start her first job

Theo – employee in Dylan’s business

Dylan – the boss man and Zara’s friend from her young juvie days

Dominic – a young man separated from his brother after their parents’ deaths

The Quote

“I can guarantee that some time alone with him, a little Christmas magic, and a lot of sex, and you will see he’s the man for you.”

 

The Highs and Lows

  • Zara. She is a sweet young lady who is haunted by the bad rap of her past – a past that includes abandonment by her only living parent. She is on her own and struggling with the personal aspect of being alone.
  • Theo. A roofer who works for Dylan in Bear Bluffs. He grew up in the area and moved away, and came back to make his home here. Now he just needs the family he dreams about.
  • Dylan. Zara’s friend from her teenage and juvie days. They have stayed friends over the years, and Zara is back for the first time to meet his family and stay for the holidays. Dylan seems to have his own motivations for invinting Zara to stay through the holidays, including hiring her to work in conjunction with his company and the local high school to help struggling students like they once were.
  • Dominic. A young man working for Dylan and under Theo’s direction. It was unclear if this was a legal relationship or if Theo just took Dominic under his wing out of kindness, but regardless, Theo is adamant about trying to help Dominic and keep him on the straight and narrow. Dominic is evasive and vague about his past and circumstances, and they are heartbreaking at that.
  • Kindness. I loved that even those this was a fast-paced, linear plot, all of the characters – the major and the minor – show kindness. Bear Bluffs is a town that you would want to live with a supportive, kind community.
  • Shapeshifting. What is going on with this? There’s not backstory, no explanation, and it makes the plot seem a little absurd.

The Take-Away

While the full synopsis on Goodreads states this can be read as a standalone, but I don’t think that is the case. There wasn’t enough backstory about the shape shifting into bears. From my accounting, Dylan, his son, Theo, Dominic and perhaps a few other individuals who work for Dylan are shape shifters.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

I enjoyed the story, but I think readers need to start at the beginning of the series to get the full picture of these novels.

Audiobook Review: The Reluctant Assassin

15997095Title: The Reluctant Assasin
Author: Eoin Colfer
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: May 2013
Length: 341 pages
Series?: W.A.R.P. #1
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Fantasy 

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

The reluctant assassin is Riley, a Victorian boy who is suddenly plucked from his own time and whisked into the twenty-first century, accused of murder and on the run.

Riley has been pulled into the FBI’s covert W.A.R.P. operation (Witness Anonymous Relocation Program). He and young FBI Agent Chevie Savano are forced to flee terrifying assassin-for-hire Albert Garrick, who pursues Riley through time and will not stop until he has hunted him down. Barely staying one step ahead, Riley and Chevie must stay alive and stop Garrick returning to his own time with knowledge and power that could change the world forever.

REVIEW

The Skinny

Riley is a teen orphan living in Victorian London. He is an apprentice for an illusionist who has fallen on hard times and now uses his powers for evil and can be hired as an assassin. During one of these schemes, Garrick encourages Riley to commit murder – his first killing.

Thankfully, the victim turns out to be from the future and part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP). Riley and Garrick travel via wormhole to modern-day London, where Riley are helped by Chevron Savano, who is there as punishment after a disastrous operation.

Together Riley and Chevie evade Garrick, who is not quite right after his trip through the wormhole: he truly is evil, and he know holds all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track the pair down and use Chevie’s timekey to go back to Victorian London.

 

The Players

Riley – a teen orphan boy

Albert Garrick – the evil illusionist assassin who wants to travel back in time and ruin the entire world

Chevron Savano – a 17 year old FBI agent in London as punishment

Professor Smart – also known as Agent Orange, he is Chevie’s superior

The Quote

“And God bless Harry Potter is all I can say. If not for him, all of London would have been consumed by the Dark Arts.”

“Keep eating,” said Chevie, thinking she would have to watch the videos with him next time.

The Narration

Max Caufield does the narration for the audiobook, and he is a talented man! He was able to portray Garrick’s depravity and ghastly character in such an incredible way, and then completely switch in his portrayals of Riley and Chevie. I did have to get used to his British accent. It was a bit gravelly and I had to pay closer attention, but once I got in the listening groove I was mesmerized by his storytelling.

Highs and Lows

  • POVs. The story is told through the alternating POVs of Riley, Chevie, and Garrick. While sometimes things are repeated through each of their viewpoints, I found that it was interesting what each character chose to pay attention to and also to dismiss.
  • Settings. Just like the POVs flip flop, so does the setting. Riley and Garrick originally start out in 1898 London and through a series of events are transported 110 years into the future. The old fashioned juxtaposed with the futuristic makes for one culture shock. The culture shocks for Riley were hysterical. Chevie told him at one point she would get him McDonald’s later, and he was wanting to know why she was bringing him a Scotsman. Oh, sweet Riley.
  • Description. Colfer does an incredibly fantastic job of describing Victorian London. The imagery was of the same level I found with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series in the way that I could clearly and easily picture the setting and goings on.
  • WARP. The government has been utilizing time travel to hide key witnesses from prominent trails via the wormhole. These witnesses travel back to a time where/when they are safe from the reach of the bad guys, and then brought back forward in time to testify.
  • Riley. As I said, sweet Riley. He is quite naive and innocent, but he is also pretty witty. His character reminded me of the orphan Annie
  • Chevie. Is awesome. She is sassy and scrappy. While she could kick butt and handle things, she is also only 17 and had her moments she had to face when she was overwhelmed.
  • Garrick. Garrick is the most fowl of creatures. He was slimy and horrendous in the worst possible way. Abhorrent. Abominable.Appalling. Chilling to think that this man comes to hold an intense amount of knowledge with the most terrifying objectives. While I shudder at Garrick, I also can appreciate his ultimate villainy.
  • The Epilogue. The book didn’t seem to really need the epilogue, and in fact it felt wasted. The epilogue didn’t feel like it fit, as if it was tacked on at the last moment in order to leave the door open to turn this into a series when that wasn’t really the intention.
  • Caution! I do caution younger readers who cut their teeth on the Artemis Fowl series. This new Colfer series is not for the faint of heart. It is gory and gruesome and graphic right from the beginning.

The Take-Away

I was sad to see the breakup of Riley and Chevie. They were such a pair! While the histories of the characters piqued me, I was pleasantly surprised that Colfer provided their backstories throughout the story as the plot progressed. Readers learn how Riley came to be an orphan, why Garrick became what he is, and what really happened to Chevie on her botched mission in L.A.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

This has the makings of another fabulous series, so it’s probably one you want to buy.

 

About the Author


10896Eoin Colfer (pronounced Owen) was born in Wexford on the South-East coast of Ireland in 1965, where he and his four brothers were brought up by his father and mother, who were both educators.

He received his degree from Dublin University and began teaching primary school in Wexford. He has lived and worked all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Italy. After the publication of the Artemis Fowl novels, Eoin retired from teaching and now writes full time. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: The Neverland Wars

27396942Title: The Neverland Wars
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Release Date: May 2016
Length: 302 pages
Series?: The Neverland Wars #1
Genre: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Fantasy, YA

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

Magic can do a lot—give you flight, show you mermaids, help you taste the stars, and… solve the budget crisis? That’s what the grown-ups will do with it if they ever make it to Neverland to steal its magic and bring their children home.

However, Gwen doesn’t know this. She’s just a sixteen-year-old girl with a place on the debate team and a powerful crush on Jay, the soon-to-be homecoming king. She doesn’t know her little sister could actually run away with Peter Pan, or that she might have to chase after her to bring her home safe. Gwen will find out though—and when she does, she’ll discover she’s in the middle of a looming war between Neverland and reality.

She’ll be out of place as a teenager in Neverland, but she won’t be the only one. Peter Pan’s constant treks back to the mainland have slowly aged him into adolescence as well. Soon, Gwen will have to decide whether she’s going to join impish, playful Peter in his fight for eternal youth… or if she’s going to scramble back to reality in time for the homecoming dance.

REVIEW

The Skinny

This fairy tale retelling retains many of the classic elements of the original Peter Pan, but as this is a coming-of-age story told from Gwen’s POV and set in today’s modern world of technology, it has some variations and twists to the relationship of Peter with the outside world.

In this version, Gwen is a 16 year-old teen worried about trivialities like homecoming when her younger sister, Rose, goes missing. A special police force investigates and determines that none other than Peter Pan could be behind Rose’s disappearance.

The following night, Peter and Rose return to convince Gwen to traverse to Neverland because she is such a good storyteller. While Gwen faces the dilemma of staying with her parents and going with her sister, she ultimately goes with the intention of returning in a week with Rose.

The Players

Gwen – AKA The Wendy, 16 year old struggling with growing up

Rose – Gwen’s younger sister, she receives more attention from their parents

Peter – he is much the same as in the original, only slightly older

Hollyhock – AKA Tinkerbell minus the jealous

Bramble – a fairy prone to gorging on food

Dillweed – a fairy prone to drink

Bard – the oldest girl, very motherly

Cynara – the brunette mermaid

Eglantine – the red-headed mermaid

Lasiandra – the blonde mermaid

The Quote

There was the inescapable sense that she was being forced in a direction she did not want to go. It was not that the transition into adulthood was hard because it was a transition, but rather because it was hurtling her toward something unpleasant and irreversible.

The Highs and Lows

First, I’ve never read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I have seen Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) and the live-action 1960 version starring Mary Martin, as well as Hooked.

  • Similarities. There are several elements that remain synonymous from the original telling. There are still mermaids, Indians, pirates, the crocodile, the Lost Boys, “I believe,” the shadow, and the fairy. The concept of coming-of-age and struggling to straddle the odd and difficult time of being a teen, stuck between wanting to remain a child and being forced into becoming an adult, is very present.
  • Differences.
    • Peter. In this retelling, Peter is older due to all the trips back and forth from Neverland. Age has caught up with Peter, which was not accounted for in the original. It’s not quite clear exactly how old he is, but he is at least fourteen. He appears to be closer to Gwen’s age.
    • The original was set in the mid-1950s (ish) with quite a focus on decorum and expectations (for Wendy, mostly)  from the parents. This retelling is set in the modern-day technology-fueled world and while Gwen does have some heat from her mother, it is not comparable.
    • While in the original there was Tinker Bell, in this retelling there are several fairies. Peter’s near constant companion is Hollyhock, although she does not exhibit the jealous aspects as her original counterpart. Instead, she is just a rather curious fairy. Another important fairy to the story was Dillweed.
    • While the pirates were not actual characters, they existed in a story retold while Gwen was in Neverland. There was no particular character that correlated to Hook. This aspect of the original was very glossed over and generalized, and only existed to show how unreliable Peter is in that he changes the reality of his stories with each telling, as children are wont to do.
    • There are only three mermaids, and they are as conniving and vicious as they seemed before, except there were some discrepancies. Peter tells Gwen to never get too close to them, but also that they cannot tell a lie. Anything they says is the truth. Peter seeks them out because they know things. Lasiandra sort of befriends Gwen in a frenemy way.
    • Gwen is the reproduction of Wendy, in today’s time. She is slightly older than previously portrayed, and thus she exudes more common sense and introspective thought on the entire matter of remaining in Neverland versus returning. She is also able to understand the difference between staying in Neverland for herself and staying for Rose, and allows Rose to make the choice for herself. One important aspect to point out is that Gwen isn’t brought to Neverland to be the Lost Boys’s mother – they already have one.
    • Bard exhibits as the Lost Boys’s mother. She has been in Neverland quite a time, and is very good at realizing the needs of the children. When Gwen first arrives, Bard takes care of her.
    • The Lost Boys are not only boys! They are a mix of girls and boys of all ages, who have been in Neverland a varying amount of time. Unlike in the original where the Boys were easily escalated to bickering, antics, and shenanigans, in this version the group was more cohesive and meshed well. They got along and supported and helped one another. While their personalities seemed to meld and blend together in the original, each of the Boys had a distinctive story and personality in the retelling – and they are hilarious!
    • Second star to the right is only one way of getting to Neverland, and Peter explains to Wendy that they cannot go that route because “they” are watching. It’s like the front door to Neverland, and they have to go in the secret back way.
  • The Twist. The strange “police” force that shows up after Rose’s disappearance prompts Gwen’s father to have a sit-down with her to explain some things, like why it was ingrained in her to always keep her bedroom windows closed. The world is run on magic, and of course only adults are conscientious enough to know how to use magic wisely. It is a secret kept from the children of the world and hoarded by particular groups. While Gwen thought her father was like a CPA, his job is drastically different. This moment in the book reminded me of when Harry and Ron learn the truth behind Mr. Weasley’s job at the Ministry of Magic. But there’s more: all of the innovations of the world have been powered by magic, until the world could catch up to the technology (usually about a 20 year delay). It was unclear, but there seemed to be a limited supply of magic, so it is very important for the world to catch up and lessen their use of magic.
  • Neverland. While Neverland is the primary setting of the book, I’d say for 90% of it, we don’t see very much of it. It is as standard as the island depiction in the Disney cartoon movie. I was hoping for more development of the island, more depth to explore in this retelling.
  • The Plot. The plot was weak. It didn’t seem to hold a lot of depth, complexity, or real progress. The story was not plot-driven, despite having action vignettes. In fact, it was hard for me to tell where the plot was really going. At the end I could see bits and pieces and kind of start putting things together with what I’ll explain below, but it was really difficult because there wasn’t much given to us as readers.
  • The War. The entire concept of the use of magic in the world is sort of explained to Gwen, but not where it originates from, which I am assuming is Neverland (although I don’t know how) BECAUSE Peter is forced into protecting Neverland from attacks. It’s not really explained how magic works in Neverland and in the world. Neverland had suffered an extensive attack before, and another serious one while Gwen is there. There isn’t much explanation about the war, how or why it started. It’s just an afterthought in the background. I believe this will come into full effect in the second book for a couple of reasons, but we aren’t given much to go on, and the lack of clarity makes it a little confusing and dilutes the enjoyment of being in Neverland. If this element of the plot was fully developed, I think it would have made the pacing of the book (and an actual plot) move along quickly with more action and less stories.
  • The Villain. In the classic, Captain Hook is the villain. He is constantly ragging on Peter, but not in this version. Instead, the adults of the world are the villains. The entire adult machination with magic adds a different perspective. Given the parallelism between innocence and growing up, this fits perfectly into that framework. When Rose disappears, there is talk about her being “stolen” by Peter.
  • Gwen. While this is a coming-of-age story, I didn’t expect Gwen’s character to have such character growth. She is truly struggling with retaining the innocence of childhood (in a technology-driven world) when she is of the age with adults forcing adult-like expectations on her. While she is trying to discern the right thing for her, as well as Rose, ultimately she realizes she cannot make the decision for Rose to return.
  • Peter. His character was woe-fully underdeveloped. With as character-driven as this retelling was, the focus was solely on Gwen. The perfect placement for progressing the plot and the entire notion of the war would have been through Peter’s character: how did he come to be in Neverland (was he born there? brought there? by whom?). While Peter was whimsical and anti-adult, for a retelling with a plot that bodes of such complexity, he was underdeveloped and fell flat.
  • The Foil. Gwen and Peter are relatively the same age, but they act, process, and perceive things in such different ways. Wendy is already on the tail-end of childhood, on the very brink of being an adult, while Peter acts as a foil to her character and he is unaffected and puerile.
  • The Shadow. At the end of the book Gwen is at a party. A pivotal moment happens and I thought it would end on a cliffhanger with Gwen and company running from the “police,” but something else happens involving a shadow and an attack. It is ambiguous as to where Peter and Gwen go, as well as the identity of the shadow. Who is the shadow? Who is he working with? Why does he attack? Does Peter know the shadow? Why hasn’t it appeared or been spoken of before? The Shadow just leaves more questions than answers, lending heavily to the fact that the book did not have a resolution. I understand that Greathouse is planning on this being a trilogy, so this unsettling cliffhanger can flow straight into the second book, which I hope will do a better job of shedding light on these Neverland Wars and the magic within them.
  • Oddities. There were some very out-of-place, or rather disconnected, pieces to the story that just seemed there for no reason, like Gwen’s budding relationship with Lasiandra the mermaid, and the underwater journey she takes Gwen on. And what she says to Gwen! What does that even mean?! Gwen told a random story about eating a star, and later Peter actually had her eat a star…and it didn’t have any meaning or proufoundness to it. What was the point? Usless words that slowed the plot down and made me disinterested. The story of the pirates? Was there a point to it? Something Peter learned that he’ll need to know for the future? The story of the two Indians? There was a lot of nonsensical thrown in that made the story go all over the place for no reason, and really disconnected me from the story.

The Take-Away

I wish there had been more development overall – and particularly to the plot. It seemed almost like this was a gently revised first draft without the crucial use of a developmental editor. I felt the real story wanting to be told suffered and struggled to shine through, but I am nonetheless looking forward to the next book and to see what happens.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

Borrow. At first I had planned on using one of my giveaway winnings to buy this book, but the blogger suggested I not, and I’m glad for it. This isn’t one I would plan on keeping around on my shelves, or for a re-read.

 

About the Author

6545831Audrey Greathouse is a Seattle-based author of science-fiction and fantasy. Raised in the suburbs, she became a writer after being introduced to NaNoWriMo during her sophmore year of high school. Since then, she has drafted more than a dozen books, 100 sonnets, and 800 other poems, and a handful of short stories and one-act plays.

After dropping out of her university and beginning training as a circus performer on the aerial silks, she returned to school to study at Southern New Hampshire University College of Online and Continuing Education to earn her B.A. in English Language and Literature, with a minor in Computer Information Technologies.

Audrey Greathouse is a die-hard punk cabaret fan, and pianist of fourteen years. She’s usually somewhere along the west coast, and she is always writing.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review + Giveaway: Dragons Are Real

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Dragons-cover-8x8-Medium (1)Title: Dragons Are Real
Author: Valerie Budayr
Publisher: Andy Press
Release Date: May 2016
Length: 32 pages
Genre: Children’s

Find the book: Goodreads |Amazon

What if I told you that all of the fairy tales, myths and legends that have been told about dragons over the years are WRONG? What if I told you that Dragons are indeed REAL and that they are different than you’ve ever imagined? Did you know that Dragons are the master of disguises? Did you know that they love sugar and sweets (at unacceptable levels) and will do anything for treats? Award winning author Valarie Budayr brings us this fairly true story based on her childhood friendship with a REAL live Dragon.

LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK! 

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REVIEW

This was an incredibly cute book! Whatever your perceptions of dragons are, YOU’RE WRONG!

I loved the REAL DRAGONS LOVE TO READ page, which is also above. They are extreme hoarders of books…Hmm, does that make me part dragon? 🙂

Real dragons don’t dance alone. 

I loved the illustrations and the use of color throughout the book. It was fantastic. The dragons were large and detailed, but they all presented the face of fun. They weren’t scary.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

This is a cute read for lower grades and younger children. It is funny and lighthearted. I definitely recommend buying this one just to keep around for years to come.

 

About the Author: Valarie Budayr

vbAward Winning and Best-selling author, Valarie Budayr inspires children and adults alike to experience their books through play, discovery, and adventure via engaging extension activities on her popular website,www.jumpintoabook.com. Valarie is co-founder of Multi-cultural Children’s Book Day , #ReadYourWorld, a celebration of diverse and cultural kid-lit shared with over 98 million people on January 27th. Her foundation puts hundreds of books into the hands of children in rural and intercity areas. www.multiculturalchildrensbookday.com Valarie’s other best-selling and award winning titles are: The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden, The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and A Year in the Secret Garden.

Twitter | Facebook (Audrey Press) | Facebook (Jump Into A Book) | Google+ | PinterestGoodreads|Website

About the Illustrator: Michael Welply

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Michael Welply was born in London in 1948. The family moved to Winnipeg, Canada, in 1950. He studied art in Winnipeg and then in Paris, but his idea of living from the sales of his paintings is somewhat compromised by the lack of buyers. He started his career as an illustrator in 1977 in London. In 1981 he returned to live in France with his American wife and their two children. Since then he has worked for publishers in both Europe and North America. To date he has illustrated over 80 books and more than 100 covers, in a wide range of subjects extending from detailed non-fiction to juvenile and adult fiction in the realms of fantasy, mythology, science fiction and fairy tales.

Blog Tour Giveaway

PicturePrize: One winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift card or $100 PayPal cash prize, winner’s choice

Giveaway ends:May 30, 11:59 pm, 2016

Open to: Internationally

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Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Valarie Budayr and is hosted and managed by Stacie from BeachBoundBooks. If you have any additional questions feel free to send an email to stacie@BeachBoundBooks.com.

Review + Giveaway: The Siren

siren_400Title: The Siren
Author: Elicia Hyder
Release Date: March 2016
Length: 314 pages
Series?: The Soul Summoner Series #2
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

All the missing victims of North Carolina’s deadliest serial killer have been found, all except Rachel Smith. When the FBI produces a photo proving Rachel is alive and well in Texas, one case is closed but another one is opened. Either this is a case of mistaken identity or there are more people than just Sloan Jordan and Warren Parish who seem to walk the earth without a soul.
Along with Detective Nathan McNamara, Sloan and Warren travel south to find Rachel and solve the biggest mystery of all: determining who—or what—they really are.

REVIEW

The Skinny

Sloan and Nate have just survived the most wanted man of North Carolina – a deadly serial killer who “hunts” during hunting season. All of their victims have been found except for one: Rachel Smith. Nathan receives information about Rachel Smith being alive and well in San Antonio, Texas. This opens an entirely new can of worms for the digging duo. While Sloan is still caught in the love triangle between Nathan and Warren, who also has supernatural powers like herself, her high school nemesis – also known as Nathan’s girlfriend – tags along on their revealing trip to Texas to find this woman who also lives without a soul.

While Sloan suffers a barrage of coincidences, Rachel is not who she seems, in more ways than one. Sloan and Warren learn exactly what they are, as well as becoming a large target to other supernaturals. Their relationship is excruciatingly rare. Sloan suffers a major loss, and her father is able to identify Rachel Smith as another person entirely. This takes Sloan and the gang back to Texas again…for the last time.

The Players

Sloan – a twenty-something publicist for the local county with supernatural abilities to summon and heal others

Warren – a twenty-something mercenary for the U.S. government with supernatural abilities to repel and kill others

Nathan – a local detective in the same county offices as Sloan

Shannon – a local traffic reporter for the news station; she is Nathan’s girlfriend and Sloan’s high school nemesis

Adrienne – Sloan’s best friend who is still healing from a major accident

Rachel/Abigail – a timeless individual who assumes an identity to suit her situations

Samael – an Angel of Death

The Quote

I held my hands up and pushed back from the table. “OK. We need to get a few things straight here.” I looked her square in the face. “We’re not just here for some double-date vacation. Nathan is helping me and Warren with finding someone we need to talk to. This is business. So don’t think you and I are going to be part of some kind of wives’ club that gets our nails down while the boys go to work.” 

 

“Don’t make me have my boyfriend shoot you in the face.” 

 

“Hey! Leave room for the Holy Spirit there, McNamara.” 

The Highs and Lows

  • The Love Triangle. It was bad in the first book. It killed me that Sloan picked Warren. I LOVE Nathan, as does both her parents and her friends. They just have this thing. But the second book focused more closely on Sloan and Warren’s relationship, and now I am just as torn as the poor gal herself. I like them both. They are super amazing guys and both very, very sexy. And Sloan is caught in the middle, loving both of them. She’s with Warren, but Nathan makes no qualms that he’d steal her away, despite his girlfriend.
  • The Church. When they arrive in Texas, Sloan is almost paranoid about going to a Catholic church and learning the truth about angels and demons. The father’s words remain with her, a haunting foreshadowing.
  • Shannon. She was an unexpected surprise for the trip to Texas. She was also an unexpected surprise. At one point, Sloan has it out and says her peace and then the two get along much better. Shannon is surprisingly smarter than she appears, and helps out in the detectiving department a few times. She also shows measures of kindness and friendship to Sloan. I was not expecting for her to just drop out of the book so suddenly. I kinda started liking her.
  • The Real Rachel Smith. Rachel Smith is known by four names in the book: as Sarah to Sloan’s father, who had worked with her in Florida in the 1980s; as Rachel Smith to the North Carolina authorities when she went missing; as Abigail Smith, leader of a ministry outreach in San Antonio; but her real name is Kasyade, which means Siren. She is an angel, and Sloan and Warren learn a lot about themselves from her. Although she is integral to the plot, and she does summon Sloan through years of prep work, she is nothing like her title Angel of Life.
  • Sloan and Warren. After learning everything from Abigail Smith about who and what they are, I could not stop thinking about what that would mean if they had offspring. Apparently angels can only have one child, which definitively rules out if they are related, which was a topic of contension in the first book. If they were to have offspring, could they have more than one since they aren’t full-blooded angels? Since they are two different types of angels, what does that mean if there were a child? Which talents would it inherit? I could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the book. It was always in the back of my mind.
  • Samael. He is an Angel of Death. When Sloan meets him, she tries to pound him. Despite his title, he is a kind individual. He warns Sloan and Warren of the impending danger against them simply because they are together. He appears twice in the book, but I have the feeling he’ll be back in the third installment. At least I hope so. Angel of Death and all, I still like him.
  • Nathan. I love the guy so much. He has put his life on the line for Sloan before, and he does it yet again. This time with more serious repercussions. He is also in charge of Sloan while Warren is gone.
  • Warren’s Job. Warren is leaving soon for an entire year. The first book sets up their relationship and the repercussions when they are apart. He has moved into her house. He’s met her parents. And now he’s leaving for the American government.
  • The Action. The book is a full storyline full of action. It is not constant, but Hyder knows how to pack the punch when she needs it. I was on the edge of my seat more than once.

The Take-Away

The relationships between Sloan, Warren, and Rachel/Abigail are so complex. It’s heartwarming and deadly. After learning that they are Seramorta, half-human and half-angel, and receiving insight into the angel world, I could not stop thinking about them having a baby and what that would mean. How would that work? Would the baby be and Angle of Death or an Angel of Light? Would it inherit opposite talents from both Sloan and Warren? In the back of my mind I was also wondering about what would happen between Nathan and Sloan once Warren is gone.  A year is a long time.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

BUY IT. The plot is so complex and intriguing. I am craving more about the angel world and what is coming next for Sloan, Warren and Nathan. All of the elements of a strong story with the rollercoaster of ups and downs are all there. Is the next book out yet?

 

About the Author

 

Elicia Hyder is the author of several contemporary fantasy novels such as The Soul Summoner, The Siren, The Angel of Death, and The Daughter of Zion as well as a few contemporary romances, The Bed She Made and To Be Her first. Elicia studied American Literature and Creative Writing at the American Military University. She lives with her husband and five children in central Florida.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

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