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

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Audiobook Review: Crows & Cards

ABOUT THE BOOK

4818478Title: Crows & Cards
Author: Joseph Helgerson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 2009
Length: 348 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA

Three warnings for readers who hate surprises: 1. Beware of slivers, 2. and gamblers, 3. and aces.

Zebulon Crabtree found all that out the hard way back in 1849 when his mother and father shipped him off to St. Louis to apprentice with a tanner. Too bad he had serious allergies to fur and advice from his parents.

Hearing the beat of a different drummer, Zeb takes up with a riverboat gambler who has some special plans for him, crosses paths with a slave who turns out to be a better friend than cook, and learns that some Indian medicine men can see even though blind.

And then there’s the Brotherhood—the one that Zeb can’t seem to get out of. . . . Lucky for us, the price of living in turbulent times is often a good story, and Zeb spins an unforgettable one.

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

my review

The Narration

**Unabridged Audiobook

Narrated By: MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Release Date: April 2009
Length: 6 hrs and 41 mins

The Highs and Lows

  • Zeb. He is a 12-year-old boy and the oldest of seven. His father scrapes together $70 to send him to his Uncle Seth to become a tanner’s apprentice. He is a very sheltered boy. He doesn’t know things about the world. The notion of not talking to strangers, let alone trusting one, isn’t a lesson Zeb has learned – but he will. The story is told from the perspective of Zeb.
  • Setting. It is 1849 in St. Louis. This was the year cholera hit a peak in St. Louis, and it was also the year of the infamous St. Louis Fire.
  • Other Characters. Zeb also learns from the slave, Ho-John, who burns all the food (on purpose) and a blind Native American chief whispered to be a “seer.” Zeb tries as much as he can not to endanger
  • Zeb’s Journey. During his travels to St. Louis via steamboat, Zeb meets a professional gambler and thief named Chilly. Through their escapades, Zeb believes they are going to be a modern-day Robin Hood crew and swindle money from the rich to give to the poor. Eventually Zeb wises up and decides to help the slave and the already swindled chief. But by now he has already become Chilly’s apprentice and magic key to his swindling gigs, pledged himself to the Brotherhood of the Gamblers, and resides in an inn with a gambling parlor,to which Chilly is secretly half-owner in. Eventually, Zeb turns the tables on Chilly with the help of the chief and his daughter, referred to as the princess.
  • Plot and Pacing. This wasn’t a particularly interesting book. In fact, it was particularly boring. I determined to finish listening to the audio so I could mark it for several of my challenges, especially my audiobook challenge. I wasn’t an invested reader in this slow-moving, woefully underdeveloped writing.
  • Imitation or Homage? I couldn’t really tell which angle the author was taking, whether it was an homage to Mark Twain or trying to imitate him. Either way, it feel far from the mark. This emulation of Twain is a cheap imitation and very obvious. While Twain was masterful at Mississippi dialect, this duplicate wannabe is merely bad grammar from the 1830s, and all the characters have the same dialect. The craft and skill that Twain used is not evident in this novel, but there is a great deal of figurative language. The book is also illustrated.
  • Historical Notations. There is an appendix of historical information and a dictionary at the back of the book. The information contained in the appendix is interesting and the dictionary is quite humorous. The appendix contained information about slavery and Native American issues, as well as the attitudes from the time.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

223894First of all, I blame my family for my becoming a writer. Scratch one of my relatives and often as not you’ll get a story, usually of the tall-tale variety. Though I’ve lived out West, I’ve spent most of my life in Minnesota, along the Mississippi River where such tales are a tradition.

As you can see, I’m a redhead, freckled, fry easily. Stories could be told. Stories have been told. I’m married with a son and daughter. Over the years we’ve shared our home with creatures who purr, chirp, bark, scuttle, and molt. It’s generally a happy house, though not always quiet.

I grew up playing sports like a fiend and during college bicycled from Minnesota to Arizona for the adventure. During that trip I kept a journal, which marks the official start of my writing career. My advice to would-be writers? Never turn down a chance to take a bike ride.

Find the author: Website | Goodreads

Audiobook Review: X

ABOUT THE BOOK

22292486Title: X
Author: Ilyasah Shabazz, Kekla Magoon
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: January 2015
Length: 348 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA

I am Malcolm.
I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me.

They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

 

my review

The Narration

**Unabridged Audiobook

Narrated By: Dion Graham , Ilyasah Shabazz
Publisher: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio
Release Date: January 2015
Length: 8 hrs and 56 mins

Dion Graham was a terrific narrator. The text itself contained a lot of natural colloqualism, even in internal dialogue, and Dion’s narration contained a perfect blend and a voice of the African-American struggle with incredible dialect. I would love to hear more of his narrations!

The Highs and Lows

I was surprised when the bilingual coordinator for my school district sent out a district-wide newsletter recommending X alongside other elementary picture and middle grades books for students to read as a diverse read for Black History Month. This was intended for elementary campuses, primarily, which is the struggle in teaching middle school. We have to make things so elementary, but then are griped at that what we are doing is not rigorous enough or preparing them for high school. I was currently listening to the audio at the time. Since I’ve finished the audio, I’ve found many recommending this for student reading in classes, and being a middle school teacher there would be incredible backlash if this were read in any grade below 9th or 10th grade. It is marketed as a YA read, and it is more mature than most YA today. Because it is historical, it is based on real events, but the content is not appropriate for immature readers. Reading Huckleberry Finn was a shock ten years ago when I was a junior in high school, so that should accompanied with a caveat for high school reading.

  • Before Becoming Malcolm X. I don’t recall ever learning anything about Malcolm X in Texas public schools. Or in college, and I was a geography minor that entailed several anthropology and history classes. Somehow I naturally figured out who Malcolm X was through my own means, and all I knew was that he was a leader for social injustice and basic civil rights. Beyond that, I didn’t know much. While preparing for my review, I discovered that there aren’t a lot of writings about his life before becoming Malcolm X. It was interesting to learn about Malcolm Little from his youth.
  • Fictionalized Perspective. While X is a novel about the formative years about the boy who grew up to become Malcolm X, it is important to distinguish and remember that this is still historical fiction. It is a fictionalized account of his youth. It is not from the perspective of Malcolm Little, but rather from one of his daughters based on stories she heard about her father growing up following his assassination when she was three years old.
  • Anticlimatic. Given this is a fictionalized perspective, it is biased but also contains more depth than other sources could provide. While listening it seemed that some of Malcolm’s decisions were idealized. There did not seem to be real closure to the book. It ended with Malcolm’s imprisonment when he was 20, followed by end notes distinguishing the facts from the fiction. This section contained pretty detailed information that was helpful. It would have been more helpful at the front, especially for audio. Reading this section set the tone for hope for what we know was to come for Malcolm, but I didn’t feel the actual book’s ending arrived there. I was left wanting something more out of the ending for such a compelling narrative.
  • Setting. There are several settings to the book. The storyline travels from Malcolm’s birth in Omaha to his childhood in Flint and Lansing, and then to his youth in Roxbury (Boston) and Harlem, concluding with Malcolm’s imprisonment. The vibrancy in the description and the lives of Roxbury and Harlem particularly captured my attention. In the context of the environment in which he grew up in, Malcolm’s choices stem from the oppression and racism inflicted on his family. The murder of his father and institutionalization of his mother and being forced into foster care during this time had very invasive effects. The timeline moves fluidly back and forth in time.
  • Spiraling. Malcolm is a good student. He’s very smart and makes straight As. He also had a wild streak in him that started with small things, like stealing food for his family. Malcolm saw the face of racism in high school, and then understands his white peers are not being friendly. His (half) sister Ella invites him to live with her in Boston, and Malcolmn jumps at the opportunity to leave Lansing. It is a fresh start in a new place. From there his life begins spiraling out of control for most of the book. There are harsh realities when Malcolm discovers jazz, alcohol, drugs, and women – a white woman named Sophia, specifically – which is why I do not suggest this be read by students younger than 9th grade. It seemed the plot lent itself to compounding on every bad decision Malcolm makes, almost like it is a contest to see how bad he can be the next time.
  • Disillusion. Malcolm’s beliefs of a fresh start in Roxbury don’t last long. He finds that the glittering city life doesn’t provide a means of escape from the racism that filled the hearts and souls of so many. After experiencing Harlem, Malcolm decides that is where he needs to be. Trouble comes knocking again, and Malcolm returns to Roxbury, where Sophia has cooked up a plan that will allow Malcolm, herself, and two others to come into a surplus of funds. Ultimately Malcolm is caught by the police and sent to prison and truly starts over. It is made clear that Malcolm’s self-destructive behavior is the effect of his disillusionment with his father’s teachings about pride and equality and his feeling that there was nothing he could do to change things.
  • Lack of Redemption. While reading, I couldn’t ever find anywhere where Malcolm felt remorse for any of his actions. It was hard to read about Malcolm’s throwing bad choice after bad. His sister Ella gave him opportunities and encouragement. Instead of realizing her disapproval was due to his dangerous choices, he ran from the one good thing in his life. I describe my grandfather as a hard man, unyielding and abrasive, and this was a hard read. I didn’t see any hope for redemption. I think that is why I wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion of the book.
  • Malcolm’s Character. I didn’t like Malcolm’s character for the majority of the book. He chooses to do certain things he knows is against the law and can land him in serious trouble, like illegally owning a gun and dealing “white powder.” There were several scenes regarding these two elements that show a paranoid Malcolm, but he continues to grow arrogant. If the world won’t give it to him, he will take it by whatever means he chooses, namely dealing drugs and being a thief. There is no will or want in him to be a better person, and that was something that resonated with me. It goes against everything I have ever been taught. Even as I write this I have to remember the environment he grew up in. If all you know is debilitating racism, why would you want to be a better person?

The Take-Away

While I didn’t agree with Malcolm’s spiraling behavior and his choices, I also saw the naivety that still resided in him as a young man running wild. To love a white woman in this time was danger in and of itself. I don’t know everything about the Civil Rights Movement, but I know more than some, and I realize what I don’t know. The black spots on my map, so to speak, and learning new little pieces from this narrative are compelling enough to prompt readers to continue expanding their knowledge about leaders and lives during this tumultuous time.

 

Audiobook Review: Dodger

13516846Title: Dodger
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date: September 2012
Length: 360 pages
Series?: Dodger #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.

 

my review

The Skinny

A late-night toshing of the sewers unexpectedly leads Dodger right into an encounter with some unsavory characters and simaltaneously rescuing a damsel in distress. This single act of scaring off assailants draws Dodger into a world that has ramications farther than he can fathom.

While he has changed the course of his own life, he also changes the life of the anonymous woman he rescued. A cast of do-gooders from the upper echelons of society, many of them true historical figures of the time, take charge of the situation to protect Dodger and this young woman named Simplicity. They use their wealth, connections, influence, and knowledge to keep Simplicity safe as danger encroaches again.

Along the way, Dodger continues to find himself – a typical eyesore of polite society – as the hero in a number of situations, including the resuce of Sweeeney Todd from his own demons. Thusly, he becomes the interest of Sir Robert Peel, head of police.

 

The Players

Dodger – a teen tosher of the London streets and sewers, given the title of “king of the toshers”

Simplicity – a mysterious and beautiful girl Dodger rescues in the streets, she has escaped from her abusive, royal husband

Solomon Cohen- Dodger’s housemate and unofficial (Jewish) guardian, an elderly craftsman, a Freemason

Onan – Solomon’s smelly dog, Dodger likes him

Charles Dickens- a journalist who understands the plight of the poor

Henry Mayhew – a friend of Dickens, he and his wife take care of Simplicity, he is interested in improving conditions for the poorer citizens of London

Angela Burdett-Coutts – an independent, wealthy woman destined to be single who uses her influence and excess to help those in need, she takes in Simplicity and protects her

Benjamin Disraeli – a young politician friend of Charlie’s, he helps play a role in the faking of Simplicity’s death

Sir Robert Peel – the head of London police, he is supportive of Simplicity’s wish to not be sent back to her husband

The Outlander – a wanted assassin with targets on Simplicity and Dodger, he looks different every time he commits a crime, always has the same woman at his side

Sweeney Todd – a current-day barber traumatised with PTSD from his Napoleonic War experiences who kills his customers, the reason Dodger becomes a national hero by disarming him

The Quote

“Well, dear Mrs. Mayhew, I can promise you that there will not be any hanky panky because I do not know what panky is, and I’ve never hand a hanky. Only a handkerchief.”

The Highs and Lows

  • Victorian era. I love reading historicals set in the Victorian era, but I always get the romanticized version on the opposite end of the spectrum. Or, at least a very rosy version of reality. I don’t think I’ve ever spent too much time truly looking through a different lens of the time. The socioeconomic statuses of the classes are highlighted heavily in this novel.
  • + Humor. The witty and cunning nature of Dodger, and the humor of others throughout, had me giggling more than once.
  • International Intrigue. Simplicity’s mysterious past brings about the true reason she was beaten in the streets, and why The Outlander is still after her and now Dodger as well. Dodger unwittingly walks into a problem thickened by international boundaries.
  • Simplicity. We never learn her real name! After her “death,” she is given a new name: Serendipity, and it fits perfectly.
  • – Instalove. While I can easily see why Dodger would fall in love with SimplicityI don’t much see how or why it was reciprocated. There wasn’t anything alluring about Dodger and it didn’t seem Simplicity felt any rangef emotions whatsoever. I understand gratitude and gratefulness for her resuce, but I didn’t see this as a love match with real love. It seemed too easy to tie the ends up for Dodger and the “knight” to get the girl.
  • + Historical Figures. Several have voiced their pleaseure or displeasure about having real historical figures of the time inserted in the novel. While I wasn’t aware that they all lived during the same time (you learn something new every day), I found it interesting and a touching nod of Pratchett to those he respected and revered by including them in one of his works, especially ones that espouse the sentiments of poverty that are the heart of the book.
  • + The Dedication. Pratchett dedicated the novel in honor of the real Mayhew, who worked to shed the light on the poorest of London in his own book London Labour and the London Poor.

The Take-Away

Many readers find it hard to read this novel separate from Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and I feel all his other writings are overshadowed by his famous 40-book series. While I never read a one of them, I enjoyed this one by Pratchett. It was different and englightening and still held the archetype of a knight in shining armor, rags-to-riches character and storyline.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

I recommend reading! Buy or borrow.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

1654Sir Terry Pratchett sold his first story when he was thirteen, which earned him enough money to buy a second-hand typewriter. His first novel, a humorous fantasy entitled The Carpet People, appeared in 1971 from the publisher Colin Smythe.

Terry worked for many years as a journalist and press officer, writing in his spare time and publishing a number of novels, including his first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic, in 1983. There are over 40 books in the Discworld series. The first of these, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, won the Carnegie Medal.

Regarded as one of the most significant contemporary English-language satirists, Pratchett has won numerous literary awards, was named an Officer of the British Empire “for services to literature” in 1998, and has received honorary doctorates from University of Warwick in 1999, the University of Portsmouth in 2001, the University of Bath in 2003, the University of Bristol in 2004, Buckinghamshire New University in 2008, the University of Dublin in 2008, Bradford University in 2009, University of Winchester in 2009, and The Open University in 2013 for his contribution to Public Service.

In 2007, Pratchett disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In February 2009, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 2010. Sir Terry Pratchett passed away in March 2015.

Find the author: Website | Goodreads

Review: Wonder

23302416Title: Wonder
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Release Date: January 2013
Length: 315 pages
Series?: Wonder #1
Genre: Contemporary YA, MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.

But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

Narrated by Auggie and the people around him whose lives he touches forever, Wonder is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

REVIEW

The Skinny

Auggie Pullman is not your typical ten year old. He was born with facial deformities that have changed the course of his life. After many, many surgeries and necessary recovery time, Auggie is not like everyone else. He knows exactly how he looks, and he is very aware of how other people see him, which is why he has been home-schooled up until the fifth grade.

Now that his surgeries are finished, his parents believe he should attend school because one day he will be out in the world. Auggie is a wreck, but he has an out: he can quit at any time if it becomes too much. They select a local and prestigious private school and arrange for Auggie to go on a tour with hand-selected students to help acclimate him.

The rest of the story follows Auggie as he journeys through his first year at middle school. Along the way he meets some incredible friends who each have their own struggles, as well as unfortunate encounters with some truly horrendous adults. Auggie accepts it all and trudges on, gaining confidence as the year goes on.

The Players

Auggie – a 10 year old boy born with craniofacial abnormalities who is going to public school for the first time

Via – Auggie’s older overprotective sister who is starting her first year of high school

Mom – Auggie and Via’s overbearing, mother hen

Dad – Auggie and Via’s jokester dad who calls Auggie “Auggie Doggie”

Daisy – Auggie’s sweet dog

Miranda – Via’s best friend, she shares a few quirks with Auggie

Julian – a boy at Auggie’s new school who is two-faced

Jack Will – a boy at Auggie’s new school who befriends him

Summer – a girl at Auggie’s new school who befriends him

Justin – Via’s boy friend

The Quote

 When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. 

The Highs and Lows

  • The Reality. The thing that makes this book so relatable is the realness. Auggie is a kid who suffers the shocked looks, the dirty looks, the whispers, the mean comments. He understands people’s strange fascination with him, so he tries to hide it, always with his head down, hiding behind his bangs, only seeing the world through sidled eyes.
  • The Writing. Overall, the chapters were fairly short. Palacio crafts such simple sentences with beautiful sentiment that penetrates the heart. The short chapters amplify the meaning behind each character’s perspective.
  • The POVs. The amazing thing about this book is that Auggie is just one person, but he is loved by many. The book is broken into parts, and the parts further broken down into alternating character POVs, which makes this a character-driven story. The plot progresses because of the characters. There are six total: Auggie, Via, Jack Will, Summer, Justin, and Miranda. Each of these characters present their own individual struggles, but they are all tied to Auggie. Ultimately, they each tell the story of how Auggie has changed them, made them better people.
    • Via – She is struggling starting her first year of high school without her best friends, who have abandoned her. She does not want to be known as the girl with the deformed brother, so she tries to separate her school life from her home life. This is her opportunity to make a new start where people don’t associate her with Auggie…becuase to them, he doesn’t exist.
    • Jack Will – Jack is one of the first students Auggie ever meets, put together by his principal (Mr. Tushman). He is supposed to be nice to Auggie, but comes to find he actually likes Auggie, and befriends him. Jack gets swept up in the monster that is middle school and Auggie feels betrayed. For a long time they don’t speak to one another, and Jack Will feels lower than dirt about it.
    • Justin – He is Via’s boy friend, who then becomes her boyfriend. They enjoy being in the theater club. Justin eventually gets to meet Via’s family, and he would much rather be with them than his own. He has a lot of issues going on at home and gravitates to the radiance that Auggie’s family gives off.
    • Miranda – While she and Via were as thick as thieves, and she and Auggie had a special relationship, Miranda couldn’t be farther from that. She is spiraling down a black hole she can’t climb out of following her parents divorce. The summer preceding high school is where it starts – the lying. Miranda lies to her campmates and uses Auggie’s physicality as a freak show draw. Once you start lying, it’s hard to stop. She does something redeeming at the end of the book.
  • The Heart. This book isn’t one of those tear-jerkers that makes you ugly cry. It does explore the depth of the characters and their relationship with Auggie and what happens because of it.  This is a difficult issue that Palacio approaches with gusto and grace.
  • The Deal. Auggie’s mother is the one who broaches the subject of Auggie going to school, and Auggie hates the idea, as does his dad. He goes on a tour of Beecher Prep and meets Julian, Charlotte, and Jack Will. After some incidents like the “Cheese Touch” game, Auggie wants to quit. That was always on the table – he could quit at any time. Surprisingly, his parents have switched sides on the matter, and his father pushes him to remain at school while his mother falls all over him with her mothering. Auggie is in it for the long haul.
  • Auggie. He is such an incredible character. He is so insightful and profound for a 10 year old. While he is incredibly smart, there are many people who doubt that – because all they see is his face. While Auggie hides behind his hair, it is not a complete barrier between him and the world. He notices things around him, especially about people.
  • Auggie’s Friendships. Jack Will was put up to befriending Auggie, but he realizes what Auggie really offers as a friend, and it becomes real. They are like PB&J. Summer is the first person at Beecher Prep who willingly approaches Auggie. Their friendship starts over something silly – the fact that they both have summer names.
  • The Bully. Julian is one of those kids who has mastered the art of deception. He is sugar and sweet and the most absolutely amazing young boy to the faces of adults, but the moment there are none around he is the nasty slithering snake in the grass. Julian’s parents have some prominence, with his mother being on the school board, and she tries to use her power to influence some decisions regarding Auggie. Julian himself tries to get the entire fifth grade to ostracize Auggie, but things don’t always go according to plan.
  • The Universal Truth. This is a book that everyone should read in their lifetime. I think it should be mandatory for 5th grade students, because they will be facing what Auggie and Via face as they proceed to middle school. The things that each of the characters shared during their chapters were so intimate. Palacio shares such a powerful message with this story:  choose kindness, always. There are so many wonderful lessons about life that Auggie and his friends show readers.

The Take-Away

I was laughing at many points, tearing up at others, boiling with anger at the injustice, and completely crying in certain spots. From beginning to end, I enjoyed everything about this book. I loved the side-characters who come to Auggie’s aid during the camp retreat. It shows that there is redemption in humanity.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

BUY IT. Buy it for yourself, your children, your siblings, your grandchildren, nieces/nephews, your neighbor. It is such an incredible story that everyone needs to hear.

 

About the Author

RJ PalacioR.J. Palacio lives in NYC with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. For more than twenty years, she was an art director and graphic designer, designing book jackets for other people while waiting for the perfect time in her life to start writing her own novel. But one day several years ago, a chance encounter with an extraordinary child in front of an ice cream store made R. J. realize that the perfect time to write that novel had finally come. Wonder is her first novel. She did not design the cover, but she sure does love it.

Raquel J. Palacio / R. J. Palacio is a pseudonym of: Raquel Jaramillo.

Find the author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

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