Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

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Title: The Song of the Quarkbeast
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Series: The Chronicles of Kazam, Book 2
Hardcover: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its hapless crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BookExpo America.*

I love Jasper Fforde's style of writing, and even though I've only read YA and adult fiction from him up until now, this middle grade series did not disappoint. His humor, wordplay, and ability to create likeable characters and put them in ridiculously weird situations has made him one of my favorite authors.

The Song of the Quarkbeast is the second book of The Last Dragonslayer series. I haven't read the first book, but I had no trouble following the action and the storyline. So, I don't think it's necessary to read this series in order, but I'm sure that reading the first book would make this one more enjoyable, since there are probably details and jokes carried over that I didn't understand. The Song of the Quarkbeast follows Jennifer Strange, an indentured orphan who is acting manager of a magic company. She and her sorcerers have to go up against a rival magic company in a duel of wizarding skill in order to keep their rights to practice magic.

Like all of Fforde's books, The Song of the Quarkbeast is just plain fun. It has adventure, mystery, suspense, action, and a bit of romance to top it all off. I love the strange-yet-vaguely-familiar world of the Ununited Kingdom, with its inept rulers and brutal laws. The characters are also fantastic. It's told in first person perspective from Jennifer, who is mature and intelligent, which is unfortunately rare to see in a teenage character. And that's great, because in addition to being great entertainment, this book teaches the importance of teamwork, and it shows how teenagers are capable of rising to a challenge and overcoming obstacles.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. If you've at all enjoyed Fforde's previous works, you'll love this. And if you are a fantasy fan and have yet to delve into Fforde's wondrously weird worlds, you need to give him a try. I have read quite a few books by him and have yet to be disappointed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Greystone Valley by Charlie Brooks

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Title: Greystone Valley
Author: Charlie Brooks
Publisher: Grey Gecko Press
Paperback: 198 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Greystone Valley is a land of wizards, dragons, and warriors... and one young girl who ends up there quite by accident when her idle wish is granted.

Sarah discovers that not everything in the valley is as magic as she might’ve wished — especially the nearly illiterate wizard, the mouse-sized dragon, and the warrior who can’t stand the sight of blood. Being hunted isn’t helping, either. Will Sarah survive this new life of hers, or can she make it home?

And, more importantly, will she ever be the same again?

Overall Rating 3 out of 5

* I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program*

This is a cute coming-of-age adventure fantasy where an imaginative little girl finds out that her daydreams may actually be based in reality. When Sarah wishes herself out of her own world, she turns up in Greystone Valley and learns that magic is real, as are fairies and dragons. However, she learns that villains are also real and must come head-to-head with a warlord intent on conquering every land he can find.

Greystone Valley is cute and fun, but also predictable and fairly standard for this sort of story. I liked the interweaving of different fantasy elements; such as Sarah's encounters with the fey and then the dragons. It's also nice to think of a castle in some distant land that holds the gateways to all different sorts of worlds. I could definitely see this becoming a series of some sort, though it works just fine as a stand-alone.

Overall, this is a fairly enjoyable story. I think children who like fantasy will like this; it's a fast-paced and straightforward story with lots of action involved. For older readers, it may be too simple and predictable, but younger readers are sure to love exploring the world of Greystone Valley and discovering all the fantastical elements it has to offer.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Picture Book Review: Lily Goes to School by Lily Hamilton and Barbara Myers

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Title: Lily Goes to School
Authors: Lily Hamilton and Barbara Myers
Illustrator: Brendan Sellaro
Publisher: Headline Books
Hardcover: 32 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Lily has her first day of school! What an adventure with so many new things to learn and new friends to meet. Lily was nervous at first but finds out that school is an exciting place after all.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I was given a free copy of this book for my honest review at BEA 2013*

Lily Hamilton and Barbara Myers tell a story of the events that happen on Lily’s first day of school, from riding the bus, meeting the teacher and finding her seat, to lunch time, music time, and an assembly on stranger danger.

This is an easy-to-read story and is great for beginning readers. It could also be a big help in preparing children for their first day of school. Brendan Sellaro does a great job with the illustrations; they are detailed and full of vibrant color.

My favorite part of this book is that Lily Hamilton is a very young author. Meeting her and her grandmother, Barbara, at BookExpo America this year was exciting. Seeing young children getting involved with books and writing is always inspirational.

I would recommend this book to preschoolers who are getting ready to head to kindergarten. It will be a good read-aloud story and a good opportunity for children to ask questions before the first day of school arrives.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Picture Book Review: The Night Santa Got Lost - How NORAD Saved Christmas

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Title: The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas
Author: Michael Keane
Illustrator: Michael Garland
Publisher: Regnery Kids
Hardcover: 28 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Every Christmas millions of kids and adults track Santa on the NORAD Santa Tracker. Now, author Michael Keane brings to life this fun tradition with his new children’s book The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas.

Written in the iconic style of The Night Before Christmas, The Night Santa Got Lost begins on a blustery and treacherous Christmas Eve as Santa sets off to deliver toys to good little boys and girls everywhere. As always, NORAD is faithfully tracking him to make sure no harm comes his way. But when Santa disappears from their radar screen, NORAD’s skills and resources are put to the test as they scramble to find Santa and save Christmas. Entertaining and educational, The Night Santa Got Lost will delight parents and children alike while teaching kids about our military, team work, and the true spirit of Christmas.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I was given a free copy of this book at the 2013 BEA for my honest review. *

 Michael Keane and Michael Garland did a wonderful job with this book! The story line is exciting and keeps interest. I enjoyed how the story flows with the well-known Christmas story, The Night Before Christmas.

 There is a little suspense in the story, what with wondering if Santa will be able to deliver all of the presents. At the end, Michael Keane has some brief history of NORAD and information for the children to call and track Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve. Michael Garland did an amazing job with the illustrations, they amazing with vibrant colors and characters that will keep both children and adults interested in the story.

I am excited to have this book as part of my children’s Christmas story collection; and I am looking forward to making this book part of our Christmas Eve tradition. In my opinion, this a must have book for everyone with small children.