Category Archives: children’s

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

IMG_8306Legandary by Stephanie Garber is the sequel to Caraval, a book with a beautiful cover that dominated everyone’s YA to-read lists. The plots of the series revolve around a very tricky game that is magical, but can have carry over effects into the characters’ lives beyond the games. Caraval introduces you to Scarlett (the narrator) and Tella (narrator’s little sister) and follows Scarlett as she plays the game for the first time. Legendary resumes the night after Caraval, and shifts narrators to Tella to follow her immersion into another round of the game. I much preferred Tella as a narrator over Scarlett, and the author captured their differences in this quote:

“Tella was the sister who would destroy the world if anything happened to Scarlett, but Scarlett’s world would be destroyed if anything happened to Tella.”

While I didn’t love Caraval (lots of world building, main character irked me frequently, the romance and the language was sugary and made me grit my teeth; see my full review here for more), I was interested enough to scoop up Legendary, assuming that the laborious world building in the first novel would pay off by letting the reader dive head first into the sequel. And for the most part, it did! The main difference between Caraval, is that many of the characters in this book resemble a group of Fates (kind of like immortal Gods) that once existed in the land where Legendary takes place and they crop up repeatedly throughout the plot. In case it’s hard to keep track of all of the Fates, there is a very handy glossary at the end of the novel, which I wish I had known about before I finished reading.

The world where the games take place is beautiful, but sometimes the descriptions within Legendary felt like a rendition of the same story from before, which to some extent, it has to be because the sisters are playing iterations of the same game. The settings are always colorfully described. Sets and plots considered, I think this would be a fantastic show on The CW if it were to ever be optioned as a series instead of a film.

While I liked the overal plot, I still got annoyed at the romantic interactions between the characters initially and warmed up to them slightly by the end of the book. The romance wasn’t as syrupy as Caraval, but still a bit much for my taste, especially because one of the lead romance figures was constantly described as “smelling like ink” which peeved me a bit and was incredibly redundant. As with Caraval, some of the written comparisons simply don’t make sense (i.e. “some faces were narrow and as sharp as curse words”), but maybe this will be appealing to certain readers.

All in all, I found Legendary to be completely captivating while I was reading, but kind of forgettable as soon as I put the book down. It reminded me of a piece of cake that you keep returning to and giving yourself more slices of, but when you really think about it, cake alone isn’t enough. I found many pieces of the book to be annoying, but was still entertained as a whole, so how to rate it? If the descriptions of the book sound like a gem to you, please pick it up because you’ll probably love every page! If the things I described irking me, might annoy you, perhaps consider this as a guilty pleasure read that might irritate you at points or pass on it altogether. 

The book concludes in a way that will make the reader wonder if the stories of this world are finished for the author, but I think, regardless of whether more novels continue this series, my time of visiting Caraval has come to end. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Flatiron Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Flatiron Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 29 May 2018 by Flatiron BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter


Mini Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

theskyiseverywhereAfter being obsessed with Jandy Nelson’s most recent novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, one of my favorite reads of 2016, I was so excited to receive Nelson’s debut, The Sky is Everywhere. Unfortunately, I think my expectations were set a little too high for this. Nelson continues her magical way of slipping in different media formats into her books (this time around it’s poems and conversations written on slips of paper, crushed up paper cups, sides of buildings, etc.), but the actual story didn’t grip my heart in the same way as I’ll Give You the Sun. All that considered, this was a nice, innovative read about a young teenager who is struggling with understanding her own identity after experiencing the sudden death of her sister. I enjoyed reading The Sky is Everywhere, but I didn’t find myself fully consumed by the story like I was with Nelson’s other work.

Publication Date: 9 March 2010 by Dial BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jandy Nelson web/facebook

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtlesallthewaydownAcquiring Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was a bit of magical experience. While I don’t think we’ll ever have a book as demand as the Harry Potter series, encouraging midnight release parties and the like, the demand for Green’s latest novel was pretty high and the text was highly protected, no Advance Reader’s Copies or anything. Despite the publisher enacting a veil of secrecy around the book, I somehow found it accidentally on the shelf of a big box retailer a weekend before its release date. Of course I snatched it up, especially because I knew I shouldn’t have been able to procure it. Both my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating this book and because I brought into both of our lives before the rest of the world got to enjoy it, we decided to take turns reading the novel aloud to each other. If you have never done this with someone you cherish, you should. It was one of the most oddly intimate things I’ve ever done and it felt special to do it with this novel specifically, considering the main character has certain mental health struggles that we had both experienced in different ways. I found it easier to talk about some of my experiences in context of the character and that was fantastic. If you have had experiences similar to what the main character Aza regularly lives with, I think you could give this to loved ones to help convey what may motivate certain thoughts, actions, and behaviors in your life in a simpler way than trying to articulate it yourself. In a weird way, this novel helped me think about some of my behaviors in a way I hadn’t contextualized them for myself before, which is pretty powerful. 

I’ve been a fan of Green’s works for more than 10 years, so it would take a lot for me not to enjoy one of his novels now. My positive bias accounted for, Turtles All the Way Down was great and fantastic and I loved it. The characters were witty and the storyline was completely engrossing. I loved dissecting it aloud as I moved forward with reading the book.

I put off writing this review for a long time, as if delaying the review would retain some of the magic of how I acquired and read this text, and that has unfortunately negatively affected the actual substance of my review because I remember the feeling of reading this book more than I remember all the odds and ends. I remember feeling comforted and understood and loved and all of that was special. I wish I could have read this book as a teen because I think it would have added some clarity to parts of my life that were all too confusing to me then, and I hope it is able to do that for teens who read it now. 

Publication Date: 10 October 2017 by Dutton Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Green @twitter/facebook/instagram/YouTube

Mini Review: The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket

themiserablemillAfter being a little disappointed with The Wide Window, the third book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, I am pleased that The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket picked up the pace! The plot of this book revolves around our favorite Baudelaire orphans being sent to live at a wood mill, where they’re expected to serve as employees, despite obviously being children, to earn their keep. Their caretaker intends for them to work there until Violet, the eldest, turns 18 and inherits her family’s fortune and will have enough wealth to take care of herself and her siblings. Klaus gets mucked around the most in this novel, as there’s a major plot line regarding his glasses being broken and repaired several times. This book features a bit more physical/emotional/verbal abuse than either books 2 or 3 because the primary caretaker in this book does not care for the Baudelaire orphans at all, so there are no pleasant moments like those that sometimes occurred with Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine.

These are the perfect books to pick up when I feel like I’m in a reading rut — there’s so quick and familiar that they can add a little fun to my reading routine if it’s been lacking. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the fifth book, The Austere Academy, at a resale shop quite yet, so I’ll have to put off counting on this series to be my reading pick me up until I can get my hands on a good condition version of the book that matches the style of my other books in this collection.

And here is my favorite quote from Book the Fourth:

“As I’m sure you know, whenever there is a mirror around, it is almost impossible not to take a look at yourself. Even though we all know what we look like, we all like just to look at our reflections, if only to see how we’re doing.” (p. 45)

Publication Date: 15 April 2000 by ScholasticFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) web/facebook/twitter

Illustrator: Brett Helquist web

Mini Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalHmm… this is a tough review to write because I definitely enjoyed the overall plot of Caraval, but didn’t necessarily enjoy the journey to get to the bigger plot points. For the first 270 pages or so, this read was a slog that I only trudged through because it was one of two books I brought on holiday (Side note: I found an Advance Reading Copy version of this book in a lending library so it’s possible the final published version is different from what I read). Once I hit the turning point, I quickly finished and enjoyed the remaining storylines, but nothing should take more than 200 pages to be compelling! The romance between two of the leads was a little much for me and I found myself annoyed that adolescents might read this and think this is how they should build their crushes on other people (stop describing this man’s ~perfect muscles~!!), but hopefully the t(w)weens will roll their eyes while reading those pieces too and think “not for me!” The family relationships and affiliations were better described and fuller. All that said, I’ll probably still pick up the sequel if it gets good reviews since the laborious (unnecessary) world building was established with the first novel and I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. 

Publication Date: 31 January 2017 by Flatiron Books. Format: Paperback ARC.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter

Mini Review: The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

badseedMy boyfriend and I were stumbling around a bookstore when this cover stopped us dead in our tracks. What could The Bad Seed, depicting a very sullen yet adorable seedette on the cover, possibly be about? Well… if the title didn’t give it away, it’s about being a baaaaaaaaaad seed. We flipped through a couple of pages and couldn’t stop laughing and one of us has called the other a baaaaaaad seed at least once a week since we found this title a month ago.

When my two year old niece’s birthday snuck up on me, I was at a loss for what book to get her (I always get her a book… I mean c’mon, I’m the aunt with a book blog after all) and I decided to purchase The Bad Seed for her to laugh at when our family members stretch out the baaaaad seed phrase when reading it to her. She’s definitely a little young for this book (it’s probably best for 3 – 6 year olds), but I think the stretched out words will still manage to bring her joy. My niece struggles slightly with manners currently and I think this book gently introduces how some behaviors can be seen as rude and illustrates how rude actions can affect how other people interact with you after you’ve been… wait for it… a baaaaaad seed. At the end, the bad seed decides to reform some of his actions and habits, and while he still isn’t perfect, he’s still mostly successful at choosing to be a nicer person to his peers and reaps some rewards for that. I think this would be a good book to show to children who are struggling with being nice to others and highlight ways that their actions might come back around and ultimately negatively impact them. This is definitely the most fun, new children’s picture book I’ve read in a bit. 

Horseradish by Lemony Snicket

horseradishThis collection of tales and thoughts from the mind of Lemony Snicket is composed of “bitter truths you cannot avoid in this world” (p. 9). I decided to pick it up (from my local library since it’s currently out of print…) during my recent A Series of Unfortunate Events binge. It begins with a 10-page story about one character and I had assumed the rest of the book would be a series of similar vignettes, but they were actually short statements about life (at most spanning 1.5 pages). I ended up copying down so many quotes from the book that I finally started a quotes journal that will consist of all of my favorite book related quotes that I find.

While reading the collection, I noticed that one of my favorite quotes was directly lifted from The Wide Window, which I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t just finished re-reading it! As I continued, I noticed that other things were repeated quotes from A Series of Unfortunate Events. All was revealed when I finally read the inside book flap of the book, which described the collection as “a bouquet of alarming but inescapable truths from the work of Lemony Snicket, along with selections from his unpublished papers,” hence some quotes would clearly be repeats, but some would be entirely new to me. That said, I still loved rereading them and they felt revelatory, even out of context. I wish the book was still in print so that I could flip it open whenever I wanted! I’ve included some of my favorite quotes are below.

“Sometimes words are not enough.” (p. 78)

“One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one’s history.” (p. 141)

“Grief, a type of sadness that most often occurs when you have lost someone you love, is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pop back up when you least expect it.” (p. 112)

“Everyone disappoints everyone eventually.” (p. 26)

“Wishing, like sipping a glass of punch, or pulling aside a bearskin rug in order to access a hidden trapdoor in the floor, is merely a quiet way to spend one’s time before the candles are extinguished on one’s birthday cake.” (p. 62)

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don’t read is often as important as what you do read.” (p. 71)

“She wondered if life was more than traveling from one place to another, suffering from poor emotional health and pondering the people one loves.” (p. 4)

And this quote which I plan to use with my undergraduate students before discussing a book that will encourage diverging interpretations of the text, “Entertaining a notion, like entertaining a baby cousin or entertaining a pack of hyenas, is a dangerous thing to refuse to do. if you refuse to entertain a baby cousin, the baby cousin may get bored and entertain itself by wandering off and falling down a well. if you refuse to entertain a pack of hyenas, they may become restless and entertain themselves by devouring you. but if you refuse to entertain a notion — which is just a fancy way of saying you refuse to think about a certain idea — you have to be much braver than someone who is merely facing some blood-thirsty animals, or some parents who are upset to find their little darling at the bottom of a well, because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself.” (p. 63)