Book Review: Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

will in scarlet

 

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Genre: MG Fantasy

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Pages: 272

Published: October 8th, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Website  |  Twitter

This reimagining of the Robin Hood legend tells the story of the young boy behind the bandit hero’s rise to fame.

Will Shackley is the son of a lord, and though just thirteen, he’s led a charmed, protected life and is the heir to Shackley House, while his father is away on the Third Crusade with King Richard the Lionheart.

But with King Richard’s absence, the winds of treason are blowing across England, and soon Shackley House becomes caught up in a dangerous power struggle that drives Will out of the only home he’s ever known. Alone, he flees into the dangerous Sherwood Forest, where he joins an elusive gang of bandits readers will immediately recognize.

How Will helps a drunkard named Rob become one of the most feared and revered criminals in history is a swashbuckling ride perfect for anyone who loves heroes, villains, and adventure.

WILL IN SCARLET swings from the lows of life into the highlights with this retelling of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  Its young cast and spontaneous silliness might make adults feel a little foolish for reading it, yet the gritty scenes involving death and less than ideal choices will keep tweens and teens entranced.

There’s a surprising amount of depth to story, characters, and setting considering that the pacing never lags.  I’m amazed at how much is crammed into these 272 pages.  Every word truly counts.

The characters are always doing something – whether fighting, drinking, or traveling  — while they chat.  Despite a large cast of characters, which does grow smaller by the end of the book, every character important enough to have a name also has a backstory and a personality.  If the character has a name, then they feel like they have a backstory and a personality.  I appreciated the fact that most of the characters also developed over the course of the story, whether for better or worse.  Unlike many fantasy books for this age, the villains are fleshed out and have goals beyond simply being evil.

Scarlet was an easy character to root for.  I wanted him to have a happy life.  After living a privileged life, he learns that the most important things in life are the ones you have to fight to keep.  He has his faults, yet his story is inspirational.

Much is an orphan girl pretending to be a boy.  Considering all the close calls and length of time, it was hard to believe that not a single person in the Merry Men saw through Much’s disguise as a boy.  Even when an outsider called her a girl, the boys were clueless.  Regardless, I enjoyed her character.  She was physically weaker and less skilled than the boys (in general), yet managed to make herself no less of an asset to them.

WILL IN SCARLET is simply a great MG version of a well-loved myth.  I highly recommend it to anyone until the age of 18.

B rating plus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.)

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Book Review: Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

skyjumpers

 

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Genre: MG Adventure, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Pages: 288

Published: September 24th, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Website  |  Twitter

What happens when you can’t do the one thing that matters most?

12-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.

But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or to die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help.

For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.

Set in a world where the bombs did go off, SKY JUMPERS is a post-apocalyptic adventure at the end of WWIII.  The toxic air left over from green bombs (known as Bomb’s Breath) acts as both a safety net from intruders and a death trap for villagers who get careless.  Isolated for the majority of the year, the town has learned to advance itself through inventions, although its fear of the unknown often limits itself.

Hope is an easy character for MG readers to identify with.  Sometimes her best isn’t enough to succeed.  Her achilles heel is inventing, which unfortunately is the main emphasis in her schooling.  Hope is shamed when yet another invention of hers fails and she is disqualified from the Harvest Festival.  Her feelings are raw and her pain real.  She wants to be useful, yet she doesn’t know how.  To keep her mind off of things, she turns to sky diving.  She’s so fearless that she risked exposure with the Bomb’s Breath to test her theory that it would cushion her fall, no matter how high the jump.

It’s a pleasant switch to have the female MC exhibit qualities usually reserved for male characters.  She’s headstrong, fearless, and adventurous.  She’s more willing to test theories than come up with them.  Her best friend, Aaren, is calmer and very nurturing towards his family.  It bothers me when adults are rendered stupid just to give the children a chance to shine.  In SKY JUMPERS, there is a very plausible reason (which I won’t spoil) that makes the children the only ones to embark on the adventure to save the town.

I wish that SKY JUMPERS had a less linear plot.  Although the characters and setting were unique, it lost its flavor when the actual adventure began.  I’m sure that MG readers will love the easy read and clear goals of the characters, but I wanted a little more.  The second half of the book was well-written and predictable, though the ending had a few parts that weren’t crystal clear (with the Bomb’s Breath).

I was surprised to learn that SKY JUMPERS is the beginning of a series, since it is quite capable of being a standalone book.  Great characters and setting will make this quick read a hit for MG readers.

B rating minus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.)

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Book Review: Portal by Imogen Rose

portal by imogen rose

 

Portal by Imogen Rose

Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate Reality

Publisher: Self-published

Pages: 354

Published: January 23rd, 2010

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

Come Find Me Two Years Ago…

Six words that propelled ice hockey playing tomboy, Arizona, into an alternate dimension.

She suddenly found herself in the past. In one moment she went from being an ice hockey playing teenager in New Jersey to a glamorous cheerleader in California. She found herself transported from a happy life with her dad, Dillard, to a new, strange one living with her mother whom she hates. Apparently it’s a life she’s always lived in.

Everyone knows her as Arizona Darley, but she isn’t. She is Arizona Stevens.

As she struggles to find answers she is certain of one thing- that her mother Olivia, a brilliant physicist, is somehow responsible. .

PORTAL is the story of the repercussions of Olivia Darley’s attempt at creating a perfect world for herself and her children. Arizona’s quest for answers threatens to undermine the seemingly perfect world that her mother has so carefully constructed.

PORTAL is the first book of the Portal Chronicles. Fans of time travel, romance, and the supernatural will enjoy Arizona’s quest for answers.

PORTAL is one of those books where its enjoyment level is linked severely with the age of the reader.  Although it is marketed towards YA, it would be most love by Tweens or MG readers.  Adult readers might find that the lack of science behind this science-fiction novel hard to swallow.  Not even the scientists in the book understand exactly why some characters have memories from their previous reality and others have none.  That’s where science fiction differs from fantasy.  Fantasy can use the excuse ‘magic’, while Science Fiction…well, someone better know why the hell things work the way they do.

PORTAL is an easy and entertaining story, however, and I planned on rating it much higher until the final couple of chapters.  It annoyed me that for every question answered by the ending scenes, two more questions popped up.

Despite the low marks on other reviews for editing, I only found one typo — a missing quotation mark on page 237 — and overall it was very polished.  The author’s writing style felt extremely familiar to me, though I know this is the first book I’ve ever read by Imogen Rose.  I think her style reminds me of Caroline B. Cooney, who writes for a similar age level.

The characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, yet they diverged from the stereotypes and didn’t make predictable decisions.  I like how Arizona’s love interest and her best friend clashed, especially towards the end.  I liked the conflict between what Arizona expected the characters to act like from her old life and the way they act like in her new one.  The villain was especially well-fleshed out and I appreciated the fact that I could sympathize with many of the decisions that character made, even if they were selfish.

I’m fairly certain I’ll continue reading this series, since it did hold my interest from the first page to the last.  I hope that in future books some of the questions I have are finally answered.

rating C

(I received a copy of this book from ARCycling in exchange for my honest review.)

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Book Review: The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney (5 stars)

the ghost prison

The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

Genre: MG Horror

Publisher: Scourcebook Fire

Pages: 112

Published: October, 1st, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Youtube

‘This is the entrance to the Witch Well and behind that door you’d face your worst nightmare. Don’t ever go through there.’

Night falls, the portcullis rises in the moonlight, and young Billy starts his first night as a prison guard. But this is no ordinary prison. There are haunted cells that can’t be used, whispers and cries in the night… and the dreaded Witch Well. Billy is warned to stay away from the prisoner down in the Witch Well. But who could it be? What prisoner could be so frightening? Billy is about to find out…

An unforgettable ghost story from the creator of the Wardstone Chronicles (Spook’s Apprentice) series.

Illustrated throughout by the incredible Scott M Fischer, this beautifully produced book will make the perfect Halloween gift.

Parent, beware:  THE GHOST PRISON will horrify MG readers this Halloween. From the first page and illustration, the reader is introduced to a gritty world where a young boy begins work as a prison guard.

The archaic terms may baffle some readers, but most of them are easy enough to figure out from context.  The cast of characters is small, but each character holds a vital role in the ending.  The transitions between scenes are quite easy to follow and the suspense builds gradually until there seems to be no-way out for our poor narrator.

And that ending!  Wow!  It was creepy enough to spook me for a moment.  I can’t believe that’s how it ending!  Wow.  Fantastic.

The illustrations of the book remind me of those in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, which were a collection of gritty horror stories released in the 90s.  Together, this is the perfect story to read/gift to kids ready for the Halloween spirit.

rating A plus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.)

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Review: Love, Tink by Elle Strauss (3 1/2 stars)

love tink elle strauss

Love, Tink by Elle Strauss

Genre:  Fantasy, Fairytale retelling

Publisher: Self Published

Published:  July 10th, 2013

Pages: 249

Links:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Goodreads  |  Kobo

Author Links:  Website  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Twitter

Tink is hopelessly smitten with Peter, the leader of the lost boys who’d mysteriously arrived at Neverland two years ago. Unfortunately, Peter is tired of the adventure and especially tired of dodging Captain Hook who is after his head. He just wants to go back to New York City and live his life as a normal fifteen-year-old.

Tink is the only one who can help Peter return, but it breaks her heart to do it. She just wants to make him happy, so she does the unthinkable and betrays the fairy king. Now her heart is filled with remorse. Should she go after Peter? Should she follow him to his New York?

Originally published as six separate novella episodes, Love, Tink the complete series is all six stories together in one volume.

LOVE, TINK goes against everything I normally want in a book, yet I adored it.  I’ve read a couple other Peter Pan retellings and LOVE, TINK offers a modern version of the tale.  MG or YA readers can appreciate this clean fantasy.  I read this book almost straight through, and now I’m itching to read other books by Elle Strauss.

In this version of Peter Pan, Peter is homesick and wants to leave Neverland.  Tink is so love-smitten that she goes against the laws of the fairy people and helps him leave her.   The romance between Tink and Peter is the primary plot.  There are other subplots, particularly later in the story, but none of them distract from the romance.   It is told from the POV of both Tink and Peter, although we don’t get to pop into Peter’s head until 40% through the book.

I liked the complexity of Tink and how her heart brought her mishap after mishap.  She experiences a vast array of emotions throughout the book, yet never slips out of character from what you’d expect.  Jangles is a fun, spunky character.  She actually has some plot of her own and her entire life doesn’t revolve around Tink, however the ending with her I wasn’t pleased about.  It made her seem shallow, even though her intentions may have been noble.

I’m not as fond of how Wendy is portrayed, since she shows zero depth.  Her only apparent trait is that she is super obsessed with Peter, then again with the unreliable narrations of Peter and Tink, this lack of complexity might be because neither of them think that highly of her.  Peter is a little underdeveloped.  I liked him from Tink’s perspective, but not when we’re in his head.  He’s whiny and weak and totally not what turns me on in a guy.

Considering that this is a fantasy, I don’t expect a completely realistic atmosphere, however the scenes in New York conflict with what I know about the city.  Most importantly is that there are a whole lot of schools.  The chances of Dylan and Peter attending the same school are slim.  The chances of a taxi cab driver knowing which school to take you to when you can’t even tell the cab driver the name or address is infinitely improbably.

I wish that the locations used in New York City were more specific and localized.  It’s such a unique city that generalizations really don’t match.  Baltimore, for example, would have been a much better choice for a city without personality.

rating C plus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.)

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