Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Four Stories, Seven Narrators

The Magician's Workshop, Volume One


Title: The Magician's Workshop, Volume One
Authors: Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Date Published: November 8, 2016

Goodreads Summary: Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop. 

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

My Thoughts
Narrating Style: At first this book was really hard for me to read. It was confusing - I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of the story - at first I wondered if I was reading the second book, and not the first. However, a few chapters in, in reality the moment Kai started narrating I was hooked. I read the rest of the book as fast as I could and finished in two days, which considering I'm a full time college student, and I have a job, was quite the feat. 

The thing about this book is that the authors try to do something which I think can be quite difficult - they tell four very distinct stories with seven different narrators. While the stories all occur at the same time, with the same theme of looking forward to finding out if they will be magicians, each child has a very different perspective and way of life going in to this event. Due to that fact, sometimes it was very jolting when the narrator changed. However, once you got into the swing of the book and began to understand the world surrounding it, things made more sense. 

Kai and friends: The story which I think gets the most "screen time" due to the fact that four of the seven narrators belong to it, is that of Kai and his friends in Region 2. This was probably my second favorite overall - I loved the tight group of Kai, Weston, Talia, Luge, and Snap. I loved how they acted like kids, I also enjoyed the chapter we got from the view of Kai's grandma who thinks very differently of things than the children do. 

I especially found the trial insightful in how mob mentality can affect a group of people. In the dark where they can say whatever they like, and names are not used, it is much easier for a group of adults to gang up against a small defenseless child. It was not until an individual who commanded respect came into the light and called out the others by name, that it seemed they realized what they were doing. 

Layauna: I found Layauna's story the most sad, sure she wasn't an orphan, nobody hated her, and her projections were good, but she was alone. She had been taken from her family and placed in a cold and sterile environment where everyday she was faced with the same fears and harshness as the one before. Layauna teaches the reader that you cannot always solve a problem by pushing through it, or going at it head on, sometimes you must think things out and realize what it actually means and how it affects you. It wasn't until Layauna accepted the Hell Dog as part of herself, and thought about what it actually wanted, that she was able to dissolve it. And, she was only able to achieve that because she was treated with love and respect, instead of fear and cold science. 

Kalaya: Personally I didn't enjoy Kalaya. She was whiny and insecure, unable to accept her talents, instead focusing just on one small detail and not being able to appreciate the rest. Yes, her wallaroo was blue, but everything else about it was perfect. I think as people we often focus on our faults and flaws instead of our talents and goodness.

Kaso: Kaso was my favorite. Hands down. I loved everything about him. He seemed more intellectual than the other kids, and more mature. Maybe that comes from being an orphan and raising your little brother. He wasn't as pliable as Kalaya, obedient as Layauna, or oblivious as Kai and his friends. This was a kid who knew what was up and couldn't be deceived by the world around him. When something happened he immediately went on the defensive, but still weighed out the situation and then decided how to act. I loved his special ability to project warmth, and what that meant to me. I was so worried and intrigued on how he was going to get a sponsor, that when I turned the page and found it was the end, I yelled out loud. I was upset. It took me about 2 minutes to pull up my email and send a message to the authors asking for Volume Two!!

Overall:Like I said before, four stories, seven narrators. Whew. 

If ever there was a book that had extreme rising action, this would be it. The entire novel is one rising action. I guess it ensures that the reader will want the second. 

I applaud Hansen and Fehr for creating a unique world which combines apocalyptic, distopian, and magical elements. As well as telling a compelling story. I look forward to reading Volume Two!


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Beat on Ruby's Street + Giveaway


Want to read The Beat on Ruby's Street? To win a free e-copy, enter our Rafflecopter giveaway!
Title: The Beat on Ruby's Street (A Beat Street Book)
Author: Jenna Zark
Publication Date: June 1st 2016
Publishing Company: Dragon Moon Press
Number of Pages: 139

Erin's favorite quote: "It's okay," he says. "Write."

What Goodreads has to say:

The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.
It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.
As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.
Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

What I have to say:

Endearing, engaging, and thought-provoking, The Beat on Ruby's Street is a fantastic middle-grade novel set in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1958. 

The story follows eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata, an aspiring poet born into a Beat Generation family. Defiant, unconventional, and full of dreams about Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets, Ruby is a spirited, lovable protagonist with a strong voice, and readers should have little to no trouble relating to her, despite differences in time and location.

Ruby's troubles begin when she tries to attend a Jack Kerouac reading (Kerouac was a famous Beat Poet). Unfortunately, she never makes it to the reading. Instead, she gets waylaid by a neighborhood bully, arrested by the police, kidnapped by a social worker, taken to a children's home, released, and moved to a new house. 

Somewhere in there she hides in an Italian restaurant, breaks a few wine bottles, goes on a hunger strike, and sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night to attend a poetry reading. 

The gist of it all is that, while Ruby may be at the mercy of people who are older and have more authority than her, there's absolutely no way she's going to let them dictate her life. 

As a historical fiction novel, The Beat on Ruby's Street paints a vivid picture of what life was like for the Beat Generation in 1950s New York. The story is both informative and fun, and the author sets the stage brilliantly, working in little details about Kerouac and the Beatniks without coming across as heavy-handed or textbook-oriented. Both readers familiar with the Beat Generation and those who know nothing about it will find this an enchanting, moving read.

I loved The Beat on Ruby's Street. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about it. Even though it's not the kind of book I usually read, once I started, I couldn't tear my eyes from the pages (metaphorically - I read the Kindle edition). I think this was mainly due to the strong voice and perfect pacing. The story moves along at a natural pace that pulls the reader in and makes them want more. 

Besides all this, the story raises issues that are as relevant today as they were in 1958. Ruby wrestles with the realities of family, education, society, marriage, money, friendship, immigration, art, leadership, and authority. Her relationships with her family members are complicated and touching. Her view of the world is both insightful and innocent, but always relatable. 

Ruby is a wonderful character. The flashes of poetry scattered throughout the story are magic. And the last chapter is especially moving.

This has to be one of the best historical novels, and one of the best middle-grade novels, I've ever come across. Whether you're looking for a good historical fiction or a sweet middle-grade adventure - or just really good writing - pick up The Beat on Ruby's Street and you won't be disappointed.

Rating (out of 5) :

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Music and the Tree Who Loved Her

Title: Music and the Tree Who Loved Her 
Author: J. A. Bennett

Publication Date: 2016
Number of Pages: 398

What Goodreads has to say:

Green was a seedling as proud as any conqueror … so begins the magnificent tale of the indomitable spirit of one tree, who after losing everything, finds himself in the middle of a deep, intricate and wondrous adventure ...

Prince Green is a Prince of the Forest no longer. Living alone on the prairie, ignored and shunned by his own kind, he finds comfort in the gossip of the savanna grasses, and company in the stars at night.

He doesn’t realize that the ache under his bark comes from loneliness until he saves his mortal enemy’s child -- A newborn dragon maiden -- whose sweet kisses have the power to rebuild a shattered world, or destroy it.

What I have to say:

Music and the Tree Who Loved Her is a fantasy on an epic scale. Somehow, J. A. Bennett manages to weave together at least six vastly different cultures in a way that never feels jarring. The transitions from one race to another are seamless and never take the reader out of the story. 

Basically, this book has it all:

Talking, walking (yes, walking) trees
Shape-shifting dragons
Steampunk-esque gnomes
Creepy vampires
War-loving earth-dwellers 
Undead stuff
A sentient Mountain
(To name but a few)

Reminiscent of Norse Mythology, vampire legends, and epic fantasies like Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and EarthseaMusic and the Tree Who Loved Her concerns the coming together of a host of different races who have long been enemies, as they attempt to rebuild a post-apocalyptic world and combat an evil force bent on banishing all creation to the non-existence.

This story has some truly great characters. I especially liked Tongs Chin, a gutsy little gnome who has a talent for machinery and is not going to let anyone tell her how to live her life. Prince Green, the Tree of the title, is also a fascinating character. Some of the best-written passages in the book concern Green and how he views the world around him.

In fact, there is some really good writing in this book. Especially original are the descriptions of Mythic, the traveling Mountain trying to save civilization despite the fact that everyone (and everything) seems to be working against him. Since sentient, walking mountains don't usually figure in stories, I found Bennett's treatment of Mythic clever, fresh, and fun. 

And that goes for much of the story: in general, Music and the Tree Who Loved Her is clever, fun, creepy, and bravely original. There's some great humor - such as when the Stonecaste go off to war in unnecessarily fluorescent tanks painted by their gnome assistants - but there's also enough danger and creep factors to keep the reader truly invested in the story. 

Overall, this book was a really fun read, and at times the writing was startlingly good. But I'd feel remiss if I didn't point out just two things I wasn't crazy about. 

First of all, squeamish readers probably won't enjoy this book: there's a lot of blood and a lot of people puking. While I don't consider myself a particularly squeamish reader, and would never judge a book's quality by how much gore is in it, I did feel that this book had a little more blood than it needed - sometimes the violence felt self-gratifying. 

Secondly, this book could have used more proofreading: it had grammatical errors and some passages that would have benefited from greater revision. If the writing had been better all around and there had been fewer grammatical errors, I would have given this book a higher rating.

As it is, though, Music and the Tree Who Loved Her is a fresh, exciting adventure with a host of wildly different characters and an epic sweep. Told with an equal amount of humor, intensity, spunk, and imagination, this story will delight fans of epic fantasy searching for an adventure that feels both new and familiar.


Until tomorrow.