Category Archives: ARC Review

Review: Who Counts? & A Morning with Grandpa

Because today, March 28th is Children’s Picture Book Day I’m going to share my review of the latest ARC picture books I’ve received. I don’t normally post them to my blog because they are often much shorter than my other reviews. Occasionally I will get a picture book to review and I always save them to read with my 6 year-old goddaughter.

Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons

By Amy-Jill Levine
Pages: 40

Synopsis:

One sheep makes a difference. Without her something is missing. Now my flock is complete.

Oh, no! The man is missing his sheep! The woman is missing her coin! The father is missing his son! Can you help them find what they are looking for?

Who Counts? is a creative retelling of three popular parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. As young readers count to help the characters find what s missing, Who Counts? teaches that every one of us counts in God s eyes and that everyone should feel counted.

The stories are beautifully illustrated with modern-day characters and a diversity of ethnicities so that all children will be able to see themselves in the stories.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s a 3-part retelling of some of the parables of Jesus. Using bright, colorful pictures it tells the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. The first two stories are great, the ones about the sheep and the coin. But then on the third story, the lost/prodigal son, it goes kinda sideways. I agree with an earlier reviewer who said they were uncomfortable with the slant it took. In trying to make the third story more like the first two it changes the end of the parable a bit. Story-wise it makes sense, but Biblically it’s not a good interpretation. Otherwise I would be able to rate this book much higher.

Bottom Line:

Skip it. This book has a great idea, that just goes off course enough to make me uneasy with it.

A Morning with Grandpa


By Sylvia Liu
Pages: 32

Synopsis:

Mei Mei s grandpa is practicing tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei enthusiastically does them with her own flair. Then Mei Mei takes a turn, trying to teach Gong Gong the yoga she learned in school. Will Gong Gong be able to master the stretchy, bendy poses? Winner of the LEE & LOW New Voices Award, this title celebrates, with lively spirit and humor, the special bond between grandparent and grandchild and the joy of learning new things together. Readers of all ages will want to try out some tai chi and yoga too!

Review:

A wonderful book! Both the pictures and story are just lovely. The book is about a little girl and her Grandfather spending a Sat morning together. The grandfather, Gong Gong, is outside doing Tai Chi, and the little girl, Mei Mei, wants to join. The illustrations flow with the story as they move through the poses, with Mei Mei not quite grasping the idea of Tai Chi movements. Then the story flips with Mei Mei trying to teach Gong Gong yoga moves, which he finds difficult to follow. Eventually they find a form that fits them both. A great story to use to introduce multicultural families to children, or to introduce yoga or Tai Chi to kids. The 6 year old loves this book!

Bottom Line:

Get it, if you’re looking to add more multicultural books to your child’s library. It’s a great book and has lots of potential for rereading or for classroom reading.

That’s it. What new picture books have you read lately? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to pick up a picture book today.

Review: Queen of Chaos

By Kat Ross
Pages: 374
Date Finished: Jan 15, 2017

LoBook Reviews - Loved Itved It

Synopsis:

Persepolae has fallen.

Karnopolis has burned.

As the dark forces of the Undead sweep across what remains of the empire, Nazafareen must obey the summons of a demon queen to save Darius’s father, Victor. Burdened with a power she doesn’t understand and can barely control, Nazafareen embarks on a perilous journey through the shadowlands to the House-Behind-the-Veil. But what awaits her there is worse than she ever imagined…

A thousand leagues away, Tijah leads a group of children on a desperate mission to rescue the prisoners at Gorgon-e Gaz, the stronghold where the oldest daēvas are kept. To get there, they must cross the Great Salt Plain, a parched ruin occupied by the armies of the night. A chance encounter adds a ghost from the past to their number. But will they arrive in time to avert a massacre?

And in the House-Behind-the-Veil, Balthazar and the Prophet Zarathustra discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. But is it enough to redeem the necromancer’s bloodstained soul and thwart his mistress’s plans?

As a final showdown looms with Queen Neblis, the truth of the daēvas’ origins is revealed and three worlds collide in this thrilling conclusion to the Fourth Element series.

Review:

I reviewed the first two books in this series, The Midnight Sea and the Blood of the Prophet last year – read that review here.

Queen of Chaos picks up right where Blood of the Prophet left off (These books are so fast paced and each picks up where the previous left off and I recommend reading them all back-to-back.) Our hero’s are scattered after the fall of Xeros’ empire to Alexander. Tijan and a group of daēvas children travel across a barren landscape ravaged by the hordes of undead from Bactria. Nazafareen and Darius travel into the dominion searching after Victor, and eventually they get separated too. The tight group of former Water Dogs is no more, and each must find there own way in a world in chaos.

You really need to read the first two books to be invested enough in this world to understand all the thread and currents in The Queen of Chaos. The story is complicated without being convoluted, and I think that’s really an accomplishment. Too many modern fantasy stories think they have to be so expansive, with so many characters, and so much  going on that the reader can easily loose some of the threads or become disinterested. (I’m reading another series right now and the final book it giving me this exact problem, there is so much going on I can hardly keep it all straight and it spends a lot of time on story lines that don’t seem to be moving the plot forward.) Ross keeps this the book balanced while moving the action forward.

There are several character development twist that came to me a quite a pleasant surprise. Without giving away any spoilers, the way things work out between Nazafareen and Neblis really caught my interest. It could have easily fallen into a fantasy troupe, but not only did it get turned on it’s head, the whole way things worked out for the bad guys was atypical, and I enjoyed that.

Of course, there are new monsters, big battles, and plenty of action in the book too.

Bottom Line:

Wow! Kat Ross knows how to write an epic.

The twists and turns the books takes as it leads up to the final conflicts swept me along. The world of the Forth Element yielded up some more of it’s secrets, but not all. It left me wanting more. Wanting to dig deeper and spend more time in the fantasy version of Persia that Ross built up. (In fact, over on my Tumblr I am doing an Owl-A-Day doodle and dedicated one day to owls inspired by ancient Persian art.)

I highly recommend this series. And right now the first book, The Midnight Sea is free for Kindle.

Purchase:
Amazon

 

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Review: The Breedling and The City in the Garden

the-breedling-and-the-city-in-the-gardenby Kimberlee Ann Bastian
Pages:  280
Date Finished: Oct 31, 2016
Book Reviews - Liked ItLiked It

Synopsis:

Absolute obedience, servitude, neutrality.

These were the laws that once governed Bartholomew, an immortal soulcatcher, until one ill-fated night when he was forced to make a choice: rebel against his masters or reveal an ancient, dangerous secret.

He chose defiance.

Imprisoned for centuries as punishment for his decision, Bartholomew wastes away—until he creates an opportunity to escape. By a stroke of chance, Bartholomew finds himself in the human world and soon learns that breaking his bonds does not come without a price. Cut off from the grace that once ruled him, he must discover a new magic in 1930s Chicago.

Armed with only a cryptic message to give him direction, Bartholomew desperately tries to resume the mission he had started so long ago. Relying on the unlikely guidance of the streetwise orphan Charlie Reese, Bartholomew must navigate the depressed streets of the City in the Garden. But in order to solve this riddle, he must first discover if choice and fate are one in the same.

Review:

Not so much a fantasy story as a tour of 1930’s Chicago with a little bit of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” type mythology mixed in.

The Breedling and The City in the Garden, has a really warm narrative that slowly unfolds the mystery surrounding the character of Bartholomew as it takes you on a tour of depression era Chicago. The depth of the depression history draws you in and makes the unraveling bits of mythology that much more believable.

The characters and their discoveries and struggles are really what makes the story. Charlie the street smart orphan who has lost everything and is struggling to still be the man his mother wanted him to be. Bartholomew/Buck the otherwordly Breedling, who is trying to overcome centuries of grief and guilt and to finish his mission. The Devil, who Buck can’t shake and who has a too keen interest in Charlie. The mysterious and benevolent Father Van Lewen, and the brief glimpses we get of the characters from the world of Buck’s origin and the hints they give us of the true puzzle being unraveled.

Inter-playing ideas of destiny, free will, servitude and muniplation this story asked some big questions but leave them unanswered for the next story.

Bottom Line:

I’m unsure what to think of this book. I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t at all what I expected from the book description. This isn’t really a book for fantasy lovers, and those who regularly read heavily supernatural themed books (Like my Kindle First pick of this month Venom and Vanilla.) This is much more a book for fans of historical/period fiction who want to dip their toes into fantasy.

Purchase:
Amazon

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Review: Elemental Secrets

Pages: ES368

Date Finished: Aug 20, 2016

Book Reviews- It Was OkayIt Was Okay

Synopsis:

Valerie Moore was a beautiful, headstrong girl with below-average social skills and above-average anxiety (including a flair for over-analyzing).

With her mother long deceased, and her father recently deployed, she ends up being sent to live with her eccentric aunt in a tiny town nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania. But, being a Navy brat had made her into a bit of a loner, and making friends certainly wasn’t her strongest suit. As if the life of a typical teen wasn’t hard enough.

But Valerie soon discovers she’s not a typical teenager. Not by a long shot.

SECRETS are revealed…

…About her family, about her newfound friends and relationships, and about her whole world… Things that have been kept from her for her entire life…

But the biggest secret of all is revealed when Valerie discovers that she has Elemental powers, and a chain of inexplicable and irrevocable events unleashes throughout the little town…

Review:

This story is 8 parts high school drama and 2 parts super natural. The high school drama is that of a Navy brat who is living with her Aunt while on her dad is deployed. She trying to fit in as the new kid at the high school, although she’s not too new because she was with this same group of students for 8th grade during another of her dads deployments.

It has the typical love triangle with the new girl having to choose between the hot, loud mouth, popular jock and the quiet guy she just can’t get out of her mind. The drama part is only made interesting because you are kept guessing at the motivation of a couple of the characters.

Soon you find out that there are two factions in the town and that Valerie has accidentally gotten caught between the two.

As she discovers more about what is really going on in the town the action finally begins to ramp up, but the transitions between scenes begin to fall apart. There are times when things have happened in one scene which should be game changers, but have NO bearing or impact on the next one. For example she gets shot, twice, and the next day goes out to breakfast and then to school. Seriously, it was like nothing happened. Like you would expect getting shot to be a major event in her character arc, but the day afterward it has had no effect on her.

It’s really on the transitions that the story lost me. It felt like it could have been a good read, but that it wasn’t tied together well enough.

Bottom Line:

I have had so many mixed feelings about this book that it’s taken me a long time to post this review. It has some compelling elements but jumps around too much and some of the transitions between settings are so jolting they take you out of the story. I wanted to like this book. I hope that it will see a cleaned up second edition.

Purchase:
Amazon

Review: Rags and Ruins

by Bob Dixon
Pages: 292
Date Finished: Sept 9, 2016

LoBook Reviews - Loved Itved It

 

Synopsis:

Rags leads an idyllic life for a goblin child—he spends his days playing in the landfill with his gargoyle friend Ladin, going fishing with his father Hargo in the river, and developing his love of music. His parents love him intensely, and his mother Calin is fiercely protective of him. How could he ask for anything more as he lives an enchanted life on the reservation on the outskirts of the “civilized” world, surrounded by mystical creatures and magic? Little does Rags realize that he is not a goblin but instead a human who was abandoned shortly after his birth and left in the landfill to be raised by the goblins as a way to fulfill an ancient prophecy of good and evil, twin brothers separated at birth and reunited in the thirteenth year of their life, one to unleash an ancient evil, the other the only hope to stop it from happening. A powerful tale of magic, music, and danger, Rags and Ruins is sure to thrill readers of all ages with its mix of adventure, intrigue, and humor—and if it doesn’t, they’ll have to answer to a furious goblin mother.

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Review:

Rags and Ruins is a fantasy story that takes so much of what we think we know about fantasy tropes and turns them on their heads, in the best way possible.

Hargo, is a good-hearted, hard working goblin. Calin is a loving, protective mother goblin. Ladin is a fun loving, adventurous gargoyle. With the Man in the House to keep watch on him and the landfill where they and other “creatures of darkness” live. Rags is really lucky to have them all in his life. A boy never had it so good from so many “bad characters.”

The main story line is about a prophecy that Rags and a twin brother are destined to fulfill one day. Of course, as happens with most fantasy stories there is a magical council working behind the scenes to make sure that the “child of darkness” has as little training as possible and that the “child of light” as much as possible. Their plan is to stack the odds so that come the day of fulfillment evil will be easily overcome. But they are wrong… wrong about Rags, wrong about his brother, wrong about the true meaning of darkness and light, and wrong about themselves. (Telling you this is not a spoiler, you’ll see this coming from a mile away.)

Luckily Hargo and Calin have seen the truth of things and Rags’ love of music is no accident.

This isn’t rooting for the bad guys the way some dark fantasy and urban books have you rooting for the vampire with a soul, or the brooding bad guy. Rags and Ruins has a deep message about stereotypes but brings it out with a light touch.

Bob Dixon can weave a tale. Rags and Ruins is a masterpiece, a must read for fantasy fans.

Bottom Line:

I loved it! From the first page to the last, I thought this book was adorable and the characters truly likable. It’s hard for me to imagine that in 2016 I will like another book more than I liked Rags and Ruins. I think I have found my book of the year.

Purchase:
Amazon

Review: Blood of the Prophet

bloodprophetThe Midnight Sea and The Blood of the Prophet 
by Kat Ross
Pages: 326 and 337
Date Finished:  Aug 24, 2016 and Sep 04, 2016

LoBook Reviews - Loved Itved It

  • I received this book free from the Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for my honest option.

Synopsis:

Visionary. Alchemist. Savior. Saint.

The Prophet Zarathustra has been called many things. Now he spends his time drawing pictures of weird-looking goats. That’s what happens when you’ve been stuck in a prison cell for two hundred years. But the man who might be mad, and is definitely supposed to be dead, has suddenly become very valuable again…

It’s only been a few weeks since Nazafareen escaped the King’s dungeons with her daēva, Darius. She hoped never to set foot in the empire again, but the search for the Prophet has led them to the ancient city of Karnopolis. They have to find him before Alexander of Macydon burns Persepolae, and Darius’s mother with it. But they’re not the only ones looking.

The necromancer Balthazar has his own plans for the Prophet, and so does the sinister spymaster of the Numerators. As Nazafareen is drawn in to a dangerous game of cat and mouse, her newfound powers take a decidedly dark turn. Only the Prophet understands the secret of her gift, but the price of that knowledge may turn out to be more than Nazafareen is willing to pay…

Review:

I loved both of these books. Because I read them back-to-back so I’m going to review them as one here.

The Forth Element Series is a great example of a fantasy series that uses existing mythology to build its fantasy world, but does it in a really exciting new way. I don’t believe I’ve read another fantasy book set in the ancient empire of Persia, using some of the mythology of the area and weaving in the origins of Zoroastrianism. The setting alone is something to love!

I recently read the Greek play The Persians, and that perhaps was the perfect build up for a fantasy story set in the same empire. (Although the author does make note that the story is not an alternative history, it just borrows heavily from history.)

The stories center on Nazafareen, the The Midnight Sea starts out being a fish-out-of-water story about her leaving her nomadic tribe and coming to live in the palace of a Satrap while learning how to be a Water Dog (a warrior bonded to a deava, a being who can control the 3 elements of water, air and earth.) Each Water Dog is able through their bond to control the deava, so that they only use their powers when needed to fight demon called the Druj.

When the old deava’s break out of their prison Nazafareen, her bonded Darius, and their squad are sent after them turning the story into a fantasy quest that continues into Blood of the Prohpet. Things are not as they seem however and as the world around her begins to unravel Nazafereen experiences betrayal, love, loss, and finds in herself an inner magic she never imagined.

Between the two books there are lots of twists and turns and mysteries that lead into deeper mysteries as the lies that held the empire together unravel and enemies close in on every side.

Bottom Line:

It’s EPIC! I can’t wait to see what the next book brings. I love the rich and exotic world and characters. I am very excited to learn more about Bactra and the origins of the daevas. If you want a great original epic fantasy read pick up The Forth Element Series.

Purchase:

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Review: The Quest for Merlin

MTQFM(KINDLE)The Quest for Merlin (Magimakía Book 1)
by Rafael Lovato
Pages: 245
Date Finished: 6/15/16

Book Reviews- Liked it Alot Liked It A Lot

Early Reviewers

  • I received this book free from the LibraryThing members giveaways group in exchange for my honest option.

This was the first time I’ve received an eArc. I’ve been nervous about them because it’s not always in a format that I can read, and it’s been hit and miss with the email-to-Kindle. Luckily, I found a new tool where I can send books to the Kindle with a simple click from my PC. It worked great and I was able to read The Quest for Merlin on my Kindle without problems. (I really hate reading books on a computer screen, Kindle Paperwhite is really the way to go.)

MTQFMBANNER copy

The Quest for Merlin is a fantasy novel set in the modern day.  It has a very unique premise and mythology. The story is told through various characters, the main story following the decedents of Merlin, but also has a very interesting side story as told by the goblins. That’s right, goblins! I really enjoyed the GPoV (Goblin Point of View) chapters.

The book begins with a goblin and troll dropping off a stack of histories to the writer, even though he’s not named I can assume this character is Rafael Lovato the author of the novel. The goblin explains that it’s his job to translate them so the story of the Magimakia can be told to the world. Magimakia being a large magical battle between dimensions.

Each race seems to have it’s own dimension, with a magical energy signified by a special color (Angels – yellow, Humans – blue, Goblins – green and so on) and each race also has a magical specialty (for example Humans can open portals between dimensions.) Digging into this world is pretty interesting. It was unlike any other fantasy world I’ve seen in other books.

I wondered if the differences have to do with the author being Brazilian. One other foreign fantasy I read, the Russian The White Raven (Sword of the Northern Ancestors) was also very unique in its world building and mythology.

The chapters told in the point of view of Oliver, the teenage descendant of Merlin, are suppose to have been written by him in a history book of the Order of Mages and Witches. However, it really doesn’t seem like they were written after the fact by a probably older Oliver, because they are very much told in a teenage point of view (complete with annoying teen lingo and immaturity of thought.) In fact, at one point I wondered if the author had a bet going for how many pages he could have the main character think or say “Wicked.” That was the only real downside.

Bottom Line:

A fun and different fantasy novel. The twist at the end really caught me by surprise. I will be looking forward to the next book in this series. If you enjoy modern fantasy you’ll probably enjoy this book.