Monday, September 26, 2016

Disruption (A Book Review)

I love a good fantasy read, unfortunately there are way more misses in that department than hits (though I've definitely read some good ones!)... especially in middle grade/young adult lit. But really, I think the market is over saturated. Let's see something different from magic and the elements and finding some hidden destiny, okay?

Disruption was refreshing in this way. It's still a middle grade novel, but it's about kids. And while they're not your typical kids, everything feels real in a this-is-our-world kind of way. I actually loved the story:

Matt plays a prank and it goes wrong, his dad is tired of the pranks and gets him enrolled in a summer camp that he hopes will straighten him out. Of course, Matt quickly realizes things aren't quite what they seem. And with that we are left to figure things out right along side of him. About halfway through the book I kept wondering why the title Disruption? but that becomes apparent by the end of the story.

I actually only have three quibbles with the book.

1. The exact same description of Matt's unsteady appetite is used twice in the book. I told you it was a quibble. It was fine the first time, but it stood out to me upon repetition.

2. I didn't really like how Matt had an attitude about school and thinking students who did well were geeky, nerdy, etc etc. I realize some kids have this perspective, but not everyone and it could turn some kids toward thinking that way. But that is hardly the focus of the book, and is easily forgiven in this case.

3. This one is a little more substantial. I would've preferred a different ending. I think this story would've worked best as a stand alone novel, not the start of a series. I won't give spoilers, but I think the choice offered at the end of the book is unrealistic, and since the whole book felt real to that point, it was a shame. I get wanting to make a series, but I'm not sure they'll have the same feel to them this book did. I think they'll require a greater suspension of belief, but I could be wrong.

The book is well paced, and I think this is a great book to hand reluctant readers. I plan on giving this book to my nephew. It's well written, has a good hook, and is definitely worth a read.

4 stars.

I was given a complimentary ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Life is Beautiful

August 2016 and into the first week of September has been probably the worst month+ of my some ways, but through it all I've been reminded that life is beautiful. It started when I sprained my ankle immediately before an out of town trip for my grandmother's memorial service. She died earlier this year, just a week and half after my youngest child was born. Life comes and goes, and it's beautiful.

My grandmother was a positive, can-do person. She never let her age and accompanying issues keep her down. Instead, she picked up boxing. And she never complained such that unless you saw her, you had no idea how bad off she was. She saw the good, the beauty, in the cards she was dealt.

A couple days after returning home from her memorial service, my father went to the doctor and found out he had what they called a widowmaker - a 99% blockage in his heart in a critical area. Three days later he had open heart surgery. Literally at any moment up to that point his life could have ended. If something throws and makes that blockage 100% there is no recovering. Once again we were reminded of the fragility and the beauty of life.

Not even two days after my dad is released from the hospital, my grandfather dies. He had been given no more than 3 months to live, and he didn't even last another half week. He was a man who loved his family, who served as a medic - preserving life - in Korea. He didn't talk about it much. He was an honest man who did a good job, and everyone knew he was reliable. He worked hard to provide for his family. One of his and my grandmother's favorite things to do was go to the beach and soak in the beauty. Having young ones around the last few years of his life was the absolute highlight for him. Young life is beautiful, but so is old life, and seeing the young life and old life interact and intermingle is truly precious, and a great gift.

Just a couple days after my parent's returned from my grandfather's funeral my dad was readmitted to the hospital for complications from his open heart surgery. Thankfully, he is fine now. But once again, we are reminded that life is precious, life is sweet, life is grand, and its an adventure as we never know what each day brings. Sometimes life is tough, but we are too. And all those things meld together and are facets in the diamond that is life. And life is beautiful.

Love one of the above T-shirts? Grab yours here.

Which statement do you think sums up life the best? I'd love to hear!

original image source

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Magemother (A Series Review)

Week 33: A book by an author under 30

The Magemother series is a middle grade fantasy written by Austin J. Bailey. The gorgeous cover artwork is eyecatching, and the premise, well, the premise of misfit girl being summoned to another world and uncovering her true past could be either totally lame or really work well. The first book was (and at the time of this publication still is) free, so I figured, what did I have to lose? 

 The Mage and the Magpie

This book was free on Amazon and had high reviews. Honestly, I usually pick up freebies with high reviews so I can give an honest negative review. Many people seem to think that if they like a book, it deserves five stars. Five stars, imo, should be reserved for the most excellent, memorable, standout books. Not every single book you read.

Sometimes, though, books deserve the praise. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this book. The characters were well developed, the search was enjoyable, and since we're in an unfamiliar world there are lots of surprises. Some things that I think were supposed to be "reveals" were obvious to me, but others were not.

I haven't quite figured out how I feel about the magic in this series.  I think magic is neutral and you use it for good or bad, like you would a car, and it seems like the mages and apprentices possess their particular magic. Like a gift. I don't think that the wind mage's apprentice could learn the magic of the metal mage. In this world, magic is either something you have or something you don't. If you have it, but are not a mage or mage apprentice, I'm not sure what you do. That's never addressed in the series.

I liked this book so much that I immediately looked the author up and signed up to receive updates from him. I received Magemother 1.5 as a "thank you."

4.5 stars

The Empty Throne

This is a novella, not a full length novel. It was offered as a "thank you" gift for signing up to receive updates from the author.

It is a very short and quick read, but it is an important link in the story. If you don't read this, there will be things you scratch your head at in later books trying to figure out if missed something.

While I didn't find this short story as compelling as the larger series narrative, I still thought it was important and highlighted the vulnerable side of Tabitha. It also makes the reader think about how they would respond if they had to go through Tabitha's test.

4 stars

The Paradise Twin

Book 2 largely focuses on finding the hidden mages and on Hugo's struggle with Molad. And there's a dragon. Dragon's are always fun, right?

In Hugo you really get that Jekyll and Hyde feel. His struggle is real, and it's easy to empathize with him. The search for the hidden mages was not as compelling, though, and almost became tedious at times. I had guessed part of Chantra's location, Unda's hiding place was obvious to me, but Lignumis' was well done.

In this book that I started feeling like the series was very similar to the Farworld series by J. Scott Savage.* A lot of necessary things happened in this book, but overall is wasn't as compelling as the others in the series. It moved things along, but I didn't feel anyone particularly developed as a character.

3 stars

The Bridge to Nowhere

This book was very interesting - and not entirely happy. There were a couple moments where I was actually surprised at something truly bad/sad happenings. Realism! I like books that have happy endings, but when absolutely everything works out perfectly as planned, it is eye-roll worthy. You see more development in Brinley and Hugo, others hold their own, and there are a couple flat characters. Some "twists" in the book I saw coming, but the intended audience would largely find them unexpected.

The Hugo/Molad struggle continued, and while it certainly felt real at times, there was one point very near the end in a major moment (trying for no spoilers!) where the reaction seemed a little extreme. But I understand why the author wrote it that way.

There is a meeting with the gods of their world, near the end of the book, and it rather felt like a huge aside. I got it - and they had showed up in other books - but the direction they promise really hadn't been there the whole series, so it didn't feel quite genuine. They also appear to be modeled after the Mormon view of God - being God and his wife who live in another world, but sometimes interact with us. The moral underpinnings in what they say are close to what I believe as a Christian, but the framework is wrong. Not everyone will agree, but I thought I'd mention it for those who want to have conversations with their children about that aspect of the book.

The biggest thing for me is one unanswered question that is actually asked in the series - what about the bell Brinley's father heard? That is never explained. I feel that is an oversight, or maybe it was too complicated to work into the book without a huge expansion ... but in that case the question should have been removed from the book. Its one thing for a reader to have questions of their own, it's another for an author to pose a question within the series that never gets answered.

Overall, the book gets 4 stars.

Serial Thoughts

As mentioned in my review of book 1, I'm not sold on how magic works in this world. To be sure, it is a well crafted story, but something seems a tad off, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe its the lack of complete explanation, I don't know.

*To expand on my Farworld comment from book 2's review. The Farworld and Magemother series aren't actually that similar. Just the whole looking for mages (who control the elements) that are hidden was bringing me strong vibes of the looking for the hidden elementals (basically the elements themselves). Also, the cross-world transfer of a main character. But the journeys are drastically different, as are the endings. The Magemother series actually has a more satisfying ending, but as a series I think I prefer Farworld. If you like one of the series, though, I'm pretty sure you'll like the other.

And, to reiterate from my review of book 3, I don't like unanswered questions posed within the story itself (If I missed this someone please point it out to me!). There is also the Mormon-esque deity thing going on that doesn't completely fit with the world that was built.

My biggest complaint for the series as a whole is the age of the our main cast. They're around 12 years old! Everything they do just seems better suited for someone at least an additional 5 years older. It's a little overdone in literature today to have THE FATE OF THE WORLD resting on pre-to-early teens.

I was grateful that while there is friendship (and hints of particular people probably liking each other) romance is not really in the book. Like I said, it's hinted around, but it's not the star. THANK YOU! That is so nauseously overdone, and these books show you can have a good story without the romance. Especially when we're talking this young.

Mage and the Magpie: 4.5 stars
The Empty Throne: 4 stars
The Paradise Twin: 3 stars
The Bridge to Nowhere: 4 stars

Magemother series average: 4 stars

These book reviews appear as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016, to see other books in the challenge, click here.

I received complimentary ecopies of books 2 & 3 in exchange for my honest opinion.