Book review: The Caldera, by John Flanagan

Flanagan, John. The Caldera. (Brotherband Chronicles, #7) Philomel Books, 2017. $18.99. ISBN: 978-0399163586. 432p. Gr.7+. P9 Q7



Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice series will love this latest installment in the companion series, Brotherband Chronicles. This one has pirates, Vikings, and lots of nonstop action.  There’s really nothing in this series that is objectionable, so parents should encourage their kids to read them.  They are a great way to escape!

May 2018 review by NHS student.


Book review: Heartless, Marissa Meyer

Meyer, Marissa. Heartless. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. $19.99. ISBN 9781250044655. 453 pgs. Ages 12 and up.  P9 Q9

In a world where talking rabbits and ravens are commonplace, Caroline’s baking has touched the king’s sweet tooth, and he has decided he wants her to marry him. But, Caroline wants to open a bakery with her maid – a plan she knows her parents will not agree to. When the king hires a new joker – Jest– Caroline falls instantly in love with him and loves sneaking out to hang out with his motley crew of dormice, caterpillars, and a particularly talented haberdasher named Hatta. Caroline’s and Jest’s love can only happen if they are able to escape the kingdom, but no king, no matter how short, foolish, and insipid, is going to allow himself to be cuckolded.

Verdict: This original backstory of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland is a richly written love story in a fantasy world with relatable characters. The reader sinks into the story, enjoying the rich tapestry of characters, setting, and adventure.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: Ash Princess, by Laura Sebastian

Sebastian, Laura.  Ash Princess. (Ash Princess trilogy, book 1) “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Delacorte Press, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-5247-6706-8.  $18.99.  432 pages.  Ages 12+. Q6P8

A typical story of a princess whose country is taken over, and family killed, by a terrible conqueror.  The story itself is not a new one, but Ms. Sebastian does a good job creating a fantasy setting with a medieval feel.  What I didn’t like about this story is how much of the book it took for the heroine to become a “heroine”.  Ms. Sebastian made the heroine, Thora, defenseless and naïve for roughly two thirds of the book.  I considered not finishing the book, but thankfully Thora finally figures out it takes intelligence, perseverance, and strength of will, instead of petty manipulation games, to win back her country.

This book has a grammatical error (page 9 “…the Kaiser’s has…) and content errors (Page 12 states both airgems and earthgems are worn for strength when it’s obvious they should have different powers.  Page 42 “…the Kaiser’s milky, distant eyes…” should read Kaiserin) that I have hopes will be corrected before final publication.

Verdict:  A nice spin on a typical story.  Far too much time developing the heroine which detracts from the main character.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: The Boggart Fights Back, by Susan Cooper

Cooper, Susan. The Boggart Fights Back. (The Boggart, book 3). McElderry, 2018. $16.99. 210p. ISBN 978-1-5344-0629-2. Ages 9-12. P9Q9

In the 1990s, this Newbery-winning author introduced the Scottish mischievous shape-shifting creature to young readers in The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monster. The Canadian protagonists have grown up with children, and two of them, 10-year-old twins Jay and Allie, return to the boggart’s home to visit their grandfather. The boggart and his friend Nessie introduced in the second of the series join the humans’ efforts to preserve the castle, surrounding property, and Loch Linnhe from a wealthy bullying rude American real estate developer who wants to tear up the land and buildings to install a tacky luxury resort. Throughout their efforts, they meet other legendary Scottish Old Things called up to assist in the efforts to frighten away the developer.

Verdict: The plot is reminiscent of the resistant to Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course, and the cadence of William Trout’s speech patterns will be familiar to anyone who listens to Trump. Comedy and adventure blend in a fast-moving tale filled with lore and environmental concerns. The theme of perseverance in the face of seeming helplessness is valuable for young people, especially in the current culture. A great sequel which will encourage young readers to visit—or revisit—the two earlier boggart books.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Tempests and Slaughter, by Tamora Pierce

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter. “Advance Reader’s Copy.” (The Numair Chronicles, book 1) Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 6, 2018. $18.99. [480] pages. ISBN  978-0-375-8471-0. “Ages 12-up.” P8Q8

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series will welcome this new prequel series about the early life of mage Numair Salmalín, once called Arram Draper.  At the age of 10, Arram becomes a student at the Imperial University of Carthak. The opening scenes with his father and uncle at the Imperial Games introduce Arram to the gladiator Musenda, who saves his life, and begin his lifelong aversion to slavery.  In many ways, Tempests and Slaughter is a fantasy tale in the form of a school story.  Arram faces classroom challenges, dormitory dominance issues, beginning friendships, and growing confidence in his own abilities. Also typical of school stories, Arram’s story focuses on new classes and growing mastery, not on extraordinary quests and tests.  In this first book of a planned trilogy, Pierce introduces major players and conflicts that tie into the later books in the world of Tortall.

Verdict: Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Nix, Garth, and Sean Williams. Have Sword, Will Travel. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780545259026. Ages 10-14. P7Q

Small, quicksilver Eleanor wants to be a knight, like her mother.  Odo, the miller’s son, is brawny, but has no desire to leave their small village.  However, the once mighty Silverrun River has slowed to a trickle and as the two friends fish for eels, they find a magical sword which chooses Odo as its knight, leaving Ellie to be the squire.  The two friends and the sword– Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short)—take on the quest to free the dying river, facing and solving numerous problems along the way.

Verdict: Australian authors Nix and Williams have worked together on previous books, though Williams has not been published in the United States as often as has Garth Nix.  Have Sword, Will Travel is a solid fantasy for middle grade readers that shows both protagonists growing and changing as they accomplish their quest.  Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.  This story leaves room for sequels, so be prepared to purchase not only the first, but also subsequent titles.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Apprentice Witch, by James Nichol

Nichol, James. The Apprentice Witch. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781338118582. 318 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q8

After blowing up the magical testing apparatus in front of the entire school, including her arch-enemy, mean girl Gimma Alverston, apprentice witch Arianwyn Gribble accepts a continuing apprentice position in the town of Lull. Arianwyn makes new friends and begins to rebuild her confidence as she deals with various otherworldly infestations and incursions from the Great Wood.  When Gimma turns out to be the niece of Lull’s mayor and comes to Lull for an extended stay, Arianwyn has to work with her on the problems in the village.  A failed spell creates a disaster for the village just as Arianwyn’s second evaluation comes due.

Verdict: The author’s voice in this coming of age fantasy novel creates a realistic setting, real people and relationships, and real dilemmas for the new witch.  Issues of creating a new life away from home and family ring true, making this fantasy feel like a British cosy.  (I found myself looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit.) This book will probably not appeal to fans of dystopian fiction; it is wonderful debut novel and I am looking forward to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries, as well as public library juvenile collections.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.