Book review: Stone Mad: a Karen Memory Adventure, by Elizabeth Bear

Bear, Elizabeth. Stone Mad: a Karen Memory Adventure. “A Tom Dougherty Associates book.” Tor, 2018. 183 pages. $14.99. ISBN 9781250163837. Ages 14-up. P6Q7

An evening not long after the end of the first Karen Memory adventure finds Karen and Priya celebrating ownership of their own house and ranch with dinner at a fancy restaurant and a magic show.  When suspect spiritualist sisters and a tapping table interrupt their dinner—and the hotel begins to tear itself to pieces around them—Karen throws herself heedlessly into the adventure, endangering herself and her friends. As the night’s events lead not to the anticipated homecoming, but to the couple’s first major fight, Karen and Priya have to decide what they each want in life and what they each owe the other as partners and lovers.

Verdict:  For me, much of the joy of reading the first book in the Karen Memory series was carried by the steampunk tropes.  Though the novella Stone Mad still features steampunk touches such as a reappearance of the sewing machine which functions as wearable armor, the major focus of the story is on another Victorian fascination, the supernatural.  And, though interrupted by action and adventure, the crux of the story is on discussions of how two people can relate to each other honorably.  I think this would have been a stronger story as a novel; the shorter form of the novella made it difficult for the author to balance the action sequences with the philosophical bits.  Still, this second book in the Karen Memory series is well done and I recommend it for high school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: A World Below, by Wesley King

King, Wesley. A World Below. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 261 pgs.  $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4814-7822-9. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

Mr. Baker has decided that this year the final class outing will be to the Carlsbad Caverns. This is something that the 8th grade class do not want to do. All other 8th grade classes have gone somewhere to dine and have fun. The caves trip they all feel is not going to fun. It is the beauty of the caves that makes several change their minds and they seem to enjoying the trip when a sudden earthquakes seals them inside. The class is plunged into a hidden world several hundred feet below where the tour started. This is a word of hidden dangers and people. A place where they overcoming their differences and new friendships are formed.

Verdict: The reader is left wondering what will happen to those that were left behind. It is also a story of survival and the wonders of what could be hidden below Earth’s surface.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Last Namsara, by Kristen Ciccarelli

Ciccarelli, Kristen.  The Last Namsara.  HarperTeen, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-06-256798-7. $17.99. 416 pages.  Ages 13 to adult.  P9 Q9

A unique and powerful story based on one girl’s ability to attract dragons by telling stories based on truth.  At one point in time Dragons and Man worked together, now the king is using his daughter, Asha, who has the gift of storytelling, to hunt Dragons and kill them, thus eliminating the only thing that is keeping him from complete dominance.  Love the cover art!

Great detail in a multi-storyline novel (the king and his daughter and the magic their lives are built on, the king’s son who is mysteriously ill and bringing an enemy envoy to the castle, the slave who loves Asha, and the story of the dragons themselves) that is believable, cohesive, and surprising.

Verdict:  A wonderful and wonderfully written story for teens and up.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: The Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier

Neumeier, Rachel.  The Keeper of the Mist.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-553-50928-1.  391 pages.  Ages 12-17.  P8Q8

A unique rendition of the typical fantasy story of the unknown daughter becoming queen of the land.  The story is well thought out and delivered with unique characters and roles, even if the story itself isn’t unique.

Keri has recently been crowned Queen of Nimmira, a land covered in a protective mist to keep covetous eyes away.   Keri soon realizes the protective mists are failing and must work to discover why and how to repair them.

My only complaint with the novel is some of the vocabulary the author chose to use, such as “aspersion” and “insouciance”.  The terms are not mainstream and required a dictionary.  Not a bad thing in theory, but seems as though the author has too close of a relationship with her thesaurus.

Verdict:  Great story, especially for those who like to enrich their vocabulary.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, illustrations by Vivienne To

DasGupta, Sayantani. The Serpent’s Secret. Illustrations by Vivienne To. (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series, book 1). Scholastic, 2018. 338 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781338185706. Ages 9-14. P8Q7

Parsippany, New Jersey sixth grader Kiran’s twelfth birthday brings monsters—huge, snot-dripping rakkhosh—instead of cake and the expected party, along with two princes, and the abduction of her parents, leading her into a multi-dimension adventures based, in part, on tales from Bengali folklore.  Flying horses, classes by Einstein, and the discovery that her father is the infamous Serpent King, make Kiran’s hero’s journey a delight.

Verdict: Kiran is a delightful contradiction—an all-American bi-cultural preteen  whose intelligence, empathy and physical courage allow her to save the princes as often as they rescue her.  My one caveat is that, though author thanks the proofreader, there is a consistent error. The word for the long straps leading from the bit of a bridle is “rein”—not “reign”—which is misused throughout the book.  (I hope this will be corrected in the expected sequels and in later printings of this most excellent fantasy.) Highly recommended for elementary, middle and public library collections.  This one is fun.

June 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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.