Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

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Even though I really liked this book (4/5 stars), I’m going to go ahead and air on the side of harsh in this review because this is one of those books that is really popular that no one who knows anything about writing ever reviews. Like most other teen fiction books, it gets a lot of hype for a reason that no one can place their finger on.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the characters. Usually, in teen fiction it’s the characters that suck. What I appreciated was the backstory, leading up to present lives that made sense. It also wasn’t excessive; in fact, no backstory was shared unless it was neccesary. I also liked that there weren’t too many characters to keep track of. Warning: the first chapter is a bunch of nonsense and totally threw me off.

I liked the pace of the plot, it made sense and was easy to follow; it also strung me along on the edge of my seat, wanting to know more answers, even from the beginning. Very clever story telling.

Leigh Bardugo is VERY skilled at knowing her audience. No matter how many times you argue with me on this point, this book was written for teen girls. Yes, I know it’s about a dirty gang and 4/6 characters are young men. But that’s the draw, you see. If you wish to differ, change the characters to 6/6 as boys. Then you’ll see what I mean. With Bardugo’s audience in mind, she skillfully draws in the teens….and drives away everyone else. So I’m both congratulating and wagging my finger at this author, because when you write for teens you can get away with a lot that you normally can’t because your readers still eat it up. How can you argue with that?

One of the biggest things that bothered me was some of the decisions that the characters made. Even though Kaz was supposed to be like a genius, he agrees with some really weird stuff. Like almost total nonsense that form gigantic holes in the plot.  I peer down into the void and wonder what could have filled it. And then it hits me: nothing could have filled it, that’s why it’s there. So it’s the authors fault for not editing out scenes that don’t make sense, and she hopes you will overlook the holes so she can fulfill your need for those all-important awkard moments of romantic tension.

Example (and yes, I made this up so I don’t spoil the book):

Kaz: “Alright, let’s leave Matthias and Inej to guard this door.”

Inej: “Wait, you can’t leave me here! I’m the only person who knows that the blue lock picks fit into the pink doors!”

Kaz: “Fine, we’ll leave Nina here with Matthias so they can solve the problems of the universe together.”

Yep. Something like that actually happened. The author resorts to weird cliches, like comparing Nina’s eyes with green fire. HOLY COW! GREEN FIRE!? Does that mean something? Should I be afraid? Last time I checked, fire wasn’t green. Actual description lost, and I don’t think Bardugo meant that her eyes have gone up in acidic flame.

And another thing: somewhere in the middle of the heist, the author got so caught up with the action of it, she forgot what they were actually stealing. I actually got confused as to whether they were still trying to get in, or trying to get out.

This book is definitely for 13+ because of content. Sometimes pretty gruesome, a decent amount of moderate swearing. One of the main characters comes from being a slave in a brothel and suffers a lot of mental trauma. Not really any particular circumstances are given, but there are a number of references throughout the book that can’t really just be glossed over.

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Ulysses Moore: Door to Time, by Pierdomineco Baccalario

In a house on the coast of England, there is a door. It hides unimaginable mysteries, unavoidable danger, and unbelievable surprises. When eleven-year-old twins Jason and Julia move into the old mansion with their family, the door is a secret – locked and hidden behind an old wardrobe.

But Jason, Julia, and their friend Rick are about to discover what lies behind it…

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This book was originally written in Italian, then was translated to an audio. I’m not sure whether you can find it in book form or not in English.

On a roadtrip to Seattle, Washington we checked out three audios. Two, come to find out, were about halfway through a series we had never heard of. So we were stuck with this one the whole way there and back.

I was not thrilled. It was like a cross between Indiana Jones and National Treasure, but the peril was lurking at quite a distance. There were supposed to be a lot of tense moments, but there wasn’t enough tension in the situation because multiple times nothing happened. Multiple close calls don’t make for a very interesting story, because then you figure out that the author has no intention of anything happening. Not very life-threatening if you know there life isn’t threatened.

They also happened to be child-geniuses. 11 and 12 year olds aren’t supposed to know about ancient extinct languages, have the strength to row a huge ship that has run aground and make wise life decisions in a dark tunnel with parents conveniently out of the way. You may get tired of hearing , “Hey guys!” I suppose the title should have given me a hint about what would happen in the end, but I must admit I found the end a little annoying.

If you really liked 39 Clues but without the gruesome bits, or the Magic Tree House series, then this might be the book for you!

Overall Rating: 3/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

Hugo has kept the secret of his notebook from everyone he knows, even if he doesn’t know many people at all. But especially from his uncle, his only living relative. Arguably, Hugo’s very existence of living among the clocks in the walls of the train station in Paris is a secret, keeping them well-oiled and running.

When Hugo’s Uncle Claude leaves and doesn’t come back to the train station, Hugo begins to wonder what will happen if the clocks stop working. He knows how to fix them, for the most part, but what will happen if the station inspector finds out he’s living alone? It would be straight to the orphanage, and then the secret of the notebook and what Hugo hides would be lost forever.

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Have you seen this movie yet? If you’ve only just heard about it, please, please, please read the book first! The movie adaptation, named Hugo, is a relatively good movie, but it is just so much more awesome once you know the story. There is a lot left out, and the story is just told in a different way that keeps the mystery much better.

There are so many good things to say about this book! I’ve only read the book through the audio, narrated by Jeff Woodman (who is a personal family favorite), and to this day The Invention of Hugo Cabret is my dad’s favorite book and probably goes down in our history of books as ‘One of the bests’. I am looking forward to checking out the book, because it has only just now come to my attention that the book has beautiful illustrations as well. Double whammy!

Technically, this is historical fiction because it takes place sometime in the 1930’s, and there was some history involved which I would rather not say, but the story didn’t feel as involved with the rest of history as you would think. In other words, it doesn’t feel like your typical historical fiction.

The way the story unfolds is just fantastic, and even though I hesitate to say it is an action/adventure type story, it still had us on the edge of our seat as the mystery of who Hugo was is discovered. The way the tension builds into an inescapable fiasco is so perfect I don’t know what to say. Other than READ IT.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Imagine other worlds, in which anything can happen. Worlds with other times, destinations, mystery, magic, and different sorts of experiences all together.

When the four Pevensie children step from our own dull, ordinary world into Narnia, they are transported to a world which is always filled with adventure; sword fights, mythical (or not so mythical) creatures, and battles between good and evil. The story of a different world, whose tale only now being told….

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Of course, everyone’s heard of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially after they began turning them into movies. If you have ever considered reading the books, do.

There is not much for me to say about them, other than the series is my one true fantasy love. It was my ‘introduction’, if you will, into the fantasy genre and probably the only one which I will never forget. It reads similarly to a fairy tale, which is how he intended it; however, even many adults agree that this story is enjoyed at any age.

Now, there is a lot of controversy about the Chronicles of Narnia, and it’s Christian content. True, there are many things to be gleaned from each story, but only as much as you wish to take away. It still is a fairy tale about good and evil, and is still enjoyable to most.

Being probably the cleanest of fantasy books, the movies are surprisingly violent compared to how Lewis words each story. For example: “But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups probably would not let you read this book.” That is about the extent with which he goes to tell about the various creatures, and battles.

There are two different ways to read the books: the order in which they were published, or chronologically. The movies have been made in the way that they were published. I prefer the published order, because the Magician’s Nephew is better appreciated after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Publishing Order:

#1: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#2: Prince Caspian

#3: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#4: The Silver Chair

#5: The Horse and His Boy

#6: The Magicians Nephew

#7: The Last Battle

The chronological order is:

#1: The Magician’s Nephew

#2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#3: The Horse and His Boy

#4: Prince Caspian

#5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#6: The Silver Chair

#7: The Last Battle

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: On average, 2/10, some maybe a little more.

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Thomas knows nothing of where he came from, nor anything of his past, except his own name. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a large group of boys also with forgotten memories, surrounded by a maze that literally comes to life at night.

Living an existence counting on routine, Thomas must help the boys survive and come up with a solution to help them escape. But as memories begin to come back, is returning to the world they thought they left behind worth the huge amount of sacrifice it will take?

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Did I like this story? Hmmm…maybe. I liked the premise of the plot, but as a trilogy, no. I also had a couple of complaints that a lot of other people on Goodreads have.

It was fairly suspenceful, and the pacing was okay, but there were way too many little things that bugged me. By the time Thomas arrives, some of the boys have already explored and know every inch of the maze. This draws away from the mysteriousness from what could have been closer to a horror book. I won’t give more away, but what the maze holds was figured out much too quickly.

Apart from the plot, which was okay, everyone seems to agree that the characters weren’t interesting at all. Thomas has this amazing ability to ‘just know’ stuff, because of some connection he has to the maze, but it doesn’t play out well at all. The side characters were boring; it reminded me of several other movies in which there are a group of kids who all are cliched in some way. The leader. The kid who should be leader. The genius. The girl. The fat kid. The bully. All are accounted for, in a way that I don’t appreciate. The girl was especially irritating, because of her non-purposeness. And just by throwing her into the mix, you can imagine all the drama.

The way they talk, with plenty of made-up words, just comes across as stupid, and feels choppy. It takes a while to get used to, but it didn’t serve in any way to set any kind of stage as to where, or who, they are. Usually, changing up dialogue helps give you the idea who is talking, but in this case I couldn’t tell the difference between one person and another because they all talk the same way.

Even though I would have preferred something a little less pre-explored for the maze, I appreciated the suspence. I was surprised by quite a few readers who both thought it was very suspenceful, and some found it boring. I didn’t think it was boring, and I was kept fairly engrossed evenly throughout the book. I also thought that, even though we don’t have answers as to the why of the whole thing, I just felt like it was irrelevent to what the author originally intended the story to be.

In other words, I am not clamoring for the next book, which other reviews have told me stinks. The plot potential was fantastic, but frankly I’m tired of all the popular dystopian books, and adults who throw kids into freaky alternate realities. If you like the Hunger Games, or Divergent, then this might be the book for you.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (half point knocked off for character unoriginality, another half for boring dialogue (which would have improved the story 100%), and one last half point for not figuring out a way to wrap up the series into one slightly longer book, which is only my personal opinion)

Violence: 5/10 ( the monsters in the maze are scary enough, and there’s enough gore to make you wince, and also a mental disorder which occurs that is a little disturbing)

Language: 3/10 (mostly made up swear words)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (surprisingly)

Audience: Ages 14 and up, or younger if they have already read the Hunger Games

Crispin: Cross of Lead, by Avi

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions.

Accused of a crime he did not commit, he is proclaimed a ‘wolf’s head’, meaning anyone may kill him on sight. To remain alive, he flees his tiny village, his only possessions being a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

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There are a couple of interesting parts about this story that make Avi stand out.

I couldn’t figure out what Avi’s intentions were with Crispin. His character was a little confusing, and also a little passive. He’s supposed to be that way though, but it makes character growth tough because he suddenly comes across as caring a little too much all at once. However, Crispin’s companion takes the cake in his world philosophy, and thought provoking ideas.

The history aspect was fairly good, although I felt that some of the small details included may be uninteresting to non-history lovers, even though it set a good picture of Medieval poverty in my head. I would probably only recommend it to people who like historical fiction.

I didn’t feel like it was Newberry award-winning material, mostly because the plot is not particularly original for Avi. He has quite a few other books that touch on the subject of innocent-accused (True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, City of Orphans, etc.), so I’m still waiting for an Avi novel to surprise me. That being said, it is still a good story and one that kids will enjoy.

Note: it does have some violence, and some gruesome descriptions of several people, long dead. He did a careful job of making it kind of gross, but nothing that would probably stick in your head forever.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3.5/10 (some people, long dead, are gross; one part in which a man is impaled (very brief), and one part in which a man is stabbed (also very brief))

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (nothing horrible, but there is a little bit of talk about the illegitimate children of a great Lord, which comes into play later)

Audience: Ages 10 and up, as long as they don’t mind a little violence.

The Other Book, by Philip Womack

Edward Pollock lives an ordinary life at his ordinary boarding school, where the food is bad and the teachers are way too serious. But one day he’s inexplicably drawn to a strange and powerful book, and suddenly the boarding school isn’t quite so ordinary anymore. Capable of boosting men to heroism or destroying them in malice and evil, The Other Book has laid dormant for 400 years, waiting for someone to restore it to its original glory.  While Edward must do his best to keep The Other book safe, a mysterious new teacher at the school becomes intent of getting a hold of the Book for her own sinister purposes.

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Sorry for not writing my own description this time (I usually do), I was at a loss for how to sum this one up. I hate to say it, but I am actually rating a book I didn’t finish. Yet I felt I needed to say something about it. I checked it out from the library because I liked the title, and the cover was updated. In the words of Agatha Swanburne: “All books are judged by their covers until they are read.”

Right from the very first chapter it will have you groaning and completely grossed out. And for no reason! I was disgusted by the beginning, which never made any sense. I won’t say exactly why, if you choose to read it you’ll find out.

The premise of the book is alright. The idea of a book that holds power in itself is okay. If it had been executed well. I was just confused as to exactly why certain things were, how they came to be, and where in the world I was. The first chapter should have been labeled a prologue, it confused me as to where I was.

It was really, really dark. Outside of the grotesque beginning, it was really creepy. The evil teacher mentioned in the description could almost be described as a witch, and the book brought about all these confusing dreams to the main character. There was also this weird comminucating with people from the past, or with people who were supposed to exist but never did. It didn’t make any sense.

I couldn’t understand what the author wanted to get across. Usually, authors start with either good character ideas or good plot ideas. I suppose this one started with a plot idea, but he was never able to marry the two. The characters were boring, the plot felt underdeveloped, and there wasn’t anything that stood out. I don’t want to say there were no plot twists, but I just didn’t care. I read the first maybe six chapters, then flipped through to see if it got better.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Violence: 5/10 (disgusting gore, and darker magical forces which are hideously evil.)

Language: 2/10?

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 12-14? If there is any audience at all in a poorly paced book.

The Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London, by Elvira Woodruff

11 year old Forrest Harper has lived within the walls of the Tower of London his whole life. Being the son of the ravenmaster isn’t easy; his day-to-day boring chores never seem to end, although he doesn’t mind helping taking care of the tower ravens.

When several Scottish rebels are captured and imprisoned in the Bloody Tower, Forrest finds himself befriending the young Maddy Stewart, who he knows is not guilty of any such treason as is being claimed against her.

Upon learning that it is the King’s intent to execute all three Jacobite rebels, Forrest and the ratcatcher’s boy are given the choice: stay true to England and keep their families safe, or risk their own necks to help an innocent victim who happens to be from enemy country.

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What an interesting story! Although, to be honest, the title gives too much away from the very beginning.

It seems weird to me how lightly the author took heavy topics such as hangings, which were popular to watch in the 1700’s. Forrest happens to go watch, and it was a little gross to hear some of the descriptions of watching people hang. That was the only thing that really throws off the age range I would have given it. I would put an age cap on 14 as the oldest that would enjoy it.

I don’t have any bad things to say about this book, other than it may have been a bit predictable. The ending was very good, and wrapped up everything very nicely with a bow on top. The one thing I might have personally changed about the book was that I felt that both Forrest and Maddy were not very interesting people on their own, but the ratcatcher’s boy, called Rat, was very memorable.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (the hangings were the only gross part in the story, and then there was a little violence aside, but none of the violence was graphic. Only the hangings.)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10-14, maybe 8 with parental prereading.

The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer A. Nielson

In the final book in the Ascendance Trilogy, the final battle for Carthya begins, and ends, here.

Jaron and his friends join together to take back their country for the people. But of course, for Jaron, nothing is ever that simple. Every plan backfires, but you can expect that from a person who never seems to be able to trust anyone.

Jaron is put to the test, even down to whether fighting for his country is worth it. Which is more important: the crown, and his country with it’s people, or his friends and everyone he loves?

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I know you can’t NOT  read this book if you have read the other two, but sorry to disapoint you. This book is my least favorite in the trilogy; it just wasn’t very solid.

The main flaw: there was almost too much going on for any real character development. While Jaron had a lot in the first two, it came to a sudden stand-still because there was a lot of action going on. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there.

I also felt like Jaron was not himself. The whole first half of the book I kept feeling like I was reading a book about an entirely different person; he wasn’t as witty, and not sarcastic at all. Until the very last bit, which I suppose saved the book a little.

To examine Jaron at this point in time: I suppose I could possibly see him not himself at this time, for if you step back and look at where he is at, it does seem like he bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. Which he practically does, for he never trusts anything to anyone. But you have to step back to see that, the author never actually brings that up enough.

Applause to the author for adding a little more character to his companions! If you felt like Roden and Tobias were practically the same person in the first book, they are more original in this last one as you begin to see them as diferent characters, and not always together to make it more confusing.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 4/10 (This is a war, and Jaron has a knack for nasty wounds)

Language: 1/10

Innappropriateness/Romance: 3/10 (of course whatever seed of romance was started in the other two has to have a little finality)

Audience: Ages 10 and up

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

When the ad in the newspaper said ‘”Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”, Reynie jumps on the chance to escape the orphanage. He is rather peculiar, very bright, although not particularly knowledgeable.

The tests which Mr. Benedict set before him and his new-found friends are made to evaluate their potential skills and the strength of their minds. Because the plans he has made for them will most certainly need concentration, quick wits, willingness to work and rely on one another, and bravery.

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This book was…pretty good. I loved the beginning, everything about it. The puzzles were clever and most certainly the best part in the book. The plot structure was only okay, a bit on the over-used side (man taking over the world, kids, without the help of adults, out to stop him). The villain was never very creepy or frightening, yet his plot to take over the world was fresh and had the potential to be frightening. It felt toned down for kids, which is totally fine. It broadens the age spectrum by a lot. It actually felt a lot like Spy Kids.

My main concern was how long the book was for the amount of plot. In the audio, there are eleven discs. Compared to the last Harry Potter (which was seventeen discs, which had a lot of side stories and a lot of plot), this one slowed down in the middle and drew it out longer than it needed to be.

All in all, fairly entertaining, although I think I will wait to read the second one because I feel a little burned out, like he killed the plot to death, which is a little disappointing.

For kids, this is a great, interesting action book without being very scary.

 

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (the only major violence is probably brain-washing quite a few workers at an institute, the process isn’t explained, and perhaps the mention of a certain room in this institute will strike fear in a mind because no one knows what is in it, although it turns out to be not so bad)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up