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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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

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Ever since dragons and the humans of Goredd made a peace treaty, the dragons work hard to become like the humans, including taking on human shape. Although not the same as a human, still with dragon instincts and motives, it has worked. For the most part. Up until now. Everything begins to fall apart as the annual treaty celebration approaches. When a member of the royal family dies under suspicious circumstances, the dragons are the first to be assumed as the culprit. Who, and why, are undetermined.

Seraphina, a girl who is unusually musically talented, is mysteriously drawn into the investigation by an unknown connection to the suspect. Caught in the middle as the go-between, confusion reigns as she struggles with her own emotions and trying to keep the truth about who she really is from the people she loves most.

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This book is very well-written; the inner tension and turmoil is perfect, and just enough questions to keep you guessing throughout the whole book. It was paced fairly well, especially for a long book. One thing I wasn’t sure about was some of the fantasy words; I listened to the audio, but the unfamiliar spelling way of wording things made this a good audio choice. I didn’t have to pronounce those strange words myself.

The characters were fantastic! Especially Seraphina, in all her crankiness, was fresh and different, although if I knew her in person she would not come across as so. The supporting characters were fairly good as well, but Seraphina stands out as one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever read about.

It also was not as clean as I would prefer; there is an awkward topic, which I cannot mention without spoiling it, that makes this an inappropriate choice for elementary-age kids. Nothing happens in it that I would not recommend it to a teen. For a little more info, I’ll include a spoiler (this is a major spoiler) if you’re really worried about the content (highlight the bottom section).

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (can’t remember, I think there may have been a stabbing, but it wasn’t memorable)

Language: 3/10 (some, nothing really bad)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 4/10 (mostly awkward topics, but nothing inappropriate ever actually happens.)

Audience: Ages 12 and up

Because dragons have a human form, it is possible for dragons and humans to have children. This is a big part of the book, and is talked about quite a lot. It comes across as awkward, mainly because dragons are NOT humans, and is disgusting to the other characters. Nothing ever happens that would give me pause to not recommend it to a teen, but the topic was a large enough part of the story that I thought it inappropriate for anyone under 12.

Woven, by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

Nels, the son of a widowed seamstress, has always dreamed of becoming a knight. The whole village agrees…except his mother, who needs his help just to stay alive.

That was before he died, of course, murdered by a stranger. Now Nels, as a ghost, must haunt the Princess Tyra, the only person who can see him, to convince her to save him. By helping him find an object which will bring back to life, it may cost Tyra more than she bargained for as they begin a perilous journey to weave Nels back into the Great Tapestry of time.

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Hmmm….I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about the story. It was really well-paced, but there were a few quirks I personally would have changed if I had written the book myself.

This book scarily reminded me of my first attempt at a novel, most particularly the writing style. Or, should I say, lack thereof. When writers write a lot, they develop a certain way of telling a story. If you read a lot of one author, or if you write, you may know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that a lack of writing is actually bad, I just felt that the author has not yet developed his own particular way of writing. Excuse my nit-picking, but most people aren’t going to notice this.

I am happy to report that this book is pretty clean, and I’d feel comfortable handing this book to mostly anyone. I was a little disappointed how hard they pushed the romance in this book; it wasn’t inappropriate at all, but it could have been a little more subtle. I knew this book was going to be more romantic than I usually read even before they met. For this reason, I can’t say this book is for everyone, particularly those who will only stand for a little romance.

I’m sorry if the book description sounded a little cheesy, but…it was, just a little.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3/10 (nothing horrible)

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

Harry Potter #3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter is lucky to reach the age of thirteen, since he has already survived the attacks of the feared Dark Lord on more than one occasion. But his hopes for a quiet term concentrating on Quidditch are dashed when a maniacal mass-murderer escapes from Azkaban, pursued by the dark guards who can’t seem to know the difference between a prisoner and an innocent student. It’s assumed that Hogwarts is the safest place for Harry to be, but is Harry really safe anywhere? And is it a coincidence that a black dog has popped up, following him as an omen of death?

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This particular book is a little disconnected from the other books, just because Voldemort isn’t really a part of the story. It also happens to be my favorite, and apparently everyone else’s, in the series 🙂

Between the 1st two books and this book is a vast difference in how scary it is. While in the first two, the only scary thing was a walk in the woods at night, and a descent into the Chamber of Secrets with a giant snake, this book is very dark, even without Voldemort.

The guards who come to Hogwarts to ensure the murderer doesn’t come onto the school grounds are the creepiest part about the story. They aren’t really human, and without giving anything away, their dark intentions may freak out some more sensitive kids. Other scary creatures come into the story as well. If your kids finished the first two books with no trouble, don’t assume the third book may be fine for them as well.

I loved how the story was a little off-beat from the others in plot. While the other six books are part of the bigger picture with Voldemort, this book sort of breaks up the rest and allows for a more complicated plot unto itself. The whole mystery within this story keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat, and you won’t be able to put it down. I read it on a road trip…..read it all, the whole nine hours, and then most of the 4th one on the way back.

Somehow, Rowling manages to keep it mostly light-hearted. From flunking divination class and making up faux-predictions of Ron’s future, to wandering around the castle at night, to Uncle Vernon’s meltdown when he gets a call from Ron, the book is not entirely serious, just like the other books.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 5/10

Language: 2/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Varies through personal taste; I would have said 12 and up, but so many kids much younger than that have read it that my opinion doesn’t matter.

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.

Harry Potter #2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter is going into his second year at Hogwarts. He can hardly wait to get started! But when a mysterious creature shows up at the Dursleys warning him not to return to keep the other students safe, Harry pays no mind. How can he spend one more year with the awful Dursleys?

But  the real trouble begins when  someone–or something–starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects…Harry Potter himself?

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This book was super interesting and entertaining, just as in the first one. While maybe a little darker, and a little more violent, this book was still relatively not-scary. Ron and Hermione are just as loyal as ever, still getting themselves into fixes. From  helping Harry deal with the stuck-up Professor Lockhart, taking advice from a long-dead annoying ghost who haunts the abandoned girl’s bathroom, wandering into the forest to find the giant spiders, and turning themselves into some of the Slytherin students, they are always there for him.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 4/10 (students are turned to stone by a creature, and the creature comes into the story later)

Language: 1/10 (name-calling)

Innappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

Harry Potter #1: The Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

11-year old Harry Potter has lived with his horrid relatives the Dursleys for nearly his entire life, ever since his parents died in a car accident when he was a baby. The Dursleys, always trying to pretend Harry doesn’t exist, have actually been trying to hide a wonderful, horrible secret from Harry.

What Harry does not know is that he is actually an untrained wizard, living in a world of ‘muggles’, or ordinary people. After receiving an invitation for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his life is completely changed as he is thrown into a world of friendship, magic, and mystery.

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For any parent that has not let their child read Harry Potter, please do not be put off by the witchcraft element. In the school, there is a heavy difference between ‘okay’ magic and ‘evil’ magic. The overall story is still of good overcoming evil.

I know there is a lot of debate about whether or not Harry Potter should be read (or watched), but when my friend first convinced my mom that the movies really weren’t too scary, we finally watched the first movie. I was wonderfully surprised. The first movie isn’t too scary, and the story was great! It was entertaining, and as I soon came to find out, the book is even more so. Harry and the hilarious trio he begins with his loyal friends are easy to like, easy to picture, and easy to relate to.

Honestly, the magic is fun to read about. I think it may have been J K Rowling who started the ‘unusual school/training’ theme. She has definitely planned everything out very well, and the books are very consistent in the various magical terms and phrases in every single book.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 3/10 (mostly mild creepiness (a giant three-headed dog, and cloaked figure in the woods, etc.), and a few tense scenes; the movie is a little more so)

Language: 1/10 (some name-calling)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up (or for younger kids who are okay with stuff like three-headed dogs named Fluffy).

Darkwood by M. E. Breen

There’s no evening in Howland, it goes from light to dark in a matter of seconds. When the darkness falls no normal person would dare go outside out of fear of the kinderstalk, the wolf-like creatures that prowl the forest. Annie lives with her cruel uncle and ineffectual aunt and she never ventures out into the darkness – until she overhears her uncle planning to sell her into slavery. She makes a daring escape from the house, heading out into the thick forests. But the world is full of more danger as Annie must save herself from a treacherous mining operation, the political scheming of a wily king, and the packs of kinderstalk that are encroaching ever closer.

M. E. Breen did an outstanding job with this novel. I was always on the edge of my seat, curious about what would happen next. She had no lack of twists and unexpected surprises during Annie’s adventure. There was the perfect amount of description, for me at least. Although everything wasn’t described down to the last blade of grass there was enough to let my imagination fill in the rest. It made for a very vivid novel.

I really loved Annie’s character, and the setting of the books. Both held such mystery; I was completely glued to this book. The end of the novel was a bit sudden, and the author could have explained more. Yet it left me wondering, in a good kind of way.

 

Overall: 4.5/5

Violence: 4/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance:  0/10

Audiences: Ages 11 and up

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”

Kat, the youngest of four children, discovers that she has inherited her mother’s magical powers. However, her mother passed away years ago before Kat even knew this.

Being in Regency England, where witchcraft and magic make you an outcast, Kat is determined to learn to use her powers correctly in order to save her family from financial ruin and shame. But can she do it without anyone finding out? And can she prove that the evil Sir Neville, who proposed to her older sister, murdered his last wife before her older sister agrees?

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Kat is a great character; she speaks and acts exactly like a twelve-year old. Her sisters are very funny as well, however, they tend to argue more than I thought they would.

This story is nothing at all like Harry Potter. Her magic is very hard to control, and  is very innocent. I wouldn’t be concerned about the amount of magic for younger kids. If you really must, you could preview it.

I really liked how it wasn’t too scary. Even the ‘evil’ Sir Neville is not so scary, although because he did supposedly murder his last wife, that does come up.

With a sister trying out her own magic and wreaking havoc, a highwayman lurking in the shadows in the forest, and a man under a unsuccesful (and unintended spell), this book was very….charming. I know it is a series, but I decided I did not want to continue because it got more into Kat’s magical abilities, which I was not very interesting to me.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 2/10 (maybe the Lord’s name in vain several times)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10 (mostly flirting, and her older sisters falling in love)

Audience: Ages 8 and up