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Mini Reviews: Fan Favorites That Fell Flat for Me ⇉ Rebel of the Sands & Steelheart

Monday, February 26, 2018
Have you ever read a book that everyone seemed to be raving about, but you just didn't enjoy it as much as you thought you would?

Rebel of the Sands and Steelheart are books that I've seen a lot of rave reviews for. While I enjoyed them, I didn't love them. Following are the reasons why.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

What was most interesting to me was how this book touches on the subject of what it means to be human. There was a lot of potential to explore this topic with the conflict brewing in Miraji and with the existence of the djinn (and their relationships with mortals). There are also elements of religion in the book, but there is a strong leaning towards atheistic themes, irreverence towards the country's gods, and the empowerment of humans. While it does reflect a growing trend in literature, it does get old, especially if that's the only perspective given. I would have liked to see more complexity in the world building. (For the most part, we only get the main characters' perspective).

The plot was predictable, no real surprises. The MC also shows inconsistencies in character that suggest that, while she is largely independent, she's easily influenced by her emotions, which is particularly noticeable when she's in love. I would have liked to see more development of the character and why she is the person that she is at the time of this novel, but the inconsistencies in character didn't detract too much from the read.

While it's not a particularly memorable read for me, it stays true to what it is: a YA fantasy with a good dose of romance. If you're looking for an easy read with a straightforward plot, I would recommend this book. Though the world is still underdeveloped (hopefully, more complexity is added with the later books), it is an interesting world to visit. That said, I don't anticipate reading book two anytime soon.


Publication Info
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  • Published by Viking
  • On March 8, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 316 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
    1. Rebel of the Sands
    2. Traitor to the Throne
    3. Hero at the Fall
        • Kissing
        • Violence

        Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

        Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

        And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

        He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

        Recently, I found out about Brandon Sanderon's Mistborn and Stormlight Archive series. At heart, I'm a fantasy lover and have been looking for books to return to my (reading) roots. I've purchased The Way of Kings off Amazon and, while waiting for its arrival, decided to read Steelheart (since it was available for digital loan from my local library).

        Since Steelheart is a YA novel, I understand that the characters and world building won't be as intricately developed as Sanderson's longer fantasy works. However, the characters were static. While we learn more about them as the novel progresses, I didn't see much character growth. Events were predictable for the most part and didn't flow into one another smoothly, though the time skips are understandable given all the waiting that must happen. What kept me turning the pages was my desire to learn why Steelheart bled and how the MC will get him to bleed again.

        Overall, Sanderson has created an interesting world that explores the effects of possessing ultimate power: what it does to an individual's personality, moral code, and attitude towards others. And how their treatment of others will influence the world. I'm not in a hurry to read book two, but I do expect to read it one day in anticipation of how the Reckoners will change the world.


        Publication Info
        • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
        • Published by Delacorte BFYR
        • On September 24, 2013
        • Genres: Science Fiction
        • Pages: 384 Pages
        • Format: Ebook
          Series: Reckoners
          1. Steelheart
          2. Firefight
          3. Calamity
              • Violence

              CHAT WITH ME

              What are books that you've heard rave reviews about but didn't enjoy?

              A Valentine's Read on Love as an Action ⇉ Review of With Love, From Me to You by Mary Manz Simon

              Tuesday, February 6, 2018
              A day meant to celebrate those we love, Valentine's Day all too often becomes about the number of candies and flowers that we receive (or give). In With Love, From Me to You, Mary Manz Simon reminds us that love is, at heart, an action. Through a series of encounters by different animals, Simon portrays different ways we can show others that we love them. She ends with a reminder of the source of our love and the need to love others year round, not just on Valentine's Day.

              WHAT I LIKED

              Cute Illustrations
              From front to back cover, this book is filled with full-color illustrations. The overall ambiance created is light and airy. That and the board-like pages suggest that this book is intended to be enjoyed with beginning readers.

              Textured Cover
              The cover is textured with the title and hearts intended and covered in red shiny material that adds to the Valentine theme of love. Young readers will enjoy feeling the texture of the title letters and hearts.

              Fantastic Message
              What drew me most to this book is the theme of love as an action. I love how the book reminds us that love is not all about how many candies and flowers we give or receive but about showing others through our words and actions that we care about them—and that we should do this every day of the year, not just on Valentine's Day.

              Furthermore, this book reminds young readers that we love not for our own benefits or because we prefer someone over others. Rather, we love because God's love is giving, and we feel it when we love others.

              WHAT I DISLIKED

              Complex Ideas (for the target audience)
              For a book that is only nine pages, With Love, From Me to You is very wordy. The style and format/layout of the book seems to target beginning readers, but the complexity of the language and ideas is more appropriate for an older audience (and is more at a beginning chapter book level). I wouldn't read this book with young children, but the style and layout of the book seems young for grade schoolers.

              Small Print
              Each stanza is squeezed onto a single page of the book. As a result, the font size is small for a picture book. The font size as well as the book itself is small for a picture book. I wish that the book were larger and that the stanzas were spread out over at least two different pages. (Even four or more to add variations.)

              Zero Character Development
              Though the cover features a cast of characters, the characters are silent and show no character development throughout the book. They are merely there to illustrate the ideas that are expressed in the book. While this would be fine to illustrate a point in a Sunday School lesson with older children, the lack of character interaction isn't as good with a book that seems to target a younger audience.

              Rather than trying to make a theological statement, this book would have been better off portraying the lesson through a story about a cast of characters. This would help the message stick in the readers' minds. After all, we learn best through stories.

              FINAL THOUGHTS

              While I love the message, the book fell flat for me because of the lack of story line. Rather than a story, this felt more like a Sunday School lesson wrapped in the guise of a children's storybook. It becomes quickly apparent from the first pages, however, that there is no narrative to this book. With the theological message of the book presented clearly in the final pages of the book, this book make a clear argument for God's love as the basis for our personal responsibility to love others in turn. It did not present any challenges to my faith.

              I would recommend this book to parents who want to teach their children about the theological reasons for love. Because this book tries to pack a lot of information in so few pages, however, parents should prepare supporting material to expand on the ideas presented in this book. Among these materials, I would include narrative stories that allows children to explore the act of love in the characters' stories.


              With Love, From Me to You is a board book for little ones that will remind them how important it is to love and be loved. With adorable illustrations and sweet, rhyming text by bestselling author Dr. Mary Manz Simon, this book shows children how important their actions and words are in expressing God’s great love with one another. Parents will enjoy reading this book on Valentine’s Day or any day of the year to encourage their children to remember that love is more than gifts and candy; it’s about doing for others and sending love to everyone who’s near.

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              CHAT WITH ME

              What's one action you take to show others that you love them?

              Publication Info
              • With Love, From Me to You by Mary Manz Simon, illustrated by Corinna Ice
              • Published by Zonderkidz
              • On December 26, 2017
              • Genres: Children's Book
              • Pages: 9 Pages
              • Format: Board Book
              • N/A
              • N/A

              A Protagonist Who Reads + It's Numair from the Immortals! ⇉ Review of Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

              Tuesday, January 23, 2018
              I first discovered the Tortall world in middle school. They're books that I can read over and over again without tiring. I've been waiting for the Numair Chronicles several years now and was stoked to receive this for review. So much that I made it my first read of the new year! I've been curious about Numair's origin story since Emperor Mage gave us a sneak peak into his backstory.

              WHAT I LIKED

              A Fellow Reader and Dreamer
              Readers, dreamers, and seekers (aka. forever curious people) will relate to Arram. I have loved Tamora Pierce's strong heroines, who we also know to be real people with real struggles, but it is wonderful to have a protagonist who may also be found buried in books, is an idealist, and is constantly coming up with new ideas and wanting to know things (and getting told to stop asking questions). That was a really long sentence. I'll stop now, or I'll keep rambling about my delight with young Arram Draper.

              (But one more thought: I did enjoy comparing young Arram with the older Numair in The Immortals series. It is such fun to make connections! Like his feelings about riding horses.)

              Characters We Know and Love

              What really made this book for me is the familiar world and characters. I remember the main protagonists as well as some other characters from Tamora Pierce's Immortal series, and I enjoyed the references to characters from other Tortall books. (There are even a couple references to characters, or related characters, from the Beka Cooper series!)

              Complex Characters
              What was especially interesting is the portrayal of Ozorne's character. I knew that he and Numair were friends during their university days, but given his role in the Immortals series, I was not expecting to like him so much. It's interesting to see how his character develops over the course of his time at the university in Tempests and Slaughter. I'm interested in seeing where and how his break with Numair occurs in the next installment of the Numair Chronicles.

              Creative World Building
              As always, the world of the Tortall books is fascinating. I enjoyed learning more about the world south of Tortall.

              WHAT I DISLIKED

              Feels More Like a Summary Than a Story
              The story covers Arram's early years from his entrance into the university's Lower Academy at age 10 (when most enter a year later) to the first year of independent studies at age 14. Because it covers such a broad span of time—and because so much happens during this time—much gets summarized. If I was not already familiar with the Tortall world and invested in Arram's story, I doubt I would have enjoyed this novel as much as I did.

              Furthermore, this is not even a complete summary. Different key plot elements get introduced at various times across the novel without a clear resolution.

              The story ends In Media Res
              My only clue that the story was coming to an end was the "percentage status" in the bottom right corner of my Kindle. The plot brewing had thickened, and hints had been dropped that all was not well despite thoughts to the contrary. Then we're left hanging in the middle of a scene that seems out of place given everything that has happened and that we know will happen. I was left with a feeling of incompleteness.

              It seems that this novel is not meant to be the first installment in a series so much as the first half of a story that will be resolved in the second half, which is to be released (hopefully) next year.

              What's with the Title?
              The title sounds cool, but I'm still not sure how it relates to the story. (Or to which specific plot points they refer.) The problem may be that the story doesn't have a coherent plotline but seems more like a record of Arram / Numair's early years. (Which is how the series advertises itself but which causes it to fall flat as a standalone novel.)

              If you figure out the meaning behind the title, I'd love to hear your thoughts :)

              The Cover Art
              I'm not a fan of the new artwork that they've given the series. I loved the original ones where they featured the character on the cover with illustrations. Even if they stopped featuring the characters on the covers, I would have preferred they keep the original artwork styles instead of using the new dark, intense covers that look heavily photoshopped (or whatever it is they use on computers nowadays).

              A Few Other Miscellaneous Details
              Some details don't make sense. For example, a character may have taken an action in between a couple paragraphs, but the action is not mentioned. While it doesn't heavily impact the overall flow of the story, it makes for a small glitch or bump in the road as I'm reading.

              I also get the feeling that some things don't quite align with the Immortals series. It may be because this prequel series was written afterwards, or it may be because it's been some time since I last reread the Immortals. I do get the feeling that some details should be changed in the Immortals because of new revelations here. (In particular dealing with crocodile gods and sunbirds. But who knows. Maybe things happened outside of Daine's knowledge.) But perhaps the course of events in The Exile's Gift will change my mind.

              FINAL THOUGHTS

              I loved reading about Numair's early life and his misadventures. I wish I had book two in my hands now. However, while this series is called the Numair Chronicles, I didn't enjoy so much how the book essentially summarizes his early years at the university. The story lacks a coherent plot that allows it to stand alone but rather spends it entirety introducing the various plotlines that I expect will converge in The Exile's Gift (book two).

              What made this story for me are the familiar characters and the opportunity to explore more of the world that Tamora Pierce has developed over the years. I would recommend reading at least the Immortals series first (because it's she first introduces the primary cast), but if you can read the other Tortall books as well, it will make this read even more priceless.


              Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

              Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

              In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

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              CHAT WITH ME

              If you were a mage, in what field would you like to specialize? (To name a few, animals, healing, warfare, one of the elements...)

              Publication Info
              • Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce
              • Published by Random House BFYR
              • On February 6, 2018
              • Genres: Fantasy
              • Pages: 480 Pages
              • Format: Hardback
              Series: The Numair Chronicles
              1. Tempests and Slaughter
              2. The Exile's Gift
              3. TBD
              (highlight to see)
              • Kissing
              • Sexual activity (implied)
              • Wet dreams
              • Boner
              • Gambling
              • Drinking / alcohol
              • Language (words specific to this culture)
              • Violence & death (from murder, plague, and battle) - conditions described in detail
              • LGBTQ relationship

              Animal Friendship + A Book for Growing Young Readers ⇉ Review of The Moonlight Meeting by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling

              Tuesday, January 9, 2018
              It's been almost a year since I was first introduced to The Nocturnals. Some of favorite books growing up were books featured animals in prominent roles (e.g. Animal Ark, Hank the CowdogWarriors, Guardians of Ga'Hoole, to name a few).

              What makes The Nocturnals unique is that it introduces Australian wildlife. Throughout The Nocturnals series, I've enjoyed learning more about the different wildlife that populate Australian forests. This adaptation for younger readers is my new Nocturnals favorite!

              WHAT I LIKED

              Full-Color Illustrations
              The full-color illustrations bring the characters to life. I enjoyed seeing the characters' expressions and body language paired with their dialogue. They are adorable. (Especially those of Bismark. He's such a character.)

              Lively Dialogue
              Partly because this book targets a younger audience and partly because this book narrows down its focus to Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn's first meeting, more expression is put into the dialogue and character expressions. The pacing was rhythmic and made for an enjoyable read. I can easily imagine this book being reader aloud to entertain a younger reader (and having the younger reader read it back or join in on certain words/phrases).

              A Book on Friendship
              From the beginning, it's clear that this book is about making friends. I like how each of the protagonists has his or her unique personality. It shows how friends do not necessarily need to be alike in order to be friends but that friendship is about mutually intending to and taking action to be friends.

              Fun Facts
              At the end of the book, there is a section explaining what type of animals are Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn as well as what is a pomelo. I appreciate having this information to give me a better understanding of the protagonists. (And it's the type of information I would have geeked over as a kid, being the animal lover that I was.)

              WHAT I DISLIKED

              Where's Book Two?
              To be honest, there wasn't anything that I disliked about this book. While I did have some issues with the original book form which this story was taken, the problems have been smoothed over for this one. The characters didn't feel superficial, and Bismark's over-the-top personality works for this shorter story.

              If anything, I loved this book and want to read the next one right now!

              FINAL THOUGHTS

              The Moonlight Meeting is a highly enjoyable read featuring endearing characters and lively dialogue that are brought to life through rhythmic pacing and animated, full-color illustrations. Those who enjoy books with animal protagonists will especially enjoy this book for beginning readers. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading the next Nocturnals release!

              For more information and resources, such as educator and book club kits, check out the Grow and Read website here. For more about the Nocturnals, check out the Nocturnals website here.

              Additional note: I was sent some swag along with this book. The swag included a bookmark, paper art to recreate the protagonists, and a fox stuffed animal wearing a snake-skin printed handkerchief with the Nocturnals logo on it. It is adorable and would make a lovely addition alongside of the book for a present. I haven't heard anything about this fox plushie/handkerchief combination being on sale, but maybe it'll happen in the future :)

              Thank you to Fabled Films for sending me a copy for my honest review.


              In The Moonlight Meeting, Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark, a loud-mouthed sugar glider, and Dawn, a series fox, introduce The Nocturnals' nighttime world with friendship, sharing, and humor.

              Bonus Content includes Fun Facts about the Nocturnals.

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              CHAT WITH ME

              What are your favorite bookish animals?

              Publication Info
              • The Moonlight Meeting by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling
              • Published by Fabled Films Press
              • On September 12, 2017
              • Genres: Children's Book
              • Pages: 64 Pages
              • Format: Paperback
              • The Moonlight Meeting
              • The Slithery Shakedown
              • N/A

              Keepsakes for Little House Fans and Their Young Readers ⇉ Mini Reviews of A Little House Picture Book Treasury and Christmas Stories

              Thursday, January 4, 2018
              I loved reading the Little House books growing up. The books that I'm reviewing today are ones that I'll be saving to enjoy with young readers, especially when the next holiday season rolls around.

              This hardcover, full-color treasury includes six picture book stories adapted from the classic Little House books.

              The Little House series introduced generations of readers to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life on the frontier. Now with this illustrated storybook collection, the youngest readers can share in her world as well.

              Laura Ingalls lives in a snug little log cabin with her ma, her pa, her sisters, Mary and Carrie, and their dog, Jack. Almanzo Wilder lives on a farm with his family and lots of animals. These pioneer children have all sorts of adventures, including trips to town, county fairs, cozy winter days, and holidays with family.

              I love how the Little House stories have been adapted to picture book format to share with beginning readers. The full-color illustrations on each page are gorgeous and bring the Little House world to life. The illustrations are reminiscent of the original artwork; they gave me nostalgia for my childhood days when I first discovered the Little House books. This treasury features six short stories that may also be purchased as separate entities.


              Publication Info
              • A Little House Picture Book Treasury: Six Stories of Life on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
              • Published by Harper Collins
              • On September 19 2017
              • Genres: Historical
              • Pages: 208 Pages
              • Format: Hardback
                • Compilation of 6 Books from the "My First Little House Books" collection. For more, click here.
                      • N/A

                      For Laura Ingalls, Christmas means good things to eat, visits from friends, and special gifts to give and receive. As Laura grows up, every Christmas is better than the one before.

                      Join the original pioneer girl in this Little House chapter book, adapted for younger readers from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved classics. Illustrated with beautiful new black-and-white artwork, this repackaged edition includes bonus material such as games, activities, and more!

                      Christmas Stories features nine Christmas stories along with some fun Christmas-themed activities and an author introduction in the back of the book. It's been a while since I've read the original Little House books, but the reading level for this book felt similar to the original books. The only difference is that this book is smaller since it only includes select stories. This makes it more accessible to younger readers who would feel daunted by a larger chapter book.

                      That said, this book would make a great introduction for young readers to the Little House world. I'll be saving this one to enjoy with young readers during the Christmas holidays!


                      CHAT WITH ME

                      Are you a Little House reader? What is your favorite story from the series?

                      Publication Info
                      • Christmas Stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder
                      • Published by Harper Collins
                      • On September 19 2017
                      • Genres: Historical
                      • Pages: 112 Pages
                      • Format: Paperback
                      Series: Little House Chapter Book Collection
                      • The Adventures of Laura & Jack
                      • Pioneer Sisters
                      • Animal Adventures
                      • Laura & Nellie
                      • Christmas Stories
                      • School Days
                      • N/A

                      Endearing Characters + Magical World = Fantasy Adventure ⇉ Review of The Adventurer's Guild by Zach Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

                      Tuesday, January 2, 2018
                      Fantasy adventures are my first love in the book world. Though I've "grown up," in recent years, I've felt drawn back towards MG fantasies, so I was ecstatic to receive a copy of The Adventurer's Guild for review.

                      WHAT I LIKED

                      The World Building
                      Monsters. Best friends. Mages. Elves. Dwarves . . . an Adventurer's Guild and a conspiracy in the works. Not to mention the history between the humans and the elves. The existence of the Adventurer's Guild provides the opportunity for exploring the world, and the authors deliver.

                      Endearing Characters
                      I love the main cast—even the potential turncoat lurking in their midst. The authors do a good job portraying their strengths and weaknesses. In the end, I believe they'll have to work together to overcome the situation that they're in, and I look forward to seeing their growth.

                      A Fantasy Adventure
                      I jumped in looking for a fantasy adventure, and I got a fantasy adventure. Though the plot is predictable, the story stays true to what it is. I felt immersed in Zed's experiences and enjoyed exploring the world with him. (Though I confess that I got really creeped out reading about his encounters with monsters late at night.)

                      WHAT I DISLIKED

                      Static Characters
                      The dialogue is stiff, and the character don't show much complexity. They're packaged into stereotypes. That said, there is a range of characters. Readers will find their favorite characters to cheer on.

                      Predictable Plot
                      The plot is formulaic. If you've read enough fantasy adventures, it's easy to predict where the story will head. However, it does mean that you don't have to think too hard reading this novel. I read this in the middle of my first semester of grad school; it provided fun, light-hearted entertainment in the midst of the busyness.

                      FINAL THOUGHTS

                      While the characters are stereotypical and the plot is formulaic, The Adventurer's Guild is an entertaining fantasy adventure that stays true to what it is: a fantasy adventure. I enjoyed exploring the world with Zed and co. Their story provided lighthearted entertainment in the middle of a busy time of year where it's all too easy to fall prey to burnout. I look forward to continuing their journey with them in the sequel!


                      Few ever asked to join the Adventurers Guild. . . . Their members often died young.

                      In one of the last cities standing after the world fell to monsters, best friends Zed Kagari and Brock Dunderfel have high hopes for the future. Zed desperately wishes to join the ranks of the Mages Guild, where his status as Freestone's only half elf might finally be an asset. Brock, the roguishly handsome son of merchants, is confident he'll be welcomed into the ranks of the Merchants Guild.

                      But just as it seems the boys' dreams have come true, their lives take a startling turn . . . and they find themselves members of the perilous Adventurers Guild.

                      Led by the fearsome Alabasel Frond, the guild acts as the last line of defense against the Dangers-hungry, unnatural beasts from otherworldly planes. And when the boys uncover a conspiracy that threatens all of Freestone, Zed, Brock, and their new allies-Liza, a fierce noble, and Jett, a brave dwarf-must prove their worth once and for all.

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                      For whom would you put your life on the line?

                      Publication Info
                      • The Adventurer's Guild byZack Loran Clark and Nick Elipulos
                      • Published by Disney-Hyperion
                      • On October 3, 2017
                      • Genres: Fantasy
                      • Pages: 340 Pages
                      • Format: Hardback
                      Series: The Adventurer's Guild
                      • The Adventurer's Guild
                      • TBD
                      Mature Content
                      • Creepy creatures
                      • Some violence