Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of Fires of Invention back in 2015 at BookCon in New York City. Savage was in attendance, and doing an author signing of his soon to be released (at the time) novel and of his previous works.  I had never read anything by this author before reading this novel in 2015 and went into reading it with no expectations. The story follows thirteen-year-old Trenton Coleman as he navigates life in the City of Cove. In Cove, creativity of any kind  is illegal and the City is structured in order to highlight the dangers of creativity. Throughout the novel the reader is introduced to Kallista Babbage, a girl whose father was a “creative type” that passed away in an explosion. Trenton and Kallista end up working together to build a machine after finding blueprints that it seems Kallista’s father, Leo Babbage, was working on before his death.  

This novel is an incredibly interesting and thoughtful read. The author is able to keep the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. The novel did not lag in any areas and was fairly consistent throughout. There were some pacing issues in certain parts of the novel in regards to certain plot points and events not having been fleshed out and explored as much as they could have been. I did read an ARC of the story and the final, published novel may not have contained those issues.

Overall, I give Fires of Invention a rating of 8.5 Unicorn Horns out of 10. The author accomplished what they set out to do in this novel. All the major plot points were well executed, the characters were dynamic and well thought out, the intrigue and mystery of Cove built organically and did not feel force-fed, and the story was complex and layered. This is a novel that I would recommend to ANYONE! The novel can easily be enjoyed by adult readers who do not tend to read middle grade fiction. And of course I would suggest that anyone within the target age range that is interested in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian and/or Steampunk to give this novel a read. 

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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Wonder is a middle grade contemporary novel which follows main character, August -affectionately known as Auggie-as he begins 5th grade. Auggie has a facial deformity, and has had to undergo numerous surgeries, because of this he had been home schooled all his life. He’s decided he wants to attend ‘traditional’ school and begins going to Beecher Prep in Manhattan. 
Unfortunately, but as expected, Auggie is bullied at school and has to overcome some adversity. Although his school life isn’t always easy he has a pretty great home life and a very likable family. As you read the book you don’t just fall in love with Auggie, but with his entire family, both of his parents and his older sister Olivia. Bullying, is a major subject that runs throughout the story, but this is still a book that can restore your faith in humanity. Although there are kids his age that bully him, there are also some his age that don’t ‘other’ Auggie and/or treat him differently. 
Wonder is beautifully written and the story develops so naturally. I’m an adult, and this novel still made me think so deeply about the things that I say, think and feel about others. This book is written in a way that allows it to be very easy to comprehend for someone within the target age range, but is still very relevant for adult readers. Every so item I’m lucky enough to read a book that is just so important and that shapes and molds my outlook on the world around me. This novel is able to do that so brilliantly for Middle Grade readers. Wonder is able to take real world issues and makes them digestible to young readers. The forefront topics are bullying, acceptance, and self-love, but the outlooks and lessons explored in Wonder are easily transferable to so many current issues.I would absolutely recommend this novel to all contemporary lovers! I give Wonder a rating of 9-out of-10 Unicorn Horns

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

*THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE*

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I went into this middle grade paranormal comic not knowing what to expect since I hadn’t read the synopsis or any other reviews on it before picking it up. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of diversity in this stand alone. 

So if you’re like I was and haven’t already heard of this book, I’ll give you a short spoiler free synopsis. The story follows main character Catrina A.K.A Cat and her younger sister Maya as they move to a new city primarily in the hope of seeing an improvement- or given the nature of the hereditary illness- a stabilization of Maya’s chronic disorder. As Cat struggles to adjust to the big move, a neighbour lets loose a well known fact about the town: the weather and location is a prime area for the ghosts of the dead to frequently visit the living.

This was overall an enjoyable read that primarily focused on overcoming fear, dealing with accepting a very difficult reality, the afterlife (nothing too complicated), and even had hint of romance. It also touches a bit on 1st generation immigration issues when it comes to tradition verses American culture- though this is more a passing comment than an actual theme. The main characters Cat and Maya were pretty well rounded. Maya’s personality, despite the complicated situation she’s faced with was primarily upbeat which helped cut what may have been a pretty depressing read lol, though she was pretty mature for her age. Cat on the other hand was wonderfully filled with conflicting, complicated emotions, some negative and some positive, which made her feel more realistic than if she had been a perfect older sister. I really liked getting to watch her develop as a character. Genuinely enjoyed the other characters as well, but wish I could have learned more about the neighbour. 

Though I really enjoyed this story I can’t help feeling like…I dunno…there could have been more? Like there was something missing? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe I only felt this way because it’s out of my age range lol. I’d still definitely recommend it to others and don’t regret my purchase. Hopefully a re-read at a later time can help me pinpoint what felt lacking from the story, but until then can only give this a 7/10 unicorn horns.

 

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

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Book Review-The Night Gardener

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Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener is a Middle-Grade novel which follows main protagonists and siblings, Kip and Molly, who have arrived in England from Ireland. After a hard journey and with Kip sick with fever, Molly is finally able to find employment with the Windsor family, and the children take up residence in the family manor. As they arrive on the property they are greeted by the sight of a degrading house which has a massive strange looking tree growing into its foundation. Molly and Kip are quickly acquainted with all of the Windsor  family that is currently in the house. As time goes by Molly and Kip begin to notice strange happenings in and around the manor as well as oddities with the Windsor family themselves. This novel is a very good blend of horror, suspense, fantasy and mystery, and each genre/sub-genre has a firm hold in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was much more creepy than I had anticipated. I have a habit of not reading the synopsis of a book before starting it, as my own over-active imagination does an annoyingly amazing job of sometimes spoiling me. I was only expecting a good mystery story and it was a very pleasant surprise to have a lot of horror and an overall mood of creepiness woven into the story. The character development of the two main protagonists was fairly well done. Both Molly and Kip make noticeable changes throughout the story and their characters seemed to be thought out and constructed very well. On the other hand, the story-lines of some of the supporting characters, did not feel as fleshed out. That was not too much of a put off while reading and I only took real notice of it at two sections near to the conclusion of the story because the leap of logic seemed to need a bit more buildup to come off seamlessly.

I don’t have any major cons and/or complaints about the story. The Night Gardner is a story that I feel is very well-done. It would be an amazing, interesting read for someone within the target age range of middle grade fiction. The story was well written, the progression of events were believable and the historical-fiction aspect make it a very digestible read for an adult reader. The novel deserves all seven-and-a-half out of ten unicorn horns that I am awarding it.

 

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

*THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE*

Book Review-American Born Chinese

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American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a Young Adult Graphic Novel that follows three seemingly unrelated story lines that intersect in an interesting way near the conclusion of the story. The stories are not told back-to-back, instead they are broken up into various chapters, where each chapter contains a portion of each story. One story follows the main character Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy who goes to a school where he is picked on. All Jin wants is to fit in at this school where he is the only Chinese-American student. The second story is a retelling of a Chinese fable of the Monkey King. Although the Monkey King is the ruler of all monkeys and a master of kung-fu, he wants to be recognized as a god and not a mere monkey. Lastly, there is the story of Danny. He is a basketball star and he’s popular but every year he is forced to switch schools when his ‘very Chinese’ cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit.

Although this book is technically  young adult  it could easily be enjoyed and digested by an older middle-grade reader. The theme and concept of ‘true-identity’ runs through the entire story. Overall, my favorite of the three stories contained in this book was that of the Monkey King. To me, this story also happens to be the one that best portrays the importance of accepting oneself and being true to your self.

Gene Luen Yang does an outstanding job of not only exploring how we self-identify, but also cultural identity. Although, if you dig deeply you will realize that cultural identity can be seen in the story of the Monkey King, if you swap out race (Chinese/Caucasian) for the idea of being a god/monkey, it is most apparent in Jin’s story as Jin desperately wants to culturally fit in. There is a scene within the first few chapters of this book where Wei-Chen, a new student who has immigrated from Taiwan approaches Jin and Jin’s first comment to him is “You’re in America. Speak English”. This is slightly heartbreaking as you can clearly see Jin’s ‘cultural self shaming’ (for a lack of a better term…I decided to make one up!) and embarrassment to potentially be overheard understanding/speaking in a language other than English at school.

American Born Chinese, wholeheartedly and without a doubt deserves 9, of the shiniest and brightest, unicorn horns! This is a book that I would suggest that any adult who has a child/young adult in their life should buy for said young human. It is amazing to see Asian, and more specifically Chinese-American representation that is honest. The book is an important read, not only for readers who can culturally/racially identify with the main characters and plot points, but for all young humans (and unicorns alike) who are growing up/grew up racially ‘othered’.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

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Reader you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.

That quote is one that perfectly describes the main non-human characters, in The Tale of Despereaux. This story, a middle grade fantasy, centers around Despereaux, a wonderfully strange mouse, Chiaroscuro (aka Roscuro)-a non-conforming rat, and a wishing girl named Miggery Sow. DiCamillo’s beautiful narration skillfully weaves three interwoven stories involving revenge, love, betrayal, hope, soup, forgiveness and a princess. I truly admired the way DiCamillo writes and came across quite a few quote worthy lines:

Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.

I had watched the animated movie a few years ago when it first came out, LOVED the narration and really enjoyed the story so when I saw it at the bookstore the other day I picked it up. It’s a pretty light read broken up into four short books, and is something I’d recommend to any young child or even grown-ups that enjoy stories with thought-provoking messages and gripping story telling. This would honestly be one of my favorites if I had read it as a kid.

The only thing I wasn’t too keen on were the characters. I kind of liked Despereaux and the princess was okay… I guess (there wasn’t much to her character), but couldn’t find much to like about Rosuro and (namely) Miggery. It actually made reading their POV’s pretty difficult for me to get through since I honestly didn’t really care what they had to say. Since Despereaux is the protagonist of the story, I guess it makes sense for him to be the most likable, though- I hate to admit this as someone who ALWAYS complains about how much better the book is- I couldn’t help but feel like the movie had more appealing versions of the characters, especially Chiaroscuro. Getting to know the original Roscuro and his much darker past, and being able to compare and contrast them both is something I appreciate being able to do, but in the end I actually liked the movie version of him better (particularly because I felt it made his later actions more impactful). This may be only because I had watched and loved the movie first instead of the other way around, but it’s the truth. The movie does change, sugar-coat (quite a bit) and leave out a few things that I love in the book, but otherwise I think the movie did a fairly good job at adapting it.

Overall I truly enjoyed this tale of a non-conforming mouse, a rat that strived to defy darkness, and…well…a far dreaming serving girl. A solid 6.5/10 unicorn horns