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Harry Potter Meets The Princess Diaries ⇉ Review of The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Thursday, July 20, 2017
Deeply buried secrets. A magical school. A quest to save the kingdom . . .

The Crowns of Croswald is part Harry Potter (with the chosen one and magical school setting) and part The Princess Diaries (with the MC Ivy being a strong heroine in the process of discovering and learning about her special heritage, and also embracing her gender and enjoying a pretty dress).


WHAT I LIKED


A School Life Story
Though it is a story about a heroine learning about her role in saving the world, The Crowns of Croswald is also very much a school story in which the heroine must attend to her role as a student even as she searches for clues to her identity. I love magical stories that take place in a school setting. It's so much fun to learn about the world with the students as they attend class and, of course, sneak off on secret adventures.

A Compelling Mystery
Though Ivy's heritage is pretty apparent from the beginning, there are many mysteries surrounding her situation, and more mysteries continue surfacing as she searches for answers. These mysteries kept me in suspense from start to finish, and even though most of the questions have been answered, there is enough left to keep me in anticipation of the next book in her story.

The Promise of Adventure
The Crowns of Croswald is filled with adventures in and out of class, and it ends with the promise of more to come. I like how this book sets the stage for the next part of Ivy's journey.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Un-Memorable Characters
While I have a soft spot for some of the characters, none of them were particularly memorable in the end. They're one dimensional and lack complexity; there are opportunities for the characters to show vulnerability and depth to them, but instead they continue moving forward as they have always done. Ivy, in particular, continues to exude self confidence and charisma in moments when she could have opened herself more to the reader and shown more to her character.

As for the supporting cast, we don't see enough of any of them to get to know them beyond what is their relationship to Ivy (and how she views them). There were lost opportunities to flesh out their characters. An example: As much as we love to hate on Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, he's still endearing—that's because we see more to his character than someone who cares about the purity of a wizard's blood. In comparison, Ivy's "rival" is only portrayed as someone who loves attention as much as she enjoys tormenting Ivy.

A Harry Potter Retelling (for the first half or so)
There were many details in the first half or so of the novel that felt like they came straight out of Harry Potter. (Some examples - highlight to see: the chosen one who never knew he she had magical abilities, ghosts in the dining hall, the magical shopping district, the diminutive professor who needs a stack of books to be seen . . .)

For some time, I wondered if I was reading a Harry Potter retelling or fan fiction. Eventually, the differences did make themselves clear, but I do get a strong Harry Potter vibe from this book. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but there were a few too many strong similarities such that I wonder how large an influence the Harry Potter books were in the writing of this novel.

How or When Did This Happen? (Missing Explanations and Awkward Time Skips)
There are several incidents in which some things seem to happen without cause or an action was missing to explain a situation. There are also some awkward time skips where a summary of events would have helped facilitate the transition through the passage of time. The same awkwardness goes for descriptions of characters and the setting. For the most part, these incidents don't hinder the reader's understanding of the text, but they did make the difference of a star in my final rating.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Though the characters have yet to prove themselves to be particularly memorable, the plot and world building is interesting enough that I'm open to revisiting this world with the next novel in the series. As this is a first novel, there is room for the writing to mature. I look forward to seeing what D.E. Night brings to us next!

★★★☆☆


In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret...

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic—and her life—is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.








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CHAT WITH ME


If you owned a magical crown, what special ability would it allow you to wield? (Possible answers: transform into magical creatures, set things on fire, freeze water. . .)



Publication Info
  • The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night
  • Published by Stories Untold
  • On July 21, 2017
  • Genres: YA Fantasy
  • Pages: ??? Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  1. The Crowns of Croswald
  2. TBD
Content
  • Bullying / Snobbery
  • Someone is locked in a box in a closet (found afterwards)
  • Someone seemingly disperses into gold glitter

A Whimsical Adventure with Family at Its Heart ⇉ Review of The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding + #GIVEAWAY

Thursday, July 13, 2017
The Queen is Coming to Tea is a delightful, whimsical read in which a young girl visits many different countries in search of delicacies to serve the queen at tea. I enjoyed joining Ellie on her journey. It took me back to my childhood days when my brother and I would create new worlds and go on imaginary journeys. Seeing the queen and Ellie together at the end was a sweet moment. I enjoy books that show mother-daughter moments. (highlight to see).

This is a book that mothers will enjoy reading with their daughters. The end suggests that there will be a sequel that fathers can share with their daughters. In a future companion story, I would love to see siblings go on adventures together! Growing up with my brother was an important part of my life.


★★★☆☆


One day there was a knock at Ellie's door. There stood the Queen's Footman. "A message from Her Royal Highness." He offered Ellie a note on a silver tray.
May I please come for tea?
Sincerely yours,
The Queen Herself


When Ellie finds out the Queen is coming to tea, she snaps to attention! After all, the Queen deserves the best: cake from Paris, tea from China, lemons from Italy... "Pish posh," says Ellie. "We can do it!"

But will the Queen patiently wait? And what exactly will be waiting for the Queen?





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Fancy Nancy Tea Parties by Jane O'Connor


CHAT WITH ME


What were some of your favorite moments with your mother (or another parental figure) growing up?


GIVEAWAY


As a part of the tour, we're giving away 2 Ceramic Tea Sets and copies of The Queen is Coming to Tea.
a Rafflecopter giveaway




Publication Info
  • The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding
  • Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
  • On February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
    Series
    • N/A
      Content
      • N/A


      Friendship Forged and Real-World Issues Explored in the Australian Wild ⇉ Review of The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht

      Thursday, July 6, 2017
      I loved animal books as a child, so when I had the opportunity to review this series, I knew I was in! For reviews of the first two books, click on the links in the table at the bottom of this post!


      WHAT I LIKED


      Introduces New (Australian!) Animals
      Each book of the The Nocturnals series has introduced new animals that can be found in Australia. I've enjoyed learning more about different kinds of animals. This book provides a good opportunity to research more about Australian animal life with your young reader.

      Enemies That Aren't So Bad After All
      As with the previous two novels, The Fallen Star reveals that individuals can make bad decisions that hurt others for innocent motives, motives with which we can identify. I love how these books show young readers how to consider things from the other party's perspective, forgive wrongdoings, and move forward together.

      Provides a Safe Place to Explore Real World Issues
      As I hinted above, there are real world issues in this book. Because the story is fictional and told through animal life, The Nocturnals books provide a safe place for young readers to explore real world issues. In particular, this book portrays the following: gluttony, keeping secrets, insecurity, friendship, and talking before you think.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


      Bismarck is Still One Rude Marsupial
      Bismarck often gets himself and his friends into tough spots because of his tendency to talk before he thinks. He's rude to those he doesn't like and / or who disagree with him. That said, he's also a good friend and will quickly change attitudes when he realizes there's a problem.

      Superficial Characters
      To a certain extent, the characters are still pretty superficial. We don't get to know the animals outside of the main trio. Dawn is the brave leader and the least developed. Bismarck has some depth in that his brash attitude forces him to learn a lot of lessons the hard way. In this book, Tobin shows more complexity because of his inner conflict. Overall, however, we don't get much complexity. (That said, it's for the most part age appropriate.)

      Where's the Old Cast?
      I realized in writing this review that we don't really see old comrades make an appearance outside of the original trio. While I enjoy meeting new Australian wildlife, I would love to see old friends make a reappearance. It would help connect the books and give a stronger feel of consistency. Thus far, the books feel episodic in nature (which isn't altogether bad—it means you can pick any book after the first book and not worry about having to read the rest of the books—but I would like to check in on old friends).


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      I enjoyed this book much more than the first two books. The conflict was intriguing and had me worried about the fates of the forest animals. It actually felt like they were in danger, and there was a real mystery here. I would recommend this book to young readers who love animals and would be interested in reading an animal book that takes place in a foreign country!

      ★★★☆☆


      In The Fallen Star, Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark awaken one evening to a disaster: all of the forest's pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned! As the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate, they encounter Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, who claims monsters from the moon are to blame. While the three heroes suspect a more earthly explanation, the animals of the valley are all falling ill. And then Tobin gets sick, too! The Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.



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      CHAT WITH ME


      Dawn, Tobin, and Bismarck help other animals who live in their forest. What activities do you enjoy doing with friends?



      Publication Info
      • The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht
      • Published by Fabled Films Press
      • On May 2, 2017
      • Genres: Animals, Juvenile
      • Pages: 208 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Content
      • A deceitful villain uses other animals (lies to some, hypnotizes others).
      • A death is mentioned
      • Some intense scenes in which the heroes are captured and fight for their lives.

      Overcoming Death and Stereotypes ⇉ Review of What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

      Thursday, June 29, 2017
      When I was in school, I would have friend groups for different situations. I met people in certain activities, and our interactions were limited to those situations. Or if we did go out and do something different, only people from that group attended. The older I get, however, the more I appreciate having a stable friend group that does life together.

      The initial appeal of What to Say Next is that it breaks these "class lines" and puts a girl from the "in" crowd in the time and place as a boy from the "out" crowd. In the process, we're reminded of the unifying nature of our humanity. We don't have to be one or the other. As long as we put aside preconceived stereotypes, we can be just human.


      WHAT I LIKED


      It's the Small Details (that bring the characters to life)
      In a fiction writing class I took in college, the professor told us that small details make a story more realistic. I was reminded of this early in What to Say Next because it is filled with small details about the characters from their mannerisms to beauty marks (like the cluster of freckles David notices on Kit) to their thoughts. Such details made them real to me and helped invest me in their lives.

      Crossing Social Boundaries
      High school is a microcosm of the "real world," and the social hierarchy is no different. Kit belongs to the "in" crowd (though she's not feeling very "in" right now) while David belongs to the "out" crowd. What's interesting is that Kit isn't very comfortable in her own skin while David is comfortable watching everyone from afar. Their worlds collide when . . . something happens to spark an unlikely friendship between them (see how I avoided spoilers by drawing from the synopsis below?).

      I like how the story crosses social boundaries to examine how life could be if people set aside their differences to find common ground. Okay, this might not be the original intention of the author, but it's there and it's real. It makes the story real and relatable.

      Also of note: Kit is of a diverse background, and it actually plays an important role in her life and how she perceives her identity. It's not mentioned and left forgotten like I've seen in other books. David has been diagnosed with Asperger's (and he has a problem with it being swallowed into the autism spectrum in the DSM-5, another little detail that brings his character to life).

      Invests in the MCs' Stories
      All of the above drew me into the MCs' lives. (This story is told in alternating perspectives between Kit and David.) Some parts were cheesy: like the party and what happens at the party, and like what happens in the last scene of the novel (I would've thought it'd take more time to get over what happened almost immediately before that).

      However, Kit and David feel like real people, and they deal with very real-world problems. I'm sure many readers can relate to their feelings if not the problems they deal with.

      Brings Together the Pieces
      There's a big reveal at the end (because what's a contemporary novel without big reveals?). To be honest, I could deal without another piece of drama added to the mix, but to give author Julie Buxbaum credit, this one was well done. I like how it made a lot of inconspicuous events from earlier turn into foreshadowing. If you're into rereads, it'd be worth giving this one a shot after you've seen the big reveal, so you can see how Buxbaum builds up the big reveal.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


      Some Loose Threads
      There are some plotlines that don't get developed much or get an ending. For a time, they seemed important, but they get dropped after the plot twist is revealed towards the end.

      The Content: Language & The Afterlife
      I have a list of content in the table towards the bottom of this post, but I'll be addressing a couple in more detail here.

      Language in particular comes up frequently in What Happens Next. Enough that I felt uncomfortable.

      From various details in the novel, it seems that the author is more secular minded. For example, a conversation on life after death uses a paradigm in which science and religion are considered mutually exclusive, and the characters agree that there is no life after death. While I love how the story explores real world issues, I would think twice about recommending this book because of the values expressed.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      What to Say Next has some of the most real characters I've seen in a contemporary novel, and it explores real world issues with which we can relate. Readers who enjoy a book with well-developed characters will enjoy this one. That said, I would caution readers to check out the content in the book before delving into it as some readers, especially more conservative readers, may not be comfortable with the content. (See content list in the table at the bottom of this post.)

      ★★★☆☆


      Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

      KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

      DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

      When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?



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      Publication Info
      • Eliza and Her Monsters by Julie Buxbaum
      • Published by Harper Collins
      • On May 30, 2017
      • Genres: Contemporary
      • Pages: 400 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Frequent Language
      • Kissing, making out
      • Thoughts of female nudity (not explicit)
      • Death & Descriptions of a Car Accident
      • Aspergers / Autism Spectrum
      • Bullying
      • Fight scene (not entirely explicit; it's mentioned later that some students get sent to the hospital)
      • Mentions of an affair, divorce papers, and couple therapy
      • Underage drinking / house party
      • Questions on life after death. Science and religion are treated as mutually exclusive entities. Determines there is no life after death.

      Learning to Love Yourself and What You Do ⇉ Contemplations on Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

      Tuesday, June 20, 2017
      Francesca Zappia has a talent for bringing characters and their emotions to life. I started reading this book intending to enjoy some light reading before bed . . . and stayed up flipping through the pages, intent on finding out how things develop between Eliza and Wallace after he sees her artwork.

      The high school me could relate with Eliza. I didn't like school and had a hard time communicating with my peers. Reading and writing were my means of escape from reality. I never created an online fandom like Eliza, but I did hang around the Inkpop forums before Figment took over. Given this shared experience and how the Internet has become such a large part of our culture, I was interested in seeing how Francesca Zappia would bring the two worlds together.

      I like how Francesca Zappia integrates pages from Eliza's popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, comment threads, and text messages into the novel. It gives us a broader picture of Eliza's life and how much more real her online community is to her than her offline life, where everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. (At least, to the teenage mind.) Because of this broader picture, I can empathize with how Eliza puts more energy into her online life. It's so much easier to invest into something that's going well, especially after all our past efforts with the alternative seem to have failed.

      Regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist, I believe we can all relate to Eliza's creativity and passion. We've all felt passion for something at one part in our life. Whether or not we continued to feed that passion is another story. (Or maybe you found another passion: I can relate to that one. I was the child who tried different things but found a hard time sticking to any one thing. Anyone else relate?) I enjoy reading YA lit because of the hope it lights up in the midst of challenges. It fuels my drive to delve into my passions and create something.

      The ending of Eliza really hits home for me. There will be times when we fall into slumps. When we want to give up and let go of everything. Even after we overcome one obstacle, we may face another one later on. Eliza's continued passion for her creation in a time of trial reminds me never to persevere through the challenges. When we can get through them, the result will be so, so rewarding.

      (Her story also reminds me that authors are human too. There are authors who go on long hiatuses. Eliza reminds us that authors don't belong to their fans; they need time off too for personal reasons. I appreciate the time that authors take with their craft. Some of my favorite authors tend to take their time with their works, and the quality of their writing is worth the wait!)

      Of course, no story is perfect, and the reasons will differ from reader to reader. Some things that I didn't love so much were....

      1. The language
      It's not pervasive, but there are times when cuss words pop up

      2. The romance
      There are some intimate moments behind closed doors. (Thankfully, nothing that involves clothes coming off, but I did feel like I was invading their private space).

      My bigger problem, however, is how Wallace handles the big reveal and what he says to her the next time they see each other. (I don't consider this a spoiler because we know the reveal is going to happen eventually). Though he seems to try to be understanding, in the end, he's thinking about himself, and his backstory was developed enough for me to empathize with the way he treats her. In the end, I still don't see how they got resolve everything other than the fact that they're teenagers. (It still would have been good to see them communicate more. Too much is done at the end out of moments of passion.)

      3. Where's Monstrous Sea?
      I was looking forward to seeing the story of Monstrous Sea interwoven with that of Eliza's offline life. While we do see some of the story, it's so sparse and infrequent, that I wouldn't remember what I'd last seen of Monstrous Sea by the time the next section came around. I'm also confused as to how the storyline all fits in together. I needed to see either more of Monstrous Sea (so I could make the connections ) or less of it (so I could remember what I did see).

      4. Underdeveloped Family Relations
      While I like how Eliza's family plays an important role in her life (as under appreciated as they are in the beginning), things wrap up a little to nicely at the end. I feel like Eliza isn't given the chance to grow as much as she could have as a daughter and sister.

      Yes, her family didn't try as hard as they could have to understand her and support her, but Eliza also fails to try to understand them and assumes that they hate her. I love how her brothers take action at the end to move things forward, and I wish that more pages were dedicated to showing her respond in kind. This was a great opportunity to show character growth and shine the spotlight on the family.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      Eliza's story is one with which many readers can relate no matter where they come from. We often think that other people live more glamorous lives than ours or judge us more harshly than they do. Who better to show us this than Eliza, whose online life is scrutinized by millions of fans? While I did have some problems with plot development (especially the later stages of the romance), I enjoyed following Eliza's high school troubles and the nostalgia of my own high school life (not that I enjoyed high school much when I was a high school student). Eliza's story is a remind that, no matter how tough things get, as long as we push forward with hope for the future, we will find joy in the midst of trials and come out a stronger person.

      Lastly, I do need to shout out the references to anime. I love anime and cartoons in general :)

      ★★★☆☆


      Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

      In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

      Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

      But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.



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      Publication Info
      • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
      • Published by Harper Collins
      • On May 30, 2017
      • Genres: Contemporary
      • Pages: 400 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Language
      • Kissing, intimate couple moments (no sex scenes)
      • Fan work involving BL (boy love)
      • Contemplations of suicide
      • Panic attack

      The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht ⇉ Furry Friends and Big Dilemmas Will Encourage Young Readers to Reconsider What They Know about Right and Wrong

      Friday, June 16, 2017
      The Nocturnals are back for another adventure! Who else enjoys reading books featuring animals as the protagonists?


      WHAT I LIKED


      Friendship Focus
      The focus of the Nocturnals has always been on the strong friendship that Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark share. I like how their friendship is put to the test in this novel because it shows young readers that good friends can fight and doubt each other, but they will continue to care for each other and put in the effort to make up.

      Blurs the Line Between Good and Evil
      Like the first book, The Ominous Eye blurs the line between good and evil. Oftentimes, we look at someone's actions and judge their character based off a specific behavior at a specific point in the time, but we don't stop to question the motive behind their behavior. The Ominous Eye calls us to consider the other side's perspective.

      Caricature of the Real World
      The actions of the nocturnals in this novel reflect the actions of real-world people when bad things happen and no one knows what to do. This book provide a safe place for children to consider how they would act (or who in the novel they want to act like) should something similar take place in their lives.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


      Superficial Characters
      As in the first novel, the characters stay nicely packaged in their respective personas. While events cause tension within the heroes' relationships with one another, even the quarrel isn't very persuasive and lacks depth.

      The Characters' Attitudes and Actions
      On top of what I didn't like from the last novel, I really didn't like Dawn and Bismark's attitudes in this novel. The new major player in this novel was also pretty big "know it all." Young readers may find their attitudes and actions interesting, but as an older reader, I wanted to see more to the characters' personalities.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      Overall, I appreciate how the Nocturnals books introduce young readers to new creatures and teaches them about friendship, hope, and perseverance through hardships. In exploring real-world concepts through animals lives, the book gives young readers the opportunity to consider the right thing to do when faced with a moral dilemma.

      ★★★☆☆


      They're baaaccckkk for another mysterious action filled Nocturnal adventure!

      Join Dawn, Bismark and Tobin as they set out to investigate the source of a violent jolt that fractures the earth! Along their journey, the Nocturnal Brigade meets an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara named Polyphema—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. Polyphema with her special insights, is the only one who can help the Nocturnal Brigade stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas, and some kiwis, the animals set a trap since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.



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      What would you do if one of your best friends seemed to be taking someone else's side?



      Publication Info
      • The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht
      • Published by Fabled Films Press
      • On September 20, 2016
      • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
      • Pages: 208 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series: Nocturnals
      1. The Mysterious Abductions
      2. The Ominous Eye
      3. The Fallen Star
      Content
      • Some violence

      Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.