Freya and the Dragon Egg

Freya and the Dragon Egg

Freya and the Dragon Egg by K.W. Penndorf (Middle Grade Fantasy)

I love it when a novel takes me to a new place and makes me want to know more about that place. I’m not talking about fantasy worlds, but real worlds, either historical or geographical or, in this case, mythological.

Freya and the Dragon Egg is much more than the cover art or the title would suggest. Freya lives in present-day Denmark, and Viking mythology is a big part of her life because her father is a Viking archaeologist. He runs a museum full of runes, tapestries, and other artifacts he has discovered. Among them is a dragon’s egg that he gives to Freya for safekeeping when it becomes obvious that thieves are looking for it. The egg transports Freya back in time to the Viking era. There she learns that she is the Summoned One who is expected to save mankind from the sinister Ragnar and his evil plans to control the Nine Realms.

For me, the best thing about this book was all of the Norse mythology that I learned about — the Nine Realms, the Valkyries, Valhalla, Norns, and so on — and also the origin of the term “berserk.” After reading it, I went online and found that all of it is true and the author really knew her stuff.

The story itself had some holes that left me wondering, but for middle-grade readers that may not be such a big problem. It has a somewhat confusing beginning because it starts with a dream — always a bad idea if you ask me — but quickly moves into a solid storyline with a twelve-year-old main character that kids can identify with. She solves problems, learns to trust herself, and develops new awareness of how important her family is to her. It’s the usual “finding out you’re a magical special person” thing that we all dream of, so we’re on her side.

The writing was pretty good. After too many “Freya did a double-take” lines, though, I was wishing for a new way of saying that.

Bella gives Freya and the Dragon Egg four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Hillstation

Hillstation

Hillstation, by Robin Mukherjee (General Fiction)

Smart, funny, thought-provoking, entertaining — I found Hillstation by Robin Mukherjee to be a delightful treat that kept me chuckling and made me sorry to see it end.

The main character and narrator, Rabindra, is a young man of twenty-two who has never left Pushkara, the remote mountain town in India where he was born. As the second son in an upper-class Brahmin family, he is constantly being compared — unfavorably — to his older brother who has been to England and is now the village doctor. To make matters worse, Rabindra’s best friend, Pol, is a low-born in the Indian caste system, making him forbidden company for a Brahmin and an added source of irritation to Rabindra’s father. Both Rabindra and Pol long to leave Pushkara, their goal being to marry English brides and move to England. When an itinerant troupe of British entertainers end up in Pushkara by mistake, Rabindra and Pol believe the young female dancers have been sent by the gods in answer to their prayers. The confusion this creates for all concerned makes for a very entertaining story.

As a fan of Sonny in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I especially enjoyed the main characters’ flowery Indian-English speech patterns characterized by unnecessarily complex, and often humorous, sentence structures. As Rabindra himself explains to the newly arrived British girl of his dreams, “For your information, our prodigious facility in the English patois is consequent upon historical circumstances. Several generations ago, there came to reside among these fragrant peaks a gentleman in receipt of an education from a most illustrious establishment, far away from here, in which English was the prescribed means of linguistic intercourse. Being of a pedagogic inclination, he established our first school…” and so on. To which she replies, looking at her travel companion, “I thought you said they spoke English.”

The story has its unexpected twists and turns, the tongue-in-cheek humor is consistent throughout, and the characters are well-developed and fun. The book provides a glimpse of life in a remote Indian village and offers the opportunity to reflect on what might happen if one attempts to transcend one’s limitations.

Grandma gives Hillstation five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a copy of Hillstation from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Raven Bride (Short Story)

The Raven Bride

The Raven Bride by Sean Fesko (Short Story, Historical Fiction/Paranormal)

We agreed to review The Raven Bride after being approached by the author, even though we don’t normally do short stories. The era and setting is that of the Salem witch trials, a topic that interested us. The description asks the question, “What do you do when the ones that should save you are the ones that accuse you?” As you might guess, you can’t do much.

The year is 1692, and sixteen-year-old Victoria Crowe lives with her mother and little sister just north of Salem, Massachusetts. Her father passed away earlier in the year, leaving the women to survive on their own. The church helps out when it can, but then, one night while their mother is out of the house, the local deputies come to arrest Victoria and her little sister as witches. Will Victoria be able to convince the town that they are not evil?

While Mr. Fesko characterized this as paranormal fiction, I found it to be more along the lines of historical fiction in that it does a good job of entering the mind of an innocent accused of witchcraft in a turbulent time in Colonial history. On the other hand, everything happens so quickly, there is little time to contemplate the fate of Victoria and her family, leaving me feeling somewhat cheated out of what could have been a longer, more intense experience if he had simply turned it into a novella. The paranormal part comes later, and I won’t attempt to explain it here in order to avoid spoilers.

The writing is well done to a point, but there are jarring inconsistencies of language and word usage that took me right out of the story. Victoria is the narrator, and while most of the time she speaks in a somewhat inaccurate, but obviously intended to be, Olde English style, she occasionally throws in modern phrases like “Good job!” or “I lost it” meaning she lost control of her emotions. A few “haths” or “thous” do not Olde English make, and that aspect of the storytelling could have been done much better.

This is a quick read, and it leaves one thinking about good and evil and their origins.

Grandma gives The Raven Bride three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.

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Unfolding

Unfolding

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen (Young Adult Fiction)

The cover of this book did not grab me, but the story sure did. It’s a well-written, gripping novel that kept me reading to find out how it all would, well, unfold.

Jonah is a high school senior who suffers from both a severe, body-twisting case of scoliosis and from epileptic seizures of ever-increasing intensity. His self-deprecating sense of humor helps him make it through life and also makes him a captivating narrator as he tells this tale of the secrets hidden in his hometown of Gullary, Oklahoma.

Much of what happens centers around Jonah’s eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor and love interest, Stormi, who was literally dropped into Gullary as an infant by a tornado. Stormi senses things before they happen, which makes her highly suspect in a small town that already considers her to be “unnatural,” and when a tragedy occurs, the townspeople blame her. Jonah’s love for Stormi — and his ability to protect her — are put to the test as things heat up.

I found it refreshing to read about a hero who wasn’t a paragon of physical perfection. His seizures occur at inopportune times, his twisted young body is an embarrassment, and yet he perseveres. His friend Arthur displays autistic tendencies that make it impossible for him to be dishonest, but also result in some creative problem-solving. The story has a few sinister characters, some mystery, some tragedy, and plenty of interesting plot twists that held me captive. I could feel the dry, gritty heat of summer in Oklahoma and feel the creepiness of the town’s abandoned maximum security prison that also plays a part in the story. At the same time, Jonah’s optimistic approach to life and his sense of humor kept the narration light enough to be enjoyable and full of hope.

Grandma gives Unfolding five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Unfolding is scheduled for release on January 1, 2017, and is available only on pre-order.

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The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (YA Fiction)

After finishing this book, it’s all I can think about. It was an amazing read.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie’s older sister, Bailey, was also her best friend, and now Bailey has died unexpectedly from an unknown heart condition. Lennie doesn’t know how to handle her terrible grief. She writes poems on scraps of paper, paper cups, napkins, walls, trees, and more that give the reader insights to how close she was to Bailey, and she also makes some mistakes as she tries to relate to the two attractive guys who come into her life because of Bailey’s death. In the process she comes to learn a lot about herself, her sister, and the quirky grandmother who has been their caregiver ever since their mother abandoned them as little kids.

Though the storyline is not something I can directly relate to, I related easily with the main character, Lennie. She goes through the process of grieving the passing of her sister in a way that really makes you sympathize with her. She’s short on self-confidence and finds herself in some pretty difficult positions, which she handles with a sense of self-awareness that is sometimes funny and often sad. It was so easy to fall in love with all of the characters. I would go so far as to say that it is my favorite book at the moment.

Bella gives The Sky is Everywhere five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Clean

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The Birr Elixir

Birr Elixir

The Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes (YA Fantasy)

This short book is the first in a series called The Legend of the Gamesmen. It caught my interest right away, and I read it in one afternoon. It’s a fantasy with princes, potions, good guys and bad guys, and a team of gallant young gamesmen engaged in a competitive game called Comet.

The female lead character, Marra, has inherited a book of potions from the deceased herbalist with whom she was apprenticing, and among the potions is an elixir that helps the gamesmen win against tough odds.  Male leads include the captain of the Comet team and a prince traveling incognito who joins up with Marra and the gamesmen. I suspect this will turn into a love triangle in coming books. Meanwhile nasties have kidnapped the prince once and are trying to do it again, so there’s lots going on.

The writing is very good and the story is quick-moving and fun. I enjoyed the cleverness of the game the author has invented and how it is scored. Things are a little confusing because this book leaves some basic questions unanswered, like why the nasties want to kidnap the prince, which you might expect to find out before the first book ends. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the story, and since the book is so short, moving on to book two, The Agben School, is an easy fix.

Bella gives The Birr Elixir four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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A Supersleuth is Born

SuperSleuth

A Supersleuth is Born by T. Mara Jerabek (Middle Grade Fantasy)

I don’t usually review Middle Grade books, but I agreed to read this because the idea of a blind kid finding glasses that let him see sounded pretty good.

Ethan is a blind sixth grader who lives with his aunt because his parents have died. His best friend (and love interest) is Addison, a girl who meets him every day to take him to school, and his former best friend, Mikey, is now the kid who bullies him. He knows lots of people in town and is pretty independent, counting steps to get where he wants to go and being checked on by lots of neighbors as he travels between his house and that of the lady who takes care of him after school. One day, at the home of the caregiver, he finds a pair of magic goggles that give him the ability to see. They also talk to him about what’s going on, take pictures, record notes, and can increase his ability to hear conversations at a distance.

Meanwhile, his aunt/mom is a newspaper reporter who is trying to get new information about a bunch of stolen bikes in town, and since Ethan has always wanted to solve mysteries, he decides to use his new eyesight to help her and the police find the bike thief.

I’m not sure what to say about this, because everything was too simple and too quick, but maybe for middle-grade kids, that’s okay. The bullying kid, Mikey, suddenly becomes Ethan’s best friend again so they can solve mysteries together, but we never learn why he turned on him in the first place, and now, like overnight, everything’s okay. The mystery was a pretty minor one, and it’s hard to believe it took three kids to solve it when the police couldn’t. Plus, I never did understand why the thief had to steal kids’ bikes in order to do what he wanted to do. And I do think it would have been better if Ethan could have solved it all because he was an awesome blind kid instead of needing the goggles. They just turned him into another kid who could see.

I hope the author adds more tension and danger next time, to get the reader excited and nervous for Ethan, instead of making everything work out too easily. I liked Ethan’s voice as he told the story. He seemed like a kid I’d like to know, with a good sense of humor about life.

Bella gives A Supersleuth is Born three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free paperback copy from the author in return for an honest review.

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