Tag Archives: Children’s book reviews

Bedtime Stories: The Apothecary

apothecaryPost by Mark T. Locker.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy.

14-year-old Janie Scott has grown up in Hollywood, California all her life. But her parents are staunch believers in the idea that those with more should help those with less. As this is the height of McCarthyism, they are labeled as Communists and risk prosecution if they don’t sell out their friends. So Janie and her family pull up roots and move to London where they are forced to start all over again. Janie quickly makes the acquaintance of a young boy named Benjamin, whose father runs the local apothecary.

But suddenly, Benjamin’s father goes missing and as the children begin digging to figure out what happened, they realize there is a lot more going on than it seems. Benjamin’s father has left a book called Pharmacopoeia in his care. It turns out to be full of potions that can be created using fairly common plants. Invisibility, transformation into a bird, these are just a couple of the spells they find. And the Apothecary has gotten into trouble. Working with others around the globe, they are looking for a magical solution to a real-world problem: the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear testing. Now Janie and Benjamin are in way over their heads. Their only hope is to find his dad and hope the Pharmacopoeia can help them on the way.

This was a fun and exciting book that would be good to read aloud or for a middle school-aged child to read alone. There were a few plot points that were never clearly explained and some incidents that seemed highly implausible. Also, it was easy to tell pretty much immediately who was going to be good and who was bad. It’s possible a child wouldn’t notice or think twice about these things and this is a book for children so I’ll let it slide. Overall, The Apothecary is a harmless, fun, exciting book for fans of magic and adventure.

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Bedtime Stories: Shadow and Bone

shadowPost by Mark T. Locker.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

Oh look guys, it’s another young adult fantasy trilogy! That’s pretty much my first thought every time I see a new young adult trilogy. In case you haven’t noticed, there are TONS of them. To be fair, some of them are five or six books long so I guess I can’t count those as trilogies but you get the point.

Picking out the kernels of good reading from the mountains of chaff can be an overwhelming task, a task I generally leave to the professional book-readers. One of the books I recently picked up was Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I have seen her book around but hadn’t bothered to open them, even Six of Crows which has crows on it! I can say I’m glad I read it and that I will finish the trilogy.

The story in the land of Ravka, which is a lot like Tsarist Russia. Except this land is plagued by a place called The Shadow Fold, an impenetrable darkness that divides that land and is teeming with monsters. This darkness was created long ago by one called the Darkling, who can call in darkness. There are people with special magical skills; they are the Grisha. Some can create fire, some can heal and others beautify. Only the Darkling can call darkness. But what they need is a Sun Summoner, whose power to call the light of the sun can destroy the Shadow Fold. Could it be the savior of the land doesn’t even know what power is contained within?

A unique and exciting start to a trilogy as well as a start to a debut author’s career, Shadow and Bone will keep you up past your bedtime.

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Bedtime Stories: I Shall Wear Midnight

midnightPost by Mark T. Locker.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

The imaginative universe known as Discworld is vast, varied, magical and hilarious. Terry Pratchett’s creation has developed quite an adoring following since the first novel was published in 1983. In 2001 he wrote his first novel for young adults. Naturally, that’s when I finally became interested. In all, Pratchett wrote six young adult novels which is only a fraction of the 41 novels overall. Five of these are about the young witch of the Chalk, Tiffany Aching, and her horde of tiny, blue, crude fae folk, the Nac Mac Feegles. Dressed in kilts and always ready for a fight, a drink, or preferably both, the Feegles are sworn to protect the “Wee Big Hag” and are always nearby, if unseen.

In I Shall Wear Midnight Tiffany Aching is now all of 15 years old and officially the witch of the land. Although the people rely on her and she helps them with all manner of problems, once in a while a sentiment of fear and suspicion arises in the villages and witches are seen as a threat more than anything. Unfortunately this is where Tiffany finds herself now. Even the baron distrusts her, although she has been his friend since she freed him from the Fairy Queen when she was nine years old. It’s trying time for all the witches.

Terry Pratchett had a particular knack for striking a tone between silly, insightful, and touching all at once. This book is no exception, though it is a little more touching than the earlier Tiffany Aching novels. Maybe that’s because we are also watching this little girl (who was already awesome and tough at nine) grow up into a young woman, full of self-confidence but also doubt, frustration, and confusion as she learns how to navigate the world as an almost grown-up. This series of books has been a great companion to me and I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy, YA lit, or just great storytelling.

 

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Bedtime Stories: DRAGON PUNCHER ISLAND

2863729-dragon_puncher_island

Post by Mark T. Locker.

I haven’t read books out loud to my son in a while, partly because a) He always has his nose buried in books on his own and b) He’s super into comic books and like I keep telling him, you CAN’T READ COMICS ALOUD.

Well I asked him if he wanted me to read him a book (I am really good at it and have been depriving the world too long of my skills) and he grabbed a COMIC (maybe it was technically a graphic novel) called Dragon Puncher Island. That’s a good start. What a ridiculously silly title! What a ridiculously silly book inside! The most remarkable feature is John Kochalka’s style of illustration. Simple bright characters: monsters, dragons, superheroes, with what appear to be family photos as faces. The monster’s face is the author’s child and the superhero “Mr. Puncher” is a tabby cat’s face. The dragon from the sea appears to be the other cat in the family.

What’s the story? Who cares? The monster/child has a super weapon he calls “Spoony Spoon”. It’s a spoon! The Dragon Puncher has little time for Spoony Spoon and the stinky monster wielding it. Of course while they are busy arguing, Spoony Spoon falls into the sea. And who should emerge just then? The cat-dragon! Whatever will happen?? This ridiculous book is pretty easy to read out loud even though it’s a comic book. Just come prepared with three silly voices to narrate it all.

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Bedtime Stories: To Hold the Bridge

hold the bridgePost by Mark T. Locker.

To Hold the Bridge: Tales from the Old Kingdom and Beyond by Garth Nix.

If anyone has been reading these book reviews for any amount of time, you will know that Garth Nix is one of my go-to young adult fantasy novelists. His Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and now Clariel) are my personal favorites. Well, Garth Nix has just released a new collection of short stories, and I  couldn’t be happier. What’s more intriguing is that a few of these stories are set in worlds that fans of his novels will recognize and be excited to revisit. Others are surprisingly real-Earth based, but no less fun to read.

The first story, To Hold the Bridge is a great little story from the Old Kingdom, a place I’m always happy to revisit. A harrowing tale of a poor, physically imperfect but clever and well-trained joins a troupe that guards an important bridge. When a necromancer launches an attack, the young man finds himself the only thing standing between the undead and the village beyond.

Another story was first featured in Holly Black’s compilation, Zombies vs. Unicorns. Garth Nix’s story has both zombies AND unicorns, so we all win! My favorite story is a short, sweet story about a young man whose voice was damaged in a childhood accident so he doesn’t speak much. Where he really thrives is as the Quiet Knight, his live-action role playing (LARPing) character, in which he dresses as a knight and battles the forces of evil. It’s sweet.

Finally, fans of Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes will rejoice to see their beloved characters brought back for an encore after, in the case of Shade’s Children, nearly 20 years. Although a couple of these stories are not what I’ve come to expect from Garth Nix, they’re all fairly enjoyable. And that short stories can be read in their entirety before falling asleep makes these perfect bedtime reading.

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