Monday, February 15, 2016

[Book Review] Whatever After series, books 1-7 by Sarah Mlynowski


My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
eBook Edition
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

Part 1: From The Book Covers

A fresh, modern spin on a classic fairy tale--from bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski! 
Mirror, mirror, on the basement wall . . . 
Once upon a time my brother and I were normal kids. The next minute? The mirror in our basement slurped us up and magically transported us inside Snow White's fairy tale. 
I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. 
But hey -- we're heroes! We stopped Snow White from eating the poisoned apple. Hooray! Or not. If Snow White doesn't die, she won't get to meet her prince. And then she won't get her happy ending. Oops. 
Now it's up to us to: 
- Avoid getting poisoned
- Sneak into a castle
- Fix Snow White's story 
And then, fingers crossed, find our way home. 

Once upon a time my brother and I found a magic mirror...

Tonight the mirror swept us into Cinderella's fairy tale. Now, we are NOT messing this story up. No way. Cinderella is going to marry her prince just like she's supposed to.


Cinderella broke her foot, and there's massive swelling. The glass slipper won't fit, the prince won't know she's the one for him, and they won't live happily ever after. And it's all our fault!

To save the day we'll need to:
- Learn how to use a dustpan
- Stay out of jail
- Find Cinderella a job
- Make sure true love finds its way

We just have to get it all done before the clock strikes twelve and the chance for a happy ending is gone . . . forever!

Once again my brother and I are in hot water...

We weren't planning to mess up the fairy tales. The first two times, we did it by accident. 

But when our magic mirror pulls us into the story of the Little Mermaid, we have no choice but to try and rewrite it. Let's just say the original story does NOT end happily!

Now we need to:
- Convince our mermaid to keep her tail
- Plan a royal wedding
- Avoid getting eaten by sharks

We've got to find a happy ending for the Little Mermaid . . . before she's fish food, and we're lost at sea forever!

Good night, sleep tight, don't let the magic mirror bite....

It was supposed to be the best sleepover ever. Just me, my best friend, Robin, and an awesome night of s'mores, secrets, and staying up late. No pesky little brothers allowed. And DEFINITELY no magic mirrors.

Everything was perfect...until the mirror sucked Robin into Sleeping Beauty's story! My brother and I dove in after her, but we couldn't stop her from pricking her finger on the spindle. Now we're REALLY in trouble. Robin's fast asleep--and Sleeping Beauty is wide-awake! To save the day I've got to:

- Host a fake birthday party for Jonah
- Find a prince to wake up Robin
- Avoid getting cursed by scary fairies

We only have ten hours to make things right...or this day will become a nightmare!

After a tough day at school, I am NOT in a good mood. The perfect pick-me-up? A trip through our magic mirror! When my brother and I -- plus our new dog -- end up in the story of Rapunzel, we can't resist climbing her hair. Oh no! Her smooth locks suddenly look like they've been attacked by a cheese grater. Maybe a trim will help...Snip, snip. SNIP. Oops. Now Rapunzel's hair is too short and we're trapped!

So we have to:
-Find the tower's secret door
-Avoid getting swallowed by a giant spider
-Locate Pickles (aka the prince)
-Reunite Rapunzel with her parents

If we don't untangle this knotty tale soon, we could be stuck in this mess for good!

The magical sixth installment in this NEW YORK TIMES bestselling series!

Brrrrrrrr. This fairy tale is FREEZING!

Even though my brother and I had decided to stay away from the magic mirror, our puppy had other plans -- he bounded right in. What choice did we have but to go in after him? 

When we land in a winter wonderland, we realize we must be in the story of The Snow Queen. And this fairy tale is nothing like the movie. This Snow Queen is super-mean, and she turns our dog into an ice sculpture!

To get home we'll have to: 
- Defrost our furry friend
- Ride a very chatty reindeer
- Learn to ice-skate
- Escape from a band of robbers

And if we're not careful . . . we could end up frozen ourselves!

The magical seventh installment in this NEW YORK TIMES bestselling series!

This time, the magic mirror sucks Abby and Jonah into the story of Beauty and the Beast. When Jonah angers the Beast by picking flowers from his garden, he becomes the Beast's prisoner! Abby has to save her brother by finding Beauty, whom the Beast will surely fall in love with, right? NOPE. The Beast doesn't like Beauty, so it's up to Abby and her brother to match-make this reluctant pair and fix this fractured fairy tale before things get pretty ugly!

Part 2: Recommendation

As you all know, I love fairy tales and their various retellings. Even though this series is obviously for Middle Grade readers, I found it enjoyable to read and the fact that it imparts valuable lessons to the readers without being preachy. I think middle grade readers will find Abby relatable because not only does the stories revolve around the fairy tales but they also show Abby's real life in the human realm, like when she's at school, interacting with her friends and her not quite friend Penny, the emotions she goes through regarding her parents, her brother Jonah and her best friends. This series is also the first time I've been exposed to Sarah Mlynowski's work and it has been a fun, relaxing series to read. I can't wait for the next books in the series. Every middle grade girls should definitely read the series.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

[Book Review] Spellcaster series by Claudia Gray


My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audiobook Edition (for Spellcaster, Steadfast & Sorceress)
eBook Edition (for The First Midnight Spell)
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

    Part 1: From The Book Covers

The First Midnight Spell

In this suspenseful companion novella to New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray's Spellcaster, learn the tragic origins of the dark witch Elizabeth.

It's 1695, and Elizabeth Cooper is a young witch in Fortune's Sound, Rhode Island. She spends her days perfecting spells with the local coven and dreaming about one day marrying Nat Porter. But Nat is the son of Widow Porter, another witch and the leader of their coven. According to the First Laws of the Craft, Elizabeth is strictly forbidden to marry him.
Elizabeth never imagined dabbling in the dark arts, bringing herself close to serving the One Beneath. But as she feels Nat slipping away from her, she will do anything to secure his love. How much harm could she do with one single spell, even if it is black magic?

When Nadia’s family moves to Captive’s Sound, she instantly realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Descended from witches, Nadia senses a dark and powerful magic at work in her new town. Mateo has lived in Captive’s Sound his entire life, trying to dodge the local legend that his family is cursed - and that curse will cause him to believe he’s seeing the future … until it drives him mad. When the strange dreams Mateo has been having of rescuing a beautiful girl—Nadia—from a car accident come true, he knows he’s doomed. 

Despite the forces pulling them apart, Nadia and Mateo must work together to break the chains of his family’s terrible curse, and to prevent a disaster that threatens the lives of everyone around them. 
Nadia, Mateo, and Verlaine have saved Captive's Sound from the dark Sorceress Elizabeth...or so they thought. Despite their best efforts, a crack opened and a new, greater evil seeped through. With Mateo as her Steadfast, Nadia's magic is magnified and she is more powerful than ever. But there is still so much she doesn't know about the craft, leaving her open and vulnerable to a darker magic...which has begun to call Nadia's name.

To save the lives of countless people in Captive’s Sound, Nadia has sworn herself to the One Beneath, to black magic. Her plan, and the town’s only hope, is for Nadia to learn enough sorcery to strike back against the forces of darkness. But now that she’s separated from her friends, her family, and her Steadfast, Mateo, Nadia is more vulnerable than ever to darkness. And as the sorceress Elizabeth summons torrential rains and brings the One Beneath closer to the mortal world, Nadia is running out of time to stop her. The final battle lines are drawn, surprising alliances are made, and true love is tested in the action-packed conclusion to the breathtaking Spellcaster series. 

    Part 2: Recommendation

I was browsing my local library's cybershelf and these books appeared on my recommendations list. The covers looked interesting as well as the description and with an audiobook version available, I thought it would be perfect to listen to during my 2 hour daily commute to and from work. This is the first time I've been exposed to Claudia Gray's work and I have to say that the series was well written. I think it is safe for 12 year olds to read as there's almost no sex scene, just a lot of kissing scenes going on and the one sex scene that did happen in the book was so carefully written that it mostly implies what happened next. Nothing explicit which I think even the most conservative of parents would be okay to hand the book to their daughters. Yes, I feel that this book is geared towards young adult females rather than males since both the protagonist and antagonist are female even though there's a scattering of male presence in the book as well. I read the series starting with Spellcaster, Steadfast, Sorceress and finally, The First Midnight Spell (TFMS). As far as I could tell, even though TFMS is labeled as #0.5 in the Spellcaster series on Goodreads, I feel that it would be best to read this novella for last. But if you decide you want to read it first, I'm thinking it would be okay just be warned that if you read it first, you might get the impression that the next books in the series would continue on with the storyline which it does not. In fact, the Spellcaster book started 400+ years after The First Midnight Spell ends and some of Elizabeth Pike's backstory gets woven into the entire plot line of the other 3 books in the series, which is great because after reading TFMS, I had a dozen questions about what happened next and I could only guess at what happened to Elizabeth in between. The only thing I feel that should be included in TFMS was how Elizabeth's life was after she married Mr. Pike as I would love to read about what drove her to make that bargain with the One Beneath. Even though it was mentioned in the 3 other books, I'm super curious to know more details surrounding that particular event.

Spellcaster, Steadfast, & Sorceress is a progressive/chronological storyline following the events around Captive's Sound 400+ years after TFMS and is written in the point of views of Nadia, Verlaine and Mateo and I will say, the narrator, Khristine Hvam did an amazing job of reading the book and it was not confusing at all to listen to it when the POV changed. What threw me off was Ms. Gray's take on spell casting as this is the first Witch book that I've read where witches are using memories to cast spells. I'm still not sure how that works as I'm more used to the tradition of witches casting their protective circle, chanting spells that rhyme and invoking the elements and/or deities. I have a lot of reference books on the subject of spell crafting as I too write in the urban fantasy genre but I've never come across this. I guess that would be Ms. Gray's version of her witches as to Twilight's sparkly vampires.  

Of all the characters in this series, Verlaine seems to be the most real to me for some reason. Elizabeth is definitely creepy and wicked, Mateo — I feel — is just there to throw complications and to defy the First Laws of the Craft and Nadia … I feel that the series should've shown Nadia's growth and progression towards becoming this brilliant and amazing witch/sorceress but somehow it fell short. The reason I feel this way is because throughout the series (books 1-3), Nadia has been complaining about her lack of magical training and despite gaining access to two witches' Book of Shadows, she stumbles around, performing spells that gets out of control, she clearly lacks strategy and planning skills and either someone steps in to do damage control or she gets really lucky that her spell or plan actually worked the way it should. I guess I was expecting more out of Nadia. TFMS actually showed more character development on Elizabeth in four chapters than the whole series did for Nadia. 

Overall, the Spellcaster series by Claudia Gray has been entertaining to read and listen to and is definitely a refreshing take on how witches cast spells.