Archive | December, 2013

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

30 Dec

Today’s book review is for Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, published by Random House. It is scheduled for release on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the published, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy book cover

In this beautiful retelling of “The Snow Queen” we meet unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, who only believes in things that can be explained by science. She’s a bright, asthmatic girl who has recently lost her mother. When her father is requested to set up a special sword exhibit at a museum, he brings Ophelia and her older sister, Alice, along with him–with the hope that a Christmas vacation to a beautiful city will provide the whole family with a distraction from their loss. While exploring the museum, Ophelia discovers a hidden doorway, behind which a boy is imprisoned. As she works to rescue him, she must reconcile her beliefs with the fanciful stories the boy tells her and the strange things she begins to see in the museum. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairy tale that explores themes of friendship, courage, love, and never giving up.

I loved the protagonist, Ophelia. She felt like such a real character, with an authentic personality. She has so much curiosity, but it’s tempered by both skepticism and fear. A lot of young people are still open to the possibilities of things that can’t be explained–but not Ophelia. She’s already joined the Children’s Science Society. Even when presented with things she can’t explain, she tries to convince herself that she’s not witnessing magic. I also liked how the recent loss of her mother impacted her. It added a nice dynamic to the story.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure with its story-within-a-story framework. The shift between the present day of our world and the story of the Marvelous Boy’s journey kept things interesting. In particular, I liked that the Boy’s story wasn’t revealed all at once–but rather unfolded as his friendship with Ophelia developed. At the same time, the pieces are long enough that you can get caught up in it. It creates a pacing that alternates between the pressure of deadline facing Ophelia and the many years of the Boy’s journey.

The museum setting was perfect. Museums already have a feeling of mystery. Some are so vast as to feel like mazes, and it’s easy to imagine getting lost in one, even if it wasn’t magical. It also provided a mirror to the intellectual conflict of Ophelia. A museum is usually a place of science, learning, and rational thought–and yet this one contains things that cannot be explained by logic.

If you’re looking for an engaging fantasy novel that’s perfect for late elementary or middle grade readers, look no further. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is an excellent way to fight off cabin fever this February. I’m giving it an enthusiastic 5 stars for the way that it explores family relationships, friendship, and self-discovery all within the vehicle of a modern fairy tale.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Mary Had a Sleepy Sheep

28 Dec

Today’s book review is for Mary Had a Sleepy Sheep, written by Julia Dweck, illustrated by Wilson Williams Jr, published by Xist Publishing. I downloaded the ebook for free on Amazon after the author asked if I might review her work.

Mary Had a Sleepy Sheep book cover

Mary Had a Sleepy Sheep is a wonderful parody of a classic nursery rhyme. In this version, young Mary struggles to keep her narcoleptic pet, Sheppard Sheep, from passing out all the time. She tries spicy food, fancy footwork, and changes of temperature–but nothing seems to work. Fast-paced and humorous, this tale is sure to keep readers giggling.

The very first thing that I noticed about this book was that it had excellent design. I think the reason that I noticed is because a lot of the ebooks I’ve seen for children have been aesthetically disappointing. Not so with this one. It was obvious from the beginning that a great deal of thought was put into formatting, layout, text placement and font selection. It had all of the visual appeal that you expect from a high quality picture book, translated to the digital medium.

Next I was drawn in by Dweck’s clever rhymes. I found myself smiling and chuckling at the story of Mary and Sheppard. More than that, I was impressed by the sophisticated vocabulary that was used. Dweck manages to introduce interesting words to young readers, without rendering the poem inaccessible to younger audiences. I’m always on the lookout for books that expose children to new and unlikely words.

Williams’s illustrations complement the text perfectly. He has a clear artistic style that marks his work as special and unique. The digitally rendered illustrations display a mastery of technique. More importantly, they display a great sense of humor. Mary and Sheppard come to life on every page.

Finally, the book includes extension and enrichment activities at the end. The original “Mary Had a Little Lamb” poem is reprinted, with accompanying historical notes to explain its origin. There’s a game to search the illustrations for a mouse, and a compare the two pictures activity. It’s nice when books include these extras, because it helps busy parents find new ways to engage children with the material.

If you’re looking for a high quality ebook for your kid, this is an excellent choice. It’s one of the best books designed specifically for digital format that I’ve come across. I’m giving it 4 stars for quality design, sense of humor, and vocabulary building. Also a plus, it’s not one of these new “interactive” books for kids–meaning that there is nothing to pull kids out of the story. It’s just a great story presented in digital format.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy

26 Dec

Today’s book review is for The Queen and the Nobody Boy, by Barbara Else, published by Gecko Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy book cover

Hodie is an unpaid odd-jobs boy working at the royal palace of Fontania. One day, he decides that he’s finally had enough and strikes out to the south to start his new life. The problem is, he has a tag-along: 12-year old Queen Sibilla, who is tired of all the gossip about her magical abilities (or lack thereof). She decides that the two of them must reclaim the sack of junk taken from Hodie by visiting dignitaries from neighboring Um’Binnia, even though Hodie doesn’t really care about recovering it. He’d rather go off on his own. But no matter how hard he tries to go off to his new life in the south, Hodie can’t seem to shake the little Queen. Instead he’ll brave new dangers, discover secrets, eat bizarre food, and aid rebellion to save Fontania–and discover himself.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a lively modern adventure fairy tale for children ages 10 and up. Else’s narrative style reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. There’s a real playfulness to her language. It’s not just that she’s produced a compelling story, but that she’s also managed to tell it in a style that sucks you in. In many middle grades and young adult novels, the narrative prose is secondary to the story. Typically the only time I really notice it is when it’s not terribly good. In this case, I noticed because it was so refreshingly fun to read.

I also loved the world-building in this book. There’s a lot that you’d expect–palaces and gowns and pouches of gold. But there is a lot that is unexpected and whimsical, as well. There are magical dragon eagles in Fontania, who can talk to a select group of people. Um’Binnia is full amazing inventions, most notably their windtrains–which are innovative and sometimes terrifying. There are strange places with deadly obstacles, such as bridges that can spike you or the caverns where the wind trains travel. There are elaborately moustached men. There’s even a royal swear word (but you’ll have to look in the end notes to discover what exactly it is.) In short, you’ve never visited a literary world quite like this before.

When I was about two thirds of the way through the book, I was looking up something about the author and discovered that this was the second book written about Fontania. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it, I never would have known from reading the book. Which, if you think about it, is pretty impressive. That’s because anything you need to know for the story to make sense is right there, in the book. There’s absolutely no assumption that the audience is familiar with the history of Fontania. So, don’t let that little bit of knowledge stop you from jumping in.

Do you ever get so caught up in a book that you feel compelled to tell your partner or other family members about new plot twists as you’re reading? That’s how I was with this book. I even paraphrased it for my 2-year old when she wanted me to tell her a story. Is it any wonder that I’m giving it 5 stars? I hope that other kids and kids-at-heart will share in my joy of journeying through this strange world with young Hodie and the rest.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Happy Holidays!

23 Dec

For those who celebrate, I hope you’re having a lovely Christmas Eve eve. And for those who don’t, I hope you’re having a lovely December 23rd. Because the next few days will be exceptionally busy, I won’t be posting a new review until after Christmas. So, enjoy some time with family, friends, pets, or a good book. I’ll see you on December 26th.

My Happy Life

19 Dec

Today’s book review is for My Happy Life, written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, published by Gecko Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

My Happy Life book cover

Dani is starting her first year of school. She is one of the happiest people she knows. Lots of things make her happy. But what makes her happiest is when she makes a best friend, Ella. Ella and Dani do everything together. Then, one day, they find out that Ella is moving away. And Dani doesn’t feel so happy anymore. Slowly, though, things start to happen to bring a little happiness back into her life. My Happy Life is a great early chapter book about friendship, loss, and carrying on with life.

This book was originally published in Swedish, so the English version is a translation. Since I can’t read Swedish and have never seen the Swedish edition of the book, I can’t speak as to how faithful the translation is to the original. But I can say that I enjoyed the writing and the story as it was told. As an easy reader/early chapter book, the language in the text is fairly simple in style. There are words in there that may challenge young readers, but should ultimately be familiar. That’s not to say that the ideas explored are simple. Quite to the contrary–Dani not only confronts the pain of a friend moving away, she also reflects on the death of her mother. She’s able to relate the two experiences, while at the same time recognizing their differences. It struck me, because, although as adults we sometimes forget, children really can be quite sophisticated thinkers.

The black and white illustrations are full of personality. The depictions of Dani and Ella’s interactions capture so much emotion. They brought to mind my own childhood friendships and all of the joy that we found in the simplest of things. Most of all, though, I love the illustrations of the class–when all the kids are together. There is so much activity in these images. There’s also a great sense of humor. The style is perfect for children who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

My Happy Life is the sort of book that a child could read on their own, or that a parent could read to their child over several nights. It’s got so many positive messages. The best one being that it encourages kids to count the times they’ve been happy. I’m giving this charming book 4 stars. Parents and children alike will be able to connect with the story.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Princess Madeline Book Blast and Giveaway

18 Dec

Today’s book review is for The Escape of Princess Madeline, by Kirstin Pulioff, published by Caliburn Books. The review is being posted as part of a book blast organized by Mother Daughter Book Promotion Services. I received free electronic copies of the books from the tour organizer so that I could write honest reviews. Next month I will be participating in a blog tour for the third book in the trilogy, so keep watching my blog.

About the Book

The Escape of Princess Madeline by Kirstin PulioffTitle: The Escape of Princess Madeline (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #1) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: November 4, 2012 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 138 Recommended age: 10+

Summary: The Kingdom of Soron is known for many things, its rolling landscape, haunting history, fiery sunsets, and its beautiful princess. Princess Madeline woke on her sixteenth birthday to realize that her future had been planned out, a life full of privilege, royalty, and boredom… a life with a husband and knight champion that she did not choose. Using her charm, strength and stubbornness, she defies the King at every turn, determined to keep her freedom on her terms.

Freedom quickly turns to disaster as she finds herself seized by a group of wandering bandits. With the kingdom in turmoil over her capture, her Knight Champion is eager to prove himself, a group of dedicated suitors are determined to win her hand, and a group of exiled wizards join forces in the hunt to rescue her. Follow Princess Madeline in this adventure full of twists and turns as she tries to find her freedom and answers to her questions about life and love.

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My Review

I was interested in the series, because I love books that feature strong, determined heroines. Pulioff delivered. Princess Madeline is a fun character. She’s got her own ideas on what she wants out of life and she’s not going to let her father (or anyone else) tell her what to do. However, like a typical teenager, she doesn’t always think things through. When she decides to leave the castle she is ill-prepared for life outside the walls. She gives away all of her gold almost immediately. She doesn’t know how to find food efficiently. She can’t really build a fire on her own. And she doesn’t even know how to defend herself. This short-sightedness was one of the things that made me like Princess Madeline so much. A lot of heroines end up being so amazing that they’re almost unbelievable. On the other hand, I think that middle grade readers will be able to relate to Princess Madeline–while recognizing all of her flaws.

The plot was fairly basic, but appropriate for middle grade readers. I think it has just the right amount of action, intrigue and romance to keep tweens interested without getting bogged down in too many details. The pacing is great. The story keeps moving forward, even when the characters are having internal monologues.

My primary complaint was that the editing was pretty sloppy. There were a lot of typos in the text and a couple of sticky grammar points. Hopefully these issues will be corrected in new editions. Even though they didn’t ruin the book for me, there were enough that it distracted me at times. I wasn’t sold on the insta-love element, either. But love at first sight is a fairly common trope in fairy tales and fantasy, so I was able to accept it for what it was.

Other than that, it’s a good middle grades fantasy adventure. There are balls and tournaments and wizards and bandits–all the things that make fantasy fun. There’s also some great foreshadowing for the future books in the series. I’m particularly curious about what role the wizards will play, and what it was that Princess Madeline’s mother “sacrificed” herself for. If you have a middle grader who is looking to escape into a medieval-style fantasy, this 4 star book is certainly worth consideration.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

About the Other Books

The Battle for Princess Madeline by Kirstin PulioffTitle: The Battle for Princess Madeline (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #2) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: May 21, 2013 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 159 Recommended age: 10+

Summary: The Kingdom of Soron bustled with activity as preparations for the Fall Festival began. Lively merchants, hardworking farmers, and musicians eagerly awaited this event of harvest and joy. This year’s festival was even more important; it was to celebrate Princess Madeline’s betrothal to her knight champion, Daniel. Celebration quickly turns to disaster, though, as Prince Paulsen returns with curious demands: either Princess Madeline will be his, or no ones’. Rejection turns to obsession and battle is declared.

In a tense struggle to decide her future, Princess Madeline must choose where to put her trust… in the king’s tried and true plan, the wizards’ cryptic messages and maps, or her own sense of bravery. Follow Princess Madeline on this adventure as she battles evil in an attempt to create a future of love and magic.

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Princess Madeline and the Dragon by Kirstin PulioffTitle: Princess Madeline and the Dragon (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #3) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: November 26, 2013 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 135 Recommended age: 10+

Summary: After a season of battle and rebuilding, the Kingdom of Soron is exhausted. With the return of the exiled wizards, the Spring Faire, and her upcoming wedding, Princess Madeline is looking forward to a peaceful season of celebration. When the mysterious green dragon reappears, threatening the kingdom and the king, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden won’t rest for long. Faced with this incredible new danger, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden must find a way to lead their kingdom and secure their future. Can they find the answers hidden within their mother’s cryptic messages from the past, or will the dragon destroy everything they hold dear? Follow Princess Madeline as she embarks on a dangerous new adventure to save her kingdom and her family.

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About the Author: Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff is a storyteller at heart. Born and raised in Southern California, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to follow her dreams and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Forest Management. Happily married and a mother of two, she lives in Oregon, and enjoys being a stay at home mom. When she’s not writing, she is busy with her kids and church.

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* $25 Book Blast Giveaway *

Prize: $25Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)

Contest runs: December 18, 2013 to January 16, 2014, 11:59 pm, 2013

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Kirstin Pulioff and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.
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Dark Spell

17 Dec

Today’s book review is for Dark Spell, by Gill Arbuthnott, published by Floris Books. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Spell book cover

Callie Hall has always felt a bit like a misfit. She has few friends other than Josh, whom she met when he was vacationing in her village last summer. However, she’s still not prepared to find out that she’s a witch. She struggles against her new-found identity. But when Callie and Josh decide to explore the old tunnels beneath St. Andrews, she brings a darkness back with her–and soon she can’t deny who she is. If she’s going to defeat the darkness, though, she’s going to have to figure out what it is and embrace her witch heritage. Will she be able to master her powers before the people she cares about are placed in mortal danger?

The thing that bothered me most while reading this novel was that the Kindle formatting was terrible. Even though formatting is a cosmetic issue rather than a style issue, it can still impact one’s reading. At times it was difficult for me to follow the dialogue, because there needed to be line breaks which weren’t there. There were also places where cut scenes weren’t delineated which also got to be a bit confusing. This was a big problem, because every formatting issue pulled me out of the story.

It wasn’t the only problem, though. Even though the story was interesting and creepy, the pacing was far too slow. There were too many moments where I found myself wondering when we’d get back to the interesting bits–it wasn’t a building of suspense, but rather too much of Callie’s inner monologue. Her inner monologue was pretty predictable. She’s worried that her friend is going to freak out and stop being her friend. She can’t deal with her mother. She’s not sure she’s strong enough to handle the task at hand. Sound familiar to anyone else?

And it’s too bad, because I actually found a lot of the story quite compelling. I absolutely loved how local history was woven into the plot. It made the haunting seem all the more plausible because the history had actually happened. It also made it easier to imagine a lot of the locations, even though I’d never been to them. I could picture St. Andrews with all the tunnels, the unremarkable Dane’s Dyke, the ocean of Pitmillie. All of it felt vivid and alive. The characters were also fairly likable. I loved grandmom Rose and her circle of friends. And I liked Josh and Callie, too. Sometimes Callie irritated me, but I think that nearly any teenage girl would.

So, it’s kind of a wash. It has all of the elements for a great novel, but the pacing and atrocious formatting prevented it from attaining that status. If you’re the kind of person who is into the creepy YA paranormal genre, it could be worth checking out (particularly if formatting issues don’t bother you as much as they do me). I’ll give it 3 stars since I cared about what was going to happen in the end. But that might be a little bit generous.

You can find out more about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Lion Vs. Rabbit

16 Dec

Today’s book review is for Lion Vs. Rabbit, by Alex Latimer, published by Peachtree Publishers. I received a free copy of this book in a giveaway held by the publisher.

Lion Vs. Rabbit book cover

Lion is a big bully. He gives wedgies and steals from the other animals. And he gets away with it, because he’s stronger than the other animals. Fed up with his behavior, the animals put up an advertisement for someone to make Lion stop bullying them. When neither a bear, a moose, or a tiger are able to beat Lion, things start to look bleak. But then, Rabbit arrives on the scene–with a clever plan. Lion is sure that he can beat Rabbit at any contest–but instead Rabbit seems to be winning at everything. Defeated, Lion agrees to stop bullying the other animals and never bullies anyone again. Lion Vs. Rabbit is a humorous story about how sometimes a little cleverness can take down even the mightiest of foes.

Latimer writes in clear prose that is easy and fun to read aloud. The dialog portions of the text have the sound of actual children’s conversations–particularly all of Lion’s excuses. I think that any child who has faced bullying will relate to the frustrations of the other animals. Moreover, I think that they’ll cheer as Rabbit wins in competition after competition. Best of all, I think they’ll appreciate not getting bogged down in complicated language or superfluous literary device. In this case, simple and clear is perfect. It keeps your attention on the story itself.

It’s the illustrations that really make this book great, though. Latimer uses a cartoonish style with simplified body shapes and small dot eyes that corresponds to the humorous nature of the story. His little details are a delight. From Buffalo’s underpants to Cobra’s “Medusa” brand shampoo, there are plenty of touches of humor to keep adults and astute children giggling at the pictures.

This was a wonderfully fun book to read with my daughter. Since the first read, she’s requested it several more times. Fortunately, she’s still young and hasn’t experienced bullying–but I think she can still appreciate the theme of someone little triumphing over someone bigger. This book can provide an opportunity to talk about an important children’s issue, or it can be enjoyed as an entertaining story. Either way, it’s a great book and I’m giving it 5 stars.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

The Colourblind Chameleon

12 Dec

Today’s book review is for The Colourblind Chameleon, written by Laura Kantor, illustrated by Sarah Ray, and published by Squidgy Face Books. This review is part of a Book Blast, and I received the eBook for free from Renee at Mother Daughter Book Reviews, who is hosting the event, so that I could write up an honest review.

About the Book

The Colourful Chameleon by Laura Kantor and Sarah Ray

Title: The Colourblind Chameleon

Author: Laura Kantor

Illustrator: Sarah Ray

Publication Date: November 19, 2013

Publisher: Independent – Squidgy Face Books

Number of pages: 32

Recommended age: 2 to 7

 

The Colourblind Chameleon is a wonderful new picture book for children ages 2 and older. Its protagonist is a special chameleon. For, while all of the other chameleons can change their color to blend into the background and hide from predators–the Colourblind Chameleon cannot. His friends think it’s funny when he turns purple in a tree or yellow in the rain. But, it’s also very dangerous for him. So, he starts spending his days in hiding. Hiding, however, is very tiresome, and he wanders off to seek a new place to hide for a while. That’s when he finds a place in the forest where a suitcase has fallen and exploded its colorfully patterned contents all over the place. Finally, here, is somewhere where he can blend in. And when his friends discover him, they, too, get to revel in the fun of bright colors and bold patterns.

I was drawn to this book initially because of the soft, digitally-rendered illustrations. I like that the color palette is heavy on pastels–yet still manages to be lively and fun. The chameleons and other animals are cute, with their big eyes and simplified body shapes, but not so cute that children will think it’s a “baby book.” And most of all, I love how silly the titular character looks when he is completely failing to blend in.

The writing is easy to follow rhyming text. It flows pretty well and some of the rhymes are quite creative. It’s the story-line that I find most appealing. It conveys a strong message to children that there is a place for everyone in the world, and that it’s okay to be different. In fact, sometimes, being different is much more fun than being like everyone else. Most of all, I like that the moral isn’t explicitly spelled out. Children are left to ponder it on their own.

I’ve found that Indie children’s books can be really hit or miss. So it’s nice to see a work that has pulled together a clever story and visually appealing art coming from an Indie publisher. If you’re looking for a story that’s a little quirky, with a positive message for your kid, this 4 star book is worth checking out.


Purchase

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About the Author: Laura Kantor

Laura Kantor Author

Laura Kantor

Laura Kantor up in Coventry, England, but has spent the last few years living overseas in Canada, Australia and now Singapore. In her free time she loves to travel, bake and write (of course). With a job in marketing, project management and a love for writing lists, Laura decided to self publish her own stories, and set up Squidgy Face Books in 2013 (www.squidgyfacebooks.com), teaming up with Sarah Ray who was the perfect illustrator to bring her stories to life. A year of very late nights and extremely long weekends later and their first release, The Colourblind Chameleon is ready to bring some colour and fun to squidgy faces around the world.

About the Illustrator: Sarah Ray

Sarah Ray

Sarah Ray

Sarah Ray, the illustrator of The Colourblind Chameleon grew up in the Herefordshire countryside where she gathered lots of inspiration for her drawings. Animals feature frequently in her work and she enjoys giving them human attributes.

This is Sarah’s first children’s book, after working with a variety of clients on commissioned illustration. She also has her own range of award winning greeting’s cards which she sells across the UK, http:// www.sarahray.co.uk

Squidgy Face Books

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* $50 Book Blast Giveaway *

Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)

Contest runs: December 12, 2013 to January 10, 11:59 pm, 2014

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Laura Kantor and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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* I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own. The author contacted us to participate in our Book Promotion Program where we will tweet and share information about this book, the author, and the giveaway.*

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Defy

11 Dec

Today’s book review is for Defy, by Sara B. Larson, published by Scholastic. It is scheduled to be released January 7, 2014. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Defy book cover

Defy is a thrilling YA fantasy debut from Sara B. Larson. It follows young fighter Alexa Hollen, who must disguise herself as a boy, Alex, when raiders come to her village and kill her parents. Alex and her twin brother, Marcel, work their way into the palace guard for Prince Damian of Antion. It’s not easy hiding her true identity, but she’s doing pretty good. That is, until a powerful sorcerer breaks into the palace and turns things upside down. Alex, her fellow guard Rylan, and Prince Damian are abducted and transported to a neighboring enemy kingdom. Amidst all of this, Alex’s true identity is found out–and she finds herself faced with Ryland and Damian both vying for her affections. Soon she discovers that she’s not the only one harboring dangerous secrets, and not everything is as it seems in the kingdoms. Will she have the strength to sort out her feelings and save the kingdom before it’s too late? Only time will tell.

I’ve long loved stories of women who feel compelled to live the lives of men. Part of it is because the women are able to demonstrate that, despite social opinion to the contrary, women are every bit as capable as men. Another part is the tension that it creates. As the audience is in on the secret, we can see the dangers threatening to expose our protagonist lurking around every corner. Moreover, we can laugh at the awkward moments and mis-communication that occur as the true identity struggles to assert itself once more (sometimes subconsciously) despite all the risks. Larson was able to deliver all of these things in her story. It was a real treat to see a female protagonist who was so strong, courageous and quick-witted, but also vulnerable and plagued with uncertainty.

Although the character development was strong, what I really enjoyed were the interpersonal dynamics between the characters. There was complexity there. Loyalty to a fellow guardsmen can overcome personal competition. Enemies can become allies, but maybe not friends. Love, no matter how strong, doesn’t have to be acted upon. It was refreshing to see so much nuance and ambiguity in the relationships between characters. People are complex. It felt true to life.

I also loved that even though the love triangle is a major storyline in the novel, there is still a lot of action. There are thrilling battles, ingenious escapes, and troubling treks through the jungle. For readers who don’t feel invested in the romance element, the political plot is equally engaging–and even more complex. The world that Larson has created is fascinating, broad and deep.

Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up into the wee hours of the night because I jut had to know what was going to happen. My biggest disappointment is that now I’m going to have to wait for a sequel. For that reason, I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for a gripping fantasy with a side of love triangle, you should definitely consider picking up this book. It won’t disappoint.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.