Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai, by Melanie Rawn (review by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Grabowski)

In this exhilirating novel, the age of mageborns is about to end, and non-magic supremacy will be elevated to a more hign standing than ever. Throughout this book, the perspective shifts between first-daughter Glenin Feiran, Collan Rosvenir, Sara Liuhellan, and cailet Rille, all vicitins of the destruction of the wondrous cuity of Ambrai and the downfall of Mages. When an infamous Mage Guardian entangles their lives and gives them the job of taking back the rights of Mageborns, will they succeed?

I loved this book and read it three times. Melanie Rawn is a great writer and uses language and complex thoughts brilliantly. As the book progresses, the characters develip even more and are almost like real people. I also thought the overall presentation of this amazing fantasy biik was great. I would recommend this book to teens and even adults who don't mind 800 page books ;)

Review by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Grabowski, age 14.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (review by Guest Blogger Ciaran Grabowski)

The Golden Compass was a great adventure story that had slight hints of mystery. The story follows a young girl named Lyra who lives in a different world. The world she lives in is very similar to the world we live in, but also very different. In Lyra's world, every person has what is referred to as a 'deamon.' A Deamon is like the extension of a human's soul that takes the shape of an animal. Some of the antagonists in this story are a group of people called the gobblers. They take children off the streets and they are never seen again. Filled with deamons, talking ice bears, and witches, this book definitely lives up to the role of fantasy-adventure. 

This book is enjoyable for anyone 10 and beyond. This book also cannot be compared with the movie, for it is not very similar.

Review by Ciaran Grabowski, age 13.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Secret of a Heart Note, by Stacey Lee

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee is a perfect spice of romance. In addition, Lee adds a nice little touch of magic to the general story with our adorable main character, Mim, being an Aromateur. A type of "Witch" that has a nose unlike any other. Mim can smell the heart notes and the personality of the people around her and her ability to do this allows her to create love potions.

I loved her growth throughout the story. Mim goes on an incredible journey discovering her true self along the way. She also finds love on her path, with a sweet-hearted  boy who challenges her all the way. The romance, while very very subtle, was heartwarming and it was a crucial part of the story but it wasn't the main focus.

The Secret of a Heart Note is an interesting read. It was very quirky with all the elixir-making and surprisingly, those were my favorite scenes of the book. I loved all the descriptions of the scents, the process of making the elixirs and the effect of using these potions. There was something very magical about the whole thing.

Family is one of the themes throughout The Secrets of a Heart Note. Lee excels at developing relationships and at showing all the nuances and complexities there are to relationships. In this story, we get to experience the complicated, yet heartfelt relationship between a mother and a daughter. As they come from a long line of aromateurs, they have a family legacy with lots of expectations. While Mim enjoys creating these potions, part of her desires a normal teenage experience and she battles with that throughout the story. Family expectations can be rough on teenagers and I loved how deeply Stacey Lee explored that here. There were tense moments between Mim and her mother, but there were also those scenes that portrayed the pure love and respect they had for each other. It was a complicated and messy relationship, but it was inherently very authentic.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable read! Great characters, great plot, great writing. I very highly recommend this one. *JK*

Monday, January 9, 2017

Finding Dory (DVD)

I wasn't sure what to expect from Finding Dory (2016), the sequel to one of my favorite Disney films, Finding Nemo (2003). Of course the forgetful-yet-witty Dory was hands-down my favorite character from Nemo, and the thought of her having her own full-length adventure was very appealing. But it's been my experience that Disney sequels typically fall flat. Sometimes embarassingly so. So I approached this one with curious caution. 

I shouldn't have worried.

The second the adorable baby version of my favorite blue fish, with big shiny eyes to rival the iconic begging cat scene in Shrek 2, appeared on screen, I was hooked (fishing pun not intended, but just go with it). 

Finding Dory takes place a year after the events of Nemo. Dory has made herself at home in the reef, taking up residence in a coral cave near where her friends Marlin and Nemo live. She's mostly happy...until the flashbacks about her family and origins start up. She begs Marlin and Nemo to help her journey across the ocean to find her family. Reluctantly, Marlin agrees...much to Dory and Nemo's excitement. 

Their search (and Dory's sporatic, patchy memories) lead them to the Marine Institute at Morrow Bay, California. 

And thus begins a whole new adventure that is just as exciting, funny, and heartwarming as the original. There's a whole host of awesome new characters (my favorite is Hank) and we get to know more about Dory, where she came from, and how she ended up in Marlin and Nemo's corner of the ocean. 

This is one sequel that you won't want to miss! --AJB

Stardust, by Neal Gaiman: Book v. Movie

Stardust, by veteran fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, is every bit deserving of the Alex Award (as well as any other acclaim and praise it has since received). It's got everything you can expect from a genius of the genre: Adventure, Action, magic, fantastic creatures, prophecies, daring rescues, truly worthy villains, a hero you can really root for, true love... For, yes, this IS a kissing book. Oh yes! But as with the grandson in that iconic movie featuring another famous "kissing book," by the time you actually get to the kissing part, you don't mind so much. Even if you're not really into the kissing thing in the books you read. There's something otherworldly about this story, something old-school fairy tale (and NOT Disney), that truly transports the reader.

The sign of an excellent and well-written story.

Stardust begins, as most fantasy stories do, before the birth of the hero. Dustan Thorn has lived all his life in the town of Wall, named for a wall that separates the town proper from a meadow on the other side. But this is no ordinary wall. It marks the dividing line between the mortal world and the faery realm. Once every nine years, the residents of wall are permitted to cross this boundry and visit the faery market. It is here where Dustan meets the odd girl, who sells him a magical glass flower and then charms him. Nine months after Dustan has returned to mortal life, a baby boy is delivered to his doorstep. This baby is our hero, Tristran Thorn. 

Flash forward 18 years and Tristran is a young man. Like many of the guys in his village, he is smitten with Victoria (who, I might add, is a tease and a bit of a brat). One night while Tristran is walking his crush home, the two spy a falling star. Victoria tells Tristran she will do anything he wants (kiss him, marry him) if he will but cross the wall and bring her the star.

So he does just this. And thus begins an adventure of a lifefime.

Turns out, the star isn't what he expected. Also, he's not alone in his quest. Some very dangerous people also seek the star, and won't let anything or anyone stand in their way.

To say anymore would be a spoiler.

I'll just say this: I loved the book. Loved it! 

Several years after the publication of Stardust, Hollywood decided to make a movie based on the book. As with most book-to-movie adaptions, the interpretation of the text was pretty lax (to say the least). The film began much like the book, with some subtle differences. But once our hero crosses the wall, things are different. Characters names were changed. Physical descriptions didn't match up. Things happend out of order. Important plot points were left out. And the ending was completely rewritten to make things more exciting and dramatic for the audience (In the book, there was no epic showdown battle between good and evil. It just ended...happily ever after, of course). It was the same story, but barely.

The film was enjoyable, but the book was much, much better (as is the case 99% of the time). --AJB

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Complete Chi's Sweet Home: Part 4, by Kanata Konami

When I first began reading Chi's Sweet Home a feline-themed manga series by Kanata Konami, I thought the whole thing would simply be about cute kitten shenanigans. And, while I DO enjoy such antics (I mean, I can watch cat videos on YouTube for hours), I knew there wouldn't be much depth to the series if it were JUST that. Not enough to sustain me through four volumes at several hundred pages a pop. 

Boy was I wrong!

Sure, the bulk of the first volume was just Chi geting into trouble (adorable trouble) as she acclimated to her new family and new surroundings. About the only drama was the apartment Chi's human family lived in at the time didn't allow pets. But the storyline deepened as I read into the second and third volumes. Sure, there were still the Cute Kitten Eposides, but Chi also learned about friendship and family and what it meant to have a loving and comfy home (and that not all kitties have these her new friend Cocci).

Part 4 brought out All The Feels, though:

Early on, Chi's human daddy sees a poster advertising a missing kitten who looks exactly like Chi. He's torn over what to do: Should he ignore the poster? Or should he do the honest thing and call the number? 

Meanwhile, the reader learns that Chi's cat mom goes out every night to search for her missing kitten. While playing with Cocci, Chi encounters his littermates, but doesn't realize until much later that his new friends are actually his brother and sister (a "DUH! moment for our fuzzy little heroine, but it adds to the drama). 

Things come to a head when Chi's cat mom saves the kitten from being hit by a car...and ends up getting hit herself. Chi's human family comes to the rescue, and Chi's cat mom ends up being OK. But Chi's human daddy knows it's time to take both cats home. Their REAL home. And they do just this, much to the sadness of little Yohei. 

At first, Chi is happy with her cat family. But as time passes, she starts to miss Yohei and the only home she's ever known. The poor kitten gets sadder and sadder until her cat mom tells her she may leave and go home to her her human family.

Chi races away, but her human family has packed up to move. To France. Chi returns to find the apartment empty. Oh no! Chi begins calling out to Yohei, but will she catch up with her family in time?

You'll have to read the book to find out!

 Overall, I adored this series! --AJB

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Romantics, by Leah Konen

So, I've been hearing things about Leah Konen's quirky romantic comedy, The Romantics. And they've all been good things. So how could I NOT check it out.

I was not disappointed.

The Romantics read like the manuscript for an old-school John Hughes film. But cast with modern-day actors...with, perhaps, a cameo from Molly Ringwald and/or maybe that squirrely-looking dude from 16 Candles (you know, the one who wanted to borrow the protag's underpants). The characters were adorkable and quirky, the romance was sweet, and, of course, there was a Happy Ending that was right up there with kissing your crush over your birthday cake whilst wearing a horrible frothy-poofy dress the color of flamingo vomit (but wardrobe doesn't matter, because you're kissing your crush...right?).

The Romantics is narrated by Love. That's right. Love. But if you're thinking a winged, diapered cherub sporting a bow and arrow, get that image out of your head right now. Love, in this case, is more abstract, but still very much a physical character. Love tells the story of Gael, a hopeless romantic band geek who is hopelessly in love with Anika, the girl he's been seeing for the past few weeks. One night, he drops the L-Bomb and thinks everything is cool. Unfortunately, Anika doesn't feel the same way. To add insult to injury, Gael learns Anika has been cheating on him...with his best friend. Gael goes through the usual post-breakup scenario: He mopes, he gets mad, he does the rebound thing... And that's when Love steps in to make sure Gael doesn't miss out on True Love. 

The result: Awesome! 




Yes to that too. 


Yeah. Sometimes.

But Awesome? 

You betcha!

Recommended for someone looking for a light, cute read. --AJB