Magnus Chase and The Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead-Should You Read It?

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This is the third installment in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series following The Sword of Summer and The Hammer of Thor. Once again, Riordan does a splendid job of integrating diverse characters and comedy to bring Magnus’s adventure to life.

Now that Loki is free, Magnus and his friends, both dead and living, must stop the Ship of the Dead from sailing, or Ragnarok will soon follow. To prevent Loki from releasing the ship from it’s icy hold on the one day of the year that it is warm enough for the ice to melt, Magnus is gifted a big, yellow viking ship from his father, Frey. With this ship, which can conveniently transform into a spiffy yellow bandanna when not in use, takes Magnus and his companions across the borders or the nine worlds to stop Loki. Let’s not forget, the boat has been named thus: The Big Banana.

Along the way, Magnus, Samirah, Hearthstone, Blitzen, Alex, Halfborn, Mallory, and T.J. all face a number of trials that effect reaching their goals to prevent Ragnarock, as well as effecting many of them on some personal level. During the entire journey, Samirah is participating in Ramadan, a pert of her culture that forces her to fast, to not eat, until after sunset. Even though she does not eat or drink during the day, she powers through the quest with her friends with a headstrong attitude. The crew is taken by the sea god’s nine daughters and are aiming to find a special mead so that Magnus can defeat Loki in a flyting to capture him. Magnus, T.J., and Alex find themselves having to face a stone giant-T.J. fighting the giant while Alex makes a stone warrior to fight one made by the giant. Hearth and Blitz assist Magnus in defeating Hearth’s father, who has now turned into a hideous dragon because of his greed and the magical ring that he chose to wear, Halfborn and Mallory have broken up, and the tension between the two is high. Mallory finds out who her mother is. More giants….

Throughout, Magnus learns more and more about his friends, but especially about Alex as they both go on the most adventures together. Magnus feels at ease with Alex at his side (whether Alex is male or female doe not matter to him) as they search for a clue in his uncle’s mansion, create a ceramic soldier together, suffer the freezing cold to near-death, and bring Loki down together. Their relationship is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, and the two trying to figure out how they feel about each other is one of the driving aspects that has me itching for the next novel.

One of the things I continue to praise about Riordan is his incorporation of multiple types of diversity into his novels, and Magnus Chase by far has the best types of diversity to expose young readers to including racial/religious diversity (Samira is Middle Eastern), gender diversity (Alex is gender fluid), and disability diversity (Hearth is deaf). These are all excellent characters that show not everyone needs to be perfect, that everyone should be who they are and who they want to be. The Norse gods are ever interesting in how Riordan incorporates the lore, and the next adventures should be exciting for Magnus (and us readers, of course), so if you have not picked this series up, I would say yes, you should read it. The humor is a nice tough to the reading; you know it is a good book if it can coax an actual, audible laugh out of the reader!

Some fun things:

The Costco edition comes with a neat little poster: Image result for magnus chase costco poster

The Barnes and Noble edition comes with a Norse insult generator:Image result for magnus chase barnes and noble insult generator

The Walmart edition comes with a neat bookmark (Hearthstone?):Magnus Chase - Ship of the Dead - Bookmark

The Target edition comes with a make your own viking longship pull-out craft:Magnus Chase - Ship of the Dead - Viking Longboat Diagram

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The Last Namsara-Should You Read It?

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5

I was lucky enough to meet Kristen Ciccarelli at an Epic Reads author meet up where she shared about and signed her debut novel The Last Namsara. How Ciccarelli describes this book is like How to Train Your Dragon meets Game of Thrones, a very interesting combination of ideas, to be sure. Is this description accurate? Kind of. I had many flashback to Christopher Paolini’s Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle.

This contains some SPOILERS and many instances in later plot, so read with caution.

This novel features the daughter of the dragon king, Asha, who has burn scars from the First Dragon, Kozu, when he wreaked havoc across Firgaard when she was only eight years old. It was Asha’s fault that the dragon came, for she was telling the Old Stories, and stories draw dragons. Asha becomes labeled with the title of Iskari after one of the goddesses of the world lore, a bringer of death. To make amends for her bringing Kozu to Firgaard, Asha must now hunt dragons and bring their heads back to her father, the dragon king.

When one of the heroes of her world, a Namsara of the past visits bearing gifts from the Old One, a deity that the realm once believed in, Asha begins to question her purpose as the Iskari. Asha receives a set of slayers, a dragon, and fireskin (she cannot be burned), she realizes that the war waging within the world around her and within the walls of her own city has been long-deep, going farther back that Asha understands.

Betrothed to a total ass, Jarek, Asha’s father explains that is she kills Kozu, the Old Stories will vanish with the death of the first dragon, and her engagement will be off. Little does she know that Jarek and the king have been working together since Asha was burned all those years ago. With the gifts from the Old one and the help of a skral (slave), Asha finds a new meaning to her life and understands that her father is the one who must die, not Kozu. When Asha tells the old stories to draw out the dragons, the dragons, in return, share their own stories, images from what they know of history. Once, dragons and people used to live and work together, but someone betrayed the dragons, even though society thought it was the other way around.

With epic fight scenes and battles, forbidden romance, and dragon magic, this story is fast-paced, exciting, and an all around fantastic debut novel. While I feel that I gave quite a bit of information on the story plot, there is such a vast amount that I have barely scraped the surface of. One of the unique elements to this book is that the stories being told actually get their own pages, as if reading from an ancient book of stories, making it fun and easy to reflect back on the stories as a reader if I want to read one or two of them again just to reiterate the lore or history of the world as I am reading.

The only reason this is a 4.5/5 and not a 5/5 is that it was actually hard to get into at first. The development of the world and understanding the history came at a methodically progressive pace, not too fast and not too slow, but many of the ideas being presented were a bit convoluted and hard to grasp at first. I also had some major expectations about dragon riders for this novel wondering, “Is this going to be the next Eragon?” and it just felt like it took way too long for Asha to ride a dragon and share a link with the dragon. I really like the dragons as characters and think that they could have been developed even further as intellectual beings.

Overall, a fantastic debut novel that I would suggest to any fantasy fan and am already spreading the word to every reader I know about what a great and quick read this novel is, a great edition to any bookshelf.

Some official art from Cicarelli’s website:

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Kozu, the First Dragon. With his death, so too shall the Old Stories die.

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Namsara brings laughter and love; Iskari brings destruction and death.

On another note, Ciccarelli claims there will be at least one (maybe more?) novel in the series, but will feature other events going on in the world, for Asha’s story is over (even though her story is just beginning)!

The Hate U Give-Should You Read It?

Image result for the hate u give

Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Realistic Fiction

Rating: 5/5

This was a heart-pounding, stunning debut novel by Angie Thomas. I had seen it everywhere before finally deciding to pick it up. Literally a week after I bought it, one of my university professors said I have to read it, as I am an educator as well as a lover of young adult books. Thus, I started reading it a bit sooner than planned, and I am bummed that I did not pick it up much, much sooner.

This story is told from the perspective of a Black sixteen-year-old girl whole is living two different lives, that of the ghetto in Garden Heights, and that of the high style of Williamson. In Garden Heights, there are gangbangers, drug deals, people get shot too often, and the education system is lacking, which is why Starr’s parents send her the hour drive to Williamson, a school in the suburbs that can offer her the education and socialization she needs away from Garden Heights. When she is in Garden Heights, she keeps to her Black friends and speaks often in slang that shows she is from the ghetto, but at Williamson, being one of the only Black students at the school there, she keeps her Garden Heights life pretty secretive and speaks properly, accepted by the White population there, not to mention her White boyfriend, Chris.

At the very beginning of the story, Starr goes to a Garden Heights party consisting mostly of Black people, but with a light skinned person here or there. When she has a run-in with her childhood friend, Khalil, the two begin to catch up after not seeing each other for months, but of course, shots are fired at the party. Khalil and Starr rush out to avoid the bullets. When they have a great evening catching up with each other in Khalil’s car as he aims to drop Starr off at home, a police officer pulls the two over. The officer is not very understanding and shows aggression, in which Khalil questions the officers motives. When Khalil asks why the officer pulled him over, the officer does not give a reply. Eventually Khalil complies. While the officer is checking Khalil’s information, he is toled by the officer to stand still, but Khalil aims to check on Starr, who seems scared. When he leans in to asks if she is okay, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM. Khalil is shot dead by the officer, an event that drives the whole rest of the novel. This is not spoilers, for it is within the first 25 pages, and it is heart-stopping. The drive for justice keeps the reader going, wondering if Khalil’s death will be justified.

All Starr has to go on is the officer’s number: One-Fifteen. Until she finds out his name is officer Cruise, she uses this number to identify him. When first asked to tell the police what happened, those interrogating Starr twist the questions from the officer to Khalil: was he in a gang? Was he a drug dealer? Did he have drugs on him? This is not why Starr chose to share about what happened. Of course, the officers make Khalil into a negative criminal to justify the officer’s actions, when to Starr and her community, this is a hate crime and comes down to simple color: Black and White.

Eventually a group called Just Us for Justice seeks out Starr to represent her in a court of law and help her justify Khalil’s murder by speaking out against officer Cruise. Starr prepares to share with a judge and jury, hoping that the officer will be convicted.

Starr becomes an activist for social change as she joins members of her community to fight for Black justice and to clear out the gangs and drug dealers in her community that are sending the wrong message to the world, that are adding truth to stereotype, when it is only a few, and not the many, who are as such.

This book was so great at showing the Black perspective and breaking down racial stereotypes. This book I recommend for all young readers to gain a better understanding of a perspective that either relates to them, or that they may not understand and need to see the other side. I highly recommend this book to educators and encourage reading and writing about social change as it pertains to this novel. One of the best things about this novel is that it is contemporary, revolving around issues that we still have in our society today, issues that some people may be ignorant about or may just want to ignore, issues that reflect our nation’s past and demonstrate a fight that is still being fought, the fight for equality.

 

The Midnight Star-Should You Read It?

Image result for the midnight star

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This is the third and final installment to The Young Elites (trilogy). While this book was enjoyable, it was not quite up to par with the first or second book in the series. Having read all of Marie Lu’s other books, including Warcross and the Legend Trilogy, I have very high expectations of her work.

This book starts strong a few months after where the second one left off. Adelina is now a conqueror, the White Wolf. She continues to conquer various nations, her cruelty growing. Her reign and ties with the daggers make being enemies tough but necessary. When planning to conquer the Daggers country of dwelling, where her sister has been rumored to be, Adelina receives some strange news and is unsure of how to approach the situation: Raffaele sends a letter telling Adelina that her sister, Violetta, is dying. Adelina takes this as some kind of trap, that Raffaele and the Daggers are holding Violetta hostage, and Adelina takes her Roses into battle against the daggers. With Adelina’s growing violence, some of her own turn against her.

Being captured by the Daggers, Adelina sees first-hand how her sister really is dying, how the Young Elites are dying, being poisoned by their own powers. A Pathway to the Underworld has opened up, the place of origin for the elite powers, and it is poisoning the Young Elites and their entire planet.

Now the Daggers and the Roses must band together and head to the realm of Moritas, the realm of death, and close the opened seam between worlds. As Raffaele says, the elites are to “be forever young,” because their powers were never meant to be leaked into their world. Now they must give their powers back to save themselves and their world. When the Daggers and the Roses come face-to-face with a number of gods and goddesses, those who have bestowed the elites their powers and give them their special alignments, they must find out what it means to truly have power through sacrifice.

Adelina, so immersed in her power, plans to give it up just like the other elites, but when her sister does not make it to the realm of the Dead, not alive anyway, Adelina nearly loses her mind.

*****SPOILERS*****

The end is interesting, frustrating, and awing all at the same time. To save Violetta from the Underworld, Adelina gives her life so that her sister may have more time, even though that also means leaving her lover, Magiano. Violetta realizes this sacrifice almost too late, but she makes her own deal with her goddess as well. Adelina becomes a star, a special star that shines to earth every night at midnight, like a similar legend in the world lore of The Young Elites: 

“If you are very quiet and do not look away, you may see the brightest star in the constellation glow steadily brighter. It brightens until it overwhelms every other star in the sky, brightens until it seems to touch the ground, and then the glow is gone, and in its place is a girl.
Her hair and lashes are painted a shifting silver, and a scar crosses one side of her face. She is dressed in Sealand silk and a necklace of sapphire . Some say that, once upon a time, she had a prince, a father, a society of friends. Others say that she was once a wicked queen ,a worker of illusions, a girl who brought darkness across the lands. Stilll others say that she once had a sister, and that she loved her dearly. Perhaps all of these are true.
She walks to the boy, tilts her head up at him, and smiles. He bends down to kiss her. Then he helps her onto the horse, and she rides away with him to a faraway place, until they can no longer be seen.
These are only rumour,of course, and make little more than a story to tell round a fire. But it is told. And thus they live on.
-“The Midnight Star”, a foltale”
― Marie LuThe Midnight Star (Goodreads Quotes)

While the folklore of the story was an interesting element, it took away from the realism that had me immersed in the series as a reader. While magic powers are of the fantastic realm, the world itself felt very real…until the Underworld was introduced as a real place that the Elites would go to and the gods and goddesses are real beings in the world. This just took a bit too much away from the story for me in a way that actually made this the only book by Marie Lu that I can say I am not quite satisfied with. I did not say I didn’t like it, because I did, but it was just not quite on par with her other novels.

The Indigo Spell-Should You Read It?

Image result for the indigo spell Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

Rating: 4/5

As the Bloodlines series continues, more and more magic becomes involved with Sydney Sage and her history teacher, Mrs. Terwiliger.

This is the third book in the series, and it opens up with Mrs. Terwiliger asking Sidney to help her out with the spell, a spell that only a virgin can do. This spell is a type of scrying spell that allows the caster to see another person wherever they are. It turns out that Mrs. Terwiliger’s sister might be sucking magic away from other young which is and killing them to stay youthful, and she wants Sydney’s help with this problem. Of course Sydney complies, but she has a number of other things that she’s dealing with the same time, between her unspoken affections for Adrian Ivashkov and her duty to the Alchemists.

Sydney is invited to Sonya and Mikhail’s wedding, a vampire wedding in which a few Alchemists are invited to keep the peace and develop a relationship between the two groups. To aid in keeping the peace, Sidney is asked to dance with Adrian when he approaches her with an open hand. With a look of fame discussed, Sydney complies, showing both the Alchemists and the vampires that they can work together under various circumstances.

At the same time, Sidney questions the goals of the alchemists, as evidenced in the events of The Golden Lily, in which Sydney was captured by a group of vampire hunters, and the name Marcus enters her thoughts. From the vampire hunters, Sydney previously found out that a man named Marcus left the Alchemists, but the problem is, nobody leaves the Alchemists-they are not permitted to do so. With this name of her lips, Sydney aims to find Marcus between trips with Adrian to attempt to save young witched from Mrs. Terwiliger’s sister.

Eventually, Sydney does find Marcus, but they start off on awkward terms with a fight insuring, Marcus thinking that the Alchemists have found him. When Sydney shares her hope of leaving the Alchemists, Marcus explains that a special ink is used to break the vampire compulsion used in the golden lily tattoos that keep the Alchemists from saying things they shouldn’t or from stepping out of line.

When Sydney’s life is threatened by the opposing witch, she learns that it was not her teacher’s sister at all, but someone else who had been seeking power, and Sydney must practice her magic to face this powerful witch.

Safe and sound, Sydney is becoming more comfortable with using magic, but she is also learning that her feelings for Adrian might be effecting her life choices as well. When asked to go to Mexico with Marcus to get her tattoo broken, Sydney at first complies, but later chooses to stay with Adrian and admit her feelings for him, even though they come to the conclusion that they would have to hide their relationship, especially when Sydney’s sister is added to the on-duty Alchemists in Palm Springs.

I really enjoyed this book and as the series progresses, the stakes get higher and higher, and the intensity is escalated. Now that Adrian and Sydney choose to be together, they must hide from the vampires and the Alchemists, otherwise Sydney might get caught and taken to the Reeducation that seems so torturous by the alchemists. This was a fantastic read and I am looking forward to the next installment to see how Sydney balances her relationships between her sister and Adrian, as well as with Mrs. Terwiliger. It will be interesting to see how the Alchemists handle the situation. Overall a great series that I would continue to recommend to readers in their later teens, especially females because the romance in the story heightens the anxiety of separation and the eagerness to find out what will happen next!

The Mortal Instruments (The Graphic Novel)-Should You Read It?

Image result for mortal instruments graphic novelGenre: Manga/Young Adult Fiction/Paranormal

Rating: 5/5

First of all, I call this a manga rather than a graphic novel because 1) graphic novels are usually in color or printed on a shiny paper and 2) this was published by Yen Press, a well-known manga publisher in North America. I have reviews for: Lady Midnight, Lord of Shadows, and a special spotlight review on Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy as well, all of which likewise feature some of Cassandra Jean’s artwork.

Maybe I am biased (I try not to be), but this is one of my few 5/5 star ratings. It is an amazing adaptation of the first part (about half) of Cassandra Clare’s novel, City of Bones. Also, the art was done by Cassandra Jean, one of my personal favorite artists. All the work she does for the Shadowhunter novels is absolutely spot-on when it comes to what I, as a reader, think the characters look like. I even have the Shadowhunter Illustrated History with her artwork, the Mortal Instruments Coloring Book, and the tarot cards, all with Cassandra Jean’s work. If it hadn’t been for her beauty with Shadowhunter’s, I never would have found some of her other original work, such as Reindeer Boy (which is officially one of my favorites, also a manga published by Yen Press).

With all this fin stuff in mind, perhaps I should talk a bit about the story and to what extent it follows the novel. It has been about ten years since I first read City of Bones, and I am still a major Shadowhunter fan. This adaptation was not only done with beautiful art, but adapting the story was done well also. This first volume Introduces the reader to Clary Fray, a girl who enjoys a normal life with her friend, Simon. All that turns around when she witnesses a murder in the Pandemonium club.

Little did she know that it was a demon being murdered, and that Shadowhunters are meant to protect the mundane (human) world. When Jace Wayland discovers that Clary has the sight, he aims to bring her into the world of Shadowhunters, even though she does not want that…at first.

The three mortal instruments, the cup, the sword, and the mirror, are first described in this volume, and some of the history and lore of the Shadowhunters is introduced. The reader is also given some backstory by Jace, and the volume ends after Magnus’s party, when he warns Clary that her mother was hiding her from the terror of the Shadowhunter world.

I absolutely loved this adaptation; the art adds a different perspective when reading, in that I notice physical character interactions in a way that I did not notice when reading the novel originally. This is only volume one, and with the title being The Mortal Instruments, I will be assuming (and hoping) that it will cover the six books in the original story arc.

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On another note, on the same day as this manga, the 10th anniversary edition of City of Bones was released, and it is one of the most beautiful books I have ever purchased. There is a number of colored interior art by Cassandra Jean both within the pages as well as the interior covers. There are also a number of black and white pieces of art added into various places, which will really add to the reading experience and has me greatly looking forward to reading the novel again and starting my Shadowhunter journey from where it all began over ten years ago. There are also added files from the Clave, which is an interesting part of this edition as well, and the binding is like that of an old book, giving it a chic feel of value.

Image result for city of bones 10th anniversary interior art

The Ones-Should You Read It?

Image result for the ones bookGenre: Near-Future Fiction/Young Adult

Rating: 4/5

The opening to this book is interesting and strong, dropping the readier into a closed space with phrases such as “You are a terrorist,” making the reader feel as if they were in the predicament of the character. The story then moves to a few weeks prior to that scene and feels almost too normal, but it has its twist, and that is what makes this book interesting.

This Summary/Review contains MANY SPOILERS

Relative to genetic engineering and science today, The Ones features Cody and James, two of the Ones, children out of 1% of the population who were genetically engineered before birth to be superb physically and academically, but a person cannot tell who is a One just by looking; they look just like everyone else, except maybe with sharper features. Despite this, it is impossible to tell if someone was born with natural physique or talent, or if they were genetically modified.

When a new law passes that allows discrimination against Ones, Cody and James have a hard time at school, especially when a list of names comes out that has every One on it. Cody finds that she must fight for the rights of the Ones and finds herself being recruited to a group who aims to rise up and fight the discrimination by whatever means necessary…but when they find out Cody’s name is not on the list of One’s, they think that she is a spy, and everything she knows in her whole life is turned around.

Determined to stick with fighting for equality, despite not being a One, Cody aims to have a small rebellion at her own school, where the students fight for the rights of the One’s by not letting any of the staff out until their rights to sports and academics are returned. When what was meant to be benign turns into something deadly and unexpected, Cody is determined to be a terrorist and takes the blame to save James and those aiming to maintain the rights of the Ones.

Cody finds herself being tortured in a place she does not know. Tortured is a strong word, but basically she is being waterboarded, a form of torture that is very controversial in the United States today. In the meantime, James tried to get Cody out through the influence of his father, a man who is establishing a vaccine for those who have been genetically altered.

One free, Cody joins Kai with the New Weathermen, the group that fights for the Ones, and aims to destroy James’ father’s lab late at night with no casualties. Kai will do whatever it takes for the survival of the One’s, and when the premature destruction of the lab warrants a late-night visitor, Cody must choose.

When society has nearly completely turned against the Ones, Cody follows the New Weathermen to the caves on the outskirts of her hometown, but the law enforcement who aim to put them into internment camps find them. James to the rescue cuts off their path with fire and saves Cody and the New Weathermen, at his own expense.

While this story seemed a bit too “normie” in its high school setting, it picked up once the politics and the fight between society and the Ones became intense. The torture scenes relate back to the opening chapter (I love when books go full circle in that way, it is an effective strategy to draw the reader in), and are also vivid and may be a bit too strong of imagery for people who view waterboarding negatively (I am neutral and have no argument on it, although it seems very in humane and scary).

I also enjoyed how the stakes really heightened in the end, with the death of James’ father as well as his sacrifice in the end. As the reader, it is undetermined what happens to him, but there is a second book, and I cannot wait to see what happens with James, Cody, and Kai as their fight for their rights concludes in The Equals.

I would suggest this book for a slightly older group, possibly age 16+, and I can see this book highly appealing to both genders. It is also an interesting read for those interested in genetic sciences as well as equality and political movements in today’s world, because many of the ideas and concepts in this book reflect many of the things we see today. All-in-all I would say this book is a YES, you should read it; I will be reading the second one very soon, and can’t wait to see what the characters to to fight for their freedoms and become equals!