Mini Book Reviews

Smoky the Cowhorse (MG)

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by Will James

This book is the story of a wild range horse, Smoky, from birth through his time helping his favorite cowboy wrangle cattle and beyond, offering a look at cowboy culture and the life of a horse in the west from a horse’s perspective.

Despite the fact that the horse’s perspective is very well done (as someone who grew up loving horse stories, I loved the beginning sections about growing up on the range and working with the cowboys), I can not recommend this book. My largest issue with it is racism: the two worst characters in the book were people of color.  A milder issue is the narrative voice—it is written in the dialect and slang of a cowboy, and the word choice/order was often jarring. I frequently had to reread sentences to figure out what was meant. My third problem with the book is that there are several scenes of animal abuse perpetrated by the bad guys. I was not expecting this and nearly stopped reading, but I was already invested in the horse and wanted to see how he made out. (Spoiler: it does have a happy ending.)

Mini Book Reviews

Ogre Enchanted (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

Evie, a 15-year-old healer, isn’t expecting her best friend Wormy to propose, nor that a fairy will punish her for refusing. Yet suddenly she is an ogre, with only 62 days to accept another marriage proposal if she ever wants to be human again. She has to rely on her wits and her skills—both human and ogre—and the friends she makes along the way if she’s going to beat the idiot fairy’s spell.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t love this one as much as some of her others. It has a lot in its favor: suspense, true love, secrets, purple dragon pee…. I liked Evie, and I was totally rooting for her. But I don’t love ogres, and I didn’t love the young men she met—it was only on thinking it over later that I began to like Wormy, though he’s not my type at all.

Mini Book Reviews

The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone (MG)

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by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

Three siblings move to their crazy great-aunt’s odd house after their parents’ divorce and find a field guide in the attic, full of pictures and descriptions of fairies. They discover that a) the fairies from the guide are real and b) there are more than one living in and around their house.

These books are so much fun, full of action and quirky characters. They’re short, quick reads. I listened to the audiobook (two books in one), which was excellent. 

Mini Book Reviews

The Sun is Also a Star (YA)

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by Nicola Yoon

Neither Natasha nor Daniel is looking for their true love today. A string of random chances bring them together. But Natasha is being deported back to Jamaica tonight—will the random events continue, keeping them together, or will more chances tear them apart?

This book was beautifully written. I loved the points of view; the interspersed chapters about racial concerns, science, and history; and the interconnectedness of all of the seemingly minor characters who had an impact on everyone else’s lives. This is not an everything-comes-together-perfectly-and-they-all-live-happily-ever-after kind of book, but it is beautiful and hopeful, despite—or because of—moments of pain.

Mini Book Reviews

Cheshire Crossing (YA)

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by Andy Weir

What do you get when you put Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice into a boarding school together? A world-hopping adventure where the Witch of the West teams up with Captain Hook and the Cheshire Cat comes to Oz, of course. 

This graphic novel was a lot of fun, blending elements from our favorite fantasy worlds with a lot of attitude and a few surprises. I don’t often read graphic novels, but I finished this in about an hour—definitely worth a read. 

Mini Book Reviews

The Trumpeter of Krakow (MG)

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by Eric P. Kelly

When Joseph’s family home is destroyed by enemies, he and his family must flee to Krakow. But why are evil men after them, and who is really behind it? And what is the family secret that is for the king of Poland’s ears alone?

I was pleasantly surprised by this story. It presents an accurate historical account of Poland while maintaining a strong spirit of adventure, mixed with the noble and heroic history of the Krakow trumpeter and the broken note. While I enjoyed reading it, I did have two complaints: 1) the narration occasionally sounds stilted and old-fashioned, and 2) there are multiple places where the narration pauses to explain too much (for instance, about how at that time everyone in Poland was very superstitious) instead of simply showing us and letting us figure it out for ourselves.

Mini Book Reviews

Shadows: The Books of Elsewhere (MG)

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by Jacqueline West

When her family moves into the big stone house, Olive can tell it’s creepy. But she doesn’t expect to meet three talking cats or find a pair of spectacles that allow her to climb into and out of the paintings. The truth of the previous owners is even stranger—and more awful—than she guesses.

I LOVED this book. I don’t usually go for dark and creepy (think Coraline), but I’d heard good things, and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. The writing was wonderful (descriptions and metaphors that were unexpected but spot on), the characters were real and relatable, and the action kept me turning the pages. Maybe don’t read it in a dark house alone, but definitely read it.

Mini Book Reviews

The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande (MG)

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by Adam Gidwitz and David Bowles

In another fun adventure of the Unicorn Rescue Society, Elliot and Uchenna travel across the country with Professor Fauna to rescue a chupacabras—essentially a vampire coyote. They make friends, see old enemies, and learn about these fascinating and terrifying creatures and the borderlands they live on.

I enjoyed this book, although I liked The Creature of the Pines better. The characters are fun, as always, and the creatures are great. The book explores different sides of the issues surrounding border walls (defense, splitting families, animal habitats, etc.) without pushing an agenda. The use of Spanish phrases gave even more of a Tex-Mex flavor, with only the harder ones getting an English translation.

Mini Book Reviews

Writing Magic (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

Writing Magic is a collection of writing advice geared specifically for young writers, covering everything from voice to characters to dialogue to point of view, using examples from her own books and others to illustrate her point. Carson Levine is thorough, addressing nearly every aspect of storytelling, while keeping chapters short, easy, and accessible. Each chapter ends with writing exercises to practice the concept just discussed.

As a lover of kids’ books and of writing books, I really enjoyed this. Her tone is friendly, engaging, and helpful, and the exercises were intriguing (especially the one at the end, but I won’t spoil it). This is a wonderful book for any child or teen who loves to write (the recommended age is 8+, and I agree with that)–I wish I had had it when I was starting out.

Mini Book Reviews

Red Queen (YA)

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by Victoria Aveyard

This is a story of “haves” and “have-nots,” where the “haves” have superpowers and the “have-nots” get trampled underfoot. A “have-not” girl gets unexpectedly thrown in among the “haves,” for surprising reasons and with dire consequences. It’s like X-Men meets Gladiator meets British history’s War of the Roses, where everyone did whatever they could to get the crown.

This book had me hooked from page one—the voice was engaging, the world was intriguing, and the stakes kept rising. If I could have read it straight through in one sitting, I would have, but instead it rattled around in my head whenever I wasn’t reading. It was almost a relief to finish it and have closure for the story, but it was also a relief knowing that there are three more in the series to read—when I have a full day to devote to reading.