Book Reviews

Book Review: THE IRON TRIAL

IronTrialTitle: THE IRON TRIAL
Authors: Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
Series: Magisterium, #1
Publication Information: Scholastic/Listening Library, 2014
Source: Library (Audiobook) – student recommendation
Genre: Middle Grade – Fantasy
Warnings: Mild violence
Rating: 2 Stars
Recommended For: Younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

(Summary from Goodreads)

THE IRON TRIAL was okay. It was entertaining enough, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if it didn’t feel like I’ve read this story before. The characters – a trio with two boys and a girl – and the premise – characters with magical abilities going away to a school for others with their abilities and being “sorted” into “houses” – were too similar to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson for me to really LOVE this story. I think the most exciting part of the book, for me, was the twist at the end because, while I’d sensed while reading that Call was ~different~, I hadn’t managed to guess the nature of this difference.

I listened to THE IRON TRIAL on audio, and I probably enjoyed it more in this format than I would’ve in print. Paul Boehmer is very expressive, and does a great job performing all of the different character roles. As an audiobook to have on while doing other things, I think this one would be a solid pick.

Despite the fact that I personally didn’t enjoy this book, I’d still recommend it to students. I think there are a lot of elements that elementary school students would enjoy, such as adventure and friendship, and fantasy readers will probably eat it up. I think Percy Jackson lovers in particular will enjoy this one – Call is very sarcastic, so the voice is very similar.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

AnneGGTitle: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, #1
Publication Information: Puffin Classics, 2008 (first published 1908)
Pages: 429
Source: Library – student recommendation
Genre: Middle Grade – Classic
Warnings: None
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People who like girls who are unabashedly smart and imaginative, and who maybe don’t play by the rules at all times.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are in for a big surprise. They are waiting for an orphan boy to help with the work at Green Gables – but a skinny, red-haired girl turns up instead. Feisty and full of spirit, Anne Shirley charms her way into the Cuthberts’ affection with her vivid imagination and constant chatter. It’s not long before Anne finds herself in trouble, but soon it becomes impossible for the Cuthberts to imagine life without ‘their’ Anne – and for the people of Avonlea to recall what it was like before this wildly creative little girl whirled into town.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I never read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES as a child (I know! SHAME.), so I figured better late than never. One of my elementary school students read it and couldn’t stop telling me how much she loved it, so I went to the library and checked it out. And she was right (and is probably done with the entire series at this point).

Anne, the titular character, was plucky and imaginative and won me over probably the same way she won over all of the characters: she’s a little much at first, but grows on you the more time you spend with her. I think part of the reason she’s had so much staying power is that a lot of girls can still relate to her. She’s self-conscious about her bright-red hair, she forgets about her chores because she’s so lost in her imagination, and she loves her friends and family.

I also loved how Green Gables, and all of its inhabitants, came to life so clearly. It felt like a warm sweater I didn’t want to take off when the book ended. Which it did too fast, in my opinion. The book’s events span the course of several years – all of Anne’s teenage years, essentially – and it felt a little fast to me sometimes. But then again, that could just be because I didn’t want it to end.

Verdict: I’ve been checking ANNE OF AVONLEA out from the library for months now and returning it unread because I can’t get to it in time. So, you know, read it.

Book Reviews

Book Review: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK

serafinaTitle: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK
Author: Robert Beatty
Series: Serafina, #1
Publication Information: Disney*Hyperion, 2015
Pages: 293
Genre: Middle Grade – Historical Fantasy, Mystery
Warnings: Some scary images, mild violence
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended For: Readers who love atmospheric settings and don’t mind being scared a little.

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

(Summary from Goodreads)

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK was a nice fusion of historical fantasy and mystery elements, all revolving around the mysterious forest surrounding the Biltmore estate and twelve-year-old Serafina, who ventures into the forest to save the children kidnapped from the estate by an evil man wearing a black cloak.

My favorite part of this book was the setting. It’s set in North Carolina in the late 1800s, and the Biltmore estate – and the surrounding forest – really came to life in an atmospheric way that was deliciously creepy.

Another thing that kept me reading were the dual mysteries at the heart of the plot. The main mystery is the identity of the man in the black cloak – Serafina is sure it’s someone from the estate, but she has to figure out who it is. There’s also the mystery of who her mother is; Serafina was raised in the basement of the main house by her father, and she’s always wondered about her mother. I think both mysteries were woven together really well and the pacing was just right.

I also loved how much of this book was a story about friendship. In the course of unraveling the mystery of the man in the black cloak, Serafina befriends Braeden, the nephew of the estate’s owner. Neither of them has had a real friend before and it was lovely to watch them figure out what it means to be a true friend in a way that wasn’t overly sappy.

TL;DR: An atmospheric + deliciously creepy story about saving kidnapped children and what it means to be a friend.

Book Reviews

Review: Cecile: Gates of Gold

CecileTitle: Cecile: Gates of Gold
Author: Mary Casanova
Series: Girls of Many Lands
Genre: Middle Grade – Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2002
Age Recommendation: Upper Elementary School, Middle School

Twelve-year-old Cecile Revel is given a change to leave her peasant life and serve at King Louis XIV’s court. She finds life within the palace gates is not as full of ease and elegance as she had imagined. Faced with a test of conscience, Cecile shows that behaving in a noble matter has little to do with one’s place at birth.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Cecile was a fast-paced, easily digested historical fiction set in the court of King Louis XIV of France (also known to history as the Sun King), also known as the Sun King. Not only did Casanova do a great job bringing it to life, she did it in a way that didn’t overwhelm the reader with details, with a heroine who was both courageous and vulnerable.

While the plot was straightforward enough – Cecile is a peasant girl who becomes a servant in the Sun King’s court – the background details were anything but. Through Cecile’s eyes, we get a taste of the wealth gap in France during this time, which sets up brilliantly for what happens a few decades after the end of the book: the French Revolution. We also get a look at how everything at the court of Versailles was one big show, with references to things like everyone watching King Louis get dressed in the morning and everyone crowding in to watch the dauphine during childbirth. We get the sense that France is the royal family’s personal playground, all with just a few well-placed details.

Even more than that, I loved Cecile, the main character and narrator. She is quick-witted and brave, shown by her willingness to take a stand on things she believes in despite the consequences, yet at the same time she’s not afraid to be vulnerable, shown whenever people talk about her father or when she starts to miss him. She’s also not afraid to admit her mistakes, most especially when she acknowledges her shame at denying her connection to her father and his questionable past.

Cecile would be perfect for anyone who has finished all of the Little House and Dear America and books and doesn’t know what to read next.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #1)Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Keeper of the Lost Cities! It was fun, with all of the things I love in middle grade – genuine characters and friendship. There were some parallels to other things I’ve read that got distracting at times, but the positives far outweighed the negatives for me.

One thing that was a little distracting to me was the whole Sophie being the Chosen One thing, but no one would tell her what she was chosen for (and seriously, I’m pretty sure she was smart enough to understand if anyone had bothered to explain it to her). I’ve seen this in a lot of other books I’ve read, the two coming to mind being Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. That being said, I still loved Sophie as a main character because she seemed so genuine to me – her feelings of wanting to belong and her attempts to find her place in the world were realistic, and there were times when my heart really ached for her.

I also loved watching Sophie make friends for the first time in her life. I think that was my favorite part, because friendship was really the most important part of what happens toward the end, far more than Sophie’s amazing abilities. I loved that in the end, Sophie had to rely on her friends, because it showed that she’d learned to trust other people and realized that even though she was different, she still fit in.

Keeper bordered on being just a little bit too long, but I still breezed through it, and I think fans of Harry Potter or Rick Riordan’s books would love it. I can’t wait to read the next book!

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Currently Reading: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Currently Listening To: Trace Adkins – “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”