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Posts tagged “magic

Express Book Review: ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan


If you want to talk about an epic 2015 children’s book that is simply SCREAMING to be taught at school so it can wedge its way into our culture just like The Giver did 20 years ago, start talking about Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. You may as well read it now, because you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about it (if your daily life involves children’s/YA lit).

My only complaint is that the end isn’t super believable if you’re an adult– but that’s only like 30 pages of around 500. Ignore my complaint for now if you want to be surprisingly impressed with how far you will be taken the story of a sort of magical transcontinental harmonica (for real) that affected some kids’ lives at pivotal times in history. I was particularly impressed with the amount of historical research that seemed to go into this book.

Check it out!

Book Review: Teen Spirit by Francesca Lia Block

Teen spirit

234 pages went by in a flash; if you’ve liked FLB’s other books, you’ll enjoy this one. Like many of Block’s books, this one includes some good magical realism and has elements of a love letter to LA, companionship between weirdos, inspiring sartorial descriptions,  and a female protagonist as an explorer.

Plot-wise, Julie lives a sweet life with her awesome mom and grandma, but then grandma dies so she and mom move to an apartment in a new part of LA. Amidst the change and mourning, mom goes weird and gets a strange boyfriend, and Julie makes a friend at school and tries to bring her grandma back with a Ouija board that she finds in the bedroom closet of her new apartment. But it’s not her grandma who comes back. What happens next is surprising and interesting.

I could have gone for a little more length and depth (maybe a little more magic and more details about Julie’s job), but in all, Teen Spirit was quite good.

find a copy here

Book Review: Wish by Alexandra Bullen

Wish : a novel

The cover of this book is so fairytale blah, but don’t let that deter you!

After her popular and outgoing twin’s death, shy and awkward Olivia and her parents have moved to an old Victorian in San Francisco to start fresh. Alas, the tragedy brings out the worst in each of her parents, their family structure continues to crumble, and Olivia feels terribly sad and alone.

BUT a bit of magic enters her life in a surprising way, and suddenly Olivia has some of the support she needs to start moving on. In addition to the magic, there’s a good deal of real-life stuff that is fairly interesting– and readers who know San Francisco will be amused by identifying different subtle landmarks (and piecing together the sometimes “creative” merging of them). The story is reminiscent of something that Francesca Lia Block might write, but the language is completely different.

In my opinion the mention of clothing brand names weaken the story a bit, as does the too-tidy ending. But all in all, it was a solid amusement that had me looking up the author as soon as I finished.

Book Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of bones

The teenagers were checking this book out like crazy at the library– I had to see what was up.

City of Bones is book one in one of the most recent teen fantasy series to become a movie (did I mention that I actually eventually watched the movie of Beautiful Creatures, and I enjoyed it far more than I did the book? I felt like the movie successfully filled a lot of the holes in the book– it still had the culturally problematic “magical black lady” thing going on, but it tastefully eliminated the awfully named character “Marian the Librarian” and fixed a bunch of other problems).

But back to City of Bones! It’s a classic Girl has a normal life with normal problems, girl discovers she’s kinda magic, girl tries to save someone important while kind of being torn between two boys. There’s some unique magic going on, as well as some unique plot twists and subtexts. The gay subtext to certain characters especially one of the (semi-evil ones) is a little weird. Since it’s a teen book, I thought the author could have fleshed it out a little more– leaving things ambiguous allows for the perception of mild homophobia, even though I don’t think that’s what Clare was going for. What the story lacks in literary awesomeness, it makes up for in action and concept. I didn’t actually have critiques of the book until a week after I finished it (a good sign– this book will show you a good time, even if it won’t stay in your heart forever).

The book doesn’t really allow the reader to care much about most of the characters– I don’t know whether this is going to be put to use in the later books in the series.

Find a copy here

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful creatures

Apparently, even as a YA enthusiast, I missed the Beautiful Creatures boat. This book came out in 2009, and a MOVIE came out a few months ago on Valentines day. Who would’ve thought?

Fans of Twilight will like Beautiful Creatures (it’s the first of a series). The writing isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better.

Ethan lives in a boring small Southern town that never changes. There’s a town recluse in the “haunted” house on the hill. But! There’s a new girl in school. And she’s different from the others. AND she’s the niece of the recluse on the hill!  Basically, Ethan commits social suicide when he and the new girl fall for each other, and lots of magical things happen, leading up to a very, very important deadline. Wow! Drama! Magic drama!

There are some endearing elements, but I wasn’t super-enamored. The setting makes this book a bit interesting. Beautiful Creatures is set in the deep South, in a place where the Civil War is still called the “War Between States,” there are reenacted battles at regular intervals, and the white folks in town are very interested in their heritage. This all plays into the plot (though I wish it was less subtle). I kind of want to watch the movie so I can see how they treated this element… Sigh, it will be a long wait before the library gets it.

Find a copy at the library


Book Review:: Drama High: Second Chance

Second chance

The Drama High series kept on getting mentioned as one of the few contemporary book series’ out there about African American teenage girls. So I picked up Second Chance to see if it was something that that the teenagers at my library would be into (and, um, because I like YA fiction).

So yes, Second Chance is a recommendable book. In all honesty, I think that being a teenager would have enamored me to it more (the author does a great job of capturing that certain breed of awful anxiety that comes with relationships when you’re a teen– and it’s so nice to be free of that as a grown up– also, there’s a good deal of interpersonal friend drama that was more teen-style than I was into (but I’m not a teen)).

So the story is that Jayd is African American and lives in Compton and wakes up every morning to take the bus to a mostly-rich-and-white school in LA. She’s in AP classes and has a handful of African American classmates who are also from her part of the city. Amongst them are her 2 best friends, her sworn enemy, and the manipulative boy who she used to date. Jayd starts dating a rich white boy, and drama of course ensues. Unlike a lot of paperback teen novels in general, Jayd and her surrounding life gets a fair deal of dimension. Her grandma who she lives with works making potions and magic satchels (and it’s treated totally normally in the book). The school has some notoriously racist teachers, and Jayd tries to bring charges against one of them. Jayd also works on the weekends and has difficulty with her dad and his side of the family. She’s likable, typically says the right thing, and has a strong sense of self.

This is not the first book of the series, and I would recommend starting with book one, as I felt a little bit in the dark about some of the characters. On a similar note, it is definitely part of a series– so there is not a tidy conclusion.


Find a copy here

Book Review: The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block

The elementals by Francesca Lia Block

I’ve been reading FLB for probably 2/3 of my life now, and the magic is still there. She can still wrap a poem around anything, and the magical realism is still abundant and shimmery. There aren’t really lines between dreams and reality in her recent writing, and maybe that’s kind of the point.

So, Ariel’s super-close best friend disappeared a year ago on a class trip to Berkeley (she lives in LA). Ariel’s mother has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is out-of-place and awkward. It’s time to head off to college at Berkeley (where she was supposed to go with her missing best friend).

Distraught, Ariel starts looking for her missing friend when she arrives in Berkeley. She passes out flyers, asks around, gets ridiculed for her persistence. She’s breaking down, on the edge of crazy, unable to find peace in the present because of this. She meets a trio of older people, grad students who have a large house off campus. They suck her in, and she is intoxicated with them and the magic, but still floundering. Additionally, there are other surrounding characters who engage in both terrorizing and trying to save her.

When reading this book it’s hard to determine between metaphor and actuality, and that might be the point because it’s pretty much about where she’s at mentally– furthermore, there’s a constant current of magic and drugs and memory which is both destabilizing and essential. If you take this book literally, you’re going to have a problem. If you just let it wash over you, things will be better.

My one problem (and it might be cruel to place it at this part of the review): The Ending. I don’t know whether the author wanted it or the publisher wanted it or maybe there just wasn’t time to write something better. Maybe just skip the last chapter or two. They’re not terribly necessary.

Find a copy here