We all wear masks…

Title: The Iron TrialIronTrial

Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Publisher & Release Date: Scholastic Press, September 9

The Hook:  Holly Black doing another middle grade series. ‘Nuff said. (No disrespect to Clare, but I would have read this regardless of the co-author.)

The Lowdown (from jacket): “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…”

Overall Impressions: So right from the prologue, his murdered mother’s cryptic message to “KILL THE CHILD” doesn’t bode well for infant Callum Hunt. At twelve years old, father Alastair’s ambivalence toward his child – protectiveness mingled with fear – come out in erratic ways through his attempts to prevent Call’s inclusion into the Magesterium, the magical ruling faction that is waging battle against the Chaos-obsessed Constantine and his minions. Unfortunately for Alastair, Call’s magic is strong enough that his attempts to conceal it backfire spectacularly.

Training at the mountainous Magesterium focuses on controlling and using elemental forces, including deadly elemental spirits.  Of the Mages of the Magesterium, we get the clearest sense of Rufus, Call’s master; the other masters are minimally involved in this first story. The students are drawn in broad strokes – the Friendly Classmate, the Surly Competition, the Bullied One – except for the two fellow students under Rufus, Aaron and Tamara. Their interactions with Callum and each other with the best detail in the book – the three of them navigate rocky personal issues and misunderstandings, as well as dealing with the frustrating and sometimes scary training, with cautious hope in their growing friendship. That more than anything is what I am interested in watching in the rest of the series.

Mind you, the Chaos-Ridden, with the very really possibility of them blending in like  normal, make for an excellent Big Bad; the twist at the end isn’t quite what you think it will be, I will tell you (without further spoilers).

The Highs: A new world of magic to explore, with dangerous elemental spirits! A exploration of destiny, inborn “goodness”, and the circumstances of birth! Secrets and friendship! I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series goes; Black and Clare clearly have a thoughtful trajectory for their trio of student wizards.

Buzzkills:  Sneaking a wolf pup outside several times a day for walkies without being caught was, in a weird way, the most unbelievable part of the book. Dogs are loud and noticeable, and every other time they walked around it seemed like the halls are full of people.

Since any story written with the “boy wizard joins secret magic school” is going to beg comparison to Harry Potter, I was mentally comparing plot and character development the whole time I was reading. Rowling’s superb skill in characterization casts a long shadow, though the Iron Trial does do well in pulling you along quickly and building a unique mythology. I’d like to see more of the backstory of Tamara and Aaron – clearly, they have a great deal of their own baggage to deal with. Tamara’s family angst and her parents’ politics, and Aaron’s lack-of-family angst, speak to deeper issues than the characters can deal with in a single book.

The Source: Galleys from my fellow librarians.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a wolf pup was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.


It’s not global warming you need to worry about – it’s dragons

Cover art for The Story of OwenTitle: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

Author: E. K. Johnston

Publisher & Release Date: Carolrhoda LAB, March 2014

The Hook: Musician becomes bard to a dragon slayer-in-training.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.

“There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition.

“But dragons and  humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected.

“Such was Tronheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds – armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard.

“Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!”

Overall Impressions:  Loved it, loved it, loved it. I loved the narrative voice, the family units and friendships, the world Johnston created.

Siobhan (our narrator) spins and weaves the story so well. I was fascinated by the bits of history -the ones that have become part of the cultural narrative- the tragic story of Michigan, the unrelenting persistence of Queen Victoria, the beginning of the Oil Watch, the tragedy of the burning oil wells of Kuwait. The decline of the bardic tradition.

You see, fossil fuels may be a tasty treat, but dragons need protein as well, and people and livestock hanging out near delicious dessert – that’s just handy. Hence, dragon slayers. Who don’t actually seem to have any special slaying powers but come from family lines stretching back as far as human records go. It’s all in the training. (And probably good genetics?)

The title of the book says this is Owen’s story. But Owen does not really change during the book. He is a Dragon Slayer (technically an apprentice to his father and aunt) and believes in his aunt’s vision, and his future is essentially set. The person who changes, well, the people who change are Sadie and the other students, the people around the Thorskards, as dragon incidents grow more and more in number.

Lottie’s vision is for dragon slayers to begin returning to the smaller towns and rural spaces, and to slay dragons to protect their communities rather than for a big contract. And for the people who live in the communities to stand with their dragon slayer rather than considering her or him a celebrity to applaud, constantly critique, and follow like paparazzi.

Dragon slaying is not without cost. So begins and ends the book.

The Highs: The partnership between Lottie and her wife, the smith Hannah, in everything from dragon fighting to helping raise and train Owen to cooking to their dream of what dragon slaying could return to.

Siobhan and Owen’s friendship, the easy rapport they develop, and the friendships they form with other students, including Sadie. And I love how Sadie evolved, how she was never what I expected.

The long history of male and female dragon slayers.

The closeness of the various families – Siobhan and her parents; Owen and his father and aunts; Emily and her father.

For such solemn cover art, this book made me laugh a lot.

In an American book, I expect football references. Since it’s a Canadian book, we get hockey references and soccer and track participation. It’s awesome.

Buzzkills:  None.

Well, I’m not sure if this is a buzzkill or not, but Siobhan hints at a greater story for Sadie, but it isn’t told here. On one hand, I’d like to read it. On the other, this book felt like a complete world, and I don’t know that more needs to be told.

(And I did wonder why this world hadn’t explored renewable energy options more, though some people did drive hybrids. Maybe it just didn’t fit into the story? Or maybe I was so into the story that I read right over it?)

The Source: Library book.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a broadsword was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Antici……pation: September 2014

September promises a plethora of amazing sounding books – we may have gone a bit overboard in our list this time! (And possibly we will add more as the month goes on…) Summaries are primarily from (or adapted from) publisher descriptions on Edelweiss.

collage of four book covers

Title: Half a World Away (middle grades)

Author: Cynthia Kadohata

Publisher & Release Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Sept 2

The Hook: An angry adopted boy who considers himself an epic fail discovers the transformative power of love when his parents decide to adopt another child.

The Hook: An angry adopted boy who considers himself an epic fail discovers the transformative power of love when his parents decide to adopt another child.

Title: Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales

Author: Edited by KellyLink and Gavin J. Grant.

Publisher & Release Date: Candlewick, Sept. 9

The Hook: “Predatory kraken that sing with -and for- their kin; band members and betrayed friends who happen to be demonic; harpies as likely to attract as repel. Welcome to a world where humans live side by side with monsters, from vampires both nostalgic and bumbling to an eight-legged alien who makes tea. Here you’ll find mercurial forms that burrow into warm fat, spectral boy toys, a landform that claims lives, and an architect of hell on earth. Through these and a few monsters that defy categorization, some of today’s top young-adult authors explore ambition and sacrifice, loneliness and rage, love requited and avenged, and the boundless potential for connection, even across extreme borders.

Title: The Iron Trial (middle grades)

Author: Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Publisher & Release Date: Scholastic Press, Sept 9

The Hook: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial and enter the Magisterium. But Callum Hunt has been warned by his father to stay away from magic, so he does his best to fail. And fails at that.

Now he’ll enter the strange magic school whether he wants to or not, slowly make friends, and discover secrets he didn’t know existed, about his father, about magic history and about himself.

Title: Blood of My Blood

Author: Barry Lyga

Publisher & Release Date: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Sept. 9

The Hook: The conclusion to the I Hunt Killers trilogy! Where we left off–  “Jazz Dent has been shot and left to die in New York City. His girlfriend Connie is in the clutches of Jazz’s serial killer father, Billy. And his best friend Howie is bleeding to death on the floor of Jazz’s own home is tiny Lobo’s Nod.”

Title: Afterworlds

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Publisher & Release Date: Simon Pulse, Sept 23

The Hook: “Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finished her book, faces, critique, and falls in love.

“Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips in the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love…until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about.”

Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (middle grades)

Author: Julie Berry

Publisher & Release Date: Roaring Brook Press, Sept 23

The Hook: “The students of St. Ethelreda’s School for girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home – unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.”

Title: Firebug

Author: Lish McBride

Publisher & Release Date: Henry Holt & Co., Sept. 23

The Hook: “Ava is a firebug – she can start fires with her mind. Which would all be well and good if she weren’t caught in a deadly contract with the Coterie, a magical mafia. She’s one of their main hit men … and she doesn’t like it one bit. Not least because her mother’s death was ordered by Venus – who is now her boss.

“When Venus asks Ava to kill a family friend, Ava rebels. She knows very well that you can’t say no to the Coterie and expect to get away with it, though, so she and her friends hit the road, trying desperately to think of a way out of the mess they find themselves in. Preferably while keeping the murder to a minimum.”

Title: Unmade

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

Publisher & Release Date: Random House Books for Young Readers, Sept 23

The Hook: The conclusion to the Lynburn Legacy! “Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

“Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility – and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves the most.”

Title: Love is the Drug

Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Publisher & Release Date: Arthur A. Levine Books, Sept. 30

The Hook: “Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

“Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart. A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus – something about her parents’ top secret scientific work – something she shouldn’t know…”