Tag Archives: Good vs Evil

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island created by Bruce Lee, written by Stuart Moore, illustrated by P H Marcondes

I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac and the idea that each of the twelve signs could imbue powers on select hosts is definitely an intriguing concept for a comic book/graphic novel series. Add in the brilliance of Stan Lee, the imaginative writing talents of Stuart Moore, the detailed illustrative abilities of P H Marcondes, and the support of Disney, resulting in the start of a promising series.

To fully appreciate the comic book The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island, I recommend you read Stan Lee’s introductory novel, The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence which lays out the groundwork for the series. Even though Tiger Island has some background information, the format doesn’t allow for the detail necessary to explain all the nuances of the various characters. As the first issue in this continuing saga, graphics are used to identify the various powers of the good guys on “Team Steven Lee” as they search for a place to set up a command post in their fight against the Vanguard who are plotting to steal their special Zodiac powers to add to the power of their boss, the insane evil genius Maxwell.

At the prospective headquarters on the technology savvy Tiger Island, the reader is able to glean some insight into the inner workings of “the players” as they visit the Holodeck Wishing Rooms to live out their dreams via vertical reality. These fantasies are interrupted by a very real invasion of dangerous wild animals who have been sent by Vanguard to attack the island. While our heroes are saving the day, one of their compatriots disappears. What happens next can be found in The Zodiac Legacy #2: Power Lines.

The plot must unfold quickly since this book is only 66 pages long, so don’t look for a lot of specifics, although the colorful graphics, with some incredible “special effects”, do enhance the story. Still, if you go into this book familiar with the numerous characters, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cliffhanger is on the mild side, it does leave you wanting more.

This continuation of the original Legacy trilogy lends itself to a comic book format, especially since too much explanation detracts from the action. Perfect for middle schoolers or fans of super heroes.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Diary of Anna the Girl Witch: Foundling Witch by Max Candee, illustrated by Raquel Barros

Of all the genres, the one which is the most difficult to master is the creation of a satisfying children’s book. Unfortunately, Max Candee, the Swedish author, has not quite found that sweet spot of success with his book, The Diary of Anna the Girl Witch: Foundling Witch. It’s not that his story is lacking since I enjoyed the engaging tale of the orphan Anna discovered as ammbabe amongst the Bears in Siberia by a kindly fur trapper. Upon reaching the age of six, her Uncle Mischa brings her to an orphanage in Switzerland and the story opens at the private boarding school which Anna attends due to a generous trust fund (gotta love those Swiss Bank accounts) that will provide her with the financial security necessary to support her on any quest which crosses her path. Add in some evil doers and the fact Anna has special powers, and you potentially have the start of something great.

The issue then is the delivery. Candee decided to create a book which is part diary, part first person narrative using simple text which doesn’t fit the age of the characters. Anna is an intelligent thirteen, not eight or even ten. In addition, children have become quite sophisticated in their reading material, note another book about witchcraft – Rowling’s Harry Potter series – which is a lot darker and more sophisticated than this story. Or examine the higher level of text in the malicious Series of Unfortunate Events. So the question is: “Who is the audience?” Not YA or even middle school, but perhaps those in the elementary grades (yet not too young). Despite the numerous kid friendly illustrations by Spanish artist Raquel Barros, which are a huge positive for this publication, this is definitely not a picture book.

Yet I’m sure this new series would please the average child especially if it were presented in a different format. Do away with the diary and narration, taking the exact same story, and change it into a graphic novel. Viola! Perfecto! The possibilities are endless. Barros is more than capable of extending her delightful drawings into a pictorial description of Anna’s adventures. The author has the imagination and talents to redraft this saga into something quite exceptional. Graphic novels are also a popular emerging genre, especially those written specifically for children, having already been embraced by middle and high school students. The Anna the Girl Witch series could be one of those ground breaking books which would delight a much broader audience.

Problem solved. So when Anna receives the bizarre gifts from her unknown mother on her thirteenth birthday and slowly discovers she is a witch with an affinity for the moon, we will visually experience her awe and power as she fights the lurking evil which threatens her friends at the school she attends. A female teen protagonist who saves the day is just the sort of role model young girls need to read about as a means of their own empowerment.

So there it is. Right story, great illustrations, wrong format.

A thank you to Netgalley and Helvetic House for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Two and a half stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Bera the One Headed Troll Written and Illustrated by Eric Orchard

In Bera the One Headed Troll by Eric Orchard, Bera is what one would call a gentle soul whose life evolves around growing pumpkins for the King of Trolls. Somewhat of a hermet who has never left her island home, Bera finds herself on an adventure after she rescues a baby from the malicious mermaids. With her pet owl, Winslowe, acting as scout she travels across the sea to the forest in order to find a hero who can return the small child back to her home. With the help of a handy guide full of maps and tales of the woodland folk, Bera travels through the night (since daylight will turn her into stone) on her quest. Unfortunately, the villanous troll magician Cloote, planning to turn the baby into a monster to impress the Troll King, is on the prowl ready to intercept Bera and her “bundle”. To make matters worse, many of the so called heroes turn out to be conspirators instead of friends. Bera, a one headed troll, eventually locates Nanna, a kindly but elderly three headed troll, who attempts a rescue in spite of her age related infirmaties. Ultimately, Bera is the one who must save the day with the help of Winslowe, some kindly Hedgehog Wizards, and a talking rat named Vince.

The brownish hued, sepia toned comic panels drawn by the author are uncluttered focusing on the creatures who inhabit the Troll World. Orchard’s unique style perfectly complements this faerie tale. While the good guys are cute, those intent on harm tend to be more sinister. A big plus is a female protagonist for the main character who discovers the inner courage to do the right thing. In this way she becomes a true hero, a nice change from the typical male dominated scenarios. Besides the good versus evil overtones, the reader learns that a troll must be careful whom she trusts since not every creature’s character can be taken at face value, a good moral for any age.

I felt the storyline of this graphic novel, even with its simple test and fast pace, was confusing at times and I often had to reread sections in order to figure out what was going on. Good for middle schoolers. Three stars.

A thank you for this ARC from Netgalley and First Second Books in exchange for a honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Spelled by Betsy Schow

Spelled by Betsy Schow is a cutesy, tongue-in-cheek, twisted fairy tale loosely based on the Wizard of Oz. Seventeen year old Dorothea only wants some attention from her parents – Queen Em and King Henry – who are too busy in the day to day hassles of running their kingdom to spend time with their only child. Dot, in a selfish temper tantrum, makes a wish that the rules and her parents would just disappear so she could do as she pleases. This wish, inadvertently made upon a spell-infested star, changes the dynamics of the magical realm, placing the kingdom in ruins and making said parents (and everyone else at the Emerald Palace) disappear. All that is left is Dorothea, a dog like creature with wings, and a petulant servant girl, who together must find the magic rainbow to restore life to normal. Along the way the three run into numerous misadventures amongst friends and enemies (mostly of the “foe” sort) as Dot discovers not only herself, but the meaning of true love.

The current trend towards “fractured fairy tales” that appeals to fans of TVs “Once Upon a Time” will make this story a hit amongst middle and even high school students. It’s even clever enough to entertain adult readers who will enjoy the little hidden jokes found within the plot. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from some of the “common” self help books published in Dot’s World which those in the know will find witty – such as The Fairy Tale Survival Guide that reminds readers to pack clean undergarments along with the obligatory breadcrumbs when escaping into the wilderness or Thompson’s Tips for Ruthless Ruling which advises rulers who want to be remembered as a hero to face danger head on, but suggests that wise rulers who want to live a long life should face danger from a distance.

Teens will also relate to Dorothea’s desire to make her own decisions and not buckle in to her domineering parents’ habit of micromanaging her life. While adults might find Dot’s rebelliousness annoying, like-minded readers will cheer when the protagonist has the power to change the course of events. The hero, Kato, can’t fix things on his own, he needs the heroine to save the day (although Dorothea gratefully accepts Kato’s assistance when they both get into a jam). The side kick, Rexi, is good for a laugh with her sarcastic running commentary on the actions of all present.

My main criticism is that there are so many characters, many who pretend to be good but are evil, that the plot gets confusing at times. There is also a lot of action that needs to be clarified so the reader isn’t left scratching their head with a “huh?” feeling. The book kind of meanders towards the middle with some miscellaneous developments that perhaps could have been omitted (or saved for future novels). So, even though this is a quick read, the story line needs to be both tightened up and developed more thoroughly. A dichotomy to be sure.

As the novel doesn’t necessarily end with a “Happily Ever After”, especially since there are quite a few loose ends to be resolved, it’s to be assumed there will be a sequel. I am curious to see what Schow comes up with next to engage the reader in a fun romp through a modernized version of the land-of-make-believe. Three and a half stars.

I want to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks for this free ARC in exchange for an honest review.