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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Unfairest of Them All: Ever After High 2" by Shannon Hale (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Read FBC's Review of Storybook of Legends Here
 Visit Shannon Hale's Official Site Here

OVERVIEW: It's the aftermath of Legacy Day, the day when the students at Ever After High are supposed to pledge to follow in their fairytale parents' footsteps, and everyone is in a huff and a puff! Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, has refused to sign the Storybook of Legends, rejecting her story--and putting everyone else's in jeopardy.

The Royal Apple White doesn't want to think Raven is being a rebellious pain, but Raven's choice means Apple might never get the poisoned apple, Prince Charming, and a kingdom to rule. Behind Apple stands the Royals, those who want to play by the book and embrace their stories. The Rebels, supporters of Raven, believe in breaking free from destiny and writing their own stories.

But when the chaos and rivalry land wonderlandiful Madeline Hatter in trouble, Raven and Apple must bring the Royals and the Rebels together to shut the book on their feud before it threatens to end all of their Happily Ever Afters once and for all.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...Who'e the Unfairest of Them All?

FORMAT: The Unfairest of Them All is the second book in the Ever After High series. While based off of dolls/TV, the story in this novel is not connected and can be read without knowledge of the TV series/dolls. This series is a children's fantasy that contains adventure, magic and storybook characters.

The novel stands at 335 pages and was published March 25, 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: The Storybook of Legends was a pleasant little surprise. It was fun, imaginative, and a bit quirky. I wasn't a huge fan of the whole doll/merchandise tie-in, but putting that aside, I realized it was a fun, light children's novel. So, I had high hopes for the second book when it was released. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed.

The Unfairest of Them All picks up right where Happily Ever After left off. All the students are in an uproar because Raven didn't sign the Storybook of Legends. This has caused the school to split into two groups – the Royals and the Rebels. Neither group wants to get along and refuses to back down – that is until a mutual friend is accused of committing a crime she didn't commit.

Madeline Hatter – daughter of the famous Mad Hatter from Wonderland – finds herself accused of committing a crime that could lead her to be exiled and expelled from Ever After High. It is up to Apple and Raven to work together and go through a series of tasks to uncover the truth and save Madeline from exile.

I absolutely loved and adored The Unfairest of Them All. It really took the characters that were introduced in Ever After High and developed them beyond imagination. Readers are shown that there is more to Apple – who appears shallow and superficial. Apple slowly starts to come around to the idea that change can – and sometimes is – a good thing. She still isn't ready to accept that Raven wants a different future, but she is slowly coming around to that idea.

In addition to Apple's character development, Raven develops further. Readers get to see a closer look into Raven's relationship with her mother, and even get a sneak peek into life in the mysterious jail cell that The Evil Queen has been living in.

One of the things that make this series so amazing is that every character, from the main characters of Apple and Raven to the smaller, secondary characters, has a unique personality that shines through the pages. Each character is distinctly their own person with unique likes/dislikes and interests, and Hale does an amazing job of developing them without drowning readers in boring blocks of text.

Another aspect that really makes this series stand out is that there isn't a huge focus on love triangles/dating. It is mentioned throughout the book, but the main focus is on the characters, main plot, and just having a fun book to read. All too often 'tween' books tend to stray into the relationship zone and that is all it focuses upon. Luckily, that has not happened to this series. 

I did appriciate that Hale seemed to cut back on the cutesy language in this book. There was less 'Storybook-isms' in this novel, which made it a lot easier to read. It was one of my quirks in the first book, but it obviously has been toned down in this novel. 

I will admit I am looking forward to the next book in the series. It promises to take readers into Wonderland and out of all the characters and storylines in Ever After High – Madeline is my favorite. I really cannot wait to see where Hale takes this series.

The truth is this – The Unfairest of Them All is not an epic fantasy. It isn't even a super involved children's novel. But, it is fun, light and has a solid enough plot that it will captivate most readers. It certainly is not a book for everyone. Many people will find it shallow, child-ish, and stereotypical, but if you love fairy tales or just want a fun, light read this is the book for you.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister" by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand & Emma Trevayne (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Stefan Bachmann's Official Website Here
Visit Katherine Catmull's Official Website Here
Visit Claire Legrand's Official Website Here
Visit Emma Trevayne's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: A collection of eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short short stories presented by the cabinet's esteemed curators, otherwise known as acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire LeGrand, and Emma Trevayne. Perfect for fans of Alvin Schwartz and anyone who relishes a good creepy read-alone or read-aloud story. Features an introduction and commentary by the curators, and illustrations and decorations throughout.

FORMAT: The Cabinet of Curiosities is an anthology of children's short stories. It features 36 stories written by four authors and accompanied by illustrations. All the stories have a horror or sinister theme to them. The anthology stands at 488 pages and was published May 27, 2014 by Greenwillow Books.

ANALYSIS: It seems like there has been a shift lately when it comes to anthologies. It used to be you could walk up to the bookshelf and it would be filled with children's short story anthology, but over the years that has changed and it became difficult to find anthologies for children. When there was an anthology, it wasn't very good. The Cabinet of Curiosities changes all of that and brings the trend back.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is a packed with 36 amazing and very creepy children's short stories. The basic theme of the anthology is several 'curators' of a museum have gathered together to share the stories behind specific artifacts that have been discovered. Each artifact can be tied to a theme (love, music, food), which is how it is stored and classified in the 'museum'.

I will admit that I found the theme of this anthology a bit confusing. Each of the sections was introduced with a letter from one of the curators. It was difficult to understand what they were talking about or referencing. While the theme seems like it would be a good idea on the outside, it just wasn't executed as well as it should have or could have been.

I think the anthology would have worked just fine without the goofy letters and silly introductions. I think it didn't work because it wasn't until literally the end of the book that it all came together – at least for me. It was like an 'ah ha' moment when it clicked, but it shouldn't take until the end of an anthology for me to understand the theme.

There is an epilogue to the anthology which gives readers a brief 'what happened to….. ' look at some of the characters. I really enjoyed this and really felt it was a unique, extra touch that made the anthology special.

The slight issue with the theme of the anthology aside, I found that the vast majority of these stories were really well written. When reading them, I couldn't help get the feeling that these would make great read-aloud stories for parents of children. Sure, some of the stories were really creepy, while others were just slightly scary, but the vast majority were really, really good.

It should be noted that this anthology – for some adults – could quickly become dull/predictable. If you were to read all the stories in one go, it would feel as if there were a lot of very similar stories. Some of the stories are similar in nature, but I think there is enough diversity that it keeps children - and most adults - interested.

The following are some of my favorites from this anthology.

Generously Donated By by Emma Trevayne
Remember all those field trips you used to go on as a child and were incredibly bored? This short story tells the tale of one child who is bored on a field trip to a museum, but what happens to him on this particular trip will make sure he never takes another field trip for granted again.

The Sandman Cometh by Claire Legrand

A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's folk tale of Ole Lukoje, this short story will not disappoint. It has just the right creep factor to it without going overboard, and it stayed true to the original fairy tale.

The Book of Bones by Emma Trevayne  

I'm not sure exactly why I loved this short story, but I did. I felt it was original and really stood out from the other stories. It wasn't one that was forced into a category or theme, so that might explain why it was so appealing. It tells the tale of a wizard who is mysteriously digging up body parts and using them for parts of books. There is a unique little twist and a creep-tastic ending that I don't want to spoil.

The Cake Made Out of Teeth by Claire Legrand

A bratty child who gets whatever he wants is finally taught a lesson in this sinister short story. A young, spoiled child finds a bakery and demands that he get a cake from there – that looks just like himself. What happens to him will have you thinking twice about ever ordering a cake that looks like yourself (if you were planning on doing that!).

Overall, I felt the majority of the stories were well written. Some of the stories were just run-of-the-mill scary stories, but there were enough really good ones to make this a good read.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is perfect for reading aloud or for children who want to read independently. It is certainly ideal for the child who wants to stray away from the 'bubble gum and gumdrops' children's stories and venture into the horror genre.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Mouseheart: Vol 1" by Lisa Fiedler (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit the Official Website for the Mouseheart series Here

OVERVIEW: The Warriors series meets Redwall in this first book in an epic animal adventure series set in the subway tunnels of Brooklyn.

Hopper is just an ordinary pet shop mouse before he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization.

But all is not what it seems. Though Hopper is treated as a royal guest, he misses his siblings that he lost in the escape attempt. That, and Atlantia is constantly threatened by the rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere in Atlantia, cats that leave the citizens unharmed… and no one can seem to answer why.

Soon, Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of a colossal battle, one that crosses generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets: Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends.

And one powerful secret about his destiny.

FORMAT: Mouseheart is the first book in a proposed series. It is a children's adventure/fantasy novel very similar to the Warrior series and Redwall series. It stands at 320 pages and was published May 20, 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

ANALYSIS: I have always had a love for the Redwall series. When I read that Mouseheart was a combination of Warriors and Redwall, I knew I had to give it a try. What I ended up reading was a book that in many ways is better than the Redwall series.

Mouseheart tells the tale of Hopper, a city mouse who finds himself – and his siblings – unexpectedly thrown into a dark, harsh underground world. The world happens to be below the streets of Brooklyn and is filled with storm drains, subway trains, and passengers, but also evil cats and a ragtag bunch of rebel mice.

Hopper gets separated from his siblings while underground and he meets Zucker – prince of the mice. And things just seem to spiral into a world of chaos filled with fighting, betrayal, and lots of mouse kingdom politics.

Mouseheart on a whole is a very solid, detailed middle grade novel. The writing and character development is strong. Things are not overly complex, but they certainly aren't 'dumbed' down. Many times children's books go with one extreme or another. They are so detailed that even adults have problems following it, or they are so simple that children get bored.

While I enjoyed the character development, I did get confused with the main character – Hopper. There seemed to be times when he didn't understand/get things because he was a pet store mouse, but then he'd come out with these detailed strategies or say something that was completely not in line with that character.

I would sometimes thing 'hey, how does this sheltered mouse – who didn't even know what a subway train was – come up with that'. Maybe I was being a little too critical of Hopper, but that was honestly the only character flaw I had with the book.

Mouseheart is filled with several battle/fight scenes, some of which are extremely detailed. This makes it difficult for me to place a target age for this book. One of the fight scenes involves a cat who pounces, misses the mouse, and gets a railing 'gouged' in the eye. The battle scene at the end is fairly detailed/graphic, too.

I really believe younger children may find it difficult or uncomfortable reading about this type of violence, especially happening to animals. The detailed and graphic descriptions of injuries and fighting just didn't mesh with the simplistic children's nature of the book.

There are obviously more books planned for this series, but one of the great things about this novel is that it doesn't end with a cliffhanger. It is obvious that there is more to come, but it doesn't end in a way that is disappointing or unfair to readers.

Mouseheart is a strong, well-written children's fantasy/adventure novel. It is sure to be a favorite of those that love the Warrior series or Redwall series. This is certainly a new spin on the Redwall series. I truly enjoyed reading this novel. It was fast paced, well written, and had many elements that adult readers will love.
Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 6th Extinction by James Rollins (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The 6th Extinction HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Judas Strain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Last Oracle
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Doomsday Key
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Devil Colony
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Subterranean
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Blood Gospel

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Rollins is a pseudonym for James Czajkowski and is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of twenty-nine novels including the SIGMA Force, the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull novelization, and the Jake Ransom YA books. He also writes fantasy—The Banned and the Banished, The Godslayer Chronicles—under the pen name James Clemens. Besides writing, Jim holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine and is an avid spelunker and certified scuba enthusiast.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A remote military research station sends out a frantic distress call, ending with a chilling final command: Kill us all! Personnel from the neighboring base rush in to discover everyone already dead-and not just the scientists, but every living thing for fifty square miles is annihilated: every animal, plant, and insect, even bacteria. The land is entirely sterile-and the blight is spreading.

To halt the inevitable, Commander Gray Pierce and SIGMA must unravel a threat that rises out of the distant past, to a time when Antarctica was green and all life on Earth balanced upon the blade of a knife. Following clues from an ancient map rescued from the lost Library of Alexandria, SIGMA will discover the truth about an ancient continent, about a new form of death buried under miles of ice.

From millennia-old secrets out of the frozen past to mysteries buried deep in the darkest jungles of today, SIGMA will face its greatest challenge to date: stopping the coming extinction of mankind.

But is it already too late?

FORMAT/INFO: The 6th Extinction is 427 pages long divided over four titled parts, which include thirty-four numbered chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. Also includes Acknowledgments, a map, Notes from the Historical/Scientific Record, and an Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction. Narration is in the third person via various characters, namely Grayson Pierce, Painter Crowe, Lisa Cummings, Jason Carter, Dr. Kendall Hess, Jenna Beck, Cutter Elwes and a few minor POVs. The 6th Extinction is the eleventh book in the SIGMA series and is a standalone story.

August 12, 2014 marked the North American Hardcover publication of The 6th Extinction via William Morrow. The UK edition (see below) will be published on August 28, 2014 via Orion.

ANALYSIS: The 6th Extinction marks a decade of James Rollins’ amazing combination of scientific fact and adventure thrillers. It’s the tenth entry in the SIGMA series officially but technically is the eleventh book to feature and focus on SIGMA. The series has been going from strength to strength and a couple of books ago (Bloodline), the author managed to complete an arc that had begun with Map Of Bones.

With this book, the author manages to combine a variety of scientific threads involving bioterrorism, XNAs and a bunch of other things that you need to read about. The story begins when a distress call sent from a northern California military research station is heard and then all sentient life around the area is seen to be exterminated. Things soon take some rather dramatic twists as the SIGMA team is forced to visit Antarctica due to certain clues interspersed within the damage. Pierce, Kowalski and Jason Carter (SIGMA’s newest recruit) make up the team sent to South Pole while Lisa Cummings works with her brother try to resolve the crisis in California. Mixed in are the remaining SIGMA crew consisting of Painter Crowe, Kat Howard, and Monk Kokkalis .

The book follows James Rollins' characteristic pattern of action mixed with dollops of scientific intrigue in new locales. This time around, with this being the tenth anniversary of the SIGMA series debut, we are treated to an extra-wild adventure that involves not only the location of one of James’ previous standalone thrillers but also a couple of characters from it. I loved this aspect of the storyline and once again the author manages to combine some rather strange but utterly true factoids amidst the action sequences. With the different locales explored in the story such as Antarctica and the Amazonian rainforests, the author manages to showcase different facets of the landscape. Even though he has previously explored these locales but he again manages to put a new spin on them.

One of the characters that takes a backseat due to the events of The Eye Of God is Seichan and a fiery character as her is surely missed. Another slightly weird aspect was that Jason Carter’s previous experiences in Antarctica never quite get explored. However with the story unfolding at the pace it does, I don’t think the author could insert reminiscing about previous adventure in it. He however does include some fun cameos and gives a rather strong hint about a Subterranean sequel which if he writes, would be simply awesome.

For all that is good with the book, I must point out that previous points that went against the previous book in the series, are still present to a minor degree. One good thing is that this story is more of a standalone nature and that helps majorly for any new readers who don’t want to read all the previous books in the series.

CONCLUSION: James Rollins dazzles massively with his newest SIGMA adventure and if you haven’t read any of his work yet. Then this would be a nice start to the amazing world of SIGMA, with all of its’ exciting science, new locales and the mix of the two that makes his work so unique.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"The Boundless" by Kenneth Oppel (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Kenneth Oppel's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: All aboard for an action-packed escapade from the internationally bestselling author of Airborne and the Silverwing trilogy.

The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!

When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.

In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?

FORMAT: The Boundless is a standalone YA novel. It is an action-adventure novel that has murder, mystery, and a few historical elements thrown in. The novel stands at 320 pages and was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on April 22, 2014.

ANALYSIS: Murder, mystery, an occasional Sasquatch, and a giant circus are all tossed together to create the main storyline for The Boundless. This adventure-packed YA novel by Kenneth Oppel is beautifully written and for the right reader, a truly stunning novel.

I have read some of Kenneth Oppel's previous books – mainly the Matt Cruse series – and realized that Oppel has a very unique style of writing. The writing is solid and elegant. Oppel uses this style of writing to slowly develop both characters and plot. Readers will not form 'instant' bonds with characters, yet will slowly learn to love/cherish them.

The Boundless is no exception to Oppel's previous writing styles. The Boundless is set on an extremely large train that rivals some of the cruise ships of today. There is a saloon, pool, fitness room, shoot gallery, and circus all located on this train. That doesn't even count the shrine and all its treasures of the man who invented/created this train.

The entire novel follows Will Everett. While traveling on the very first trip for The Boundless, Will Everett has the misfortune of witnessing a murder. The murderer quickly sees Will and sets off to capture him/portray him as a 'bad guy' before Will can tell the authorities. In order to survive, Will must think on his feet. This includes joining a circus, spotting who may or may not be on his side, and doing things he never imagined he'd do in his entire lifetime.

The Boundless does take some time to get into. The story is slow to advance. There is a lot of time spent developing a backstory, creating characters, and focusing on the historical aspect of the story. This is not necessarily bad, but it really will only appeal to a certain type of reader. I think readers that want a lot of action and adventure will not stick around for the story.

The highlight of this novel is the train. Oppel does an amazing job describing the different class sections, the different cars, and really creating a world on this train. However, the almost sluggish pace of the novel will take away from this. There were many times when I felt more focus could have been on characters/plot development, and less on the train. The train was the real 'main character'.

When characters did do stuff or were introduced, everything was just so uneventful. The characters seemed to be going through the motions, as opposed to reacting to situations or really doing anything. I half expected something to snap and really wake the characters up, but it didn't happen.

Another highlight was the ending. I really felt the ending was pretty good and I liked the way things turned out. I just wish that the whole novel had the same appeal/feeling. The ending was amazing, but the beginning was just 'eh'.

I enjoyed reading The Boundless, but it didn't seem to have the impact Oppel's other novels did. I walked away feeling 'meh' about the whole experience. I feel more could have been done with the 'Sasquatch' character/idea. It had potential, but it came across as a thrown in idea to make the story appeal to a wider audience. Unfortunately, it just didn't have the same impact it should have on me.

Overall, I enjoyed The Boundless. Oppel's writing is amazing and strong, but I don't feel this is by far his best work. The train was unique and fun to read about, but the slow pace of the novel really took some of the novel's potential away. The Boundless will appeal to a certain reader, but in terms of having a wide appeal to a broad audience, I just do not think it is there.


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