Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

mighty-jack-blog-ad-1Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

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Uprooted: A Review

Uprooted by Naomi NovikAgnieszka has always known her best friend Kasia would be taken by the Dragon on the next choosing day. Everyone in their valley knows that the Dragon will choose beautiful, smart, kind Kasia to serve him for the next ten years.

The Dragon won’t eat Kasia–wizard’s don’t do that–and he won’t hurt her. People whisper about what the Dragon must do to the girls–what any man would do with a girl locked away for ten years–despite every girl’s denials. Either way, she’ll be ruined. When her service ends, she’ll never call the valley home again.

Except that isn’t what happens at the choosing. Instead, Agnieszka finds herself whisked away to the Dragon’s tower. In exchange for her service the Dragon will continue to protect the valley from the enchanted Wood that plagues them with strange creatures and the threat of encroachment.

But the Wood is changing; the creatures are growing bolder. With secrets and strange revelations at every turn it will take everything Agnieszka and the Dragon have together to fight what’s coming for them in Uprooted (2015) by Naomi Novik.

Uprooted is a standalone fantasy novel. This review includes a lot of critical analysis and it will have spoilers from here on out.

Continue reading

Shadow Scale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The world is seldom so simple that it hinges on us alone.”

Shadow Scale by Rachel HartmanThe kingdom of Goredd has had an uneasy peace with the dragons found in the neighboring Tanamoot for the past forty years–a time in which the arts have flourished while Goredd’s dragon-fighting tools have languished.

When mounting tensions between humans and dragons threatens to draw Goredd into the middle of another treacherous war, Seraphina reluctantly finds herself as the center of the conflict. Goredd has few tools left to fight dragons save for rumors of a magical weapon used during the Age of Saints. A weapon Seraphina might be able to recreate with help from other half-dragons like herself.

After spending years hiding her true self, Seraphina sets out across kingdoms to seek out the other half-dragons–beings she’s only ever previously encountered in her own mind–before war breaks out.

As Seraphina gathers her motley band of allies, she soon realizes that war is not the only threat to the half-dragons, her kingdom, or even herself. With so many trying to stop her, Seraphina will have to embrace her true identity, and the ramifications it will have for herself and the other half-dragons, if she has any hope of stopping this senseless war in Shadow Scale (2015) by Rachel Hartman.

Shadow Scale is the highly anticipated sequel to Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. While this book does an excellent job of explaining key events from book one, it’s still crucial to read these in order.

Every aspect of Shadow Scale is handled brilliantly and often surpasses the achievements and charms of Seraphina, which is no small feat. This book is intricate, clever and often unexpected as many given facts from Seraphina are challenged or turned upside down.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the conclusion of Seraphina but soon moves the story in a new direction as readers learn more about Seraphina’s connection to the other half-dragons and how she uses her mind garden to interact with them. Where Hartman’s first book is about Seraphina finding herself, Shadow Scale is surely about Seraphina finding her place in the world.

Hartman blows  Seraphina’s world wide open in Shadow Scale as she crosses borders and visits neighboring kingdoms in her search for the other half-dragons. This book is the full package complete with a map and glossary to highlight all of the wonderful details that Hartman has included in this much-expanded world.

The way different plot threads and pieces of this world knit together is fascinating and wondrous to behold as this story asks (and sometimes answers) questions about ethics, friendship, love and even what being family can really mean. I can’t wait to see what Hartman does next.

Shadow Scale is a satisfying and often surprising conclusion to a story where nothing is ever truly neat or perfect but everything does have the potential to be beautiful. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

A Creature of Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca HahnThe villagers have been talking of the woods all summer. More than usual. Farther from the woods than usual.

It’s one thing, now and then, for a stray bit of the woods to encroach. A well lost here, a path obstructed. Such things are to be expected.

This summer is different. The entirety of the woods seems to be moving in leaps and bounds, creeping closer than they have in years.

Marni knows the woods are dangerous place–a place of magic and wonder that often draws girls to it only to swallow them whole. Still, time and again, she finds herself sneaking there–away from Gramps, away from the prying eyes of the villagers who buy their flowers, away from the life that was snatched from her the day her mother was killed.

Marni has always walked a narrow path between the life the was stolen and the life she has with her Gramps. But now, with the woods moving closer and promises being made, Marni will have to decide where she will stand in A Creature of Moonlight (2014) by Rebecca Hahn.

A Creature of Moonlight is Hahn’s first novel.

Hahn masterfully weaves a world here where magic is as beautiful as it is dangerous–a world populated with calculating lords and kings as well as dragons and Phoenixes. Marni is a fascinating narrator, one who views both the humans and the woods with a healthy sense of skepticism. She is a strong heroine with a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to secure her freedom.

She also has a very strange twang to her entire narration that is more reminiscent of a novel set in the Depression Era west (or just the West) than it is to this bit of higher fantasy. Marni reckons about many things and is none too afraid to say so neither. Her voice is often extremely jarring as readers are drawn repeatedly out of the story to ponder the choice of words on the page.

The story is typical coming of age fare as Marni learns more about both sides of her “family” such as they are and, over the course of the novel, comes into her own in various ways.

A Creature of Moonlight is decidedly short on peripheral characters, making the time spent in Marni’s head often claustrophobic as so much of the story centers on her inner conflicts. While her observations of the woods and at court are often entertaining and razor sharp, Marni’s motivations are never as clear as they should be.

While it is refreshing and modern to see Marni repeatedly turn down marriage proposals, the logic behind her deep conviction to not marry is murky at best–particularly given the specific set of obligations that will come with a life at court (which Marni adopts at one point in the plot).

Though often unsatisfying, A Creature of Moonlight remains a solid debut from an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Seraphina: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Seraphina Dombegh has been surrounded by lies for most of her life. Everything from her patron saint to her own parentage has been altered and hidden beneath layers of half-truths and deceptions. With a new position at court and her musical gifts gaining more notice than is strictly wise, Seraphina’s time for hiding may well be over.

Seraphina’s home, the kingdom of Goredd has had peace with the neighboring dragons for four decades. They walk among the Goreddi in their human forms, they share knowledge. But that does not mean they are equals. Tensions are always higher when the treaty’s anniversary is near. This year, with a prince murdered under suspiciously dragon-like circumstances, relations are particularly strained.

Without meaning too, Seraphina soon captures the attention of the court with her musical talents. Worse, she captures the attentions of Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen’s Guard, as well as an adept investigator. Working with Kiggs to unravel the secrets surrounding the murder and a conspiracy that could shake the foundation of their entire kingdom, Seraphina fears that her own secrets might be as easily discovered. As she works to find the truth, she will have to decide if she can survive having her own secrets brought to light in Seraphina (2012) by Rachel Hartman.

Seraphina is Hartman’s first novel. Seraphina’s story continues in the sequel Shadow Scale.

There is also a prequel called The Audition available to read on Scribd at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/97577759/Seraphina-Prequel-WEB

As far as fantasies go, Seraphina really hits all the marks from a complete glossary and cast of characters at the back of the book to an immersive setting replete with inter-kingdom tensions and political machinations. While there are dragons who can take on human forms, the fantasy in this story is more of an underpinning for Hartman’s masterfully written world.

Seraphina is a sweeping story that draws readers through Seraphina’s life and straight into a court full of intrigue and plotting. Readers who like their fantasies with a bit less magic and more surprises will find a lot to enjoy here. Some, including this reviewer, might be very surprised by this novel’s dynamic and unpredictable conclusion.

Though its length (a bit more than 450 pages, hardcover)–and the initial denseness of the text as Hartman introduces new characters as well as an entire kingdom and its history–can be off-putting, readers will be satisfied by the evocative prose, dramatic story, and especially Seraphina’s journey as she tries finds her own place both in her family and her country.

With characters that can make you laugh even as they break your heart* and a narrator who is as witty as she is unique, Seraphina is a clever introduction into a truly original fantasy world that promises even greater things in future installments.

*I’m looking at you, Orma.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with Rachel Hartman!

A Tale of Two Castles: A Review

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson LevineElodie comes to the town of Two Castles with one goal: to become a mansioner. Her greatest hope, her only actual plan upon arriving in town, is to apprentice herself to a mansioner that she might become an accomplished performer in her own right.

When Elodie’s hope is dashed she is forced to look for another plan or starve in Two Castles with none of her family at home even knowing about her plight.

Help comes in the unusual form of a dragon named Meenore.

Mysteries (and cats) abound in Two Castles, which makes the town an ideal place for a dragon like Meenore to peddle ITs powers of deducing, inducing, finding missing things and missing people. Two Castles is also a fine town for a girl like Elodie to proclaim said dragon’s numerous talents and even to assist such a dragon in the solving of mysteries.

One of the castles in Two Castles belongs to the king, of course. But the other houses an ogre who might be in great danger. Or he might be preparing to devour townsfolk. One way or the other Elodie will have to help her Masteress Meenore make sense of the secrets in Two Castles. Together dragon and girl will have to induce, deduce and use common sense (and perhaps some mansioning) to separate the kind from the cruel and ultimately determine who can be trusted in A Tale of Two Castles (2011) by Gail Carson Levine.

A Tale of Two Castles is Carson Levine’s first mystery–inspired partly by the story of “The Puss in Boots.”*

With our intrepid narrator Elodie being twelve years old, the story is essentially a children’s read but Elodie is strong enough as a character and the plot is exciting enough that it can easily appeal to older readers as well.

Carson Levine creates a well-realized world in Two Castles complete with its own customs and vocabulary. (Dragons always being called IT because only a dragon knows its own gender was a particularly nice touch.) In addition to creating an exciting whodunnit of sorts, A Tale of Two Castles is a simply a funny book. Elodie is completely out of her element and watching her make her way in the strange surroundings of Two Castles makes for several good laughs and a fair bit of drama besides.

As readers of her Newbery Honor title Ella Enchanted will expect, Carson Levine includes a lot of traditional fairy tale elements here and turns them completely upside down–mysteries are everywhere and nothing it as it seems. Elodie is a delightful narrator who, though she might stumble along the way, eventually finds the truth and a place for herself in this rollicking and winsome read.

*She explained this at her event last month at Books of Wonder. She is quite a funny and charming speaker so if you ever get a chance I STRONGLY recommend going to see her in person. You won’t regret it!

Possible Pairings: Murder at Midnight by Avi, Gideon the Cutpurse (AKA The Time Travelers) by Linda Buckley-Archer, Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley, The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Marvels by Brian Selznick, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Exclusive Bonus Content: How great is that cover? Illustrator Greg Call did a great job capturing the look of both Elodie and Meenore. Love it.

Starlighter: A Review

Starlighter by Bryan DavisDragons aren’t real. Mountain bears are dangerous enough with their intelligence, ability to talk and, of course, their eagerness to eat you as much as talk to you. Still, rumors persist of a strange planet called Starlight where dragons rule over enslaved humans–slaves stolen from the planet Jason Masters calls home. Starlight has never been discovered but still hope persists that it can be found, the slaves can be rescued, and maybe the people of Jason’s planet can find their own path to freedom.

Jason doesn’t believe the rumors, but when his missing brother asks for help Jason finds he must trust him and the legends to do his duty.

Koren, a slave to the dragons, can scarcely believe in a world where humans are free. The thought is too far fetched. And too dangerous.

But soon Jason’s mission intersects with Koren’s own work to save her people. Together they might be able to save everyone. Or doom them all in Starlighter (2010) by Bryan Davis.

Starlighter is the first book in the Dragons of Starlight series.

As far as fantasies go this is pretty straightforward swords and sorcery fare with aspirations to high fantasy thrown in for good measure. Jason Masters is a warrior-in-training. Dragons have enslaved humans. Swords are drawn and battles are waged. The story is also concerned with the fate of not one but two worlds (where the high fantasy elements come in).

The problem is that despite those fantasy trappings, Starlighter isn’t really a pure fantasy. Davis also blends in elements of pure science fiction with advanced technology like courier tubes for messages that can be unlocked with genetic material and energy panels.

The blend of futuristic elements with a story focused on a warrior in a world with a strong caste system, with an honor code for how gentlemen should treat women (think chivalry for ancient knights) is jarring. Aside from having a lot going on (dragons, swords, portals, energy panels, and so on) Starlighter‘s mixed bag of elements doesn’t quite mesh.

Davis tries to throw readers right into the thick of the story, but this is one that likely could have done with more set up to prepare readers for odd blend of fantasy and science fiction with a plot that, though starting without preamble, takes a while to really get going.

UPDATE: I figured out what really frustrated me about this book. Basically Davis seems to be trying really, really hard to adhere to standard fantasy tropes with stilted language and swords and what not. But then he throws in all this space stuff. And it’s like mixing oil and water but not in a “look at these artistic circles I’ve made” kind of way but in a way that they just really don’t mesh together. And that’s just the way it is sometimes I guess.