The Shepherd’s Crown

shepherdscrownby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.”
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Others in the series: Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, WintersmithI Shall Wear Midnight
Content: It’s perfectly appropriate for all ages; no swearing, some drinking by hard working adults, though it might be a bit complex, plot-wise for the younger set. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think the Tiffany Aching series needed another book to end the series, but since Sir Terry has passed away, and this came out, this one must be read. I did put it off, mostly because if I didn’t read it, the whole thing can’t end. Right?

It’s spare-er than the other Tiffany Aching books, mostly because Pratchett didn’t have as much time to fiddle with it. Still, it has a story with a decent plot, even if it feels somehow less full. Granny Weatherwax has passed on, making Tiffany  her successor, and so Tiffany is trying to balance being the witch of two steads. And her death created in the elf world: the queen is overthrown and the elves are back in the human world making mischief again. It’s a lot for one young woman to handle.

Thankfully, solutions come her way: Geoffry, the son of some lord or another, is much maligned at home, but he leaves and Tiffany takes him on as a helper. It turns out that he’s a great witch. And Tiffany takes in the elf queen once she gets thrown out, and discovers that sometimes the person you’ve always thought of as awful, may not be.

I loved it. I love Tiffany Aching so much anyway, with her practical witchiness (yes, there is magic, but being a witch in this world is such a practical affair). I loved the gender-bendiness with Geoffrey wanting to be a witch (not a wizard, which is what men Traditionally Do), and how the witches just accepted that. I appreciated that Geoffrey got a bunch of elder men, who were generally considered Useless, to help out with the Final Battle. And I loved the end. So much that I cried.

And while I am sad that there really won’t ever be any more Tiffany Aching books, I’m so very happy that Sir Terry thought up this one for us.

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The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

hiddenoracleby Rick Riordan
First sentence: “My name is Apollo.”
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Others in the series: Well, it’s the first one, but it helps if you’ve read Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series first.
Content: There’s no swearing, and only some violence. Riordan hints at an abusive relationship, but there’s nothing graphic. I’d give it to a 10-year-old who loves the Percy world. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) with the Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase because it feels right there.

I think the best way to review this is to go over the arc that A — who read it before I did — expressed.

  1. Apollo is awful, I hate this book. She’s right: Apollo is awful. But: character growth. I was glad to see Apollo change from a first-class ass to a halfway decent human being by the end. That said, there were some nice touches, even if they were annoying: the “Me Cabin” and his daily affirmation (“You are beautiful, and everyone loves you.”) both made me smile.
  2. Meg is fantastic.  A new character, a daughter of Demeter, and also the person Apollo is (accidentally) pledged to serve, she’s a great character. More Meg please.
  3. Will and Nico are adorable. All the fangirl feels. Yes please.
  4. Haiku! This one’s mine. I loved the (bad) haiku at every chapter. A’s favorite:
    Practice makes perfect
    Ha, ha, ha, I don’t think so
    Ignore my sobbing
  5. As for plot, etc? It wasn’t bad. Riordan wrapped up some loose ends that I never really considered loose ends, but it’s nice to know. He did break a couple of rules (too spoilery to tell, but left me kind of meh) that he’d set up, but other than that, it was a basic hero-quest, and I liked that it took place entirely at Camp Half Blood (over a short period of time). I liked the Big Bad he’s created (no more Huge Gods being Scary); he kept this one small and simple.

Was it the best book I’ve ever read? No. But it was lots of fun. Which is all I really wanted.

The Raven King

ravenkingby Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.”
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Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue
Content: Like the others, this is intense, heavy on the swearing and violence.

I’m always a little sad when a series I’ve loved for years comes to an end. I get so invested, waiting for each one, that it almost feels anticlimactic when it actually comes to an end. I feel let down that I no longer will get to look forward to visiting with characters I love, following their story through pages.

Sometimes, my expectations are too high and while I like the ending, I’m not wholly satisfied with it. However, this was not the case with the last in the Raven Cycle. (No, I didn’t read the others in anticipation. Maybe I should have.) Maggie Stiefvater has come up with an ending that is so perfect for the series, that captures everything, that ends it so wonderfully, that I am genuinely sad that I will not get to visit this world again. (Well, I mean, I can always re-read, but there will be nothing NEW.)

The plot is really immaterial: there’s something attacking Cabeswater, Blue and the boys are dealing with Great Things and small things. There’s a new character, Henry, who has showed up as a minor character before (or at least I got that impression, since, you know, I didn’t reread), but I fell in love with him as much as I do Blue and the boys. He melded perfectly into the Raven Boys, and played a pivotal role in the narrative; he wasn’t just window dressing. And while the psychics weren’t as much a part of this — it is a YA novel after all — I did love them and Mr. Gray when they showed up. The sum total? It really was everything I could have hoped for in the end.

Maggie’s going to be at Watermark Friday night. I’m going to be a basket case, gushing at her about this. It’s going to be wonderful as this ending.

Completely Clementine

clementineby Sara Pennypacker
First sentence: “As soon as I woke up Monday morning, I flopped onto the floor with my drawing pad.”
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Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Others in the series: Clementine, The Talented Clementine, Clementine’s Letter, Clementine, Friend of the Week, Clementine and the Family Meeting, Clementine and the Spring Trip (I thought I’ve read them all, but I guess I missed one!)
Content: It’s short, there’s lots of illustrations, and it’s perfect for beginning readers. You don’t have to read the series in order, but it does help a little.

I have a confession: this book came out in hardcover a year ago and I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I couldn’t, not after eight years of loving Clementine, believe that it was coming to an end. So, I put it off. And put it off. But the paperback came out a bit ago, and I got brave and decided that maybe good things can come to an end.

Interestingly enough, that’s the theme of this last Clementine book. It’s the end of 3rd grade, and Clementine doesn’t want to move on. She doesn’t want to leave her teacher and move on to fourth grade. It’s all so new and scary. It also doesn’t help that she’s not talking to her father because she’s become concerned about animal rights and he won’t become vegetarian like her. Oh, and her mother is about to have another baby.

Pennypacker does with this one what she’s done in all the Clementine books: gives us a normal, every-day kid with a normal, every-day family and makes it super interesting. Clementine is such an affable character in all her normalness, that every kid can relate. Change is hard, and Pennypacker captures that resistance in Clementine. It’s charming, sweet, endearing, and cute. All the things I’ve come to expect from this series.

I’m just sad to see it end.

Amulet: Firelight

firelightby Kazu Kibuishi
First sentence: “Okay, Emily. I think this is a good place to start.”
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Others in the series: The Stonekeeper, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, The Cloud Searchers, The Last Council, Prince of the Elves, Escape from Lucien
Content: There’s a lot going on, and sometimes the vocabulary is a bit challenging, it’s good for a strong 2nd or 3rd grade reader. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where we left off in the last book…

The powers of the stone are getting more, well, powerful. Emily’s nightmares are beginning to become more intense, and her control over the stone is slipping. And yet, she and Trellis head to Algos Island to recover Trellis’s memories, so they can defeat his father, the evil Elf King. Navin meanwhile, needs to head back to the resistance and there’s a delightful side trip with a sassy robot chef (and an encounter with some elf bounty hunters) before he does. But everything (as it often happens with epic adventures) doesn’t go according to their plan.

I feel like a broken record with this series. I love it, I buy it, I read it, and I want the next one immediately. (I’m kind of beginning to think that I should have waited until all 9 were out… But then I might not have started.) I adore Kibuishi’s art. I can sense where the story is going, but I’m also wondering how it all fits together. (Mostly because I forget parts from one book to the next. I really should do a reread one of these days.) But, I’m not going to give up on Emily, Trellis and Navin. I most definitely want to see how their story ends.

Especially after this installment.

The Shadow Cabinet

by Maureen Johnson
First sentence: “The curtains at 16 Hyssop Close hadn’t been opened all day.”
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Review copy snagged from the box from the publisher rep.
Others in the series: The Name of the Star, The Madness Underneath
Release date: February 10, 2015
Content: There’s a lot of murder in this one, some of it gory, but never graphic. Other than that, it’s just intense. The series is in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t oppose giving it to a younger kid who was interested in ghost stories.

First off: spoilers for the other two books, obviously. You’ve been warned. (And if you haven’t read them, you really should. They’re excellent.)

Two years is a long time to wait for a book. And in the process, I’ve forgotten all the anxiousness I experienced when I finished the last one. So I do have to admit, that this one took a little bit of time to get back into the swing of things.

It begins forty years ago, with the grisly murder of 10 teenagers by a pair of odd, unusual twins named Sid and Sadie (though in my mind, Sadie was always the Thrilling Adventure Hour Sadie…). It’s a violent way to begin a book (then again, they are murder mysteries) and it’s important, though it doesn’t come to fruition until the end. The main story is the two prongs leftover from Madness: trying to figure out what happened to Stephen when he died and trying to figure out where crazy Jane took Charlotte. Both of those lead Rory and the rest of the ghost team: Thorpe, Boo, and Callum down increasingly crazy paths.

Things I really liked: I loved the addition of Freddie, a new ghost hunter. She was spunky and funny and a breath of fresh air in the midst of Rory’s loss. And I loved that MJ brought back Jerome from book one. Even though he’s mostly kept in the dark, he plays an important role in all of the crazy that follows.

It’s as good as Name of the Star, I think. And it sets up an epic conclusion (I hope). Now, it’s just waiting until that conclusion comes.

Fairest

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “She was lying on a burning pyre, hot coals beneath her back.”
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Others in the series: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress
Content: There are some sexytimes, but it’s entirely off-stage and only vaguely alluded to. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, like the rest of the series.

This wasn’t the Marissa Meyer book I was expecting to review this year. I wanted Winter, the final installment in my series, the one that will hopefully bring everything to a satisfying conclusion. So, I kind of jokingly asked our Macmillian rep when he was here a couple weeks back if he had an ARC of it for me. His response? “Oh, you haven’t heard? They’ve pushed that off in favor of telling Queen Levana’s backstory.” Me? “WHAT?”

This one goes back an unspecified number of years (10? 15? 20?) to when Levana was 15, the younger sister of a very beautiful, and very cruel princess. A princess who used her mind-manipulation powers to control Levana. To make Levana do things she wouldn’t usually do. To hurt Levana. It’s also the story of the damaged (emotionally and physically) Levana trying to find love in inappropriate places (ie, with a married guard), and manipulating people to get what she wants. And, it’s the story of how Levana became queen (mostly by an accident of fate), and how she ended up with Winter.

Sometimes, going back and telling a character’s backstory works. Say, like Kristin Cashore’s Fire. It was needed to fully understand what she was going to tell in Bitterblue. But this? I enjoyed Levana as a cardboard villain, the fairy tale Bad Queen. I really wasn’t looking to find her sympathetic, to understand Why she was the Bad Guy.

But I read this anyway. And I still feel the same: I’m not sure it was a necessary diversion, but perhaps I’ll be proved wrong when Winter finally comes out.