Review: THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE by Christopher Healy

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I love the covers. PS: I need a Briar cover.

Rating: 4/5

The first book in this series, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, was possibly my favorite 2012 debut, and one of my favorite middle grades of all time. So I was thrilled to receive the ARC for the sequel for review (THANKS, WALDEN POND PRESS). I’m not going to lie, I think the first one is an overall better book, but I still thoroughly enjoyed The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle.

Since the main group of characters and the general world has been established in Book 1, we get to see more of that world and the countries in it, as well as many more characters, in Book 2. Little Taylor was my favorite newly-introduced character. He is hilarious and awesome and an expert in a REALLY AWESOME skill that I don’t want to spoil. Spoiler: It’s awesome. A new country, Dar, and its inhabitants also figure prominently, and I’m guessing will continue to do so in Book 3.

The first section of this book works mostly to reunite our heroes and heroines from Book 1. It’s super fun to see how they’re all reacting to the action from the first, and how the various character dynamics have shifted (more on that later). The middle section of this book is pretty weak; there is an imbalance of telling versus showing, and the characters spend most of their time planning and re-planning their plan of attack. And it’s about as repetitive as the previous sentence. The final part of the book, however, gathers up all the slack again and is a rollicking adventure with lots of peril and shenanigans and put all of the (many) supporting characters to good use.

The thing about Healy’s writing that amazes me the most is that, in spite of the ludicrous story and crazy antics the main characters get up to, he still manages to portray the characters as real people. They have fleshed-out personalities and flaws and understandable motivations. The character dynamics and relationships are absolutely stellar. Each individual interacts with each individual in a specific, consistent way, regardless of whether they’re interested in each other romantically or not. Speaking of romance, except for the pair that’s married, I have no idea who is going to end up with who in this series and I KINDA LOVE IT. Specifically in this book, we get a lot of Liam, Duncan (who I love to pieces) and a lot more of Briar Rose (who I love even more). Briar is fierce and scary and kinda possibly evil, and really adds to the group dynamic. DYNAMICS, PEOPLE, HEALY IS GOOD WITH THEM. There’s also plenty of villains, some that we’ve seen before, some new, and they’re all varying degrees of rabid.

Finally, this book did a good job of setting up the conflicts (both character and plot) for the next one, which makes me happy but also sad because I have to wait….for how long…..

Most of the illustrations are only partially done in the ARC, some of them are missing, and a few look finished. It was really cool to see the process of those; I’m a huge fan of the illustrations in the first book, and it looks like the sequel’s illustrations will be just as great.

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Review: DARK LIFE by Kat Falls

PS: I love the cover; it is a gorgeous creature.
PS: I love the cover; it is a gorgeous creature.

Any book that starts out with a luminescent shark attack is worth reading, I always say.

Dark Life is a Middle Grade novel set in a future Earth where most of the planet has been covered by ocean. Benthic Territory is an experimental colony where underwater pioneers cultivate the land, farm, and raise subsea “livestock.” Teenage Ty is the first person to be born subsea, and is looking forward to the day he is old enough to claim his own land and settle it. Meanwhile, the Topsiders, such as a girl named Gemma, call the pioneers “Dark Life” and rumors abound of “Dark Gifts:” special powers that the youngest generation of subsea pioneers have developed from so much time underwater. Gemma is looking for her prospector brother while Ty and his family are trying to fend off the Seablite Gang (underwater criminals (obviously)).

I really enjoyed this book, so prepare yourself for some gushing!

First of all, the world-building is really great, extremely imaginative, and yet set firmly in reality. Everything underwater is described with so much wonder and beauty and terror, whether it’s “real life” deep sea creatures or the kind of architecture the pioneers have developed for their houses (spherical bendy things). The only item that smacks of narrative convenience is “Liquigen,” a substance that can be swallowed and coats the lungs (or something) so they can breathe underwater. But otherwise the farming methods (bubbles as fences (no seriously it makes sense)), architecture, travel methods, etc, are all thoroughly thought out. Gemma’s stories of how Topsiders live was like a legitimate believable dystopia world, rather than the trendy How Horrible Can We Make The Future: Let’s Kill More Babies dystopias.

Speaking of great and clever, the characters are, too. Ty is very capable and resourceful underwater, but we also see that contrasted with his cautious discomfort when out of water. He’s just one of those characters you want to root for, only with bioluminiscent skin and epic underwater skills. He’s written like an actual teenager (always refreshing), but one that has had to work his whole life, so he’s dependable and hard-working. Gemma is fun, too: reckless and cocky, but smart and kind. Both of the teenagers are very lonely, as Gemma doesn’t really have a family and Ty doesn’t have any friends because he LIVES UNDERWATER. The supporting characters are all fabulous, too, especially Ty’s younger sister Zoe, but the book is on the short end of things and the focus is mostly on Gemma and Ty.

The mystery plot was very well paced and focused. It did a good job of convincing me that I knew what was going on, and then being all, “Just kidding, you don’t!” and then DOING IT AGAIN. The writing is extremely cinematic; the action is written in a visual, suspenseful way that makes it feel like it’s in real time. I’m not going to blather on about the plot because there’s too many things I can’t talk about without being spoilery.

Just do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s a really fun, fast, imaginative read.

Review: THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM by Christopher Healy

12969560The basic premise of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom answers the question: “What would happen if the Princes Charming from four different fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty) all had major issues and teamed up to win fame and glory?” The answer is “HILARITY AND EPICOSITY AND A LOT OF TRYING AND FAILING.” The princesses are all in the story too, but all the princes and princesses are VERY different from what we know. For example, Briar Rose is a spoiled, mean brat, while Cinderella’s prince is terrified of leaving his castle. The conflict involves the witch from Rapunzel’s fairy tale, but honestly I don’t want to give too much away, because this is a story that evolves organically and you learn everything in the order you’re supposed to know it. AND IT’S FABULOUS.

The characters, who they are, how they act, how they grow, and most especially how they interact with each other, was my absolute favorite bit about this novel. The four princes all have different flaws and strengths, and (of course) it takes them a while to work together. Ella (Cinderella) is fierce but kind of clueless because she’s been under house arrest for so long. The dwarves (they’re experts at everything), the trolls, the dragon, the giant, the witch, the bandits…EVERYONE IS SO GREAT. Also Lila, one of the prince’s younger sister who is probably the most clear-headed character. Prince Duncan was probably my favorite. He is possibly crazy, possibly brilliant, and a ton of fun.

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear yet, but this novel is hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud (granted, it’s pretty easy to make me laugh (BUT STILL)). The story has a lot of twists and turns, and feels a lot like a journey where you really don’t know what is going to happen next because there’s a sort of calculated randomness going on that is impossible to predict but seems inevitable once it happens. Good times.

This novel uses an omniscient narrator. In general, I dislike omniscient narrators, especially in a children’s book because they have a tendency to talk down to the reader. I only occasionally minded it here. It was always clear whose head we were in, and there were many different ways it was used for humor. Also, with so many characters, including five (or six) main characters, I felt like the narration was as decent a choice as any. I also loved the chapter titles, which were always “Prince Charming [Does Something].” They were often funny and gave a hint as to the action in the chapter, without really giving it away because there are four Princes Charming to choose from.

I gave The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom five out five stars for being an absolutely jolly read.

[this review originally posted at my old blogspot.]
The sequel, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, will be out on April 30th 2013. Can we talk about the cover? Both covers, in fact? Because they are FABULOUS. There are many illustrations inside by the same artist as the cover, and they’re hilarious and cute and fit the story perfectly.

I'm going to read this book so hard.
I’m going to read this book so hard.

2013 YA/MG Debut Challenge

MainDACButtonI am once again participating in the Young Adult/Middle Grade Debut Author Challenge! Sign-ups, rules and such are here.

I hereby pledge to read and review 12 YA/MG 2013 debuts for this challenge.

 

 

My tentative list (Title/Author/Release Date):

Prophecy by Ellen Oh (January 2nd)

The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell (January 10th)

Touch of Death by Kelly Hashway (January 15th)

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (January 29th)

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster (February 5th)

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett (March 5th)

MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza (March 12th)

Taken by Erin Bowman (April 16th)

Transparent by Natalie Whipple (May 21st)