Tag Archives: MG

Book Recommendation: Blue Fire

18 Mar

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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“Responsibility was overrated.”

Sequels have the ability to both scare and excite me. I suppose on the one hand, I worry that I won’t love the sequel as much as the first book. But on the other hand, I’m always excited; because the world and the characters and the story I love is continuing. I’m able to be transported back to that place; and when I enjoy a book, it’s always a pleasure to find myself immersed in its world once more.

Blue Fire, the second book in Janice Hardy’s middle-grade The Healing Wars trilogy, is a great sequel. If you haven’t yet read The Shifter, the first book in the series, I suggest you check out my review of it (and then go and pick it up if it sounds like your kind of story). This is a great high-fantasy for readers young and old.

Want to know more? Here’s a summary from HarperCollins:


Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

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The story starts right where the last book left off; but with everyone in hiding now as a result of what occurred at the end of The Shifter. Nya knows that she and all the other healers will never be safe unless they find a way to stop the Duke; but the first step in stopping someone is figuring out what exactly they’re trying to do. With trackers on her tail, Nya realizes that she must flee Geveg and ends up in the last place she wants to be: Baseer.

The things I loved from the fist book carry over to this one as well. Hardy has once again written a well-paced and action-filled story, full of difficult choices that push against moral issues. While I did feel at times that Nya’s thoughts were too repetitive and heavy-handed at times, Hardy doesn’t over do it. Nya’s loyalty is put to the test when it comes to the choices of the good of one over the good of many. And she is still the strong, determined, and likable heroine from the first book. But this time, death and killing become something she must consider more and more.

I really loved the descriptions and culture Hardy put into Baseer – it is full of life and colour and energy, and fills Nya with a sense of disgust as well as wonder. The fine line between the hatred of your oppressors and the realization that even the oppressors are oppressed was one of my favourite aspects of Blue Fire.

Nya isn’t alone on this journey. She is accompanied by many, and befriends many more along the way. And while Nya’s friendships are believable, the romantic relationship between her and Danello wasn’t. It was lacking the spark and chemistry I was hoping for, but fortunately their romance isn’t a focal point of the story. With so much else going on, it was easy to get swept back up in the story.

One of my favourite surprises in the book centers around Nya and Onderaan, a man leading an underground rebellion force – a relationship that is revealed to be a major plot development. Unfortunately, their relationship fell a little flat – it wasn’t as dynamic or as fleshed out as it could’ve been. My only hope is that their relationship will be worked on in more depth in the third book.

The climax of this book was by far one of the most exciting and interesting parts of the book – with so much build-up to an epic fight, I was delighted. And the end of the book was so dark, and intense, that it left me wishing I could have book 3 in my hands already. This is a middle grade series that is definitely a great read. If you liked the first book, or enjoy high fantasy and lots of fast-paced action, then this book is for you.

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ARC received from publisher

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also geeks out over stuff at Something Geeky.

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Book Recommendation: Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper

29 Aug

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
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I love graphic novels; I always have. And I’ve been a long-time fan of Kazu Kibuishi (who is married to Amy Kim Ganter, whom I’ve also been a long-time fan of). So it made sense that I would one day pick up his middle grade graphic novel series, Amulet.

To be honest, I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick this up. The first time I saw the cover for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, I knew I wanted it . Actually, scratch that; the first time I heard about it, before it was published, I knew I wanted it. The only thing I really regret is waiting so long to pick this graphic novel up. You’ll be hooked after the first few pages, and Kibuishi’s art is absolutely lovely. The colours are vivid, the settings are breathtaking, and the creatures are wonderfully designed.

Though you can tell while reading that this graphic novel series is for children, chances are you’ll probably still enjoy it!

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life. On the family’s very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.

The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below. Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them – and he’s left some unfinished business.

Now it’s up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother’s life!

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If you’ve ever read The Spiderwick series, you might find a few similarities; especially with the kids moving to an old, mysterious house that used to belong to an equally mysterious relative. And if you read a lot of fantasy like I do, then the story for Book 1 will be a bit familiar, playing on a lot of similar ideas and archetypes.  But similarities aside, Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, is a wonderful read. Though older readers will find the story a bit predictable, I could not put this graphic novel down; and after finishing, immediately picked up Book 2. The plot is fast-paced and builds up steadily, with multiple series of adventures Em and Navin are forced to overcome in order to save their mother. There is tons of action; and Kibuishi is amazing when it comes to action packed scenes.

Like all good fantasies, The Stonekeeper introduces you to a world that has been wonderfully imagined; and gorgeously visualized. I found myself taking in all the wonderful details in Kibuishi’s artwork: the colours set the tone, as do the settings; and not once was I bored of the artwork. And his world is such a wonderful combination: it is fantasy, and steampunk, and sci-fi, all wrapped up into one fantastically realized world. I mean, robots and elves and monsters and giant mechs? How can you go wrong?

Em and Navin are well-written (and well-drawn) characters. They are complex and strong, in their own ways. They aren’t perfect, which makes them wonderfully realistic. Em seems like any other young girl you might meet, albeit a girl who is a natural born leader. She doesn’t want to live in the new house, says things that can be hurtful, and often is a wonderful contradiction (without being all over the place). Though she is brave, she is also at times frightened. Navin, though young, is a quick learner who is immensely curious. He is often much more optimistic than his older sister, but you can see the chips in his armor every now and then. Being the first book in the series, I know that they will only continue to grow into even more complex and enjoyable characters; and I look forward to seeing it.

Kibuishi has also changed the way one thinks of elves. His elves are not your usual elves, who are extremely tall and thin, with long blonde hair and gorgeous features. They do not live in the woods. His elves are ugly, frightening creatures. They are bad tempered, oppressive, and industrial; nature is not their home. In fact, his elves are so wonderfully not what you’d imagine; and are far more complex than just being the “bad” guys. One elf in particular, Trellis, is one of my favourite antagonists; he is a character who grows as the series progresses. And you will find him to be an incredibly complex and haunting character.

If that doesn’t sound exciting enough, note the influences Kazu Kibuishi lists in his interview with The National Post for Amulet:

“One of my biggest goals in life was to create a great fantasy graphic novel series in the vein of Bone by Jeff Smith and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. It was one of those things I just wanted to do just to do it, like climbing a mountain. As I began writing the book, the focus began to shift more toward talking about family issues, like financial burdens and a person’s ties to their own ancestry. It was a place for me to discuss a lot of the stuff that was happening in my own family, and when I read it now, I can clearly see how close it is to my own life, minus the monsters and robots, of course…I’m influenced by so many films and filmmakers it would be hard to list them all! I can say, however, that Amulet was most inspired by films like E.T. and Star Wars, with dashes of Krystof Kieslowski’s Blue, John Carpenter films, the first two Alien films, and a whole lot of Hayao Miyazaki films.”

Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper is definitely a graphic novel I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading comics, manga, or graphic novels. If you love MG and YA fiction and fantasy, then you’ll fall in love with the world Kibuishi has created, and the characters inhabiting it. It is a quick, fun, easy read that will leave you wanting more.  And if you’re still not convinced, check out the prologue for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper here!

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Book Recommendation: The Shifter

8 Aug

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
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When I pick up a book, I like to find myself immersed in a culture that is richly imagined and full of great characters. And with fantasy, I love when an author is able to make magic wholly unique. In Janice Hardy’s middle-grade novel, The Shifter (known as The Pain Merchants in the UK), that is exactly what is done.

And don’t let “middle-grade” fool you; while the book, if written for an older audience, could perhaps have been a bit darker, the book is by no means childish. It is well-written, complex, full of deceit, and ripe with betrayal; it is littered with political intricacies and so much cultural depth. So I hope none of you dismiss this book; this is the type of middle grade novel that can easily appeal to older audiences.

Hardy has imagined a world where pain can not only be drawn out of a person through touch, but where pain is a commodity. She has created a world so culturally, religiously, and historically rich; so full of colour and wonderful vocabulary. Hardy throws you right into this world; and while it might take you time to figure out the cultural slang, political situation, and how exactly magic works for Takers (those who draw pain out of others), you’ll find yourself absorbed nonetheless. Nya is a wonderful voice; she is conflicted, and is not a moral saint by any means. She finds herself often faced with difficult decisions that aren’t clear-cut; there are many gray areas that Hardy is able to explore in this novel. And that was one of the most enjoyable things about The Shifter.

So, want to know more? Here’s a description from Goodreads:

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers’ League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: She can’t push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she’d be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumors of another war make Nya’s life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. At first Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she’s faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price; but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

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The plot moves swiftly; it is well-paced, exciting, and just wonderfully imagined. Hardy’s premise is innovative; and it carries a lot of weight. Full of action and adventure, this story will keep the pages turning; and right from the first chapter, you’ll be thrown into the fray. We see the world through the eyes of Nya, whose voice is very engaging and realistic; written in first-person, every difficult decision she is faced with is all the more agonizing as we see her struggle with the choices laid out before her. She is headstrong, but not overly so. While some characters seemed a bit more flat than others, overall I was pleased with them; they all have their own varying opinions, and all of them are very memorable. The contrast between everyone’s differing personalities was wonderful; Danello’s little twin brothers, for example, just stole my heart as soon as I was introduced to them. Soek, who was quite possibly my favourite character, plays a minor role; and yet I felt that he was fleshed out perfectly – not too much (being more of a minor character), but not too little either (for it seems we’ll be seeing more of him in the next book). His lines were funny, he wasn’t perfect, and I just found him to be incredibly interesting.

Full of political intrigue and betrayals, it does get a bit confusing closer to the end; with the Pain Merchants, the Duke, the League, and the Luminary all working towards their own ends (which aren’t always obvious), it can get a bit convoluted. Some motivations aren’t as developed or as clear as I would’ve hoped them to be. However, a lot of it is eventually explained; and hints are dropped along the way. So there is lead-up; the twists don’t come out of nowhere, and yet are still exciting to figure out. It’s also nice to not be able to predict where the story will go. And there is action! Lots of it!

Plus, I love the cover; it immediately grabbed my attention when I first saw it.

The first of a trilogy, I’ll definitely be picking up the second book, Blue Fire (which comes out in October). I really want to see where Nya and the others will go; I want to explore more of the world Hardy has created, learn more about Nya’s powers, and find out what the Duke is really up to. There are mysteries that I would like to see unlocked, and details I would love to further delve into. This is one adventure I don’t want to miss out on.

So overall, The Shifter was an enjoyable read; especially if you’re a fantasy nut (like me)!

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Book received from publisher.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.