Review: Wayfarer

Wayfarer
Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a sequel goes, this book is much better than a typical second book, but that’s probably because Bracken has avoided a trilogy. Nicholas and Etta begin separated and, while readers know from the end of PASSENGER that Etta is alive, we don’t know where or when she is. Neither does Etta for that matter. Lots of surprises in this installment including Etta meeting her dad, discovering that Julien is alive because he was stranded just like Etta, and the insertion of a mystical Faustian figure in the Belladonna. The travelers take us through early 20th century revolutionary Russia, San Fransisco after the Quake in 1906, Carthage during the Roman siege, and an alternate historical timeline in which Etta’s beloved New York is completely destroyed. Rose’s history is more fleshed out in this book, making her manipulation of Etta more understandable, but not necessarily more acceptable. This book blends Rose’s past, with the Thorns emerging as a force that really exists, with the journeys Nicholas and Etta are taking to try and get back to each other. At the center of it all is the astrolabe, which just about everyone has come to agree must be destroyed to prevent Ironwood, and an even more evil power-the Shadow, from getting their hands on it.

I’m a fan of a happy ending as much as the next girl, and this one delivers. The things that saves it from being a complete saccharine overload is that there is some delayed gratification in getting to the happy ending. I think one or two more deaths would have made it less tied-up-with-a-bow, but Alice stays dead and not everyone comes out of the struggle unscathed. The overall message is also one I can get behind: We can’t rely on others to keep our world free from evil-we have to make the world around us the kind of place we want to live.

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Review: Passenger

Passenger
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a BIG book. Lots of pages, yes, but Bracken tackles a lot with time-travel world building including passages to different eras and locales. Her main character is a headstrong, violin playing, steel-willed heroine, Etta, who pairs up with a biracial, former slave now self-proclaimed “privateer” (read pirate), Nicholas, to steal a magical astrolabe from an evil megalomaniac who also happens to be Nicholas’s grandfather. The pacing in this one is breakneck once you make it through the slow intro. Following the travelers from place to place proves challenging to keep up with and Bracken chooses both familiar and exotic locales for her characters to traverse.

Etta makes a few jumps in conclusive logic after she’s spirited away by Sophia that seem unrealistic. Her mother, Rose, is emotionally distant, and the leaps Etta makes in connecting her new time-traveling situation to assumptions about her mother’s intentions for her as a traveler are unbelievable in their accuracy. If her mother was as closed off as we are supposed to believe, Etta would need a lot more help in navigating this new wrinkle in her life and discovering her mother’s intent for Etta’s role in this game Ironwood is playing. Supporting character, Sophia Ironwood is deliciously awful and is at once pitiable for the callous way in which her grandfather Ironwood dismisses her, and easy to hate given her venomous attacks on Nicholas which, seem at first racially based, but develop a more complex nuance as the story progresses. Nicholas is trapped by the social constructs of his time and is sometimes annoying with his Doomsday View of his future, particularly when he becomes entangled with Etta. I always want love to overcome.

Ultimately, Bracken weaves it all together and brings the strengths of each character into play. The cliffhanger ending had me cursing the time lag between publications. Clearly, I enjoyed this one since I read it twice. I read it last spring after it had been out for a bit, and revisited it this month to prepare for reading Wayfarer, the conclusion to the story. I applaud Bracken for limiting herself to two installments since three or more seems to be The Thing in publishing these days.

BRIDGE: This would be a great title for lovers of historical fiction. It would pair well with a study of American Revolutionary time period or WWII Britain, those two locales receiving the most description and time in the story. The series itself would be a good one for character study as Sophia and Nicholas both change so much throughout the arc of the series.

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Review: George

George
George by Alex Gino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the most important book I’ve read this summer-maybe the most important book since Speak. George is certain of her identity but uncertain about all her family and friends’ reactions. With the help of her friend Kelly, she is able to navigate letting the world know that she is a girl. There are so many students who need this book and families who could benefit from the insight provided by the 1st person narrative. While George is a 4th grader, any age reader could read and appreciate this book, making it an excellent crossover novel and invaluable resource. George is lucky that her best friend is so understanding and the revelation provides clarity to her brother Scott’s confusion about George’s personality. George’s “village” is slower to understand, which is realistic, and as George’s mother says, there is a long road ahead of all of them. But what a powerful message to kids that owning your identity is ok and speaking out and making oneself heard is the best way to understanding those we live with. I can’t wait to offer this book to my students and POSSIBLY help them discuss and understand that no matter how differently we are all made, it is truly important to BE WHO YOU ARE.

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Review: Incarceron

Incarceron
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unbelievable world building and dueling narration make this a can’t miss. Incarceron is a centuries-old self-contained, idealized prison that has become a Lord of the Flies-esque battle for survival for its inmates. I wish the differences between the Civicry and the other groups of inmates had been explained better. The immensity of Incarceron is clear but vaguely mapped. I would have liked a bit more concrete description of the “lands” within Incarceron. Perhaps that will come in the sequel.

Lots of cliffhangers to keep readers turning pages. Claudia is a strong-willed character who is rightly suspicious of her father, The Warden. Finn knows he doesn’t belong with the Winglord and the Comitatus but isn’t sure where to go instead. I enjoyed this reversal of gender roles. Fisher does a good job of weaving the two worlds together and leaves myriad possibilities of exploration and resolution for the sequel.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was great to be back in Harry’s world. It’s so interesting to see all the characters again and how they’ve matured as middle-aged adults versus their adolescent selves I know and love so well. The play format, staging, and stage directions add an element to the story that is new and intriguing. The story is layered in that readers relive parts of the well-loved stories we already know – adding complexity to those scenes while weaving them into Albus and Scorpius’s new adventure. The father/son dynamic is heavy here with both boys and *spoiler* there is much needed closure between Harry and Dumbledore along those lines**. Ginny and Hermione are formidable as always, with Ron (my favorite) adding much needed doses of levity and reality throughout. At times it feels like a writing exercise with Rowling et al exploring “what-ifs” in previous and future wizarding world scenarios. However, the themes of love, family, trust, and honesty that made the original series such a treasure are still present making this a great addition to the HP family.

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Review: The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, a new twist on the idea of fairy tales and princesses! Chainani blends humor and cliche with a fresh setting and plot. In Agatha and Sophie’s world, children are kidnapped by the School Master and taken to a school that trains them to either be good or evil. Blond, fair Sophie is thrilled to be one of the kidnapped kids from her town. Her dark, brooding friend Agatha is taken as well, but both girls are surprised when Sophie is sent to the School for Evil instead of the School for Good. What ensues is a bumbling adventure through both Good and Evil’s campuses that at once embraces and mocks the cliches of traditional fairy tales. Now the two friends have been pitted against one another in the ages-old good vs. evil battle and the only thing that’s certain is it will be one wild competition. Fairies as campus guards, a two-headed dog/wolf as bickering professors, and the mysterious School Master make for a delightfully adventurous and funny romp on a new path through familiar territory.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and just began the second book, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes. Polly Lee’s narration of the first book is brilliant; I keep hearing her voice in my head as I read the second.

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Review: One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sobbing. It was not The Ugly Cry but fairly consistent tears for the last 30 pages or so. Hunt does an incredible job with Carley’s toughened sensitivity. There are so many times I wanted to shake her and then immediately pull her into a hug. Carley’s story of ending up in a foster home is one of neglect rather than blatant abuse. The realistically tragic part about it is that Carley, like so many kids, doesn’t realize she deserves more. She even assumes the Murphys are mocking her or trying to pull one over on her because their love and affection seems so unnatural to Carley. As Carley comes to terms with her mother’s actions and her situation, she begins to see other families’ dysfunctions and compromises. She learns the value of honesty and sharing oneself with others as a means to connection and hope.

Julie Murphy is a silent, immovable force of acceptance in this book. It’s not just the love that she gives Carley that is so important but the message she transmits with her words and actions (over and over again) that Carley IS ok. That being Carley is ok in and of itself and that there’s nothing she needs to do to earn or deserve the acceptance or love of those who are important to her. Julie’s own history provides this wisdom, and her determination to make a difference for Carley and launch her into believing in her own LIFE is bittersweet. She knows it must be done and knows that the right outcome could be even harder than the path that brought Carley into the Murphys lives.

An easy read with memorable characters, a poignant ending, and a fantastic message, One for the Murphys has something for everyone.

SIMILAR TITLES: See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

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