Today, my teenager has once again given me permission to share a book review. This time, he’s reviewing the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure how heavy his review is on spoilers. Enjoy at your own risk!
I recently read the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time, Aru Shahand the Song of Death, and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality) and I really, really liked it!
Every single one of the characters was likable, fun, and unique. Not only that, but the story itself was set at just the right pace to make it hard to put down yet easy to pause for stuff like, y’know, eating, drinking, and other necessary things (Curse you, Life! Can’t you see I’m trying to read?).
As you probably guessed, I really liked these books. I don’t want to go into too much detail (because SPOILERS) but I will try my best to outline the series without actually saying anything too specific.
Well, let’s see…there’s a bunch of characters, and they do some stuff, and other stuff happens…I’m just kidding! I can tell you more than that (Hold onto your hats! This is gonna be fast)!
The Pandava series is a series under the unique title of “A Rick Riordan Presents book”, which basically means that, one, it has something to do with mythology, and two, Rick Riordan liked it. There are other Rick Riordan Presents books (I’m currently reading one called Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee) and all of them fall under those categories I mentioned earlier. So if you like good, fun books with undercurrents of interesting cultures and mythologies, the Rick Riordan Presents title is one to watch for.
The Pandava series is also the subject of this current book report, so back to talking about it!
Based off Indian myth and legend in its theming (though probably not all of myth and legend, because that would make my brain explode. India is BIG)! The Pandava series focuses on a group of girls who are the reincarnations of the Pandava siblings, ancient and powerful heroes from Indian myth. I won’t name names because some of them only show up in later books. so that would be a…SPOILER.
Anways, Aru Shah, the main character of the series and maybe a Pandava (no spoilers here, though she totally is) accidentally releases The Sleeper, the main villain of the series with some complicated backstory and motivation, from his imprisonment while trying to impress some rich kids from the local school (by showing them a definitely cursed lamp she was told not to touch and then touching it). This leads to lots of bad stuff, which of course leads to the main body of the book. Heroic quest, anyone?
Along the way, lots of really likable and interesting characters show up, and I won’t say any names because my favorite characters only shows up later in the series, but for all of you out there who have read the books, I’ll say that a certain naga prince is my favorite character (“I can’t die! I haven’t even learned what a microwave does!”).
Before I close off my report, I want to say thank you to the author for including a glossary of terms and pronunciations. Without it, I would not know where to start with some of the more complicated stuff. Plus, it’s fun to read the author’s opinion on all of it!
Anyways, I highly recommend this series to anyone who liked this report because the series is way better than the report says (it’s kinda hard to talk about how awesome a book is without actually saying anything specific).
The characters are great, the story is great, the action and humor and emotions are great, and overall, I’d say that the Pandava series is fantastic. I hope you decide to read it and, if you do, I hope you like it as much as I did.
Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.
Before getting to the review, I have to give a little backstory. My oldest son occasionally allows me to share book reviews that he’s written. Author A.R. Witham heard about that and sent a copy of his book, along with a kind and supportive note, to my son. It meant so much to my son and I am so grateful to the author for this kindness. My son reviewed The Legend of Black Jack as well (you can find his review here).
The Legend of Black Jack is a fast-paced book full of adventure and heart. The novel centers around the most likeable main character, a boy named Jack who has an eidetic memory. After losing his father and bouncing from foster home to foster home, Jack- whose thirst for knowledge is matched only by his desire to become a doctor- finds himself embarking on a new adventure with the most unlikely of characters.
“They say he was an outsider. A man with no home, no family, no friend to call his own. The man with nothing left to love. The empty man.”
The beginning reminded me so much of The Name of the Wind, which was astonishing considering the difference in target age. I loved how it was written and I was immediately drawn in. The book continues wonderfully, not only keeping me invested, but keeping my oldest son invested as well. It was awesome being able to talk about the plot and our favorite characters together.
I loved that Jack’s strengths were the things that people might have found odd about him: his fascination with how the body works and bits of knowledge gleaned from encyclopedias. These are not the usual trappings of the hero in a story, and it was genius. He was an incredibly nuanced character, who grew and changed as he experienced new things and dealt with growing fears.
Jack having fears and continuing on despite them made me like him all the more. This is the sort of book that, on top of being tons of fun, middle-grade and high school readers will relate to. Sure, the setting is fantastical, but the things Jack deals with transfers over to real-life fears and doubts. I think the stories that often stick with us the most are the ones that do this.
The creatures and characters that show up throughout The Legend of Black Jack are fantastic! While my son’s favorite character was Chance, I was partial to Rooker the pirate. His relationship with Jack and the way it grew and developed, was wonderful to read.
The world was full of creativity and rip-roaring adventure, which I loved. At the end of the day, though, the relationships were what made me fall in love with this novel. My 14 year old loved the book – and so did I. The Legend of Black Jack is something special.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!
This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.
Every now and again, I share a book review written by my oldest son. Author A.R. Witham kindly gave him a copy of The Legend of Black Jack not too long ago. I’m sharing my son’s review exactly as he wrote it. Enjoy!
I recently read The Legend of Black by A.R. Witham, and I absolutely loved it! There are so many things to talk about here, so I gotta stop with the intro already and start with the actual review.
The Legend of Black Jack is an awesome fantasy story that isn’t just about one thing like some other books, it’s about everything in the world of Keymark. It follows the story of Jack, a young boy (or Toshan) from Chicago with a perfect memory. His life is kind of rotten at the start of the book, but it quickly gets better when he is brought to Keymark in order to use his knowledge of medicine (he wants to be a doctor so he memorized every medical book he owns) to save the life of Xiang-lo, an important resident of Keymark.
Admittedly, I was a little uncomfortable with the part where Jack has to perform surgery, but it was mostly me. Anyways, back to the review!
After the operation, Jack meets and befriends Valerian Tsai, a Border Knight and wielder of a blade that glows gray with the power of the Wikk, which is what they call magic in Keymark. I personally loved the idea of magic flaming swords in different colors, it was really unique. Valerian introduces Jack to Abrahim Qin, another Border Knight and wielder of the Azure Blade. Abrahim attempts to train Jack in combat and quickly decides that Jack is best off with a simple staff.
After the somewhat fruitless training session, Jack meets more residents of Keymark (I’m not naming names to avoid spoiling everything). But then, the evil armies of the Necrorceror (the villain of the story) attack! Led by a warrior in red with a flaming sword, the horde of zombies and dog-sized cockroach things quickly overrun the area, leaving Jack running for his life.
Jack is quickly picked up by Rooker Flynn, a pirate and the new captain of the ship Venture Brigand. Rooker and Jack befriend each other during their voyage to Rimmy’s Cull, a bustling seaport town known for being a hub for merchants, pirates, and trade. When they arrive, however, they find that Rimmy’s Cull has been set ablaze, and is under attack from the man in red armor and the army he leads. Again, I will leave some things out in order to avoid spoiling the book completely (even though I already said a lot of things), but let’s just say a lot happens during and after that.
I don’t want to say any more about the story than I already have, so instead I’ll talk about my favorite characters and other things.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: my favorite character is Chance the Jinx-cat. A Jinx-cat is basically a cat-person, or I guess you could say they’re walking, talking, tail-having anthropomorphic cats. Chance just has a lot of personality, in my opinion. I also happen to really like cats and Chance portrays a cat’s personality well. Chance doesn’t appear until later in the book, so I’m technically revealing more spoilers, but I haven’t said anything about his role in the story, so I think I’m good there.
Another thing I want to say is just that Mr. Witham did a really great job giving each of the Border Knights unique and interesting personalities, even though some don’t appear much at all. Again, I want to compliment the idea of the magical color-coded blades. Now that I think about it, it kinda reminds me of the Keyblades from Kingdom Hearts mixed together with the different colors of Lantern Rings. Cool!
Suffice it to say, The Legend of Black Jack is now one of my favorite books. Everything worked so well to really give life to the world of Keymark and to keep me interested. It’s definitely going on my reread list!
By the way, thank you to Mr. Witham for sending me the book. I thought the note you wrote me was very nice!
There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.
**Here Be Spoilers**
Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire.
Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.
In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.
The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.
Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.
I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.
I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.
Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.
The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.
When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.
There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.
While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.
It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.
All of Us Villains is The Hunger Games for goths, with a hint of Needful Things thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting the sometimes brutal exploration of what humans are willing to do to survive.
I have read and enjoyed Christine Lynne Herman’s The Devouring Gray, and I am a fan of books that twist norms, so All of Us Villains intrigued me from the get-go. In a world where magick exists, the book follows seven teens who are thrown into a competition where there will be only one survivor (the Hunger Games vibes are strong here). However, these seven will be fighting for their family’s control over powerful magick.
The concept of a battle to the death over control of a powerful magic source is an interesting one, and the book is just different enough to distinguish itself from The Hunger Games. Another difference between the two books are the multiple points of view that add different layers to the book. The characters all added something new which really helped flesh out the world.
Briony considered herself the perfect champion, and is one of the few characters who actually wanted to be in the competition. She isn’t necessarily blood-thirsty, she is just supremely confident in her ability to win. Of course, there’s a hiccup (no spoilers given, I promise) that changes things completely, leaving her with different choices to make, and many questions that need answering.
There’s Isobel, who didn’t want to be in the competition and is understandably terrified. She is also rather annoying. I can’t put my finger on why she bothered me, but she did. Possibly because she felt a little less fully developed than some of the other characters. Or maybe it’s that her whole budding romance with another champion seemed really odd (Now? While you’re all busy trying not to die?) What do I know, though? I’ve never been in a battle to the death; maybe that’s the best time to go looking for romance. However, she was an odd combination of ruthlessness and selflessness, which was definitely fascinating.
Gavin was easily the “villain” of the villains. He has something to prove and will do just about anything to prove it. I liked that his desperation led to an interaction that allowed one of my favorite characters to develop a little. The fallout from some of his choices also caused things to change in unexpected ways, which I really enjoyed.
Then there’s Alistair, one of my two favorite characters. He’s the one expected to win; powerful, with a dark reputation, he was so much fun to read about! Instead of being a stereotypical villain, he is actually unsure of himself and trying to protect himself by becoming the monster everyone claims he is.
My favorite character by far was Reid McTavish. Not a champion, he actually owns a magic shop which helps several champions with exactly what they need- but what is the price? He reminded me a little of Leland Gaunt from Stephen King’s Needful Things, and I was loving the reminder. I could never quite figure him out, which was brilliant. I know he has an angle, probably one which is deliciously diabolical, and I can’t wait for it to be revealed.
That last sentence brings me to an important point: this ends on a cliffhanger. I know that is not everyone’s thing, so I figure it bears mentioning. I do believe it worked well in this case, as any sort of finalized ending would make book two start in a very odd way.
All of Us Villains was a fun, quick read. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it shattered expectations or was incredible, it was extremely entertaining. At the end of the day, books like that have their place too. I recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games, readers who like their characters to be morally conflicted, or those who want something diverting and fast-paced.
Today, I have the privilege of joining the Write Reads on Tour in talking about an exciting new young adult fantasy, The Girl of Dorcha Wood, by Kristin Ward. This book is available for purchase now.
What is The Girl of Dorcha Wood about?
Treacherous. Evil. Dark. Dorcha Wood is all of these. And none of them.
The people of Felmore talk of Dorcha Wood in whispers, if they speak of it at all, fearing the wrath of the Cù-Sìth should their words be carried on the wind. Those murdering beasts still roam the darkness of the forest, the last remnants of the cursed Aos Sí—a race of elves long since vanished from the world.
But to seventeen-year-old Fiadh, it is home. A haven. A forest whose secrets become known only when it chooses to reveal them. Her life is one of balance until the outside world shatters it. From the moment Fiadh set eyes on Gideon, the peaceful rhythm of her life was lost. As a new path unfolds, Fiadh confronts the reality of old hatreds, the consequences of things hidden, and the truth of who she really is.
Kristin Ward is an award-winning young adult author living in Connecticut. A science and math teacher for over twenty years, she infuses her geeky passions into stories that meld realism and fantasy. Kristin embraces her inner nerd regularly, often quoting 80s movies while expecting those around her to chime in with appropriate rejoinders. As a nature freak, she can be found wandering the woods – she may be lost, so please stop and ask if you see her – or chilling in her yard with all manner of furry and feathered friends. Often referred to as a unicorn by colleagues who remain in awe of her ability to create or find various and sundry things in mere moments. In reality, the horn was removed years ago, leaving only a mild imprint that can be seen if she tilts her head just right. A lifelong lover of books and writing, she dreamed of becoming an author for thirty years before publishing her award-winning debut in 2018. Her first novel, After the Green Withered, is one of many things you should probably read.
Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.
These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.
Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)
The Witches by Roald Dahl- Well, this book is terrifying.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum – Here for obvious reasons.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- This book contains one of, if not the most evil witch I’ve read in a book to date.
Good witches: The term “good” is subjective, especially when it comes to magic users in books. Still, I think the witches in these books can at least fall vaguely in this category.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
TheHarry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Without getting into the author at all, Hermione definitely qualifies as a good witch.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow- No spoilers given.
Small Place by Matthew Samuels – She’s technically good. Okay, she has some questionable anecdotes but for the adventure in Small Places, she is considered good.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- I loved these books when I was younger! Morwen the witch is the least witchy witch ever and it’s fabulous.
Witches as naturalists: I’m seeing books that are going this route more and more often lately. While I don’t have quite as many titles for this section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one example.
Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece- This book was wonderfully written. The prose was gorgeous and flowed beautifully.
It’s complicated: These books have witches that aren’t witches, witches as representative of other things (such as women’s rights), and other complex females characters with more than a hint of magic about them.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- This book is brilliant! It follows three witches who are, more importantly, three women in search of respect and freedom. This book is chock full of fierce, justifiable anger and I loved it.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I’m pretty sure that, by now, the hysteria that gipped communities during the Witch Trials is well known. I remember seeing this play and being fascinated.
The ManningtreeWitches by A.K. Blakemore- This one was a bit harder for me to get into, but I enjoyed it once it got going.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- What can I say? It’s Anne Rice. That means the trilogy is incredibly complex, incredibly messed up in parts, and incredibly engrossing.
Time to add to my already-teetering tbr list! What else should be on this list?
I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)
Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!
For little monsters:
Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.
The Ghost-Eye Tree
This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.
The Monster at the End of this Book
This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.
For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:
I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.
The Beast and the Bethany
This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of DorianGray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review
For Young-adult vampires:
House of Hollow
If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review
Tales from the Hinterland
Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review
The Devouring Gray
Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review
For adult zombies:
Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?
In the Garden of Spite
I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review
I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.
Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.
There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?