Saturday, August 19, 2017

Of Family Secrets and Daring Adventures: Macky Reads Eye of the North by Sinead O'Connor

The Eye of the North book cover
Picture the scene: a young girl finds out her scientist parents (people who have shabbily kept their manor filled with dangerous specimens) have been “killed” and must now be spirited away to France for her safety no questions asked. On the way, little Emmeline Widget meets equally little stowaway extraordinaire Thing. Yes. The young boy is named Thing. And has a distinct accent. A contrast to Emmeline’s polished one (I’m assuming she has a polished accent). Hijinks ensue on the high seas as our heroine crashes straight into the very forces that have taken her parents from her.

The Eye of the North fits right in my wheelhouse of things I would go out of my way for to read. My favorite elements are all here! Childhood adventure? Check. Super high stakes? Check. Budding close friendship forged in life-threatening situations? Check. Lovable characters? Check, check, check!

It’s an easy middlegrade read and a well-written story. The lore and world building are simple and not very intricate at a macro level (like maybe I’ll see a clearer through line of what ties all the lore in this story together when I re-read this book) but the mythos that matters specifically to the plot is simple and compelling enough.

As an adult reading middle grade, it’s easy to tell where stories of this type go because we’ve seen it happen many times. But as a kid who may stumble upon this or any other story of its type for the second, third or maybe even the first time, this is the kind of story that teaches tropes well. The twist at the end of the story is not new in concept, but is well-executed in its uniqueness and really allows our characters to show their true colors.

Also, I am shipper trash. So, though I DID NOT appreciate some parts of the ending because of being shipper trash… I basically LOVE everything else about this book. The Eye of the North comes out August 2017 and I cannot wait to get my finished copy!



The Eye of the North by SinĂ©ad O'Hart
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books | Publication Date: August 22, 2017
Source: ARC received from the publisher (Thanks!)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Got the Magic in Me • The Last Magician

The Last Magician book cover
In The Last Magician, magic is nearly extinct in modern-day New York, forcing any Mageus - those with magical abilities - to hide who they are and lurk in the shadows. The only way that this bleak future can be changed for the Mageus is if Esta, a talented thief with a knack for pilfering items from the past with help from her innate ability to manipulate time, steals one important book from 1902 - a book that contains all the secrets of the Order, enemy to all Mageus. But when Esta finds herself in old New York, she discovers there's more to this world of gangs, secret societies and potent magic than she expected. It'll be up to her entirely to figure out how to save the future with her choices in this past.

The Last Magician was pretty great. First, the author immerses the reader in a version of Manhattan that flits between the high life of socialites, wealthy men, politicians and secret societies and the streets where the poor congregate and the gangs rule their sections with firm hands, a Manhattan that also happens to be alive with true magic. Second, the tale itself has multiple perspectives, which means both that the reader is actively following a number of storylines and will likely not be entirely sure which is the truest. Third, the writing was the sort that slowly does a number on the reader, where you're in over your head before you know it and can't stop reading (until real life calls your name, perhaps). It is one heck of a story, if I do say so myself.

However, I do have my reservations. First, while the reader does get immersed heavily in the world and story, if you take breaks in between (as I did), it is admittedly a little difficult to return to the flow of the story. Second, I found certain characters better developed (the Magician, Esta) than the rest, with a few feeling entirely entire flimsy or simply thrust in for plot purposes. Third, the explanations of magic and abilities were very vague, if they were expressed at all. Though I can say that improvements could certainly have been made in these areas, they didn't end up deterring me from ultimately finishing the book in the end.
Despite my quibbles, I did enjoy The Last Magician. It's not quite like anything I've ever read, though there are certainly familiar character and plot tropes woven into the tale. I'm actually happy that it's a standalone novel, though should Maxwell should to explore this world further, I wouldn't say no to reading another story (perhaps with other characters) set there. 


The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
Publisher: Simon Pulse | Publication Date: July 18, 2017
Source: ARC received from the publisher (Thanks!)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Because Middle Grade Sleuthing: Macky Reads Shadow of a Pug

Shadow of a Pug book cover
SO MUCH LOVE for Shadow of a Pug. This book is the real deal. We’re talking elementary school flashback, and thus, a reminder that kids really do have real problems. And no, I don’t mean just the type of problems like "Will that person ever like me?" or "What will my schoolmates think?" I'm talking about friends growing apart and becoming enemies. Parents getting divorced. Bullies and worse yet, friends who become bullies. 

I was going to start this review with a quippy one-liner like, “So, apparently middle grade noir is a trend in middle-grade books”, just because the blurb on this ARC said so. I said those exact words to Alexa (who runs ye auld book blog) after reading the blurb,  then proceeded to do a live reenactment of a narration for a fictional noir film set in grade school (which annoyed Alexa thoroughly… totally worth it) just to prove my point about how crazy obscure it is to have middle-grade noir as a genre. 

“I put my juice box down… The afternoon heat making me sweat like a hamster being eyeballed by a hungry stray. Pattie McCallahan. I hadn’t seen this dame in years. Kindergarten. Mrs. Garcia. She took my blue crayon… and my heart. But seeing her walk into the yard, pigtails done up just like they always were, bright yellow sundress. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy…” 

Something like that. (I have to stop myself because I could improv the heck out of that all night, mate).

That this particular book opens with a noir-esque tone where Howard Wallace (our favorite middle school P.I.) is getting a lecture from his dentist to cut down on the packs of gum he consumes daily (e.g. a nod to a doctor telling the main character to cut down on cigarettes) is gold. Kid goes through two packs a day. What self-respecting dentist lets that slide? None, I tell ya. None. 

But as the novel unfolds, I realize two things. 

One, this is apparently the second book in a series.
Two, the characters and their issues are so multifaceted that I could not help but be moved. 

Sure, the over-arcing plot (a.k.a. how to solve for the mystery of the stolen basketball team mascot, Spartacus the Pug), resolved itself in classic middle grade deus ex machina fashion, but again, the whole “private investigator" theme of the story is just a backdrop for complex and beautiful character journeys. 

Dry humor, witty banter, and characters who go through some very real very relatable life issues make for a beautifully crafted read. Light enough to want more, but deep enough to have it hold a special place in my heart. I have a new favorite middle-grade tag team, and their names are Howard and Ivy of Mason and Wallace Investigations. (Sorry, Howard. It’s just better named this way.) 



Shadow of a Pug by Casey Lyall | Series: Howard Wallace, P.I. #2
Previous Book in Series: Howard Wallace, P.I.
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books | Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Source: ARC from BEA 2017 (Thanks!)

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