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review 2016-09-24 07:01
A Prophecy Fulfilled: The Bronze Key | Review
The Bronze Key: The Magisterium, Book 3 - Holly Black,Cassandra Clare,Paul Boehmer,Listening Library

The camaraderie really clicks in this MG Contemporary Fantasy installment - just in time for things to really go sideways.

 

Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world. But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer...and risk their own lives in the process.

 

As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm - unless it is stopped in time.

 

Buy Now | +Goodreads

Disclosure: GMB uses affiliate links, clicking and making a purchase may result in a small commission for me.


Source: I borrowed this book from the library and have added it to my Wishlist.

 

BOOK DETAILS:

The Bronze Key by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, read by Paul Boehmer, published by Listening Library (2016) / Length: 8 hrs 30 min

 

SERIES INFO:

This is book #3 of the "Magisterium" series. There are expected to be five in total, with #4 & #5 (currently titled The SIlver Mask & The Enemy of Death) to be published in 2017 & 2018 respectively.

 

**This review contains spoilers for the previous book(s).**

 

SUMMARY:

This series is just getting stronger; and, although I continue to wish for more development of the side characters, Call is a current favorite protagonist.

 

This is a really fast read, with excellent pacing. And while I had correctly guessed who the spy was long ago, there was another secret revealed that completely surprised me.

 

As was revealed in various summaries, there are some deaths in this book; and while I was sad, the ending really left me excited for the next one.

 

CHARACTERS:

Callum Hunt: He starts the book in a really good place. He has accepted himself and no longer feels the need to evaluate his every action for potential evil overlordness.

 

That's not to say that everything is perfect in his life. He still feels insecure in his friendships, although they have moved beyond the conflict of the previous books. Even Jasper has ceased to be his nemesis and is officially labeled "frenemy."

 

WORLDBUILDING:

We only visit one new major setting in this book - the Collegium (where the students move on to after the Magisterium). But we also see some new places in the Magisterium and learn a bit more about the magical society, which is still a bit dystopian if you ask me.

 

PLOT:

I loved the beginning. Aaron is staying with Call this summer and it sounds like they really had a lot of fun. We get a bit of Tamara via phone. The catch-up/reminder stuff is well integrated. Call is a thinker and it was done via his thoughts, in a very natural way.

 

The end is definitely a cliffhanger that will leave you desperate for the next one.

 

HIGHLIGHTS / CAUTIONS:

  • Robot wars.
  • They discourage a potential new roommate.
  • Call's disability continues to be acknowledged. Sometimes magic helps, but other times he has to let his friends do what he can't.

 

I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: The angsty "dating" & relationship stuff. It has never felt necessary to me. / Algae tea

 

NARRATION:

Character voices differentiated = Yes / Opposite sex voices acceptable = Yes. His voice is very deep, so the voices don't sound at all feminine but aren't falsetto or annoying. / Phrasing, Pacing & Pronunciation = Good / Emoting = Good. He continues to really capture the feeling of Call's story. / Speed = listened on 1.25, my usual.

 

BOOK DETAILS:

The Bronze Key (Magisterium #3) by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, read by Paul Boehmer, published by Listening Library (2016) / Length: 8 hrs 30 min Buy Now | +Goodreads

Talk to Me (pretty please)

  • Who's your favorite snarky but not mean Middle Grade protagonist?
  • What's your opinion on romance & love triangles in MG fiction?

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review 2016-09-17 07:01
A Bit of a Rocky Start: Sandry's Book | Review
Sandry's Book: Circle of Magic, Book 1 - Tamora Pierce,Tamora Pierce,the Full Cast Family,Full Cast Audio

It take a while for this MG Fantasy to really get going, but this is first class worldbuilding.

 

 

 

Here begins the tale of Daja, Briar, Tris, and Sandry, four children brought to Winding Circle Temple for training in crafts and magic. They are outcasts in their homeland. But in this magical place, they are valued and respected for their special powers.

 

 

 

Buy Now | +Goodreads

Disclosure: GMB uses affiliate links, clicking and making a purchase may result in a small commission for me.


Source: I purchased this book myself from Audible. It is also available on mp3 CD (and you may be able to find other formats for sale used).

 

BOOK DETAILS:

Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce, read & published by Full Cast Audio, published by (2003) / Length: 5 hrs 53 min

 

SERIES INFO:

The is #1 of 4 in the "Circle of Magic" series. All 4 are available on audio. (There is a follow-up series that also has 4 books, and several additional books as well. Only a some of them are available as audiobooks).

 

SUMMARY:

This is my favorite of the various Tamora Pierce series and worlds. I love the way it is about a disparate group of kids who are each alone and must learn how to be more.

 

I have tagged this with Diversity since the series includes characters from a very diverse group of nations, races & cultures, religions (fictional), and socio-economic backgrounds (from homeless to near royalty). And there is a nice mix; it isn't just black & white, there are many shades of brown in between. We also have characters of different body types & sizes, as well as one who needs glasses.

 

CHARACTERS:

Sandry: A child of the nobility. She has traveled widely and is accustomed to lots of different cultures and lifestyles.

 

Tris: A daughter of a prominent merchant house. She has firmly middle-class attitudes towards those both above and "below" her, as well as a distrust of Traders.

 

Daja: A Trader. They are a fiercely insular group that look on everyone else as "outsiders."

 

Briar: A former streetrat & member of a thieves gang. He too has been exposed to people from many cultures, but has rarely seen any good in humanity.

 

They have all been subjected to bullying in some form or another and yet, except for Sandry, they are each scornful of other who are different than themselves. She wants desperately for them to be a new family, but they don't want anything to do with it.

 

Each of the children also has an adult mentor/teacher who instructs them in the use of their magic. They are Lark, Nico, Frostpine & Rosethorn. All of them are interesting individuals who don't blend into the background, but are fully dimensional.

 

WORLDBUILDING:

This is a masterfully intricate world from the very beginning with different languages, vocabulary, values, and ways of looking at things. I am always impressed when different people in a book talk about the same thing in different ways based on their own background. (As opposed to those books where you aren't even sure who's talking half the time.)

 

We also have many different ways of being & using magic. And it is not just things like one having magic with metal and another with plants. There is also a difference between these types of innate magic and more academic magic as well.

 

PLOT:

The beginning was very choppy as she did several rounds of jumping from child to child until they all come together in one place. I found it distracting and was very confused as to the time line until I had read it a couple of times. I would have preferred if she just started with Sandry and we got the other origin stories as flashbacks once they met.

 

From what I have been able to figure out, this is the timeline: Sandry has been in Winding Circle for 10 weeks, Tris has been there 6-8, Daja 2, and Briar 3 days when everything begins to come together. Nico was delayed in getting to Daja by his encounter with Tris.

 

It is still a bit scattered once they are all together, since they each have to discover their magic and find their mentor. It really begins as they all go to the market together.

 

It ends well with a couple of sweet scenes and no cliffhanger.

 

HIGHLIGHTS / CAUTIONS:

  • Sandry goes all noble on the other girls, who are bullying Daja
  • Market Day - when our group truly begins to form
  • A gift for Sandry

 

CAUTIONSCaution: All of the children are essentially orphans and have experienced significant trauma (including for some, seeing the bodies of their families). Since this is a MG book, the consequences of that are acknowledged but not dwelt on extensively.

 

NARRATION:

This is a full cast production, with different people playing each of the main characters. They use actual children to read the main parts. (It is interesting to hear them grow up as the series progresses, and they did have to change some actors before the final one). Tamora herself acts as narrator, and does a wonderful job. At one point someone says "Magic Circle" instead of "Winding Circle," but that was the only error I noted.

 

I find the music to be distracting.

 

BOOK DETAILS:

Sandry's Book (Circle of Magic #1) by Tamora Pierce, read & published by Full Cast Audio, published by (2003) / Length: 5 hrs 53 min Buy Now | +Goodreads

Talk to Me (pretty please)

  • What is your favorite MG "magic school" book/series?

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review 2016-05-28 18:50
Not Just Another Harry Potter: The Iron Trial | Review
The Iron Trial - Paul Boehmer,Listening Library,Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

A MG Contemporary Fantasy that rises above the obvious comparisons to Harry Potter.

 

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

 

Buy Now | +Goodreads

Disclosure: GMB uses affiliate links, clicking and making a purchase may result in a small commission for me.


Source: I purchased this book myself Audible.

 

BOOK DETAILS:

The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, read by Paul Boehmer, published by Listening Library (2014) / Length: 10 hrs 37 min

 

SERIES INFO:

This is Book #1 of 2 (so far) in "The Magisterium" series. Book #3, The Bronze Key, is currently scheduled to be released on 8/30/16.

 

SUMMARY:

There has been some controversy surrounding this series. With detractors calling it out as a Harry Potter rip-off and it's supporters touting the many differences. I have to say that I definitely see the similarities (beyond just the "kids in a magic school fighting a bad guy," which frankly JK Rowling did not invent) and consider it to be firmly "inspired by." That's not necessarily a bad thing though.

 

There are many differences; and with the twist at the end, the authors take this in a totally different and intriguing direction. So, controversy aside, I really like it and am eagerly awaiting the next book.

 

Note: I am adding a "Diversity" tag to this, as Callum has a physical disability in the form of a lame leg.

 

 

CHARACTERS:

Callum Hunt: Not a "bad kid" yet is often in trouble (usually for rescuing animals). He is being raised by an eccentric single father, who has taught him to hate & fear magic and the Magisterium. He has been picked on and excluded because of his disability. He has a tendency to say obnoxious things when feeling defensive or uncomfortable.

 

Tamara & Aaron: The other two members of our trio. We don't get to know them indepth in this book, but will be learning more in the next.

 

Master Rufus: I have some serious concerns about his teaching methods, especially considering the young age of his students.

 

WORLDBUILDING:

The majority of this book takes place inside the Magisterium, which is located underground in a series of caverns. Each student has their own room, which makes hiding things and sneaking out easier (as a very light sleeper, I always wondered why Ron & Harry's dorm mates did wake up). Getting lost and/or running into something dangerous is sometimes a possibility. And there is no way for the students to leave without help.

 

PLOT:

This books starts out on the dark side for MG, with a slaughter of innocents being discovered. Another darkish thing is that, once Callum is selected, he has no choice about going and is taken from his father by force (hopefully not a spoiler, since the whole point of the book is that he has to go when he doesn't want to). Children who aren't selected, or who fail their first year, have their magic sealed and their memories altered; this leaves them forever feeling as if they are missing something.

 

HIGHLIGHTS / CAUTIONS:

  • Havoc - a magical pet
  • Glowing walls while traveling in a boat (sounds beautiful)
  • The social room where they eat treats and watch magically projected movies
  • The fact that certain important things happen to someone other than Callum.

 

I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Celia. Am I jaded if I find her oblivious cheerfulness a bit annoying? And aren't they a little young to start with crushes

 

NARRATION:

The narrator has a fairly deep voice, so don't expect the dialog to sound like actual 12 year olds. / The speed was good, I was able to listen on regular speed (rather than my usual 1.25 speed) / He did a good job capturing Call's attitude and sarcasm, and with general emoting & pacing.

 

BOOK DETAILS:

The Iron Trial (The Magisterium #1) by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, read by Paul Boehmer, published by Listening Library (2014) / Length: 10 hrs 37 min Buy Now | +Goodreads

Talk to Me (pretty please)

  • What's your favorite (non-Harry Potter) Middle Grade Fantasy series?
  • Do you refuse to read books if the author(s) were obviously inspired by a famous work?

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  • If you are a first time visitor, how did you discover my blog?
  • I recently debuted my redesigned blog. What do you think?

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review 2016-04-09 22:25
School of Deaths by Christopher Mannino (Audiobook Review + Author Interview)
School of Deaths: The Scythe Wielder's Secret - Christopher Mannino,Christopher Mannino,Joel Froomkin
A YA Contemporary Fantasy with an interesting twist on the "Magic School" tale and a likeable protagonist.

Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail.

Disclosure: Review uses affiliate links; clicking & purchasing, may result in a small commission.

 

SERIES INFO: This is Book #1 of 2 (so far) in the “Scythe Wielder’s Secrets” trilogy. According to the author, “the audiobook for Sword of Deaths (book 2) should be available by the end of April, or at least the beginning of May.” Book #3, Daughter of Deaths is expected to be published some time in 2017.

 

CHARACTERS:
Suzie: She was really fun to spend time with. She was quite level headed and has all the necessary heroine traits without being a Mary Sue.

 

The minor characters (such as Cronk & Athanasius) were really interesting; strangely more interesting than Suzie’s gang, who only started to really become individuals in my mind towards the end.

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review 2016-01-27 06:40
David Finkleman and the Dangerous Magic (Audiobook Review + Author/Narrator Interviews)
David Finkleman and Dangerous Magic: David Finkleman Paranormal Series, Book 1 - PK Burian,ME Drewry,Al Kessel,PK Burian & ME Drewry
Close but realistic family relationships elevate this Contemporary YA Fantasy above the pack.

Welcome to Olympia, home of magical secrets, dangerous monsters, mystical creatures, and the few people able to fight them!  David is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least that is what he feels like when the FBI recruits him to go undercover in his high school. Isn't it bad enough that he is bullied by several football players, and they are the very ones he has to investigate!? But now he has to find out if they are circulating a deadly drug with a huge side effect: it turns a kid into a hideous, blood-sucking chupacabra!


Disclosure: Hovering over the cover and purchasing may give me a small commission (yippee, book $).

 

SERIES INFO: This is Book #1 of 3 (so far) in the “David Finkleman Paranormal Series.” According Ms Burian, #2 & #3 are currently being produced in audio (read by the same narrator), and they are working on writing #4 & #5.

As someone who cares more about characters than plot, I really appreciated the sense that there is a real family at the center of this story. There are past hurts and current problems, but they can’t undermine the love and support.

David: Nerdy younger brother of a non-magical but smart and popular football hero. Yet he isn’t drowning in envy. He’s glad that he shares his grandfather’s magical talents. Although he does have the “super strong” powers typical of stories like this, he is still learning and has a limited repertoire of spells.

Sabrina: The very determined daughter of the missing Tom Stevens. I would have liked to see her participate a bit more centrally in the adventures.  Nevertheless, she worked hard to find her father.

The romantic relationships are more than a little complicated (and indications are that they get more so in the next book). I actually liked David and Sabrina together and will be rooting for them, sorry Sam.

The world is ours, but includes small numbers of people who can do magic and larger numbers of supernatural and legendary creatures from Brownies to Chupacabras.

I felt uncomfortable with the seriousness of the situations David was forced into. It was explained in the story, but I still feel that the adults should have done more to deal with the issues themselves.

The ending resolved all the plot points while leaving some personal issues hanging.

NARRATION: He has a great, deep, voice. His female voices are acceptable. / Production was smooth & problem free / Listened on 1.25 speed (my usual).

FAVORITE PART(S): I really liked a conversation David has with his older brother. They discuss “doing it” for the first time. His brother tells him that it is ok to wait. He admits that he gave in to pressure and it still bothers him. It is rare that YA books acknowledge regrets regarding sex, coming from a male character, that don’t involve a player reforming his ways. / Being from WA myself, I appreciate that this book didn’t spend time moaning about the weather (although it really does rain as much as they say).

I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: The developing double love triangle / the GPS like details of turning left here and right there, which won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t from Olympia.

MY RATINGS:
--Enjoyment: HIGH
--Re-readability: AVERAGE
--Narrator Impact: AVERAGE

I received this book free in return for an honest review, courtesy of Audiobook Blast."

David Finkleman and the Dangerous magic by PK Burian & ME Drewry; read by Al Kessel; produced independantly in 2015 / Length: 7 hrs 15 min (Unabr) / Available through Audible & Amazon plus iTunes

 

BONUS NARRATOR INTERVIEW

 

Who was your favorite character in the book and why?

Easy, David Finkleman. He was fun to voice because I was able to kind of tap into my own childhood a bit. Not that I was a wizard, but (before high school actually) I was quite awkward. I love David's sarcasm (which gets even more wild in book 2) and his attitude towards his brother - even though his brother is successful and popular and they do fight, in the end David always defends and looks up to his brother.

 

Who was the easiest to narrate? The hardest?

Again, David. Because I related to him so much, he's pretty much my voice, only younger. The hardest would have to have been Sabrina. I wanted her to be feminine but also a bit tom-boyish.

 

What motivated you to become an audiobook narrator?

I'm a big old ham! I'm a voracious reader, have been all of my life. I love telling stories and entertaining people as well. So, marrying the two passions into one vocation is a dream come true for me.

 

What's the best part about being a narrator? The worst?

The BEST part of being a narrator is being able to become SO many different people, and not have to be medicated. Getting to read some fantastic works AND getting paid to do it?! The worst part, honestly, is the 'wait and see' part of the audition process.

 

What are your pet peeves when listening to an audiobook?

Pet peeves when listening to an audiobook...two actually: when the narrator is completely FLAT on the performance (that is, when they just READ the words instead of BECOMING the words. Anyone can read a book. It takes a storyteller to make the words come alive!). And, the technical aspect of audiobooks that most listeners don't hear. Sometimes an audiobook slips through the cracks with bad audio - hissing or pops and clicks. That sort of thing takes me out of the story.

 

If anyone would like to know more about me, hear samples of my other audiobooks and voice work, or maybe even contact me to voice their work, my website is www.alkessel.com. A link to my ACX/Audible site is there as well.

 

BONUS AUTHOR INTERVIEW

 

Tell us something about your lead character(s) that we don't already know.*

We based the character, David Finkleman off of the middle child on “Home Improvement,” Randy Taylor (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) including his looks. We liked his sarcasm. But unlike Randy Taylor, we made David Finkleman with less self-confidence, and with a perfect older brother. We felt many kids out there with older siblings could relate to that.

 

*They revealed it here first!

 

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character(s)?

David - Logan Lerman / Henry - Zac Effron / Sabrina - Dove Cameron Or Chloe Grace Moretz / Sam - Tucker Albrizzi / Ashir - Ian Mckellen / Hoss - Vinnie Jones

 

If you were to spend a day with your lead character, what would the two of you do?

(ME Drewry) cast spellz, make potions, and search for sasquatch. (PK Burian): If I were to spend the day with my main character, I’d spend the day with him on a ghost hunt or Bigfoot hunt or some kind of paranormal activity. I think it would be fascinating.

 

Tell us something about yourself that we might not already know.

(PK Burian) I worked for years as a typist for Alex Wells, who was a screenwriter in Hollywood. Alex wrote the Raw Hide Series. At that time the writers were the extras in the show, so he was the shows too. He started out as a writer with Aaron Spelling when they both got out of the Navy after WWII, (yes, the Aaron Spelling). Now both men have passed away. He told me so many stories about the movie stars of that era (and he knew all of them, most of the older ones like John Wayne, Barbara Stanwick, and Clint Eastwood), and about what it was like when Hollywood was starting out.

 

Which actor/actress would you like to see play you in the movie of your life?

(ME Drewry) I would love Jennifer Lawrence to play me. I think we have the same type of quirky humor.

 

Audiobook / eBook / Paperbooks? Which is your favorite and why?

(ME Drewry) paper books. They never run out of battery, they won't destroy your eyes like screens can, and there's nothing like the feel and smell of a paper book.
(PK Burian): Paper books. I love to hold a book in my hands. I love the feel of the paper. I love to use beautiful bookmarkers to place where I’ve stopped in the book. I like to see the progress I’ve made reading the book. However, I see the advantage of audiobooks for the blind, elderly with poor eyesight, and for people with reading disabilities.

 

What are your pet peeves when listening to an audiobook?

When audio is choppy or there is no inflection in the voice. Nothing is more grating than a monotone reader.

 

What motivated you to sit down and write your first book?

(PK Burian): Insanity! My husband and I had moved from the city, where I had a successful business as a computer consultant and I was working 10 hour days, to a 5 acres farm in the country, and hours away from family. I gave up my business to stay home with our two daughters, now my coauthors. It was a huge shock to be isolated with no one to talk to but a three year old and a three month old. I had created stories in my head since I was a small child and decided to finally put them into words. I was relieved when I finally got the first story on paper, and I wish I had been writing my entire life. It was like I had found the missing link in my life. From there I joined a local Romance Writer’s of America group and a critique group, which became a HUGE outlet for me. I meet struggling writer’s like me and very successful writer’s like Debbie Macomber. I have to admit I didn’t know who Debbie was at the time, even though she had had 20 books published. (You can tell how long ago this was, now can’t you? LOL!). But it was great to learn from everyone. I later moved to another writing group that was more structured and focused on the essentials of writing and open to all genres.

 

What is the hardest thing about writing? The easiest?

(ME Drewry): Hardest - revising and editing to catch grammatical and continuity errors. Easiest - coming up with a general idea to write about, and writing a scene you enjoy.
(PK Burian): I think writing a book, long or short, is the most difficult task a person can take on and do well. There are so many elements to it like plot, subplot, characterization, mood, pace, tone, voice, grammar, sentence structure, tenses, active verbs, description, etc. You have to know when to put in description and when not to, when to add backstory and when it slows the story down, when minor characters are needed and how much description you need for them. You must know how to outline your story and that almost all stories are about conflict, crisis, and conclusion. I could go on and on. And to put this all together and entertain children, teens, and/or adults is difficult. To answer your question the hardest thing about writing is the process. The easiest is coming up with the idea.

 

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