Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fantastic Middle-Grade Fantasy Series!

Hey, y'all! So, as an avid reader who has been an avid reader since the age of 4, I've read a lot of books in my time. And, since I've always loved fantasy books, I've seen the good, bad, and the ugly of the genre, and decided to share some of my knowledge with y'all. I might make this into a series of "underrated recommendations", but the basic point of this specific post is to highlight some not-so-well-known fantasy novels aimed at the middle grade audience.

And just to get this out of the way right off the bat, if you're interested in middle-grade and have not yet read the Harry Potter series or the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, stop right here and look into those two to see if they sound like your cup of tea. I'm not going to get into either in this post, because they're some huge, well-known series. However, I do have a lot of posts about Harry Potter, which you can see by clicking here if you're interested. But seriously, if you haven't read Harry Potter yet, you really need to get on that, because DUH it's like one of the biggest series of all time.

And now, on to my actual recommendations.

The Pendragon Adventure
by DJ MacHale

I often forget that this series is a pretty underrated one, because it's been a big part of my life since junior high. This is also one that I've talked about very extensively, so I'll make sure to leave links to posts, as well as my video on the topic down below my description of the series. 

The Pendragon Series is a middle grade/ young adult fantasy series. The series begins with the main character, Bobby Pendragon, at age 14. One day, his uncle suddenly shows up at Bobby's house and tells him that he needs some help. What Bobby doesn't realize is that he's about to be taken on the biggest adventure of his life. Bobby learns that there are 10 territories (alternate dimensions) and that he is a Traveler, a person tasked with the protection of the territories. Bobby quickly learns that a guy named Saint Dane is attempting to throw the territories into chaos, and it's Bobby's job (along with the travelers from the other territories) to stop him and save all of humanity.

Our main perspective is of Bobby, told in first-person through journals which he sends to his best friend to keep a record of what is happening. The secondary perspective is of Bobby's best friend, Mark, and pseudo-girlfriend, Courtney, who receive the journals and go through their own problems on Earth. The majority of the books focus on a single territory each, as Bobby travels there to thwart the evil Saint Dane.

This series has been one of my favorites for almost as long as Harry Potter. The territories are insanely cool, and the characters are really interesting and diverse. I would especially recommend this series to people who enjoyed Harry Potter and want something similar but very unique and insanely well-crafted. Like with Harry Potter, the reader gets to watch the main character grow up and come into his own, with a finale rivaling that of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2. But still not quite as good because... Harry Potter.

Series Discussion (w/links to posts on individual books)
Video discussion on the series:

The Ascendance Trilogy

by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Like with Pendragon, I have full discussions on both my blog and on my YouTube channel, both of which will be at the end of this series' section.

The Ascendance Trilogy is a middle-grade series centering around Sage, a twelve-year-old orphan boy who is very clever, snarky, and a skilled thief. Sage is collected by Conner, a nobleman with a cunning plan. He needs an impersonator of the king's long lost son, and has recruited four orphan boys to compete for the role. But Sage will soon find out that things are much more complex than he originally thought. He must succeed... his life depends on it.

This series is really excellent, regardless of the fact that it's a middle grade series. I read it for the first time five months ago (AKA as a 20 year old) and absolutely loved it. While there were definitely books in the trilogy that I preferred over others (my favorite being The Runaway King), this was overall a consistently good trilogy, which can be very hard to find. However, the series is particularly outstanding as a middle grade trilogy because of how fast-paced and engrossing it is. The False Prince is a little slower-paced compared to the other two books, but you hit the ground running in The Runaway King and are taken on a crazy ride that doesn't really let up until the end of the trilogy.

The main character, Sage, is one of my favorite aspects of the trilogy, and I think that the middle grade audience would really relate to him because he's just so cool. His snark keeps you laughing, and his cleverness keeps you constantly on your toes, because you never know what he's going to pull next. Overall, this trilogy is a complete delight and absolutely outstanding, and it isn't talked about a lot within the BookTube community.

Ascendance Trilogy Review

Video discussion on the series:

The Charlie Bone Series
by Jenny Nimmo

I actually don't think I've talked about this series at all on here, and I've only briefly mentioned it on my Youtube channel, which is really surprising to me, because I really like this series.

This is a middle grade fantasy series about a ten year old boy named Charlie. When he discovers that he has a magical ability, his aunts send him to Bloor Academy, a school for children with special gifts like Charlie. Once there, he meets a slew of interesting people, all with interesting abilities such as the one Charlie possesses. This is an 8 book long series with tons of interesting characters and twists and turns.

This is definitely aimed at the youngest audience out of the series that I've recommended so far. I first started reading it when I was 10, but I think kids either slightly older or slightly younger would also enjoy it. On the surface, based solely off of the description, it may sound like a bit of a ripoff of Harry Potter, but the two actually aren't very similar at all. The biggest difference is that the kids don't have magic powers, per se, but instead each have one single special ability. And in general, these are not your typical special abilities like flying or super strength. I don't want to spoil anything for you, so I won't tell you exactly what they are, but I will promise that they're really unique and really cool. 

Now, although I did just say that this series isn't that similar to Harry Potter, I do think that you'd enjoy this series if you like Harry Potter. One of the biggest similarities is that they both take place at a boarding school, and that seems to be an aspect of books that a lot of people get really excited about. I also think that people who have read and enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events will enjoy this series as well, because this has a fairly dark tone overall and is also really unique. I might even throw in fans of Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, just due to the fact that all of the kids in this series have unique abilities and that it has a dark tone. Overall, this is a really unique middle grade series that has a pretty dark tone and is really interesting. 

So, that's it for my middle-grade fantasy series recommendations! Let me know down in the comments if there are any other genres you'd like to see recommendations for. Even though I'm a big fantasy person, I enjoy a huge range of genres and would probably have plenty of recommendations for whatever genre you toss my way!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Anticipated Book Releases For the Rest of 2015 [Top 5 Wednesday]

Hey, y'all! So, this week's topic for Top 5 Wednesday was Top 5 Anticipated Pre-Orders For the Rest of the Year. I ended up having a fairly long list of books, and since I wanted to talk about all of them, I decided to do an entire post talking about all of the releases that I'm really excited about. The books I talked about in my video will also be included, and they'll be organized by release date. Titles link to the Goodreads page for each book, if you want to learn more about it.

Today's Top 5 Wednesday video:

by Libba Bray

Release date: August 25
This one is one of the ones that I've been anticipating for the longest. I read The Diviners back in October and initially thought that it was just a standalone. Obviously, when I actually read it. I discovered that it's going to be a series (a 4 book series, if I remember correctly). I loved The Diviners (You can check out my written review here if you want) and can't wait to finally be able to dive into the sequel. It's even longer than the first book- 702 pages!- which actually makes me even more excited. And I'm really glad that they made a slight change to this cover re-design. Originally, the new cover was pretty similar to this, but with worse coloration and these weird faceless people. It was just bad. This is at least a little better.

by Patrick Ness

Release date: August 27
Yes, I will be getting the UK cover, because it's so much cooler than the US cover. Anyway, I still haven't read a full book by Patrick Ness. I liked what I read of The Knife of Never Letting Go, so I'm hopeful that I'll enjoy this one. The concept is really interesting and plays with tropes that are normally seen in YA, so I'm really excited about this one.

by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

Release date: September 1
For some reason, I didn't think too much about The Iron Trial last year, even though it sounds like it's right up my alley. I love magic school books, and that's what this series is. Yes, it's middle grade, but it's by Cassandra Clare, who is one of my favorite authors. Either way, The Iron Trial is one of the first books I want to get after my ban, and I will, of course, be getting this one as well. And I want to read them sometime this fall.

by Sarah J Maas

Release date: September 1
Just like with the last one, this is another book where I haven't read the previous book(s), but I want to start it really soon. And the Throne of Glass series is even higher up on my TBR than The Magisterium series. I've been wanting to read it for a very long time, and I'll be buying all of the books ASAP when my ban is over.

Shadowhunter Chronicles
(2015 Cover Re-Design)

Release date: September 1
I might hold off on buying these for a while. I love all of these books, and I made a video all about these new covers. I like them enough that I want to buy them, but since they're books I've already read, I'm not sure I'm going to get them immediately. I'll probably buy a box set of one series, and then wait a bit before buying the other one.

Discussion on the new Shadowhunter covers

by Ransom Riggs

Release date: September 22
I read the first two books in the series at the beginning of 2014, and I enjoyed both of them. It's not my favorite series I've ever read, but I did like it. I'm probably going to wait before reading this, because the Miss Peregrine's movie is going to be released... sometime? I'm actually not sure when it's going to be released, but that will be the perfect opportunity to reread the first couple and to finish reading the series. Normally, I wouldn't wait that long, but I'm not that attached to it. I can wait a while without getting anxious.

by Rainbow Rowell

Release date: October 6
I loved Fangirl, and the Simon Snow series sounds pretty cool, as does Cath's fanfic. From what I've seen, this isn't actually Cath's Carry On fanfic, but I'm still really excited to read this, because this is her first fantasy novel, and MAGIC SCHOOL! YAY!

by Dan Howell & Phil Lester

Release date: October 8
I've mentioned several times that these two are my favorite YouTubers. I'm very frustrated at all of the YouTubers writing books, but I'm excited about this one. Yes, it's another memoir, but they actually wrote it (from what they've said- and I'm going to trust them), and the description makes it sound just as quirky, fun, and random as they are, so I'm really excited to get this one. I've already pre-ordered it, too.

by Brandon Sanderson

Release date: October 8
I've recently fallen in love with Brandon Sanderson, after reading his Mistborn trilogy and The Rithmatist. I haven't continued on to Mistborn 4, and this book is Mistborn 5, so I'm not sure if I'm going to get to it immediately upon its release, but Sanderson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors (and depending on how good the rest of his books are, he might become my favorite author) and I want to read all of his books.

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Release date: October 20
This is one of the books on this list that I'm most excited about. Caz from Little Book Owl talked about this book near the beginning of the year, and I was really intrigued by it. It wasn't super high on my TBR yet, but it intrigued me and I kept it at the back of my mind as a release I might want to look into. But then I started learning even more about it and it sounds really interesting. Not only is it tagged as dystopia/fantasy/sci-fi on Goodreads (aka my favorite genres), but it also has unique formatting with case files included, and stuff marked out. And then I saw the ARCs that people got at BEA and it just made me even more interested in it. I can't wait to read this one!

by Claudia Gray

Release date: November 3
The first book in this series, A Thousand Pieces of You, was released last year, and it's one of the books I really want to buy after my ban. The concept is really interesting, because it deals with a chase across parallel universes, and it just sounds super cool. These covers are really cool as well. Anyway, this is a series that really intrigues me, and I hope to read the first book in this series and then jump into this one.

by Marissa Meyer

Release date: November 10
I feel like every single YA reader is excited about this release. I'm pretty late to the Lunar Chronicles party, because I only read the 3 books that are out back in April and May. I really enjoyed them, and this has become one of my favorite series, so this is one of the ones that I'm most eagerly anticipating. And it's supposed to be 800 something pages, so that makes me really excited. I need to know how things end up for these awesome characters!

by Alexandra Bracken

Release date: January 6, 2016
OK, so you're probably like "Kristen, this clearly says 2016. This is supposed to be books released in 2015." I made an oopsie. This was originally going to be released in 2015, but got pushed back to 2016. And I forgot about that. And this is one I'm really excited about, so when I narrowed down my list, this was one of the ones I decided to include in the video... and then I realized that this is now a 2016 release. So it's not supposed to be on this list. However, since I included it in the video, I decided to talk about it here as well.

Anyway, this just sounds incredibly awesome. First of all, the MC is a violinist, and it sounds like it might play a big role in the book. And as a violist music major, that makes me so excited. Plus, this involves time travel and is like a treasure hunt across time and several continents, That just sounds so cool. I can't wait to read this one. It sounds so cool.

So, those are all the 2015 releases that I'm super excited about! Let me know down in the comments which ones you can't wait to read!

Check out my links below!

Thanks for reading! If you like my posts, I'd really appreciate if you'd subscribe/follow so that I know you're enjoying what I'm posting! See y'all soon!

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Leveller by Julia Durango [SPOILER FREE REVIEW]

Hey, y'all! I recently read The Leveller by Julia Durango, and despite having a lot of feelings about the book, I didn't want to devote an entire video to reviewing it. So, I decided to do a full written review on here instead. Despite the fact that I'm reviewing it quite soon after its 6/23 release date, I did NOT receive this for review, it's a book I purchased for myself.

Nixy Bauer is a leveller, a pseudo bounty hunter inside of the virtual reality game called MEEP. Because MEEP is a fairly new technology, the government limits how much time people can spend within it per day. When a kid is spending too much time in MEEP, their parents call on Nixy to pull them out, and she's known for being able to pull kids out of MEEP extremely efficiently.

One day, however, she gets a job from the game's creator. His son, Wyn, has blocked himself into MEEP and has left behind a suicide note. It's now Nixy's job to go in after him and retrieve him. However, when Nixy reaches Wyn, she discovers that things are not quite as they seem, because he reveals that he has actually been trapped inside MEEP. Nixy and Wyn must fight their way out if they ever want to get back to the real world.

That concept sounds really intriguing, right? Doesn't it give you Ready Player One vibes? I'll be honest, that's the biggest reason that I picked this up. I've been in the mood to re-read Ready Player One for quite a while, but can't really justify the re-read when I have a reading challenge going on. And I hoped that this would at least be a decent stand-in for Ready Player One. Unfortunately, though, this was just overall disappointing.

My first major problem with the book was the writing. This may sound strange, but I don't typically notice how good or bad the writing is unless I really enjoy it or really dislike it. And in this case, I really disliked it. Everything came across as very juvenile and sometimes reminded me of the way that I worded things when attempting to write stories at the age of 13. Nixy and Wyn were supposed to be 16, but they often spoke and acted like 13 year olds. On top of this, there were some words that were just extremely over-used. Specifically, the word 'truly.' It got to the point where I was going to throw the book if a character said 'truly' ONE. MORE. TIME.

Unfortunately, the problems don't stop there. Overall, I didn't find the plot that intriguing. In fact, it was only vaguely there. After Nixy got into MEEP to rescue Wyn, nothing really happened until the very end, apart from some instalove and some aimless wandering around. Speaking of which, the instalove in this book was really painful and cringe-worthy for me. I don't know how else to describe it except that I was physically cringing at some of the dialogue between Nixy and Wyn within approximately 10 minutes of meeting each other.

I also kind of expected some of the things that I think were supposed to be a surprise. This is generally to be expected, because I've mentioned many times that I can usually guess twists. Durango tried to surprise the reader with the villain reveal, but the foreshadowing was too heavy pretty early on, and she practically blatantly revealed it a while before the official reveal.

However, despite the many problems I had with it, I didn't hate it. I do see potential in the story and the world based on the way that the story ended. I think it will be really interesting to see the real-world implications of the things that happened within the game. I'm assuming that this will be a trilogy (because series apparently just means trilogy in YA anymore), and I hope that the next two books are a little longer and better written so that we can dive a little deeper into this game.

I found it very hard to come up with a rating for this one. Based just on my criticisms alone, it would seem that this book should get an abysmal rating. But for some reason, I somewhat enjoyed it. I would say that my dislike of the book didn't outweigh my like of the book. There's something oddly intriguing and charming about it, and enough loose threads left that I'm curious about what will happen next. I think I would have given this a slightly lower rating if not for the potential that I see in this series. Durango definitely has room to delve deeper into some of the issues that were raised very late on in this first installment, and I hope for everyone's sake that she does, or else the rest of the series will be as bland as this book was.

In the end, I gave The Leveller 6 stars out of 10. I think I would've gone with a 5.5 if not for the potential that I see, but I can only hope that Durango takes this series in a slightly better direction than she took this first book.