Tag Archive: amreading



Here, There Be Dragons (Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, #1) by James A. Owen

Ages 12 & up

Here,_There_Be_Dragons,_James_A._Owen_-_CoverAn adventure was the last thing John expected when Professor Sigurdssen summoned him to Oxford, but that’s exactly what he gets. Upon his arrival, the police greet John with the news of the good professor’s murder and John finds his lot thrown in with three strangers: Jack, Charles, and the mysterious Bert. Pursued by strange, inhuman creatures the four new friends flee to the Indigo Dragon, a magical ship capable of crossing from our world to the Archipelago of Dreams. Now the principal caretaker of The Imaginarium Geographica, John, along with his new friends must defend the Archipelago from the Winter King—a formidable foe bent on turning the entire Archipelago into Shadowlands. All the King needs to complete his plan is the Geographica.

This book. Holy guacamole. THIS. BOOK.

I’ll just start by saying that if you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, just stop reading this review and do yourself the favor of finding this book and reading it. Make your family read it. Make your friends read it. Make your neighbor’s mom read it. Yes, you’re going to be slightly confused at the beginning…but there’s a reason for that. It all makes sense in the end.

While we’re on the subject…the end is by far my FAVORITE part of this book. I’m still reeling over the big twist. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but suffice it to say that it was fan-TAS-tic .

I know the book says 12 & up, but really, I think (depending on the child) you could probably go even younger. A great book for the whole family. Yeah, it gets intense and maybe a little scary, but there are Disney movies scarier than this book. (If your kid can handle Frozen, your kid can handle this book.) It has all the whimsy of Narnia (talking animals, mystical lands with grand mythologies, a grand magical journey, life-altering betrayal) and all the cleverness too. Mythology provides all the building blocks for this story, which makes sense considering that the Archipelago is supposedly a world created by human imagination. Owens takes stories that we all know, sewing them into a seamless tapestry that adds color and life to his world.

This is the classic heroes’ quest, Owens doesn’t take any particular risks with this book, but he crafted his story so well I didn’t mind too much. Instead of making the book stale and trite, the familiar archetypes turn it into something comfortable. I loved the challenge of trying to figure each character out before their name was revealed. There are probably those that disagree with me, but I enjoyed the way familiar stories were taken and spun on their heads. And trust me, there’s a good reason you’re feeling those déjà vu vibes.

The only thing I found disappointing was the dearth of female characters. Owens did give us Aven, the captain of the Indigo Dragon, but I would have liked seeing more girls participating in the action. Circumstances dictated that the three main characters be male and I’m cool with that, but I’d like to see more than the token strong female character in the sequels (fingers crossed, I’ve got a bit of time before I start the next one).

All in all, I enjoyed this book so much that I’d love to add it to my shelf (also, the cover art is REALLY pretty). If you’re looking for a great book to read with your kids—or you just like books with dragons—then I’d definitely recommend this book.

This book is a good example of:

  • Multiple POV narrative
  • Third person
  • World building
  • Middle grade

8508313605_d13cbe9fe8_zHappy New Year!

Yeah, I know. I’m a bit late, but I hope you finished 2015 with pizazz and kicked off 2016 brilliantly.

I devoted most of December (and January) to a much needed mental break. Happens every year. Somehow, I always forget how drained the three months of crazy known as September, October, and November leave me. And yes, I did manage to complete NaNoWriMo.

The final word count was (drum roll please)….

50,015 words!

Bringing WIP#2 to a whopping 66,311 words…So far.

But enough about last year, I want to talk about this year. After all, isn’t that what January is about? New starts. New challenges. Don’t worry, I’m not here to challenge you to eat better or exercise more or even write more. But I do have a few suggestions to spice up your reading life.

But Margaret, you say, I’m happy with my current reading list. Why spend my time on something I don’t know I’ll like?

For the same reason people try new exercise routines or new recipes. Yes, there is a chance that you might absolutely hate it (why not try your local library instead of purchasing the book), but you might also find something that you absolutely love. Trying new things is how I discovered that I absolutely love steampunk novels…and that despite being a card carrying member of the hopeless romantic club, I can barely stomach most romance novels (weird I know).

So, without further ado, here are some ways you can shake up your reading rut:

  • Read More Women- If you are a YA junkie like me, you probably read a lot of women. The YA shelves are rife with the likes of Maureen Johnson, Susan Collins, Sarah Dessen, Lauren Oliver, Maggie Stiefvater, Shannon Hale, and Ally Carter. We have some kickass female writers, but female writers still face a steeper uphill climb than many male writers, regardless of their protagonist’s gender. Especially in the big name genres like science fiction and fantasy. Male authors just tend to get more visibility. Think about it, you probably know who John Green is (you should, he’s amazing), but of the women listed above how many names did you recognize? That’s not to say there aren’t some seriously talented male authors, but there are just as many talented female authors. Give their books some love too.
  • Read More Authors of Color- While we’re on the subject of convincing publishers that the the idea of the “standard author model” (Think Nicholas Sparks: middle-aged, white, and male) is outdated, let’s talk about my personal reading challenge for 2016: to read more books by non-white authors. I’ve seen this particular reading challenge focus on the protagonists and that’s a valid challenge, but as a writer I want to focus on the writers themselves. Again, I’m not challenging the talent of white authors, but publishing is a business and businesses like to stick to “proven” models, which provides fewer opportunities for authors who don’t fit that mold.
  • Read Outside Your Normal Genre- Do you usually read Sci-Fi? Try something contemporary. Do you usually browse the adult sections? Maybe it’s time to take a chance on Percy Jackson or The Hunger Games (Don’t let the label fool you, YA isn’t just for teenagers). Do you usually read romance? Let me tell you, Mr. Darcy is not the only fantastic guy lurking on the bookstore shelves. (And no, I am NOT talking about Christian Grey, blech.) Try some poetry. Try some Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing is my personal fave). If you usually read fiction, try non-fiction. Pick up a new hobby this year. Learn about something cool, like the Vikings.
  • Read Something Foreign- You don’t even have to speak another language for this one. There are plenty of books that have been translated into English (or maybe you want to brush up on that high school Spanish/French/German/Romanian/whatever). Heck, there are plenty of foreign books published in English. The point is (really, the point of this whole list): Get a look at the world around you. Every society tells stories a little differently. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes were written by an American?

Those are only a few suggestions meant to inspire you to try some new books in 2016. This list is by no means comprehensive. If you’re really curious or want more inspiration, do an image search for 2016 Reading Challenges. There are tons of them; many of them made into colorful lists. If you want suggestions, you can drop a question in the comments how you’d like to expand your reading list. If I don’t have a something, I’m sure some of my readers will.

Question of the Week:

Have you ever taken a chance on a book and been pleasantly surprised?


Image: Read More by Starry Raston, CC BY-ND 2.0


Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ages 16 & up

steelheart coverTen years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky and granted ordinary men and women superhuman abilities. For nearly as long, eighteen-year-old David Charleston has devoted his life to one purpose: finding a way to kill Steelheart, the epic that murdered his father. When the Reckoners—an underground group dedicated to taking down epics—finally come to Newcago, David knows this is his chance. He’s spent his whole life studying the epics and their powers and now, with the Reckoners’ support, David thinks he can finally crack the secret of Steelheart’s weakness—David knows he has one because he’s seen Steelheart bleed.

My brother—who happens to be a huge Brandon Sanderson fan—recommended this book (I know, I have excellent taste in siblings). Can’t say that I blame him. From what I’ve read of Sanderson, his world-building is intricate in a way that hasn’t resonated with me since I read Lord of the Rings. He impressed me with The Way of King and didn’t fail in Steelheart or its sequel Firefight, though I found the story more accessible in the last two. The minute my brother gave me Steelheart’s, I knew I had to read it.

Steelheart’s premise combines two of my favorite things: super powers and reversal of expectations. In this book, the super-powered beings are far from virtuous. When Calamity appeared in the sky, it didn’t create a race of benevolent protectors. Power corrupts and all that. Clearly, these epics lacked an Uncle Ben or a Pa Kent to guide them down the right path. Sanderson could have stopped right there and I would have been happy, but of course, this is a young adult novel and in young adult novels we like making people questions things. Towards the end of the book (and through all of the second) we see David question his original “down with all epics” stance—not everything is as it seems. Although it’s clear these powers can bring out the worst in a person, David begins to wonder if some epics could be saved. After all, if the Reckoners are ever going to truly stand up to the epics, they need a few who are able to use their powers without giving into the darkness.

I loved how surprisingly diverse and well-defined Sanderson’s characters are in Steelheart. David’s obsession with metaphors was hilarious—especially considering how bad he is at them—and refreshing, I haven’t seen that character quirk before. But Sanderson doesn’t stop with his point of view character, all of the characters I came across were distinct and I connected with them easily (This is really noticeable in book two, when some of David’s old friends get exchanged for new ones). Among the characters Sanderson trots out we have a female rocket scientist, a former fifth-grade teacher, a teenage assassin, and a Tennessee cop with the vocabulary of his Irish ancestors.

Of course, no book is perfect. While I love Sanderson’s world-building and how seamlessly it enhances the story, I was a bit off-put by some of his replacements for cuss words. His characters favored “sparks” and “calamity” as expletives and while the first wasn’t too distracting, I found myself hating the latter. I understand the thought process behind using the word, but I felt calamity a bad fit for this futuristic, dystopian society. It made it hard to stay in the—often serious—moment. I’m usually all for made up expletives (Big fan of D’Arvit from the Artemis Fowl series), as long as they add rather than take away from the dialogue. Perhaps “calamity” might have worked for me in a different setting, but I found myself wishing the characters had chosen silence instead—or just used a more familiar expletive (I doubt humanity would have moved away from all the familiar ones).

I also wasn’t a fan of the number of times David made a big deal about being distracted by the female lead. I understand that he’s a teenage boy, but when your narrator mentions distracting she is multiple times in just the first few pages it becomes redundant. You are straight and male, we get it, can we move on now please? (This was handled much better in Firefight).  Granted, I am not a teenage boy, I’ll take my brother’s word that this is pretty accurate, but still hitting the reader over the head with an idea often ends with their head aching.

Still, despite the few drawbacks, I really enjoyed the first two books and look forward to the release of the trilogy’s final installation, Calamity (there’s that word again). If you like dystopians, comic books, or stories that defy conventional expectations, give this series a try.

This is a good example of:

  • Plot twists
  • Character quirks
  • World-building
  • Dystopian society
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