Tag Archive | Contemporary Fantasy

Masters and Beginners by Daley Downing (Review)

Twinsies! My cat loved that there was a fellow stripey cat on this book. ^_^ (Thank you, Callette, for putting up with me using you as a photo prop. XD)

Title: Masters and Beginners
Author: Daley Downing

Date read: May 3, 2017
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Age: YA
Year pub: 2017
Pages: 194 (paperback)
Series: The Order of the Twelve Tribes, Volume 1
Fave character: Alexander Torrington (and Flynn… and Jules… and… yeah, lots of them. :D)
Source: From the author in exchange for my honest review
Links: GoodreadsAuthor’s Blog • Purchase here or email the author at the address provided on her blog 🙂

UPDATE: This book now has a shiny new cover, and you can get the paperback through Barnes and Noble, HERE! 🙂

Masters and Beginners is a delightful modern fantasy novel for young adults (or anyone, really), featuring some of my favorite things, namely Faerie things! I had a lot of fun reading it! I don’t read a lot of modern fantasy largely because I don’t often like it, but this is one I didn’t mind reading and overall enjoyed muchly.

There are Faerie things (fae/faery/elves used interchangeably) which were really cool, and talking cats who are more than cats (Jules! Loved her! :)), Fae characters both good and bad, Seelie and Unseelie (I particularly liked/would like to know more about Alex…), other mysterious beings, mystery, family, humor (I laughed aloud a couple of times), adventure, and other awesome things like PORTALS, yay! (Loved how the portals were used.) It was a very rich tapestry of different elements. 🙂

It starts out a little bit slow, drawing us into this well-constructed storyworld of our modern times with an undercurrent of mythological things, and steadily builds as we meet beloved characters, are immersed in all the details and magical feel of it, and drawn deeper into the mysteries and dangers, until it gets quite exciting and intense near the end there! O_O I was so drawn into this storyworld, and although I might have liked to have gotten to know a few of the characters better (next time!), overall I really fell in love with these characters and this setting, and just had an incredible time reading it! ^_^

In a lot of ways, it was very different from other YA books I’ve read, which was both fascinating and a delightful breath of fresh air. 😀 There are actually *gasp* nice people! And the parents aren’t dead! *more gasps* And the parents are actually nice and a part of the story! *triple gasp* There was more of a focus on the entire family—who actually love each other *biggest gasp of all*—and even some homeschoolers. All of this was super neat to read in a YA book. 😀

Also, not a big thing, but the main characters, the Driscolls—Sophie and her brother Flynn, and their parents Kate and James, and little brother Callum—are already a part of this set of people (the Order of the Twelve Tribes, which is where the series gets its title) who know about the crazy stuff going on in the world, so they didn’t need to go through the “wait, faeries exist?” transition that’s common to a lot of modern fantasy type stories. They do, of course, become more a part of it, and learn new things, so it’s not like there’s no wonder or discovery, but already being past the big hump of knowing it all exists is a great twist. 🙂

Sometimes angels in fiction make me twitchy—I have no idea why—but I think I managed to get over that this time and found it intriguing and different how there were all kinds of legends, mythology, faeries, Nephilim, angels, etc. just woven together in the history of this setup. Some of it was a litle weird, but I hadn’t seen something like this done before, so it was interesting to have Faerie mythology and elements of Christianity/Hebraic history/legend seamlessly woven together and taken for granted as things that are a part of the world. 🙂

Other fun things:

  • References: I loved the little references to things like Doctor Who, the “Warriors” cat books, King Arthur, things like the veil between worlds being thin Halloween night, and other myths and legends—so much fun. 😀
  • Extras: There are lyrics or quotes at the beginning of all the chapters, as well as “extra” material at the end of the chapters—emails, documents about the Annex, texts between characters, letters, etc.—both of which lent it an extra atmospheric and authentic quality, which I absolutely loved! 😀

As for possible downsides (if they can be called that)…

  • I might have liked seeing more of some of the characters, but that’s what sequels are for. 😉 Same with the actual Annex (the warehouse with mystical artifacts)—I think I thought there would be more with that, but with portals and such, who even needs artifacts when you have the real thing? XD
  • At the beginning especially, there were a lot of names all at once that were a little hard to keep track of, which was simultaneously difficult and made it seem more real—like this is an actual organization with interconnected families, and naturally something that complex is hard to keep track of for a sudden reader. I might have liked some more reminders of who was who with some of the side characters, but that may have been me not paying enough attention.
  • One thing—the only thing I might have actually disliked—I’m still on the fence about… I can’t really talk about because it’s a spoiler about how some things ended up at the end. There are enough hints at something different happening in a later book that I’m deciding that I THINK it’s okay… so I will wait it out on that one to see. But it’s just a general trope I don’t like in fiction, so not a particular fault of this book, I guess? SPOILER (highlight to read):: When characters forget some of the things that happened, “for their own good” just because some powerful being, who’s supposed to be benevolent, can’t have them spilling secrets. But then what’s the POINT of having the story and them having those adventures? *wails* I want them to remember all those times they had together! D: Buuut there was a hint that mayyybe they might break free of it and remember at some point, so I’m holding on to that. 😉 ::END SPOILER

But overall, I didn’t have a lot of complaints! It was just a fun read that I loved! 😀 (For those who care, there was a little mild language, and some sweet possible romances, and of course a bit of fairytale violence, but nothing bad, really. Overall it’s a pretty good clean read, if readers are worried about that. :)) I found it to be definitely not as dark as a lot of the YA books out there, which made me happy. Also, the adults in the story have prominent parts as well, so it’s more rounded, about whole families, which I really liked, and makes it more likely that both young adult and adult readers will both find something enjoyable about the book. 🙂

Overall, I may have had a quibble or two, but really, I just had a blast reading it. 😀 I’m giving it 5 stars for the amount of enjoyment it gave me, and the breath of fresh air and fun this book was. 🙂 I can’t wait to see where some of this goes in later books, too! Definitely looking forward to future books in the series releasing someday so I can return to this delightful storyworld! ^_^

(I received a free review copy of this book from the author—many thanks! I was not required to write a positive review, and these opinions are entirely my own.)

Exciting book mail! This was my mini-subscription box with the book when it arrived! You can purchase an ebook or signed paperback copy, or a limited-edition mini-subscription box with surprise gifts and a letter from one of the characters. I recommend the latter. 😉

Faeriiiies! ❤ I just love faerie books, don’t you? 🙂 Are you a fan of contemporary fantasy? Does this book intrigue you? Lemme know in the comments! ^_^

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Dream away in those pages . . .

~ The Page Dreamer

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Book Spotlight: Masters and Beginners by Daley Downing

I’m excited to spotlight a blogging buddy’s debut novel, releasing today! 🙂

Hot off the press (well, figuratively; we don’t want the paper bursting into flame), a picture of the cover of Masters and Beginners

Title: Masters and Beginners (Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes)
Author: Daley Downing

Genres: YA, fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 193
Notes: 1st in a series of 6

When Sophie Driscoll’s grandmother dies, her parents take over running the Annex, a warehouse facility that stores magical artifacts and documents proving, and protecting, the existence of faeries. Sophie and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, happily adjust to a new house, new friends, and a new way of living, joining the ranks of generations who have kept the fey and mortal realms separate for centuries. Before the first month of their new life is over, they’ll encounter romance, elves, talking cats, ancient secrets, and potentially lethal danger. What could possibly go wrong…

Excerpts

Sophie: “What about Gwen? Will she be all right?”
Alex: “She’ll be fine. We just need to get out of here. My wings are about to pop.”
Sophie (to herself): Did he just say wings? He said wings.

The Driscolls hadn’t always lived in Rylen, Ohio. Kate had grown up here; but when she was 18, she went to England to study abroad (just as her little sister later would), and there she met a very nice young man called James; the short version was that they got married and started a family, and stayed in southeast Britain for several years.

When Sophie was 9 years old, her family moved from Brighton and Hove, back to Rylen, Ohio. They moved into the newest development in the small town, Mercantile Manor, so called after the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers that used to run their businesses in the former colonial village.

James was a history teacher for the local schools, while Kate worked from home and taught their kids. After a couple of years, though, the Driscoll siblings decided they wanted to go to “regular school,” like the other kids in their ballet/music/art/swimming lessons.

But sticking to that decision was becoming more and more challenging. The fact that they weren’t like other people, that their family was different – even if they didn’t want this to be true – wasn’t going away.

Gramie Sheridan’s passing meant they couldn’t ignore it anymore. Her death had set their destiny into motion.

Note from the author on how to obtain a copy of Masters and Beginners:

  • Contact me: daley.downing@gmail.com.
  • Or: via the blog (https://daleydowning.wordpress.com/), which also has my Twitter handle in the sidebar.
  • Just the book: $15
  • Subscription box (limited quantity): $25 [Each box includes: a signed copy of Volume 1, three free gifts, and a letter from one of the characters. (Just for setting that truly ambient feel…)]

(Note: I am in the process of establishing a Paypal account so that I can accept credit card orders and international payments. That should be going by the end of this month. Anyone living outside of the USA interested in making a purchase can email me for details on that.)

(I am not on Amazon, nor do I have e-book format yet, due to cost restrictions for this first edition. The e-book part I’m hoping to change in the future.)

I will be hosting 2 giveaways in May – one North America only, one international only. So non-USA/Canada readers can try that as well.

Well, I don’t know about you, Pagelings, but I’m loving the sound of this with its flavor of contemporary but secret existence of Faeries and elves and talking cats and all!

Watch for a book review on this one from yours truly in the near-ish future! ^_^

What do you think? Sound intriguing? Thanks for reading! 🙂

Dream away in those pages . . .

~ The Page Dreamer

Series Review: The Snow Spider, Emlyn’s Moon, The Chestnut Soldier, by Jenny Nimmo

mgcntrilogy

Series: The Magician Trilogy

Titles: The Snow Spider (#1), Emlyn’s Moon (#2), The Chestnut Soldier (#3)

Author: Jenny Nimmo

review

Overall Thoughts

These were slim books, each of which I read in a sitting, and I was in the mood for some short reads, so that was nice. I’m not sure what I think of them overall? I mean… I enjoyed them okay, some of the writing was lovely, and it’s obvious that they’re not meant to be taken too seriously — just fun adventures written for kids.

They follow a modern Welsh boy (Gwyn) from age eight to thirteen, as he discovers he’s the seventh descendant from the last magician in his family line — which has a magician every seven generations since a Welsh magician of legend named Gwydion. So Gwyn has inherited his ancestor’s magic in his blood, and he has to learn responsibility for it and how to look out for his friends and occasionally fight fantastical things, while trying to keep it all from the various relations/neighbors who, due to the modern setting, don’t understand these things. The usual. 😉

I did really like the Welsh setting. I’ve read a few books, now, set in semi-modern-day Wales (these particular ones were from the 1980s) and they all had a similar “feel,” so I found that to be neat. The ancient craggy hills, the wild wind, the old legends creeping into modern day, the sort of almost-lilt of the slightly-odd way they talk even in English, and the occasional smattering of Welsh words dropped here or there.

It may just be the shortness of the books, but I did often feel like things were rushed or not explained well enough. Some of it was super vague and I was confused about what was going on a lot. But like I said, they don’t seem like they’re supposed to be super in-depth. Still, a bit more of explaining things might have been nice. Some of the characters seemed to change randomly, which was weird? But that might have been just me. Sometimes it just felt oddly… unfinished.

One thing that I didn’t like so much, and is a common problem in contemporary novels (one of the reasons I avoid them generally) was the dysfunctional/not getting along of families. Though at least these each tended to focus on one family/problem per book, and generally sorted out most of it by the end, so that was good. I do like seeing repaired families. 🙂 Still, it’s rather difficult for me to get through the stuff before, in order to get there. I just… don’t enjoy reading that stuff. (Some people call it “conflict” and insist that books need that sort of thing. I believe there can be plenty of “conflict” without that sort of uncomfortable mess.) So, one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” sort of things for these books and me.

I quite loved the scraps of Celtic legend thrown in here and there, weaving into the story. That was great! I’m trying to remember specific things it mentioned that I knew about… But anyway, I feel like there were a few things I’d read of before, and even if I hadn’t, it felt… comfortable. In that eerie, mysterious Celtic way, you know. I’m just used to such myths and legends and it feels quite natural to have them built in like this. So that was enjoyable for me.

Oh, and something that really annoyed me (I know it’s inconsequential, sorry) was the excessive use of exclamation marks after dialog. I think it was just an ’80s thing and/or a children’s-book thing, but it felt like they were always quipping or yelling, even though they weren’t supposed to be, and it felt kind of condescending. But that’s just a minor issue and I eventually got mostly used to it. Still, thought I’d mention it.

So… I don’t know, a bit of a mixed bag. There were a few things I really enjoyed about it, but a lot of the overall feeling was one of incomplete meh-ness… but I dunno. By the end of the trilogy I did realize I’d become somewhat attached to the setting and some of the characters. It just felt kind of homey. I think I’ve figured out that happens to me for most things I spend three books in. 😉

I’m not sure I particularly recommend them? But some people who like modern fantasy, and don’t mind small books about very young kids written for a younger age, might enjoy them. I’m not sorry I read them, or anything, and found some enjoyment for myself, they’re just not 100% my “thing” and I don’t know if they’d be others’ either.

Additional Notes on Each Book

snowspider

The Snow Spider (#1)

3starrating

I remember starting this out, accidentally, late one night, and then staying up to finish it. I was thinking, near the end, of possibly giving it 4 stars, since it was rather intriguing and some of the writing was pretty, and I tend to be fairly generous in my star-ratings. Then the ending was a little flat for me, so I settled on 3 stars. It’s not a bad book, it was just… okay for me. I wished a few things had turned out slightly different, and some of it wasn’t well explained. But I did enjoy it okay and it kept me interested, and the Welsh setting/legends were fantastic. (It’s also quite appropriate how Gwyn’s birthday/when people disappear and all, is on Samhain.)

emlynsmoon

Emlyn’s Moon (#2)

3starrating

This was mostly from the POV of Nia, a girl minorly mentioned in the first book. I think I wasn’t expecting that. This one actually reminded me a lot of the Julia Redfern books by Eleanor Cameron (just add a little magic). About a very young, very reckless/hotheaded girl who gets into scrapes, though her continued lying got to me a little, especially since half the time I really understood it, and half the time I… didn’t. I also loved Nia’s art school project part of the plot — quite lovely (though with some misfortunes along the way. *wince*). It was also quite interesting to see the hero of the first book, Gwyn, from another perspective! And then there was Gwyn’s cousin, Emlyn. There could have been more to his story, but I enjoyed his part of it all the same. He was a great addition (I’m sorry, I can never resist the golden eyed/slightly troubled boys).

chestnutsoldier

The Chestnut Soldier (#3)

4starrating

I don’t really do half-stars but… this one might be 3.5? I think I overall liked it better than the first two, but I’m not sure if it quite reaches 4 star distinction? I don’t know. The plot was much more interesting to me though, the whole mystery/legend surrounding Evan, the strange distant “cousin” (he’s not actually) of Nia who comes to stay at their village. The fascinating question of who he was, when, and all, kept me quite interested. I did wish that Emlyn had been in it more — he barely showed up, it seemed to me. This one was rather scarier than the first two, perhaps, but it also had more of the Welsh things instead of just the silvery people from the first two. All in all, my favorite of the trilogy. By this time I’d become rather attached, methinks. Anyways, it had its problems, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit and was pretty satisfied, I think, with how it all turned out. 🙂

summary

From Goodreads:

The Snow Spider (#1)

1snspOn Gwyn’s 9th birthday, his grandmother tells him he may be a magician, like his Welsh ancestors. She gives him five gifts to help him–a brooch, a piece of dried seaweed, a tin whistle, a scarf, and a broken toy horse. One blustery day, unsure what to do with his newfound magic, Gwyn throws the brooch to the wind and receives a silvery snow spider in return. Will he be able to use this special spider to bring his missing sister, Bethan, home? THE SNOW SPIDER spins an icy, sparkly web of mystical intrigue that sets the stage for the next two books in this outstanding trilogy.

Emlyn’s  Moon (#2)

2emmnYoung magician Gywn and his friend Nia have been warned to stay away from Emlyn Llewelyn, the strange boy who claims his mother lives on the moon. And yet, a mysterious magic continues to draw them to him. But why? It’s up to Gwyn and Nia to solve the mystery, with the help of Arianwen, the Snow Spider. Readers will race along with Gwyn in this fantastic magical adventure to rescue Emlyn and his family before it’s too late.

The Chestnut Soldier (#3)

3chsdrGwyn can feel danger coming in the wind. Somehow he knows the warnings have to do with the broken toy horse that holds the evil spirit of a prince who lived long ago. When Gwyn discovers that the prince’s dark soul has escaped from the horse and is seeking revenge Gwyn, Emlyn, and Nia have to figure out how to save the mysterious soldier who claims to be Nia’s distant cousin. With the help of the Snow Spider, can they recapture the prince’s soul without hurting the Chestnut soldier?

factoids

Genre/Category: Contemporary Fantasy

Age Group: Middle Grade

Published: 1986, 1987, 1989

Pages: 128 hardback, 154 hardback, 203 paperback (485 total)

Series: The Magician Trilogy (also called the Snow Spider Trilogy). List on Goodreads.

When Read: February 6, February 20, February 22, respectively (2016)

Favorite Character: Humm… Well, I liked Emlyn in the middle book, and in the final, I’d say Evan (sometimes… whenever he was… ahem… himself).

Other Notes: Book 1 I got from the library; book 2 was given to me; I found book 3 at a library sale.

Read for the Fantasy Love February Reading Challenge hosted by Grace @ Fictionally. (This is my first review for the mini-challenge… I will hopefully have a few more coming this week! Don’t worry, there will be some medieval fantasy adventures too. ;))


Thanks for reading!

Dream away in those pages . . .

~ The Page Dreamer

 

Ten Books I Enjoyed Last Year Outside My Typical Reading Zone

Here’s a list of books I read last year that were not what I typically read, but which I enjoyed all the same… mostly contemporary stuff because I’m not big into the genre but dabbled in it more recently. (Fantasy of a vaguely medieval nature is pretty much my genre, so some things outside it I just consider “weird.)

(Please note that I almost included several Diana Wynne Jones books, because they pretty much defy genre… but Diana Wynne Jones is a distinct category/genre herself in my mind, so that doesn’t count as being outside my typical reading zone, because I’ll read anything with her name on it. So I’m excluding those. We’ve got to be fair to the other poor books…)

The first six are Contemporary, but I’m dividing them into straightforward contemporary fiction, and contemporary fantasy. I don’t know why, but there’s somehow a HUGE difference…

CONTEMPORARY

heist society

Heist Society / Uncommon Criminals / Perfect Scoundrels / Double Crossed (free short story on Kindle) – by Ally Carter

5starratingI know, I’m cheating slightly with a series… But I have to put them all here together in place of one. These were so much fun. YA heist/con-artist books, clean and fun, and well-written — the writing is sort of humorous and just… yes. I quite enjoyed them and wish there were more! Also notable for a certain character, namely Hale, who is awesome. (What is his first name?? We may never know…)

31ThePenderwicksInSpring

The Penderwicks in Spring – Jeanne Birdsall

5starratingI waited so long for this book and was delighted with it. In a sense, I almost SHOULDN’T have liked it because some of it was sad or bittersweet, but it was also so hilarious and awesome and PENDERWICK-y, even though it’s set several years after the other books. Also all of the myriad of characters were so distinct and their storylines were seamlessly juggled and just gaaah, can I sign up somewhere to write this well??

CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

bookofsight

The Book of Sight (5 stars) / The Broken Circle (3 stars) / The Secret Source (4 stars) – by Deborah Dunlevy (On Goodreads)

Again with the contemporary… but I just really enjoyed these, especially the first one. For absolutely no reason. But just… it makes me happy. A group of friends and their interactions with various fantastical creatures/happenings. I’m dying to read the fourth one, still… whyyy have I not found time to read it yet?

whitecat

White Cat / Red Glove / Black Heart (The Curseworkers Trilogy) – by Holly Black

4starratingOh my goodness, how do I even start? Um. These are super dark YA, I don’t even think they should be considered YA? But despite the darkness/content and stuff, I couldn’t help really having a blast with them. (They’re even in first-person-present-tense, which I generally hate? But I just forgot while I was reading.) The hero, Cassel, is just so snarky and hilarious and unfortunate, and the series is… I don’t know. It’s mafia crime family con-artists with magic. WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE. The magic is fascinating — like, there’s four or five different “types” and people are born with different kinds, and everyone wears gloves because the magic comes from the touch of hands. These books I feel like could teach me a lot about pacing and stakes and stuff, for my writing, because just everything comes at our poor hero all at once! My goodness. I can’t fully recommend them due to content, but I really enjoyed them aside from that. But yes, definitely outside my genre/comfort zone; but I’m glad I read ’em all the same. I picked up the first one on the sole recommendation of Cait’s review on Goodreads… After I read it, I thought I didn’t need to bother reading the other two. …Then the next day I realized I was really MISSING this world! Ack. So I got the other two from the library as soon as I could, and devoured them both in a day. Sigh. Addiction is bad, isn’t it? *shakes head at self* I really hope the author will write sequels or spinoffs or something, but I doubt she will…

37TheGrimmLegacy

The Grimm Legacy – Polly Shulman

4starratingThere’s a sort of lending library of magical artifacts from fairytales, in modern-day New York… This one was fun, I enjoyed it, though I feel like it had potential to be more, if you know what I mean? But it was good. Also Aaron.

65ScepterOfTheAncients

Scepter of the Ancients (Skulduggery Pleasant #1) – Derek Landy

4starratingThis was so bizarre but I adored it all the same, because of the fantastic witty banter/dialog/snark from Skulduggery Pleasant himself. It’s set in modern-day Dublin, which is so cool, and Skulduggery is awesome, even if IS a… erm… skeleton. He’s also a detective and has the best lines and this was just rather fun even though it was also kind of scary.

…STUFF

39Illusionarium

Illusionarium – Heather Dixon

5starratingI’m considering steampunk odd/outside my general reading because I’ve only read a handful. This was my first, and I loved it so so much. (For those who haven’t, you can read my incoherent fangirl babbles on this book on my other blog.) But briefly: steampunk and alternate worlds and science-y/magic-y illusion things and sarcastic footnotes by the narrator, our hero Jonathan who’s wonderful, and then of course my favorite thing about it, the character named Lockwood who is just the best ever.

53Plenilune

Plenilune – Jennifer Freitag

5starratingUm… it’s a historical-fiction 1800s turned epic medieval fantasy on the moon story? That’s… not exactly a genre I read a lot of, since it kind of doesn’t exist. It was way too long and exhausting to read because it was so beautifully written, but a lot of it was brilliant all the same, and I really love one and a half of the characters. (Dammerung is the best ever, okay? And Rupert and I have a complicated relationship. BUT DAMMERUNG. <3)

10SkinMap

The Skin Map – Stephen R. Lawhead

5starratingOh my goodness, so much genre mashing in this one too! It defies category… It starts out Contemporary England, and then becomes some odd mix of sci-fi/fantasy with time-travel and alternate time-lines and it’s a mess and I love it so much. I need to read the rest of this series… Also it’s brilliantly written and at times hilarious and so exciting and edge-of-your seat, and the CHARACTERS are just the best.

20Frederica

Frederica – Georgette Heyer

5starratingI don’t read regency romance that often, but this one was so much fun. The family dynamics in this were the best, it was sort of like E. Nesbit meets Jane Austen sort of thing… But the hero, Lord Alverstoke, was one of those kind of awful characters you love all the same (looking at YOU, Howl…) and he and the heroine and her siblings were just… awwwk, the best. *flails around* There is also a hot air balloon. What is not to love. Shenanigans and romance ensue. It’s fabulous and I need to read more of this author.

Do you have a comfort zone/genre of books that you tend to read? Do you step out of it sometimes and are the results good or bad?

Dream away in those pages . . .

~ The Page Dreamer