Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Dragon Legend (Dragon Realm #2) by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Dragon Legend by Katie and Kevin Tsang is the second in the Dragon Realm middle grade series. The books do need to be read in order, so if you haven't read the first book please stop here. There may be spoilers. You can read my review of the first in the Dragon Realm series, here:

Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

In Dragon Legend, Charlotte, Billy, and Ling-Fei must decide whether or not to follow their friend Dylan, who has been grabbed by their teacher, Old Gold, and pulled into a time portal. Old Gold has betrayed them, as well as his grandson, JJ. The entire point of Chinese Culture Camp was to find the right children to help him enter the Dragon Realm, where he planned to join the evil Dragon of Death and be on the winning side when she rules the Human and Dragon Realms. 

Of course, the children decide to go after Dylan. Because JJ has been left behind by his grandfather, he's invited to come along on Dylan's dragon, Buttons. Using one of the dragons' hoards and their powers, they open a portal in time to search for him. What they find is not promising. It looks like the Dragon of Death and her evil minions are already killing innocent dragons who refuse to join her.

What else will the children find? Will they be able to locate and rescue their friend, Dylan? What has Old Gold done with him? Can JJ be trusted? When they find out what Old Gold is up to, will they be able to beat him at his game? And, when there's a fierce dragon battle, who will win? 

Recommended - There's only one thing I didn't love about Dragon Legend and that's the fact that a few too many hints were dropped about how it would end (another cliffhanger). Meh, whatever. I still loved it. I've deliberately kept my review vague but a lot happens and I just don't want to spoil it for kids or grown-ups who love a bit of dragony adventure. And, Dragon Legend is quite a whirlwind ride. Over time, the power the children have from their pearls and connection with their dragons becomes stronger. But will it be enough when the time comes for battle? 

Ugh, I want to read the next book! My thanks to Sterling Children's Books for the review copy. I love this series and would highly recommend it to any child or grown-up in need of an escape into another world. There is some fascinating and unique world building. I enjoyed that feeling that you never know what's going to happen next. Even the ending was surprising in many ways, in spite of the fact that you know what's going to cause the cliffhanger. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (above):

  • The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa - Goodreads win from HarperCollins for review

I almost never win anything from Goodreads but I suspect that's because I don't try too hard. I'm excited about The Cat Who Saved Books because a) cat, b) books, c) Japanese author. Also, a couple friends have reviewed it and enthused about it, so that's always positive. And, yes, those are blooming roses behind the book, in case you were wondering. But, it does finally look like fall, here, and some of our trees are even entirely bare. 

From the library sale (top to bottom):

  • L'Assommoir by Emile Zola
  • Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
  • Dimensions of Sheckley: Selected Novels of Robert Sheckley 
  • The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis

I actually went to the library sale in search of old books with illustrations I could cut out for collaging but as I said on Instagram, I am Bookfool and must live up to my name. I have Beneath a Scarlet Sky in e-book and it's possible I already have a print copy but in my memory I see a slightly dirty copy. If I'm right that I already have it, I'll re-donate the other copy when I find it. This one is nearly pristine, as I prefer my books to be. 

There was one person at the library sale who was clearly there to find books to resell. It's funny how you can spot them. They're always in a hurry and all business, avoid eye contact, and frequently pull out the phone to look up value. 

You may recall that in my last Monday Malarkey post I said I thought I was probably done receiving books for the year. Um . . . I think that's true now? I guess we'll see. I am not buying, although I did make an exception for library sales so the books above don't violate my book-buying ban. At any rate, if I receive anything, it will be a surprise. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Way We Weren't by Phoebe Fox
  • Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang
  • Dragon Legend by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Wow, only 3 books in two weeks. That's not great. But, there were a couple days that I remember not feeling like reading and The Way We Weren't had a bookmark in it for over a week (not the book's fault). Plus, holiday cleaning and entertainment was done. OK, it seems reasonable, now that I've thought about it. And, I enjoyed all 3 books, so I can't complain. 

Currently reading:

  • Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron
  • The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar by Hingston and Olsen (publisher)
  • The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

This is my second year with a Short Story Advent Calendar and it turns out my post about last year's Short Story Advent Calendar influenced two friends to purchase their own. This has been so much fun, already. Brittanie (former blogger at A Book Lover) and I have been texting each other about some of the stories. It's twice the fun having someone to discuss them with, even if it's only to say, "I thought it was funny, did you?" This year's advent calendar has a "'round the world" theme, so most are translations, which I love. Translations often give you an excellent peek into other cultures. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

We've only watched one movie in the past 2 weeks, the 1984 version of Dune that has been criticized since its release. Honestly, I avoided it all these years because of the criticism but I wanted to compare it to the newer release. Wow, what a huge difference. The new Dune is a work of art, visually appealing but clearly missing some of the nuance that the book should reveal. 

The 1984 Dune is the opposite. It's not very enjoyable to look at and the Baron was so gross that I often found myself looking away during his scenes. But, the missing bits of characterization seemed to be spelled out a lot better. I felt like I got the storyline in a way I didn't with the newer version. It's not perfect, obviously. The storyline is clearly expansive and was far too compressed in the 1984 version. And, yet, I enjoyed getting to see the entire story play out and I cannot freaking wait to read the book. I think Dune is going to be my first chunkster read in 2022. 

Also, wow, what an all-star cast. 

Otherwise, we've watched bits and pieces of movies but not turned on the TV, much. The only other thing we've watched a substantial chunk of is the Beatles documentary, Get Back. And, what an interesting experience that is, seeing them work through the creative process, interact with the people in the studio and each other, joke and bicker. 

Like everyone else who has commented, I think the most fascinating part of the first episode was watching Paul start with a rhythm and a single chord, add a tune, and then start adding lyrics to "Get Back" and seeing how his bandmates then joined in. 

I was also intrigued by Paul's comment that in 50 years people were going to blame Yoko Ono for breaking up the band because she "sat on an amp". Of course, she was immediately blamed; it didn't take 50 years. It was fascinating to see her sit quietly and I appreciated the fact that she wasn't the only girlfriend/wife to show up at the studio. 

In general, it makes so much more sense why the band broke up, now. They needed to go their separate ways. They were clearly itching to try new things but still very good friends. They laughed a lot but there was occasional tension. No woman was to blame for their need to move on. Anyway, that's all my thoughts, so far. I think we stopped halfway through the second episode because it was late, so we have 1 1/2 episodes to go. I didn't have too much trouble with the Liverpudlian/Scouse accents but I noticed someone commented that he couldn't understand them and gave up (beneath a friend's Facebook post). Subtitles are available. I chose to use them in the second episode because there were definitely times I missed a joke or couldn't understand what was said. 

Also, it's been fun watching what everyone else seems to be viewing, for once! 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch-style home, we had workers building a sidewalk that goes from the driveway to the terraced patio at the back of our house. The sidewalk is finished and I love it. It has the same cobblestones as the patio and ties in nicely, plus it's very subtle and pretty; you don't see the sidewalk from the street unless you're looking for it and I like that. They had to build a couple more steps from the upper patio level to the sidewalk because they redid the earthwork and we're waiting for them to return to cap those off, then we'll probably get the earth that was ripped up sodded. At any rate, it's an exciting addition to our house. The side yard was soggy and slippery; we really needed something to make walking around the side of our house less hazardous and it's so pretty that it really adds a nice feature to the looks of our yard. Now, if my knees would stop hurting, another goal of adding the sidewalk was to create an extra stretch to walk on without straying from the house, in case one of the arthritic knees goes out. Gah, I feel old. How are you feeling, today? :)

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Fiona Friday - Stargazing

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Spy School, Evil Spy School, and Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs

All three of these books are from the same middle grade series but the Spy School series has been going on for quite some time and there are at least 7 books, now. So, this doesn't cover all of them, by any means. 

In Spy School (Spy School #1) by Stuart Gibbs, Ben Ripley is an ordinary kid with above average math skills and his dream is to be in the CIA one day. But, he's not exactly CIA material. He can barely get through the school day without something going wrong. 

When Ben is told that he's being given a scholarship to a special school for science and math nerds, his parents are particularly excited. But, when it turns out that he's actually moved into a school for future CIA agents, it's Ben that's thrilled. Until he finds out that his acceptance was a case of mistaken identity. 

From his introduction to spy school to fighting the bad guys (known as SPYDER) toward the end of the book, Spy School is an action-packed, humorous, and hopefully-romantic ride. I particularly loved the side characters who are written in the James Bond vein: a grandfather, his son, and his granddaughter — a family that goes all the way back to the start of America's spy network by Nathan Hale, their ancestor. Ben develops a terrible crush on Erica Hale, who has been training to be a spy her entire life

Will Ben get a really attractive girlfriend and a place in the CIA? Will his opportunity to become a genuine spy evaporate when he scores badly in self defense? Are extreme math skills enough? What will happen when Ben is faced with a dangerous person from SPYDER, a network of criminals who would like the CIA's spy school to go up in smoke?

I knew I'd made a good decision buying as many from this series as possible when I read Spy School. It is just ridiculously fun. I loved the action, the humor, and the interaction between Ben and Erica, as well as the hilarity of Alexander Hale's attempts to make himself out to be the world's greatest spy (Alexander is Erica's father). 

Next up is Spy Camp, but when I bought the 5 books from this series, either I overlooked it or it wasn't available. So, I skipped on to Evil Spy School (Spy School #3). This wasn't a problem. Although there are references to the second book, each of the Spy School books stands alone just fine. 

Ben has been kicked out of spy school for accidentally bombing the principal's office, but when he's recruited to join a different group of spies, the bad guys he's already fought twice, he agrees to join their school with the thought that he can learn what they're up to and maybe even stop their nefarious plans. 

Evil spy school is not at all like the CIA's spy school. There's a massive gym, for one thing, and there aren't many students. One is extraordinarily perky, which seems odd in a school where the kids know they're working for the bad guys. But, as Ben gets to know his fellow students, he realizes he's there for a reason. He was set up and now he has no choice but to determine what the bad guys are up to before it's too late. And, by too late, I mean Really Big Bombs raining down. Will Ben be able to figure out the evil plan in time to save the day? 

Once again, nonstop fun. I love the rollercoaster plotting of the Spy School series and where the author took Ben's maybe-relationship with Erica (well . . . friendship) in Evil Spy School and the bang-up ending (lots of running and explosions and funny moments). 

Spy Ski School (Spy School #4) takes Ben, Erica, some of his friends from school, Alexander Hale, and the grandfather (I can't remember his name) to Colorado, where Ben has been tasked with getting to know Jessica Shang, the daughter of an extraordinarily wealthy Chinese businessman. The CIA suspects that he's up to no good, but they really don't know. They don't even exactly know how he became wealthy but he's rented an entire hotel for himself and Jessica while they're in town so Jessica can take skiing lessons. At the hotel and even around Jessica, security is very tight. 

Ben doesn't know how to ski and neither does Jessica, so he's the perfect person to hang out with her on the bunny slopes. But, a complication arises when Ben's best friend arrives on the ski slopes and risks the entire mission by getting in the way of Ben and Jessica's potential friendship. 

Will Ben be able to get close to Jessica so that he can figure out what her father is up to? Has Ben's best friend figured out that Ben is learning to be a spy? While some of his team also spend time skiing, a few dig for answers on computers set up at the hotel. Is Jessica's father really helicopter skiing? Or is he meeting with dangerous people? If he's doing something dangerous, can he be stopped?

All highly recommended - OK, yes, they're very goofy books. I like humor and action combined, so the Spy School series is perfect for a middle-grade-loving adult like me and makes me wish my kids were younger so I could foist the series on them and watch their faces light up. Both of my sons would have loved this series during their elementary years, especially my younger son. I highly recommend all three and I'm looking forward to reading the remaining two on my stacks. I think they'd be particularly great for reluctant readers who like a good laugh. Both of my sons went through a phase during which they were disinterested in reading and I lured them back by finding books that fit their personal interests. Both were fans of action and adventure and loved a good belly laugh. It's hard for me to imagine a child not enjoying this series, to be honest. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Way We Weren't by Phoebe Fox

I don't think I've ever read a book quite like The Way We Weren't by Phoebe Fox. As a teenager, Marcie Malone found out she was pregnant just before graduation. Her boyfriend handled it well, suggesting that they should marry and deal with the pregnancy together. But, that meant giving up all of her plans. Marcie knew exactly where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do for a living and all that ended the moment she saw two pink lines.

Decades later, Marcie and Will are in their early 40s and have never had a child. The first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and they never managed to get pregnant, again, till now. But, the recent pregnancy wasn't as welcomed by her husband and ended in miscarriage, as well. On her way back to work after a few days off to recover from the miscarriage, Marcie inexplicably passes her exit and keeps driving, all the way from Atlanta to Florida. There, she is taken in by an elderly curmudgeon named Herman Flint who has his own issues to deal with. When Marcie ends up staying in Florida to consider her options, she slowly works her way into the heart of locals and eventually figures out why Flint is such an angry old man. 

As her stay in Florida keeps getting extended, she also meets a potter who is carefree, refuses to be boxed in by a traditional job, and encourages Marcie to return to her artistic roots. Will Marcie ever return to her career in hotel management and her husband? Or will temptation and frustration with a life gone in a totally different direction from her plans draw her away? Can Marcie help Flint resolve his own issues and start enjoying his life, again? 

There are some little side things happening that fill out this story. The turtles on the cover are relevant and there's a hurricane that hits the island where Marcie is staying. And, Marcie comes up with some creative ways to deal with a problem she encounters. 

Recommended - I found The Way We Weren't utterly engrossing. I couldn't wait to get back to it, each evening. My life went off the rails much like Marcie's, but for much different reasons. So, I could relate in some ways to her struggle. And, I think since it's not particularly graphic, women who've been through miscarriage and/or infertility will feel seen and understood when they read it, not doubly traumatized. So, I wouldn't say it needs a trigger warning. 

I did think the story took a slightly odd turn about 3/4 of the way into the book (and I had a few minor plot or detail quibbles — very minor) but I also felt like . . . OK, this was Marcie feeling her way, rocked by her recent loss and confused, trying to make a decision about who she was, who she wanted to be, where to take her life, next. So, while it seemed like there was a strange tack in the direction of the story, in the end it felt right because she needed that experience to help her figure out what's next. I loved this story and found it relatable and fresh. I'll be looking for more by Phoebe Fox!

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols

This will just be a quickie review because I don't like to say much about books that I didn't love. Lost Love's Return by Alfred Nicols is a book I bought after a friend begged me to read it (the author is a friend of her family) and then she chose it for our F2F book group's selection. I didn't go to the meeting and have only actually been once since before the pandemic but I read it so I could share my thoughts with her. 

Lost Love's Return is about an American soldier named Peter who is injured during WWI. He and a British nurse, Elizabeth, fall in love. But, when he's shipped out without time to tell her he has to leave or give her his address and he realizes he doesn't know how to get in touch with her at all — doesn't even actually know the name of the hospital where she works — they completely lose touch and he ends up in a loveless marriage back home, an ocean away from her. 

Decades pass before he's able to track her down with the help of his son. What will Peter find when he finally reunites with the love of his life?

Neither recommended or not recommended - OK, so my personal opinion is that Lost Love's Return brings nothing new to the table. There is no new insight about WWI and the love story is both predictable and one that's been done, before. Having said that, there was a point that I found myself enjoying the story and it has high ratings at Goodreads. So, I wouldn't tell anyone not to read it. There's a sweetness to the romantic storyline; it's just nothing new or special, in my humble opinion. Also, I was a little frustrated by the fact that all of the men who were main characters were tall, strong, blond, and handsome but most of the women were either unattractive or highly self-critical, except for Elizabeth. And, the men kept getting women pregnant. It was just a little trite in that way and felt like a total guy book, to me. I also thought there were a few problems with the British English but that's not necessarily something that will jump out at everyone. I opted not to rate the book at Goodreads but now that I've had time to let it marinate, I'd say it's . . . average? Not horrible, not great, just OK. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Reading glasses are not edible

But, they must be tested to make certain. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.