But then inexplicably weird things start happening every time the words “I wish” come out of Allyson’s mouth. At first she can’t believe she’s making them happen, but as the evidence continues to mount, Allyson starts to panic. Why is this happening to her? Is her mom really a witch? Why did her Swedish grandmother send her a troll statue for a birthday present?
And what’s with the strange white-haired woman who randomly appears to taunt and terrify her in the dead of night? It takes a visit from her grandmother, Farmor, to straighten things out—if being told that you’re a Troll Kvinna and must pass intense, dangerous magical trials to prove yourself can be said to straighten anything out.
Spell Check starts out slowly, and readers will figure out what’s happening to Allyson long before she does. The pace does pick up in later chapters, as Allyson’s numerous thoughtless wishes are granted in disastrous ways and her Farmor must step in to help her make things right. Chapters are similarly uneven in length, though this is a minor quibble.
More problematic is the writing style. Although the protagonist is in high school, her expressions are solidly middle-grade in tone. There are also several spelling and usage errors in the e-book text I read, though these may be cleared up by a good editor.
I’m guessing that Spell Check is meant to be the first of a book series, as there are a number of loose ends sticking out of the narrative. At one point we are introduced to a very small man and a very large elk, who appear to be important characters, but who do not appear elsewhere in the book. Allyson is supposed to be learning about her powers and abilities, and about the history of the Troll Kvinnor, but we hear very little of this information through her—she just can’t seem to focus on her studies, even though obtaining this knowledge may be a matter of life and death to her.
Overall, though, I’d say Spell Check is a fun read with a pleasant—if not particularly inspired—writing style, especially for middle-school kids. Allyson is a funny, relatable heroine, and Swedish troll folklore, which may not be as well-known as other European folk tales, gives a new spin to the somewhat hackneyed “teenage girl receives magical powers” trope. I especially recommend it for girls who like stories about magic with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.
Release Date: June 10, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 1941849008 (9781941849002)
Publisher: Heart Stone Press
Sexuality: 1 (kissing)
Violence: 2 (peril and physical damage during trials)
Norman can see dead people. He talks to them daily, on the way to school and anywhere else. His town has ghosts wandering all over the place. Everyone else thinks he’s crazy, and they practically treat him as an outcast. Even his father and sister get in on the rudeness toward him. The only one who seems to understand (or at least try to understand him) and support a bit is his mom. Oh, and his grandma. Who is dead, and still hanging out in his living room.
His crazy uncle stops him on the way home, blathering on about some 300-year-old witch’s curse and how Norman was the only one who could stop it. He then promptly dies before he can tell Norman exactly what he’s supposed to do about things.
The stop-motion animation is very stylized, with all of the characters having something about them which is just ever-so-slightly off-kilter. The settings are also creepy but normal. Unless you’ve seen it, it’s hard to explain. The director worked on one of my favorite films, Coraline, so perhaps that experience warped him a little. In a good way.
The music was mostly forgettable (I can’t even think of one song from it, and I only finished it a few minutes before writing this). The plot and pacing, while eventually coming together, tended to wander a bit, giving you a bit of information here and a little more there, but doing little to tie things together in a neat little package.
The horror aspects of the film, involving zombies and one really angry witch, weren’t terribly scary for me, but I suspect a younger audience might be disturbed by them (especially the parts involving the witch). Many of those scary bits were played for the humor, almost as if being parodied a bit. The humorous aspects definitely help with reducing the frightening themes. However, this would definitely be a film where you watch it first and determine if your little precious one is able to handle the scary imagery without keeping you up all night due to nightmares.
Even with the drawbacks, I still enjoyed ParaNorman quite a bit. The quirky humor and interesting characters kept me going even when the narrative wandered in strange roads. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you liked Coraline.
Release Date: August 17, 2012 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (one scene of random pill-taking)
Language: 1 (one instance of deity, minor expletives)
Sexuality: 1 (mild innuendo)
Violence: 2 (mostly non-graphic zombie attacks, angry mobs, bullying)
Owen Zastava Pitt is an accountant by choice, as he wanted the most boring, mundane job he could find after he nearly killed someone during an illegal pit fight. Things were going well on this front until his boss changed into a werewolf and attacked him as he worked late one evening.
After barely surviving the attack and killing his now-former boss, Owen is offered a job with Monster Hunter International, the premier monster hunting organization in the United States. He learns that all the mythical and storybook monsters are real, and many of them are bent on killing humans. He fits right in.
Correia draws on Lovecraft, campy horror movies, and other similar sources as he puts his own twist on all of them and serves it up fresh for your enjoyment. He even draws on various religious sources, though those aren’t as noticeable in this book as in some of the later books in the series.
The pacing in Monster Hunter International is spot-on, with a perfect blend of action, monster killing, and humor. Each of the characters is unique, and each has his/her own voice, making for a very believable interaction between characters. For those that care about such things, his characters are a veritable rainbow of cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity.
Correia knows his guns, too, and he shares his enthusiasm throughout the text without it becoming overbearing or boring. I think this shows especially through Milo, the resident weapons and explosives expert at MHI, as he comes up with all kinds of modifications and ideas just because he can.
Now, if books were given ratings, this would likely be the equivalent of an “R” due to the violence and somewhat prevalent language throughout. The language is never gratuitous, however, so if you can handle a little saltiness, I highly recommend Monster Hunter International as a great diversion.
Release Date: July 28, 2009 (USA)
ISBNs: 1439132852 (9781439132852)
Publisher: Baen Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (Earl is always smoking)
Language: 3 (somewhat regular weak and strong expletives)
Sexuality: 1 (some minor innuendo)
Violence: 4 (some brutal and/or graphic descriptions of violence, monster fights, death)
The Dark Between the Stars is the first book in a new trilogy based on the epic science fiction Saga of Seven Suns series by Kevin J. Anderson. It does not require having read the previous series, but if you have read it, your enjoyment of this book will increase.
Twenty years after the hydrogues, the faeros, and the insectoid Klikiss with their evil black robots were defeated in the elemental war, peace has settled in on the new Confederation. King Peter and Queen Estarra rule from the worldforest planet of Theroc, and a new era of cooperation is building between the green priests of Theroc, the Ildiran Empire, and the human Confederation.
As part of this new era, the Ildirans have broken from tradition and sent out an expedition to explore beyond the Spiral Arm. There they encounter a “black nebula” which damages all their electronics and destroys all but one person on the ship. When he is discovered, he has been changed, but he is unsure why the Shana Rei—an ancient enemy of the Ildirans—decided to spare his life. The Shana Rei start attacking in apparently random places, destroying everyone and everything in their path, and they appear to have joined forces with the remaining Klikiss robots.
Anderson is an expert at having a large cast of characters and keeping the story flowing from one character to the next. He makes it easy in The Dark Between the Stars (and in the previous Saga of the Seven Suns) by naming each chapter after the main character it is about. He also cleverly bridges from one chapter to the next through referencing the next character at the end of each chapter. I can almost see the scene-wipes as the focus changes to the next character.
All of the characters are interesting, and each has his or her own motivations for what they do. Very rarely is there a purely evil character; rather, each one has specific motivations which may be perfectly logical to that character, but appear good or evil to other characters, similar to the way master animator Hayao Miyazaki creates his characters. Every character has a clear moral (or amoral, in a few cases) compass, and they are true to that throughout the story.
The only real drawback I can see is if you get confused easily in epic stories with many different characters. In this case, you may find it frustrating that the story is not moving as quickly for your favorite character. I did not find this to be true in my case, however, and I loved seeing the tapestry being woven before my eyes as the story unfolded. The story moves along at a comfortable pace, even when it speeds up a little during battle scenes and assassination attempts.
The Dark Between the Stars is the beginning of another epic science fiction story from Anderson. I enjoyed every page because Anderson simply nails it on the adventure, and I am really looking forward to the next book.
Release Date: June 3, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 076533299X (9780765332998)
Publisher: Tor Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking, mentions of smoking)
Language: 1 (some mild expletives)
Sexuality: 0 (description)
Violence: 2 (battle scenes and aftermaths, peril, death)
The story begins with Daniel, formerly cured of his werewolf curse, now stuck in the form of a white alpha wolf and perhaps a true Hound of Heaven. Daniel’s father, Caleb, the megalomaniacal man hellbent on not earning Father of the Year, still has plans to kill Sirhan, the one true alpha, and take his place. Caleb’s grudge runs deep, and his actions affect all the characters as they try to keep ahead of him.
Jude broods, Talbot seems to want to help (but who can trust him?), and Grace is trying to hold everything together while dealing with her mother’s nervous breakdown, her father in the hospital on life support, new powers, and Gabriel’s very intense expectations of her fulfilling a messianic role.
Despite the aggressive plot, I had problems with the first two fifths of the book. Something about the voice and narrative felt off to me. There were good scenes, like when Gabriel and Grace discussed how Grace blamed God for her troubles, but there were other scenes where new werewolf details would pop off the page then be explained by Grace thinking, “Oh, yeah. I’ve read about this before”. I wonder if there may have been too many lose ends from the second book to tie up in the beginning of this book. Overall, the story and writing were slow to find their stride in the beginning.
Those are minor details, however, that might not bother everybody. I felt the real problem with the story in the beginning was that the story didn’t work well with Grace playing opposite a furry Daniel. Grace needed Daniel as a human. Grace and Daniel weren’t just a cute couple; they were the core of the story. They worked and flirted together. They worried and felt pain together. They plotted and schemed together. They moved the story forward as a unit.
Once Grace rescued Daniel, Despain seemed to find her story’s voice again. The Savage Grace began to feel like the sequel I had looked forward to with Despain’s sensual descriptions and witty conversations. In fact, once Daniel returned, there was an excellent balance and flow between conversation and action again.
One aspect of this final book in the trilogy that I enjoyed very much was the use of religion as a positive force. Grace used religion, prayer, and worship as her center without the story being preachy. One would expect prayer to be critical to a Hound of Heaven’s spirituality. I have to caution readers, however, that the idea of Grace and Daniel as angels of God is often compromised by their language. This installation in the series seemed more potty-mouthed than the others.
Will you enjoy this series? I believe it has a lot going for it. Its spicy dialog, intrigue, and good world building are notable. The theme of redemption runs like a river throughout the books, giving the story arc more strength than other paranormal YA stories I’ve read. Grace is a strong female character who is both strong and feminine. Although she loves Daniel, her love for family is a stronger motivating force. Grace is nothing like Bella or Katniss. I’m surprised more people haven’t taken notice of her.
Release Date: March 13, 2012 (USA)
ISBNs: 1606842218 (9781606842218)
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (referenced)
Language: 3 (scatological and deity)
Sexuality: 2 (sexual tension, but no sex)
Violence: 3 (brutal violence, death)