Tag Archives: MG

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1) by Maria Turtschaninoff (translated by Annie Prime)
Published in 2014 (2016 English edition) by Pushkin Children's Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from a friend.

Genre: MG fantasy.

My rating:

Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren’t allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.

Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.

Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.

zmaj-desnoOne of my resolutions for this year was to read more non-English books. I decided to count this one despite the fact that I read it in English – it’s a Finnish original (translated by Annie Prime) and as I can’t read (or speak) Finnish, reading a translation was the only option.

Maresi is a really interesting middle grade fantasy. The story is told by a girl (whose name is Maresi, go figure), a novice at the Red Abbey, which is a temple to the Great Mother built on a tiny island that’s nearly impossible to reach. No men ever set foot on this island, all the Sisters and the novices are women. Some of the novices are daughters of rich men who send them to the Abbey because it offers a spectacular education. Some are fugitives from horrible conditions. But all are equal on the island and welcome to learn as much as they can.

Maresi loves to study. She is the happiest when she gets to sit alone in the library, reading all the books and the records of times past. I liked her both as a character and as a narrator, her analytical mind, honed by studying old texts, is childish (she’s thirteen, I think, at the beginning of the story) but well-organised. It’s been a while since I read a similar narration (a report of events written in the first person) and I enjoyed it a lot.

The plot takes a while to take off. I kept waiting for something to happen and then realized the entire “introduction” was a slow, measured way of easing me into the characters’ stories, the ways of the Abbey, the religion and everything that goes with it. It might not be for everyone – especially if you’re used to epic fantasy where things go bang a lot – but it worked just fine for me.

I also liked the examination of different cultures through the eyes of the girls who come to the island. They all come from different cultures and don’t know anything about each other’s habits, so explaining how things – especially gender roles (!) – work is something that was done tastefully and realistically enough that I wanted to know more about these cultures.

I didn’t know the book was the first part of the series until I checked it out on Goodreads – after I had already finished it. So it works okay as a separate installment, I found the ending satisfying enough for it to be a standalone. But I heard the sequel is awaiting translation, so I’ll definitely be checking it out!

zmaj-levo

Have you read Maresi, by any chance? How about other Finnish books?

Do you like a slow start to a novel or do you want to land in the middle of the action?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Published in 2002 by Scholastic Inc..

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: MG paranormal (?) fantasy.

My rating:

When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous. But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

zmaj-desno

I really like Neil Gaiman. I mean, I haven’t had much luck with his adult novels yet but Stardust was a beautiful fairytale and I still think The Graveyard Book is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read.

Coraline is another one of his successes but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to young readers. Why, you ask? Well, I know it was written and published and marketed as an MG book but honestly, it creeped me out and I can definitely imagine having nightmares if I’d read it as a child. I didn’t often read scary stuff when I was younger (I was a big chicken even then) but I remember reading Dracula when I was about 14, for example, and it scared the sh*t out of me. The fact that the story is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations by Dave McKean isn’t comforting at all, as they are creepy as hell. Buttons for eyes? *shudder* So … I’d say Coraline is a great book for youngsters who are already used to scary stuff and even crave it but I’d be careful if the kid was a bit of a scaredy cat.

The fact is that Coraline deals with some serious issues. The image of a girl whose parents are less than enthusiastic about her is provocative in its own right, but the big question is: would she switch her parents for more loving ones, given the chance? I found Gaiman’s execution of this problem to be really good, he managed to bring all the tension into it but also gave us a powerful resolution in the end.

I loved the setting, the big old house with wonky neighbors and the strange feeling of isolation. But maybe it’s a bit much for kids? I don’t even know, it’s so surreal and dreamlike at times that I could hardly keep up with all the doors and hallways and all. Am I judging it too harshly? Am I being patronizing towards kids? Ugh.

See, I can’t even make up my own mind on this one. I think Coraline is a fantastic read but if the target audience is supposed to be the same age as the heroine, it’s too complex (the setting and the execution, not the theme – the theme is perfect). I’d expect this kind of complexity from a YA novel but then the theme is perhaps less relevant for such an age group. *sigh*

zmaj-levo

Have you read Coraline? What did you think?

Do you always trust publishers and authors when it comes to determining the target audience of a novel?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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A Batch of YA Mini Reviews

I’ve had these written up and sitting around for a while and I really think it’s time for me to publish them. It may look like I’ve had the two ARCs for years because of their publication dates but I only received them last year, so I’m not that horrible.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published in 2011 by Walker Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (Slovenian hardback).

Genre: MG urban fantasy/magical realism?.

My rating:

I enjoyed Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy a lot. I even saw him when he visited a book festival in Ljubljana – he’s one of the few authors who did. I read both that trilogy and A Monster Calls in Slovenian translations, which are very good. But while I liked A Monster Calls, I didn’t love it like I expected to. Maybe my expectations were too high?

In any case, this is a good story about a boy dealing with grief, it’s an important story to have if you need to offer it to a child/young person dealing with a similar situation. I guess we all deal with loss in our lives, in one way or another; hopefully not too often, but such is the way of life. I thought Ness did a credible job of working through the issues of denial, anger, and helplessness that come with such a life situation. I know a lot of people absolutely adore this book, so I urge you to give it a try, especially if you’ve already read Ness’s other stories and liked them.

The artwork is also absolutely brilliant, I think the story wouldn’t be half as good without it. Jim Kay is the man who’s working on the illustrated versions of Harry Potter, but his style is completely different here, it’s dark and scary.

zmaj-desno

Thorn by Intisar Khanani
Published in 2012 by Intisar Khanani.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: author via NetGalley. Thank you Intisar Khanani for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA fantasy/fairytale retelling.

My rating:

Uh, this is one of my old ARC debts… I read Thorn last year as a part of the Fairytale Retelling Challenge, though I never got around to reviewing it. *sigh* I find it hard to write about books I neither actively liked nor disliked, I never know what exactly to write about them. I did enjoy Thorn, it’s a retelling of “The Goose Girl”, where a princess is unlawfully replaced by an evil impostor and has to prove her worth even though she’s now stripped of her royal status. I liked the story, it doesn’t rely on privilege and birthright to show a character’s strength, but I felt like the author didn’t really add anything important to the original story. The plot is essentially the same, only the decor is different. I liked the slightly Oriental vibe, but I found the princess’s reliance on God to be overwhelming, I prefer it if characters primarily believe in themselves and other people. It’s just one of those personal pet peeves, what can I say. I also missed more fantasy elements – I know fairy tales don’t necessarily feature them but this story did, to an extent. So I wished for a more pronounced world-building and/or magic system. This wasn’t a bad story but I wish it was executed more thoughtfully.

zmaj-levo

Shadows (The Rephaim #1) by Paula Weston
by Text Publishing.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Text Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA paranormal fantasy.

My rating:

Well, what can I say, I’m a sucker for YA paranormals. Ever since I read Twilight, I’ve been searching for good stories (YES, I know, it’s horrible of me to say that but it’s true. I refuse to feel ashamed.) that would break the mold. And… Shadows doesn’t, really. I mean, it’s always nice to read a story where angels aren’t the good guys, though I think Laini Taylor took excellent care of that with her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Shadows is decidedly darker, more violent and kind of mysterious, but it has the requisite hot guy who knows too much about the heroine, the jealous ex-boyfriend (who is also gorgeous, hello, he’s an angel!) and a heroine who kicks ass even though she can’t remember where she’s learned it all. I liked the twin angle – she’s grieving/missing her twin brother, I think that if the story will develop that part, it might get really good. I’ll probably pick up the sequel one day, I’m just not in a huge rush to do so.

zmaj-desno

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Do you have any fairytale retelling of paranormal fantasy recs for me?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

gabrielGabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen, published in August 2014 by Schwartz & Wade.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: borrowed from a friend.

Genre: middle grade urban fantasy.

How can twelve-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father… or to his death. (Goodreads)

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My rating: 3/5.

I’ve been putting this review off for weeks. I don’t really know why, except it’s probably one of those average reviews that I dislike writing so much.

This is an interesting middle grade novel, but it reminds me too much of Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins – there’s a missing father and a boy who must save him, a secret underworld where the lurks, and animal friends. Why, WHY is everything so derivative these days?? (I recently had a problem with another book that reminded me strongly of something I’ve read before.)

But it has some bright moments – first of all, I liked the friendships between the young characters. They’re both boys and girls and there’s nothing romantic going on at all (whew, finally!), and they’re all quirky in their own innovative ways. The adults are interesting as well – and not at all absent as is common in adventure novels for kids (you know the kind – where the kids seem to function without any parental supervision, right?). And Hagen puts in some nice phrases such as this one: “We know where the best saffron blooms grown, where wolves nurse their young, where elephants go to grieve.” I don’t know why, but this quote stuck with me as I pictured these magical places.

There are even some birds with lovely personalities – all sarcastic and cynical. But I don’t know that I can forgive Hagen for making robins collaborate with the evil side – they’re my favourite birds (I liked them best even before I read and fell in love with The Secret Garden). This relationship between the ravens and their human counterparts is a fine thing indeed: “Magic between two minds is a mysterious thing. It happens quite simply, or not at all. Like friendship. Or love.

While the writing is good and vivid (as evidenced above), it sometimes slips into an overly didactic mode. I dislike this in children’s literature, but that might just be my problem. Anyway, here’s what I mean: “Eventually, however, they found a large room paved with flagstones. There was an arched doorway with a portcullis – a heavy gate that could be raised and lowered with a chain.” Why use the big word at all if you then condescend to the kids by explaining it to them?

As a sidenote: this novel is definitely a translator’s worst nightmare. As the title indicates, it’s chock-full of riddles and puns (some good ones and some that are deliberately atrocious), so I don’t even want to imagine how much work the translation would be to make the text sound alright in a foreign language…

All in all, this is a rather good urban fantasy adventure for kids who like Suzanne Collins, mysteries, birds, and riddles. If you know such a kid, by all means, recommend this book to them! :)

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Have you read any good middle grade novels lately? 

I haven’t read that many in the past months and I’m thinking this could be another challenge for next year (along with something classics-related).