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The Fate in the Box

The Fate in the Box - Michelle Lovric 3 leaning on 3.5; 4 if I'm feeling pleased.

This is my first novel by Ms. Author, so I haven't had the pleasure of reading her previous books that I've learned also feature Venice. Ever since I've read The Thief Lord, I've wanted more stories in a Venetian setting, so when I saw the Fate in the Box in a book sale, I purchased it straight away.

It was... good. Adequate? I was surprised by the amount of magical beings in it, and while I may love my fantastic beasts, it felt like the story turned into a pot luck of fantasy creatures and ideas. The mermaids were a pleasant surprise, because, after all, it is a river city.

The bad guy was adequately bad, the retribution was satisfactorily laid out, and there is some character development notable in the story. I wish I would have seen more of Tockle, the only male protagonist, though; he kind of got shoved in the background by Amneris, Biri, and Latenia (who wasn't even that much of a major character?). He also kind of... cried too much in my opinion.

And while I was hanging on for a great Venetian story, I found myself slightly disappointed, probably because I've compared it to The Thief Lord. In The Fate in the Box, all I got were names, names, names, names of places, names of houses, Italian terms... I understand it's a fantasy story, but it's set in Venice for pancake's sake. A little description of the city here and there would not have been amiss. There are some notes at the end by Ms. Author where she had written down the places in Venice that inspired her for a few settings in the book, but I didn't have time to Google them one by one to help me imagine the main characters' dwellings (aside from the fact that this info came at the end of the story).

Squicks aside, I quite enjoyed it. I felt like the characters were really fleshed out and the story proved most entertaining.

The Dragon of Trelian

The Dragon of Trelian - Michelle Knudsen I dove headlong into this book with the fervent wish that it would live up to expectations after buying it from Booksale without an inkling as to how good (or bad) it might be. Fortunately, it didn't disappoint. Dragons, castles, magic, headstrong princesses and reserved mage-in-trainings: it all screams awesome fantasy adventure and makes for a good read. Although the ideas are nothing new, they had been delivered well. There were instances in her writing that I felt could use a little more polish, as it reminded me of myself when I began writing stories at 12, but it doesn't get in the way of the story. There's card-reading, expeditions, unexplained scary monsters, an invisible cat and one stony-faced mage that is a particular favorite. How can you go wrong?

Kudos to Ms. Knudsen for creating a world with names that won't cost you a uvula and a pint of spit to pronounce. I can't really complain about the world building; we're offered bite-sized bits of history and information that didn't feel like massive info dumps.

Characters:

A little gripe I had with this book was that I expected more of Calen's side to the story than Meg's, and that's because it was his name that was first mentioned on the summary. Surely if one were more outstanding than the other, it would be their name on the forefront? Ah, but then I thought, marketing: that guys-will-read-guy-books-but-not-girl-books shtick. And now I feel duped. I should have known better from one of the author reviews (is that what you call those things?) mentioning that it would be perfect for fans of Shannon Hale, whose protaganists are all female. Still, Calen gets a nice little bit of the story from his point of view, although I felt it was hardly enough. But that's just me, anyway.

Meg is a well-rounded character: Her actions befit the status of a person who has never wanted for nothing, and yet her personality veers away from conventional princess behavior. Sometimes though I felt that Ms. Author wanted a princess character who wasn't girlish or liked pretty dresses or sitting still and presented her strong will (which was time and time again pointed out in the book) and stubborness so blatantly that it shoved Calen in the background and tended to make her a tad bit annoying, although that only serves to make her more realistic as a person. Can't like everything about someone, yanno (I mean, come on; slapping a person three times to keep him awake after he just exhausted himself in an effort to save them, and for what? Give the dude a break). It makes me want to read now about a princess who likes getting primped up and has good fashion sense and sewing and dancing and all those 'girly' things and yet can still whoop ass.

Calen is a dear. He's got a long way to go before gaining that right amount of confidence as a mage, but I liked how he became a little more sure of himself after realizing his potential. All in all, the two make a good team. Bonus points for letting them go through a realistic relationship of being friends with each other as opposed to just pairing them up because they're the main characters. What was also nice to see was each character's perspective of the other: From Meg's side, we see her view of Calen as a budding mage who is kind, loyal, and can get in the way of himself. From Calen's, his impression of Meg is a feisty if slightly violent girl who wants to be her own person in lieu of her dragon link.

I was genuinely surprised that Meg would have feelings for another side character, Wilem, because the way these things usually turn out is that both MCs form the main relationship together, be it friendship or something more. I thought it was a fresh take on things, male MC friends with female MC who falls in love with a secondary character and no love triangle involved. But then Wilem turns out to be one of the Big Bads (maybe Small Bads? he did have some plus points after all) and I thought that was a waste, it could have been new and terrific. I wasn't able to spot the boy-courting-female-MC-and-then-happens-to-be-one-of-the-bad-guys myself, but well-versed readers could have probably sniffed it a mile away. Again, nothing new there. Maybe it was my wish for something original that prevented me from seeing "the twist" for what it was. All in all, leaning between 3.5 to 4 stars.

Side notes:

Typos left unedited on pages 170 and 327.

Fearless

Fearless - Cornelia Funke I will straight up say this: I hesitated upon buying this book. And it was on sale. And yet, and yet, the pull of the author made me do it: the first book wasn’t a story I’d be singing praises for, but this was a trilogy I wanted to see through to the end, no matter my misgivings.

THE GOOD

Fox’s Background. So far I liked this the best about the second book. Bit by bit of Fox’s life is slowly being explored.

Throwbacks. I do like the fact that I can relate to her throwbacks. There are items mentioned here that relate to her Thief Lord (and if you had noticed it, the name Folchart appears in Thief Lord as well which was used as Meggie's surname in the Inkheart trilogy).

THE BAD

Writing. Again. It’s like there were too many build-ups before the actual meat of the paragraph (note that I said paragraph, not story, because that’s how it felt, reading it). I understand maybe it's an attempt at emotional lyrical writing or some flop (flops?) in the translation somewhere but it kept getting to be a bit too much. It got to the point where it was tiresome and are REALLY misplaced and unnecessary in action scenes. Observe:
Jacob was in no rush. After all, these might be the final moments of his life. Up on the hill he saw the tower rising into the dark sky, and beneath it a marten was nibbling on the fresh buds of a tree. Spring was coming. Life or death, Jacob. Once again.

Keep in mind that he was fighting a flipping genie here. If I had been facing off a djinn from crushing my ribs in his grip, I don’t think I’d have the time to enjoy the surrounding fresh buds of a tree.

Also, what’s with the names? The Bastard, the Witch Slayer, Crookback, the Bug, the Walrus… I could go on. I’m sure there’ll be more in the third book.

The cherry on top. Jacob's inner goddess. Oh, my LAWD. Jacob’s. inner. goddess. Scratch that. everyone’s inner goddess (and no, I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey but I do know about it from awesome Goodreads reviews; to those who don’t, it applies in this book in that it’s basically a perkier Jiminy Cricket who intermittently butts in the story by use of italics). Jake has one, Fox has one, and guys, even the villain has one. I was going to let this one slide in my review of Reckless, but this time around I really just couldn’t anymore. All the while Jacob is fighting the aforementioned genie there were no less than five interspersed entries from his Inner Goddess whom I imagined by this point to be waving a couple of pom-poms all the while saying, Careful, Jacob!, Hold on to it, Jacob!, Now, Jacob!, On your feet, Jacob!, Go, Jacob! I shite you not, we had a magical battle going on and Jacob’s inner goddess is cheering him on from the sidelines of his head, and those are actual quotes, my friends.

Reckless

Reckless - Oliver Latsch, Cornelia Funke Sorry, I loved Cornelia Funke's Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, and Inkheart series, but this book really takes the cake. In a bad way.

THE GOOD

World building. Ms. Funke seems to be a master at this one. I don’t think I’d leave my family in the dust if I ever encounter a magical mirror such as Jacob’s, but I sure would spend buttloads of time in it.

Fox. Oh, how I loved Fox. She seems like a strong, loyal character with a good head on her shoulders and I immediately liked her. Also, shape-shifters; who wouldn’t enjoy that?

THE BAD

Too. much. stuff. I felt like Reckless was created so she could have somewhere to expound on her world-building and not the other way around. Time and time again we are told there are various other fantastic creatures or items that exist in her Mirrorworld, but sometimes it just feels a little out of place, and we're never told how Jacob procured the magical artifacts either. It's as if the novel is a notebook to jot down all fairy tale magical shhhtuff with no regard for background or explanation (however tiny)—which wouldn't be such a big deal if it hadn't paved the way to a helluva lot of possible deus ex machinas. A magical world is no excuse for a snap solution.

Characters. I couldn’t feel the sympathy Jacob should feel for his brother. No such luck with Will and Clara, either; I could hardly see them as the couple the book portrays them to be. I couldn't care less if Jacob's brother turned to stone or what. There just wasn't enough in the story to motivate me in rooting for Will's cause.

ALL IN ALL: 2.5 STARS
I respect Ms. Funke as a writer and it was because of her name that I bought the book, hoping it would have the same standard as her previous works, but this was a bit of a let-down.

Note: I’ve only started reading the sequel a few weeks ago, but had finished Reckless for maybe a year or more and have only reviewed it now. Usually when I chance at the sequels of books I've read a long time ago, I’d reread the first book to refresh my memory. At this point, I didn’t even attempt. It’s not that I hated the book, it’s that I really had no love for the way it was written.

The Search for WondLa

The Search for WondLa  - Tony DiTerlizzi What I liked most about this book, aside from the amazing world-building and gorgeous illustrations, was Eva Nine's characterization. She's portrayed as an 11-to-12-year-old girl (confused; I rememeber reading 12, but the Web site says 11?) and she actually acts like it; she gets scared, was initially dependent on parental figures, and is privy to actions you would relate to a kid like sticking her feet in puddles and talking to stuffed animals. Books like the Percy Jackson series have well-rounded characters, but for me they act and think like teenagers well into puberty when they're barely thirteen.

I could say the pacing was kind of slow, and I could say it kind of dragged on in some parts, but I can't really complain; it felt like watching a movie, and was never hard to follow even if there were gaps between when I last picked it up and resumed reading. I enjoyed this immensely.