Ice Wolves ★★★★★

35068585I’ve only ever read one other book by Amie Kaufman, and that was IlluminaeSo when I saw she had a middle grade piece about kids who turned into wolves and dragons well… I needed to get my hands on it! And Elementals: Ice Wolves did not disappoint!

Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragonsare sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

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Twelve-year-old scrappy orphan kids who suddenly become animals and have to join the institution they’ve been avoiding all their life? Oh, and one of them transforms into a dragon and is whisked away from her brother? A brother who depended on his sister for years while they lived on the street? Yaaaasssss.

This was such a cute book and a wonderful story about a little boy who turns into a confident kid when his life turns upside down. I couldn’t put Ice Wolves down for a second! It was not just cute, but Kaufman has a way with words. She doesn’t talk down to the kids that would be reading her book; she weaves a masterful story that’s intriguing and unforgettable.

So often, a middle grade piece sacrifices either a complex story or its vocabulary to be made “appropriate” for it’s intended demographic. People often forget that kids are smart and want deeper, complex books with a narrative that doesn’t talk down to them.

Ice Wolves didn’t sacrifice a thing. It showed the hardship of growing up on the streets, how hungry Anders and Rayna go when they’re not able to steal food or the sort of trouble they would face if they were caught pickpocketing. It shows how other kids on the street look out for one another.

And when Anders enters the Academy, he notes how everything there is more than he might have ever had in his life; the overabundance of food, a warm place to sleep at night, an education.

I loved the sense of found family Anders had with his pack, and how he never wavered in his quest to rescue his sister, despite finding out that she didn’t need rescuing after all.

And when I hit the last page, I was incredibly upset. Not because of the story, but because it was over and I knew it’d be at least a year before the second book came out.

So don’t hesitate to pick up Ice Wolves right now. You’ll thank me for it. Also, I won’t be alone in my suffering while I wait for book 2!

Ice Wolves
Amazon Barnes&Noble . BooksAMillion

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The Dragon Waking ★★★★☆

33313452An endearing tale of a girl who meets her best friend in the Nevada desert, who just so happens to be a dragon. The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure and a splash of magic.

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Helped only by her fantasy-obsessed friend and a local occult enthusiast, Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their sixty-five-million-year slumber. Can they find the Harbinger before Jade’s enemies? As their battle unfolds over the neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, Rose must face this overwhelming threat by drawing on the magic that humans possess the power of friendship, compassion, and trust.

The Dragon Waking is a little slow to start; we’re introduced to a lot of characters that don’t show up again after the first chapter or two and we’re not even given the meat of the reasoning of how Jade, our dragon friend, got to Earth until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. For more than half of the book, we’re led to believe that dragons are aliens of some sort, since the only dragon we meet is tied to a meteorite–a tektite–that fell from space. When we do learn that dragons actually roamed Earth 65 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs, it’s a little unbelievable.

The most redeeming quality of The Dragon Waking are the main characters, Rose and Jade. Their friendship was strong, built up slowly through lots of work, and their success relied heavily on their teamwork and them being stronger together. Rose is artistic and clever, able to think her way out of sticky situations and patient with Jade when trying to teach her English–another great thing about The Dragon Waking was the huge difference between the human language and the dragon language, and the barrier both girls had to overcome. The language barrier wasn’t swept aside and solved because Jade had magic and instantly learned how to speak human, but it was something both girls learned to process and communicate with through time.

Many of the characters did seem a little unnecessary; Rose’s friend Clay held no particular plot relevance other than to show that Rose had at least one human friend at some point, and to marvel at Jade being a dragon a little later on. But once the climax was approaching, he was put to sleep by the antagonist and didn’t appear again until the closing chapter. There was a heavy reliance on Mrs. Jersey, a teacher and neighbor of Rose’s, and also an adult. Middle-grade ought to have kids solving their problems on their own, but Mrs. Jersey seemed to smooth every problem and question and provide a little too much counsel to the girls in the first half of the book. Though, once she’s put to sleep at the same time as Clay, the girls are left to fend for themselves in true middle-grade fashion.

All-in-all, The Dragon Waking was a cute story about friendship and the prospect of human progress now that dragons are waking from their 65 million year slumber. Poetic language and plenty of lost in translation humor, this book is sure to please any kid with a love of dragons and dinosaurs.

Grayson Towler

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon