King’s Cage ★★★★★

So not that long ago, I posted Full Series Stop, in which I was talking about how the preview for this book was making me less excited for it. I would now like to apologize for letting my enthusiasm wane. We waited for King’s Cage and Aveyard delivered.

The Mesmerist ★★★★☆

mesmeristJessamine works with her mother pretending to be spiritualists—until the day where the pretending becomes real and she finds out she has mysterious powers. Ronald L. Smith has made a dark and memorable middle-grade story in The Mesmerist.

Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London’s supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself.

Set in Victorian London, The Mesmerist tackles many dark stories: death, vengeance, and violence. Jessamine Grace lived a normal live with her mother, until the day they found out that Jess was actually a mesmerist—someone who can read people’s thoughts and communicate with the dead. She joins the mysterious League of Ravens in order to fight necromancers.

A great story with a strong voice, The Mesmerist is sure to please any lover of middle-grade stories. With many familiar story ideas, young readers will love it.

My one gripe with the story was that it seemed to be trying to capture too many story lines in one book. And at less than 280 pages, there wasn’t much room to play with multiple story lines. With death and retribution being in the top spot, it was quickly followed by mystery, the Plague, and social-political statements that bog down the story and make it a little hard to keep one plotline straight.

Jess was a bright character and fiercely loyal and strong, and I fell in love with her immediately. While a lot of familiar tropes seem to fill the pages of The Mesmerist, and it did seem to border on cliche, it’s bound to become a staple in a young reader that loves dark stories and supernatural tales.

Ronald L. Smith

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

The Magician’s Workshop ★★☆☆☆

The-Magicians-WorkshopThe Magician’s Workshop started with an interesting concept: magic that can make illusions from one’s own imagination, a girl who wants to make beautiful things but can only make monsters, and a boy who wants to have fun but is an outcast in his own town. But it turned sour pretty quickly. I wanted to like The Magician’s Workshop, as it promised to be thrilling and fun, but my expectations just weren’t met.

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

The Magician’s Workshop did not read like the first book in a series. It was littered with jargon, most of which was presented without context clues so you couldn’t even discern what most of it meant. I felt a bit like I should have known what was going on, but I was lost from the beginning.

We start the story with Layauna looking out a rainy window, then being called to join her family for magical storytime, where they image a story and it plays out in miniatures before them, sort of like a puppet show if the puppets were able to walk and talk on their own. It’s not a type of beginning that grabbed my attention. Layauna brooded and noted feeling like the oddball in her family, and I wasn’t interested until her magic turned the story from one about a knight and a princess and into one about a rampaging monster.

It’s an interesting character flaw, to only be able to make monsters, but the stakes aren’t quite there because we’re reminded that it’s all in her head and that the threat is imaginary.

The dialogue didn’t do much to keep me invested either; it was stilted and mainly expository. It did very little to build character besides someone saying, “Hey, remember that time we did this thing and this happened and we had to do this to fix it?”

Though the biggest reason I had to mark The Magician’s Workshop as a DNF was the characters’ age. For the first third of the book, I believed that Layauna, Kai and Kai’s friends were twelve, maybe thirteen if I stretch my disbelief. They interacted, reacted and behaved like children. That was a fact I was entirely able to accept. It felt right. But when one of Kai’s friends mentions how they’re seventeen and still haven’t achieved something a child is meant to achieve by sixteen, I was thrown right out of the story, firmly on my @$$ and I couldn’t fight my way back if I tried.

An entire chapter is dedicated to Kai and his friends playing make-believe with an illusion of King Kong. The way they acted and spoke had me firmly believing they were twelve or thirteen, maybe younger, because no sixteen or seventeen year old who is supposed to be entering adulthood and even the fantasy workforce/college that is the Magician’s Workshop, would be acting the way they did.

I could believe that Layauna was sixteen, with her slightly more mature outlook on life, but Kai’s desire to play with his friends in their make-believe worlds didn’t read as a teenager. The entire story read like it was either a mature middle-grade piece or wasn’t sure what teenagers are supposed to sound like.

Frankly, it dumbed down its teenagers, which are meant to be the target audience, and even though I haven’t been a teenager in years I was practically offended at this portrayal.

Having a child-like personality as a sixteen or seventeen year old is believable. But being a sixteen or seventeen year old and viewing and interacting with the world as if you were eleven and trying to market that character to me as a teenager is not. I wish I could say I’m going to finish The Magician’s Workshop, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it through.

Scythe ★★☆☆☆

28954189Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is a tale of humans conquering death, and taking the matter of population control into the hands of the scythes, a group of men and women entrusted with the power of permanent death. I’ve always been a fan of Shusterman’s work–I loved his Unwind series and Everlost–but Scythe was lacking something I desperately needed in a book, which ultimately turned me away from this series.

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Citra and Rowan are both present when a scythe comes to call for someone they know, and through that they’re both brought on as that scythe’s apprentices. They then learn the art of killing, and are privy to more knowledge and information than they ever have before.

But as their apprenticeship is a rather unconventional one, it comes with a stipulation: only one will receive their hood and scythe and as their first act within the scythedom they must kill their peer. This is, obviously, a problem as both Citra and Rowan start to fall for the other, despite strict rules that they can’t.

There’s a lot of time spent on building the world of this book, to the point where it was practically pure exposition in every chapter. I didn’t feel connected enough to either character because we very rarely get to see them in action, and only see them as shadows and students.

Shusterman has a great track record of incredibly complex and deep characters that are easy to relate to, but that seemed to have been lost in Scythe. The book was borderline boring to the point where I felt I had to force myself to finish–“Just one more page, and I’ll be that much closer to the end”–in order to justify buying the book.

I hope that Shusterman’s future works have their old spark back, and in which case I will very happily return to his world of words.