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CALICO RAE AND THE TWISTED TOWERS

An offbeat adventure with a strong tween protagonist, high-stakes action, and heart.

Awards & Accolades

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A girl and a leopard discover a supernatural threat to human and animal life in this fantasy.

After her parents’ divorce, 12-year-old Calico Rae is sent to spend the summer with her dour uncle on his farm in the English countryside, unhappily separated from her older brother, Luca, who is living with their father in the United States. Life is dull until Calico finds a hidden, derelict old mansion with grounds once home to the long-forgotten, once-famous Menagerie. Una Ornithol, the Menagerie’s bird-bonded guardian, lives there with a boy and a girl who provide care for the animals that still reside on the premises. When Calico encounters the mansion’s self-isolated black leopard named Pardus, she finds that they share an unexpected affinity. “In days long passed,” Una explains, such a connection was called “genifying,” and with training, those so bonded shared their skills and senses. That Calico will need to develop her bond with Pardus becomes clear when the Menagerie comes under threat and her brother suddenly disappears during a visit to her uncle’s farm. From the start, Weller establishes a pleasantly unsettling undercurrent of something off-kilter about the townspeople and Calico’s uncle, increasing the tension with Luca’s disturbing “game” with bees, his mysterious research involving butterflies, and his distant attitude toward Calico’s warmth. The fantastical adventure then takes off, literally, in a flying caravan powered by birds. The author ratchets up the suspense with a vicious, blood-spewing monster called Grime; a secretive Central American tribe; Calico’s dangerous genifying trials; a bizarre Insect Queen; and a city, empty of all animals and many of its citizens, loomed over by a pair of towers where a new power source, claimed to be world-saving but rooted in a terrible secret, is about to be revealed. Although unlikable Luca doesn’t come into full focus (his relationship with the Insect Queen and apparent betrayal of his sister call to mind Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”), Calico grows with her eventful experiences, informed by compassion and empathy. Readers are left with intriguing hints about Calico’s upcoming escapades with her leopard companion in a sequel.

An offbeat adventure with a strong tween protagonist, high-stakes action, and heart.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2022

FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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