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The Gatekeeper’s Forbidden Secret

Readers will be guessing until the end in this successful friendship-filled adventure.

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In a sleepy town 50 miles south of London, a young boy and his sister travel through time to find their lost dog in this debut novel.

When her beloved dog, Buddy, goes missing, a young girl named Addy sets off looking for him across her neighbor’s garden. While searching, Addy sees Buddy slip through a passageway created by a mockingbird. Before she can retrieve him, the passage closes up, leaving behind a gold coin. When she tells her parents what she saw, they think she’s covering up her theft of the coin from their neighbor Alan Westing, an antiques collector and renowned physicist. Addy’s parents decide she must work off her misconduct by spending the summer tending his castle gardens while her brother Colin supervises. As the summer progresses, mysterious happenings around the castle lead Colin to believe Addy’s original story, and the two set off to reopen the portal. The cast of characters snowballs as the story moves through different dimensions. It’s in these time jumps that the plot begins to muddle. In Colin and Addy’s reality, Alan Westing’s academic research on string theory draws interest from an unnamed villain who will stop at nothing to get his hands on Westing’s findings. This tangent takes on a pedantic tone that expounds upon scientific theories about time travel, removing the reader from the central narrative. Additionally, uninspired place names (e.g., Caves of Never) and onomatopoeia-heavy action sequences detract from an otherwise well-conceived fantasy world with lovable characters, some of whom are brought to life with black-and-white illustrations. As the siblings explore the far corners of an alternate world, the big reveal of the titular gatekeeper is as satisfying as the interplay of box office–level thrills and tender character study.

Readers will be guessing until the end in this successful friendship-filled adventure.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62015-437-3

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Booktrope Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2015

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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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

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