The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

nowhere emporium

I received an ARC of this.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book really reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus”. Both feature some sort of travelling entertainment vendor that is powered by imagination and features spectacles and wonders. It is the same interesting premise, only taken down a notch for elementary school readers.

Daniel is on the run from bullies when he stumbles into a magical emporium. He escapes his pursuers, but when he is able to remember and enter the store the next day, the proprietor Mr. Silver figures he is something special. Customers are supposed to immediately forget their experiences when they exit. Daniel is offered an apprenticeship and starts to create his own masterpieces, rooms full of every magnificent thing he can imagine. Things turn sour when Mr Silver’s old mentor finds the Emporium and wants to destroy it. Daniel and Mr Silver have to figure out how to defeat an old and evil magician and save their emporium.

The world and premise of this book are beautiful, but the characters are fairly simple. There are surprising revelations about many characters, but not much growth. The plot takes place over a fairly brief time period, but the characters really remain static and fairly 2-dimensional. The main draw of this book is going to be the beautiful and interesting descriptions of the various rooms in the Emporium, and the fast-paced action. The story oscillated between Daniel’s adventures in the present and Mr. Silver’s adventures in the past, when he was learning magic as a young child. Both Daniel and Mr. Silver come up with beautiful creations and you can tell the author had a lot of fun constructing the interior of the emporium for this book. If a teacher or parent was ever reading this with their child or classroom I think it would be a ton of fun to have children invent their own rooms for the emporium, with both drawn and written descriptions. It has so much potential to just let their imaginations run wild that it could end up being a ton of fun for everyone involved.

The feminist side of myself did not really like the fact that Mr. Silver has a daughter who does not end up doing much, so the only large female character is not really that interesting. There is an in-world explanation given, but I am not sure there is a character that girls will enjoy reading about that will really speak to their experiences.

For anyone who really enjoyed this and wants more, I would recommend Bruce Coville’s “Magic Shop” series (similar premise of a magical building bringing adventures to children) and “Charlie and the Chocolate factory (young boy having adventures and possibly inheriting a magical business).

Like a lot of books for elementary students, this one was a little unsatisfactory because of the speed with which it went by, but that is going to just be part and parcel of the genre. Young readers who love magical adventures are likely to enjoy this one.

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Prudence by Gail Carriger

prudence

4 out of 5 stars.

I am a huge fan of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so learning that she was writing a sequel series got me really excited. I was pretty justified, since this series has much, if not all, the charm of the original.

Alexia’s daughter Rue is now all grown up and causing as much trouble as her mother did in her youth. Raised by a vampire, werewolf and soulless, Rue is used to the supernatural. What she is not used to is getting out from under the eyes of all three of her caring but overprotective parents and being sent off to Egypt to track down a new strand of tea. As tends to happen to her family, adventure and mystery await her.

This book was written with Carriger’s trademark wit and humour. The contrast between the upright victorian manners and customs of the world and the unpleasant organic nature of the supernaturals is the source of much of the hilarity. I love the mental picture of a woman in victorian dress bludgeoning a vampire with her parasol. That is just a wonderful image.

Carriger’s books are very steampunk, with trains, blimps and parasols all being steam powered. A large part of the books deal with the intrigue of a Victorian England having to politically navigate around roving packs of werewolves and wealthy and deadly vampires. The queen has had to form a council with members from each supernatural sect to help her rule. Rue, though her original mission is simply to get the tea, she finds herself enmeshed  in some oversea politics which have the potential to impact England herself. Now Rue must attempt to negotiate a treaty with a new breed of supernatural. At least she has her best friend, who has an impressive wardrobe, along for the ride. If they are in danger, the least they could be is well dressed.

So far the series does not quite have all of the romance that the original series did, but there are whispers of it. It also does not have the pure sheer novelty of the first, but that is what happens when you have more than one series set in the same universe.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of these books.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

scorpion rules

Challenge Participant

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

I initially wasn’t a huge fan of Erin Bow after reading her novel “Sorrow’s Knot”, which I found a little confusing, but then I got to hear her speak at a literary festival and she talked about this book, which at the time she was still writing, I decided to give it a try when I saw it later, and I have found it to be the best of her books so far.

After being rocked by environmental disasters and centuries of war and conflict, humanity’s scientists turn the problem of how to broker peace on the planet over to their smartest AI. Instead of giving them a straight answer, the AI takes control of all of the earth’s military satellites, destroys a few of the earth’s most important cities and demands that humanity behave. In order to enforce the peace, Talis (the AI) forces the world’s leaders to hand over their children, with the understanding that any aggressive leader will  have their offspring executed.

Greta is the duchess of Halifax (I love that!) and she has spent most of her life living in the compound with the other hostages, their every move watched by Talis and his robot servants. All of the children are resigned to meet their fates with dignity until a revolution in America has one of their number executed and replaced with a firecracker of a boy named Elian who does not accept the current system. Greta and the other children try to fit him into their life on the compound but it is an uphill battle, and with his territory moving towards war with Greta’s, they might be the next of their cohort to be executed.

What really shines in this book is Talis. Greta is not an exceptionally interesting character, not having any real character flaws, and most of Elian’s character is just being defiant. Talis is snort milk out of your nose funny. Sprinkled throughout the book are quotes of Talis’ and we get to see his very sardonic reactions to human stupidity. He reminds us our propensity to kill each other is the reason we cannot have nice things.

This book presents a realistic interpretation of what it would really take to stop human’s wars: another intelligence with the capacity to destroy cities directly threatening us until we stop.

Erin Bow has a great sense of humour and this book really displays that. It is intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

a single shard

4 out of 5 stars.

Most of what I review on this blog is new-ish, but this one was so neat I just had to share. I found it, as I find a large amount of my books, shelving and shelf-reading at my library. The cover caught my eye with a depiction of a graceful green vase, and the Newberry Award sticker sealed the deal.

Tree-ear is an orphan in 12th century Korea who, when not begging and scrounging to feed himself and his friend Crane-man, spies on the potters in his village famous for their celadon coloured pottery. He accidentally gets himself in debt to the most skilled master and goes to work off what is owed, hoping that he will be accepted as an apprentice eventually. Traditionally, potters only pass on their craft to their sons, but Tree-ear is willing to work as hard as he has to to succeed. When court officials come to the village to choose the potter that will receive a commission from the royals, he hopes that this is the chance he has prayed for.

Like all Newberry books, the writing quality is excellent. The story and time period come alive almost immediately and the people are real and vibrant. The descriptions are poetic and lyrical and the care put into the language used in the book should be apparent to most children.

Tree-ear will be an empathetic protagonist for most children as he is both brave and artistic and his struggle to fulfill his dream and find himself a place is universal.He is willing to work for what he wants, but he can be a little sulky at times, just like a real kid. His love of his craft is evident and his personality shines through.

This is a great story for anyone old enough to understand it. It is thoughtful and inspiring.

 

 

Letters to Zell by Camille Griep

letters to zell

2 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

The princesses have all found their fairy tale princes and are supposed to be settling down for their happy ever afters. No one is quite as happy as they were lead to expect though. Cinderella wants to be a chef, Snow White doesn’t love her prince, Aurora can’t seem to get pregnant and Rapunzel has just packed up her family to go volunteer at a unicorn preserve. Letters are sent between the friends as they struggle to navigate life and love.

I gave this one such a poor review because this is completely not my kind of book. It is the story of four women dealing with the normal trials and tribulations of life and marriage with magic and fairytales being almost an afterthought. There are worries about children, love, infidelity and work versus the home life. There is really no action whatsoever and a lot of dialogue and feelings. I found it a very boring, mundane book. For princesses living in a magical kingdom, their concerns were exactly what you would expect from talking to any woman on the street.

I haven’t read many books that are written in the letter format, so that was a novelty. It was a good fit for this novel, as we got to see into the heads of all three princesses as they write to Rapunzel and pour their hearts out.

The book has a great premise, looking at what happens when the fairy tale ends and the ever after is supposed to be forever happy. It also fits the princesses into adult roles, where we usually only see them as older teens, like in the Disney movies. I enjoyed having a version of Snow White where she swears and drinks a lot. I just found it very slowly paced. Nothing exciting happens that does not happen every day to many people.

If you like contemporary chick lit, this is probably a great book for you. There are numerous, in-depth discussions of life and love and relationships. It would be a great book to discuss with some girl friends over coffee. It just really was not to my taste.