Thursday, October 29, 2015

ARC REVIEW: Anya and the Secrets of Cupola by N.A. Cauldron (The Cupolian Series, #1)

Anya and the Secrets of Cupola
by N.A. Caldron
Wiggling Pen Publishing
Release Date: November 14, 2015
3/5 stars

I'd like to thank the author for sending me an ARC in return for an honest review.

I was a little leery about this book because I wasn't crazy about the cover art. On occasion, I may have mentioned I do judge books by their covers. Give me a gorgeous cover and I'll jump at a book. Granted, some books with good covers turn out to be terrible, and some books with not-so-great covers turn out to be pretty good. That's what happened with Anya.

This is a fun story about three friends -Anya, Gevin, and Taika- who discover their kingdom's 200-year-old secret. And magic. They also get into their share of trouble and adventure along the way, including a troll, some lava lizards, and getting on their monarch's bad side.

The characters are fun: Taika, the bookworm and master planner; Anya, who hasn't quite decided what she wants out of life; Gevin, who is such a boy.
"And to think I was concerned with your feelings."
"What feelings? I don't have any feelings!"
Told mostly from Anya's perspective, we get a lot of detail on her family's poor life and her tough job in the royal kitchen. It was surprising how much we get to see of Anya's work throughout the entire story, instead of just the expected introductory bit, since it's not directly related to adventure/secret side. On the one hand, it was refreshing to see life go on as normal for the kids, since these are the only three people in the kingdom aware of what's really going on, but there are times that the extent of detail felt a little out of place, just because of its lack of impact on the bigger story or the characters.

In addition to investigating this 200-year-old secret, we get to see Anya deal with average kid problems, like the bully Canis, her annoying older brother, and getting into trouble with her mother. We also get to see her deal with not-so-average kid responsibilities. In the beginning of the story, Anya gets a better-paying job than the rest of her family and readers will watch her handle this with maturity. I loved seeing this kind of responsibility handed to a young protagonist, because it will translate well for kids to see someone their own age taking on such an important if unexciting role in the family. Any book can hand a kid a grand, life-changing destiny, but it's nice to see that same kid cleaning house and cooking dinner on her days off, too. Maybe it will give readers an idea. ;)

The story ends in a good spot, giving you most of the answers you want, but leaving just enough to explore so you want to see what happens next. Now that I'm finished with this book, I think I'm going to pass it along to some of my niblings.

The writing quality is on the average side but on a good level for blossoming readers. While the writing quality is not quite as stellar as I enjoy, I feel the need to remind myself that it's also intended for middle graders, who won't be as picky as me.

This will be a good book for younger readers who love fantasy or are just getting into it. It has flavors of both Sorcerer's Stone and Spiderwick Chronicles, while the characters themselves remind me a lot of the Ever Afters' Triumverate, especially with the dancing lessons Anya gets, which was probably one of my favorite scenes. (Gawsh, I'm such a girl.)

Anya and the Secrets of Cupola will be released November 14, 2015. It's available for pre-order in ebook at and in paperback at

Thursday, October 22, 2015

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

So. It finally happened.

I actually read a Harry Potter book.

I kind of loved it. ^_^'s_Stone.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K Rowling
MG Fantasy
4/5 stars

To be honest, I anticipated that this book would be plagued by overhype, but I was pleasantly surprised. The story is interesting, well-placed, and all around a fantastic middle grade. I wouldn't say it's 'action-packed' until near the end. It reminded me of the slower paced Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with the kids exploring school instead of islands.

You'd almost expect from the slow pace that this could be a boring book, but it isn't. There is so much interesting worldbuilding at play and we're being teased with evil Professor Snape and what he's up to so things never get boring. There's enough mystery and magic to keep you entertained and the story possesses an irrefutable charm that's hard to resist. It's one of those stories that has such an ease about it, like Rowling just sat down one day and there it was.

Another thing that struck me were the strong and vivid personalities of the characters, practically bursting alive from the page. (I loved the inflections in Hermione's dialogue, because you could just hear the know-it-all in her voice.) And it isn't just the main characters, either; Fred, George, Neville, Hagrid, the Dursleys, and other minor characters have just as much depth and distinction. Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience some development along the lines of friendship and self-confidence, but I'll be excited to see them development deeper over the rest of the series. Because of course now I have to read the rest.

One harsh truth I enjoyed seeing is Ron being constantly teased by Malfoy about his family's poverty. I liked that this was so vivid in the story because it's very realistic. Of course a nasty boy from a well-off family is going to degrade the poor kid that Harry Potter chose to befriend over him, and it's quite obvious all his ammo toward the Weasleys came from dear old Dad. (Obviously the Malfoys are a happy bunch.) But what I really liked is seeing how Harry deals with this and how he sticks up for Ron. A favorite moment was on the train to Hogwarts.
   [Malfoy] turned back to Harry. "You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there."
   He held out his hand to shake Harry's, but Harry didn't take it.
   "I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks," he said coolly.
I would love to see Malfoy grow out of this behavior over the series, but we'll see.

The tone of the narration has such a classic children's book flavor to it -like Lewis, Nesbit, Eager, MacDonald. It made me incredibly nostalgic for those years when I first discovered the joys of reading and it brought that joy back tenfold.

I did have a problem with page 93. I almost cried. With Fred and George, I instantly fell in love and I hate it because I've been on the Internet long enough to know what happens to Fred and George, so every funny line makes me want to laugh and cry. Curses. It's like Fili and Kili all over again. *sob*

On the whole, yes, I can see what the craze is about. And while it wasn't quite what I was expecting, I don't think it's suffering from overhype. It's a good, fun story, filled with laughs and daring deeds and friendship and, really, what's wrong with that?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Amanda and the Star Wars Summer | Episode III

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Who can't get enough Star Wars? This girl, that's who.

You can watch the video in all it's eccentric and ecstatic glory, but the high points are all covered below as well.

The Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
5/5 stars

The second book in the Thrawn trilogy did not disappoint. I was a little concerned because when I finally got into the first book -Heir to the Empire- it was an audio. With me, some books only interest me on audio, and vice versa.


I had no problems whatsoever getting into this book, even in spite of its lengthy sections of prose. (I'm totally a dialogue girl.) It's a fantastic continuation and I'm excited to see how Zahn wraps everything up.

The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks
3.5/5 stars

This, to me, was fascinating. It's been long enough since I've watched this movie that parts of it felt new -and I'm not just talking about the extra content added to the book.

This novelization gives us a chance to better understand characters, backstory, and the events that unfold. I particularly like seeing more things from Anakin's point of view and the relationship between Qui Gon and Obi Wan.

[Warning: JarJar Binks is still annoying.]

Disney is kind of brilliant with their merchandising...

R2-D2 Bop-It! and Millennium Falcon-shaped Star Wars Catch Phrase.
Disney has assigned some kind of Jedi Master to their merchandising team.

If you haven't heard about this, read the announcement here because it sounds freaking fantastic! I fangirl way more in the video but what you need to know is:
  • Designed to look like an alien world
  • Interaction with droids and aliens
Proceed to freak out.

Before I let you go, two questions:
  • How do you feel about Disney's involvement? Have their fantastic Marvel movies granted you my same outrageous optimism or are you worried they'll screw it up?
  • Summer is over and 'Amanda and the Star Wars Fall' just doesn't have the same ring, but I love using my Dramatic Title Voice. New title suggestions?

Tune in next time to hear my opinions on the 'Journey to The Force Awakens' series, the new canon for the Star Wars Universe.

As always

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Comic Book Wrap Up

I've read a lot of comic books over the last month or so. Instead of individual reviews, I decided to tackle them all in one fell swoop. I give you, the mini-reviews!

The Reviews:

Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 4: The Last Days of MidgardThor: God of Thunder, Vol. 4: The Last Days of Midgard by Jason Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This started off with an almost shove-down-your-throat 'save the planet!' spiel that almost put me off, but once you realize Thor's battle with Roxxon will involve a CEO nicknamed 'the Minotaur' it took a much better Marvel turn. The second half of the story is an epic battle between King Thor and Galactus over a dead Midgard, the effects of which I cannot wait to witness.

As the end of Aaron's God of Thunder run, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part of this last volume is that it leads right up to his new Goddess of Thunder series and actually made me intrigued to read it. I've been ducking it ever since I heard they were going to replace Thor, but finding out it's apparently a temporary thing, I'm much more eager to give it a gander.

View all my reviews

Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and TrapezesNightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes by Kyle Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dick Grayson rejoins the circus he grew up in -at least long enough to figure out why Mr. Haley wants him to have it and the dark secret that seems to lurk in the big top.

This was a fun story, though some of the issues did feel a bit like anime filler episodes. They detracted from the overall story -what's going on with Haley's Circus?- and were just underdeveloped enough they felt jarring.

The volume does appear to play into a bigger story line in the DC arsenal, which I'm not familiar with, so DC regulars probably won't want to miss this.

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham AcademyGotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LOVE THIS! This story is like candy and there isn't enough in the bowl to satisfy my craving. When can I get my hands on the next volume?!

Gotham Academy is a private school -whose alumni boasts no other than Bruce Wayne- but a group of students is beginning to realize it's embroiled in a mystery of Gotham's sordid past. And what about Olive Silverlock? She used to be a normal girl, but something happened over the summer, something changed her. Something she can't quite remember. It had something to do with her mother. And Batman.

She hates Batman.

This has everything from ghosts and dark rituals, to secret passages, to boarding school shenanigans and the ever-lingering question of what happened to Olive and why is Bruce Wayne keeping such a close eye on her?

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 1: Revolutions of TerrorDoctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 1: Revolutions of Terror by Nick Abadzis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic job keeping Ten believable and in-character. The stories feel like they've escaped from missing episode scripts and the Doctor's new companion doesn't feel like a repeat of any of his counterparts from the show. Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After LifeDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After Life by Al Ewing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic job keeping Eleven believable and in-character. The stories feel like they've escaped from missing episode scripts and the Doctor's new companion doesn't feel like a repeat of any of his counterparts from the show. She has some of Donna's spunk, which I love.
Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol. 1Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol. 1 by Robbie Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was enjoying this comic just as much as the Ten and Eleven ones, especially since they gave us a story line involving one of the Doctor's old (old, old) friends, wrapped up in Indian culture and mythology (!!!), but I was put off by the addition of several homosexual characters, which ruined the story for me.

They still did a good job keeping Twelve believable and in-character. Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Ant-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance ManAnt-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you liked the movie, you'll like this.

I love Scott Lang. He's funny and clever and so sincere. The only thing he wants in the whole world is to be a good father and that's the one thing that never seems to work out. He tries so hard, again and again, and that's another thing I love about his character.

It amuses me that characters in the Marvel universe tend to mock or tease Ant-Man. He's considered a low-grade super. Appropriately, he tends to run in to other low-grade characters, like Grizzly, a (cough-reformed-cough) villain.

While this is by no means the beginning of Scott Lang's story (recently back form the dead? Teenage Cassie?) but Spencer does great feeding you enough back story info that you get the gist.

View all my reviews

Have you read any great comic books lately? Share in the comments!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Disney Songs Book Tag + Story Publication!!!

Today's the day! You can finally read my short story, The Curious Concoctions of Thornton Thoreau, in this month's issue of Bards & Sages Quarterly. You can buy a copy here. Woohoo! This is one of my favorite stories and I'm so excited that I can share it with you.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Being the Disney fan that I am, I could not resist doing this tag video over on YouTube.

1. A whole new world - Pick a book that made you see the world differently.
2. Cruella De Vil - Pick your favorite villain.
3. I won't say I'm in love - Pick a book you didn't want to admit you loved.
4. Gaston - Pick a character that you couldn't stand.
5. Part of your world - Pick a book set in a universe you wish you could live in.
6. A dream is a wish your heart makes - describe what the book of your dreams would be like
7. Someday my prince will come - What book character would you marry if you could
8. I see the light - Pick a book that changed your life.
9. When you wish upon a star - Pick a book you wish you could reread for the first time.
10. I just can't wait to be king - Pick a book with some kind of monarchy in it.
11. Colors of the wind - Pick a book with a beautiful colorful cover.

It looks like this tag was started by Aria's Books. Fantastic job, Aria!

And hey, this tag doesn't have to exist on YouTube alone. It will be easily adapted for a blog post, so I'll tag you too, you blogger dying to do this!