ARC REVIEW: The Dollmaker Of Krakow – by R.M. Romero

Title: The Dollmaker Of Krakow
Author: R.M. Romero

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: September 13th 2017
Pages: 336

“You can destroy a person, Karolina, but destroying their story is far more difficult. No one is ever really lost as long as their story still exists.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Delacorte Books For Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the stunning cover, and when I found out it was a story set during WWII I was sold. I know I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, but I do like to mix things up a bit every once in a while and this sounded like the perfect book to do so. The Dollmaker Of Krakow has been compared to The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (one of my all time favorites) and not only has a stunning cover, but also a wonderful story. This middle grade story is not just another historical fiction read with a WWII setting. With The Dollmaker Of Krakow, R.M. Romero has created a truly unique story that is a perfectly balanced mix of historical facts and fantasy with a touch of magical realism and a fairytale-like feel. There is magic, there are talking dolls brought to life, but there is also the brutal reality of the war and what the Germans were doing to the Jews during that period. Innocence is mixed with a somber reality in a way that is truly moving and very beautifully crafted. It’s hard to properly label this story, but there is no doubt about the originality and uniqueness of The Dollmaker Of Krakow. I would recommend this story for the ages of ten and up due to the sensitive historical elements (holocaust references) included, but I am positive they will be completely charmed by this fairytale-like mix of fantasy and reality. The writing style reads like a dream and I really liked the contrast between Karolina’s world and the real one. The characters are also well developed and used perfectly to demostrate the situation of both Jews and the people close to them during the war. It will definitely help make the younger readers reflect in an innocent way and leave breadcrumbs of information that will stay with them without the story feeling like a history lesson. All in all definitely recommended!

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Karolina used to live in the Land of the Dolls as a seamstress, happy to work for her king and queen, but one day they are overthrown by Rats and the dolls are no longer safe. A strange wind spirits her away from her home and suddenly she finds herself in Krakow… Right in the middle of the shop of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power he didn’t know he had. They will soon find out they benefit mutually from their company, and they  even make new friends with a violin-playing father and his daughter. But the Nazi soldiers come to Krakow and Karolina and the Dollmaker soon realize their new Jewish friends are in danger…

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I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and blurb, and there is no doubt that the writing is just as beautiful as the stunning cover. The Dollmaker Of Krakow is a truly unique story that mixes historical events with a fairytale-like fantasy world and sometimes feels a lot like magical realism. This innocent way of approaching the holocaust is a truly fascinating angle and very well executed; the fantasy elements only add to the overal originality of the story.


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BOOK REVIEW: A Monster Calls – by Patrick Ness

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Horror
First published: May 5th 2011
Publisher: Walker Books
Finished reading: August 19th 2017
Pages: 216

“You do not write your life with words… You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

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I was initially saving this title for last since so many people call A Monster Calls their absolute favorite Patrick Ness story… But sometimes things don’t work out as planned. The fact that I picked up my copy is mostly to blame to the fact we recently got Netflix and I couldn’t resist watching the movie; since I normally never watch the movie before reading the book, I had to remedy that and read the book straight away. (Did you guess already I LOVED the movie?) And WOW. I completely understand why there is so much love for A Monster Calls, because this story is simply BRILLIANT. It’s Patrick Ness at his best and definitely one of my new all time favorites… The writing is wonderful, engaging, enchanting and will put you under its spell straight away. The mix of reality and fantasy is very well done and I loved the underlying messages than can be applied to the real world. A Monster Calls is a very strong, powerful, scary, emotional and sad story that will manage to win over your heart in less than a heartbeat… I practically devoured its pages and loved the characters and their development. And as for the movie: I loved just how faithful the script was to the dialogue and writing of the book! It’s not seen often that you can literally read and watch at the same time and see the characters say/do the same things… Both book and movie have earned its spot of my all time favorite list and I’m already looking forward to revisit this story in the future. Have you guessed already I can highly recommend this book?

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Conor has been having nightmares nearly every single night since his mother started her treatments, and it’s always the same thing happening. And even though he knows it’s not real, Conor suffers every time he wakes up just before the dreaded thing happens… But then a monster shows up after midnight. And Connor isn’t afraid; no, he’s angry it only wants to tell stories. Because Connor has a lot more important things to worry about… But the monster is something ancient and wild, and demands to be listened to anyway. And so it begins…

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I should have known already I would love this book after seeing so many glowing reviews and after positive experiences with some of his other stories, but WOW. This is hands down my new favorite Patrick Ness story and it will be hard for any other story to live up to this one. Between the brilliant prose, characters, powerful and emotional topics and perfect mix of reality and fantasy there just isn’t something I didn’t love about A Monster Calls. Read this book if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it.


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ARC REVIEW: The Little Red Wolf – by Amélie Fléchais

Title: The Little Red Wolf
Author: Amélie Fléchais

Genre: Picture Book, Retelling, Fantasy
First published: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Lion Forge
Finished reading: August 3rd 2017
Pages: 80
(Originally written in French: ‘Le petit loup rouge’)

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lion Forge in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Every once in a while I start craving something completely different, and the best way to scratch that itch has always been picking up a graphic novel or picture book. I was having exactly that feeling not that long ago when I was browsing Netgalley, and my eyes went wide when I saw the cover of The Little Red Wolf. I immediately fell in love with the cover art and the promise of more lovely illustrations inside, so I hit that Read Now button so hard I almost broke my keyboard. I opened The Little Red Wolf not long after and I wasn’t disappointed by what I found. Such gorgeous illustrations! This little story has actually been published in French in 2014 and is now translated to English so more of us can enjoy it. As the title already hints, The Little Red Wolf is a wonderful retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood and told from the POV of a little wolf cub. The adorable and highly detailed drawings will appeal to young readers and parents alike and will bring a joyful experience discovering all the little details on each page. A little warning though, because this story is both whimsical and tragical at the same time and more sensitive children might not appreciate especially the second part of this picture book. I would personally recommend it for the age of six and up because of that. The Little Red Wolf has a mix of pages with just illustrations and others with more text, but I liked the balance between the two and the pages without text can be used perfectly to interact with young children. The moral of the story is a strong one as well: to show that things can easily be misinterpreted with terrible consequences… Hence the darker and tragic part of the story and a little warning to evaluate beforehand if your child could be affected negatively by that. That said, I personally absolutely loved this little picture book and its wonderful illustrations. Just what I needed!

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A young wolf is sent to his grandmother to bring her a fresh rabbit. His mother has warned him to stay on the path and keep safe from the hunters, but the little wolf is distracted by the wonderful things in the forest. He soon finds himself lost, and then a nice girl appears who offers him help. But is she really as nice as she appears?

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Just give one look at that cover and you will get a pretty good idea of what is waiting for you inside. The illustrations of The Little Red Wolf are absolutely gorgeous and will make you happy by just looking at them. They are very detailed as well; full of little drawings inside drawings to discover the longer you look at each page. The story itself is a mix of typical fairy tale and something a bit more darker and haunting, which is why I don’t think it’s suited for the youngest readers… But age 6 and up should be ok depending on how sensitive the child is to tragic themes.


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BOOK REVIEW: Unhooked – by Lisa Maxwell

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Title: Unhooked
Author: Lisa Maxwell

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Finished reading: January 22nd 2017
Pages: 352
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“Hers might never be calm or easy paintings, but those canvases are the way she keeps herself centered. She needs to create, or she will lose herself bit by bit to her fears and delusions.”

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I had this book by Lisa Maxwell on my radar for a long time, so I was really excited when I saw it was offered as one of the free reads at RivetedLit. I read a sample of Unhooked some time last year and remember being thoroughly impressed by the beginning of this Peter Pan retelling. I was more than excited to be finally continuing this story, but as things advanced and the revamped Neverland worldbuilding was revealed things fell a little flat for me. The beginning was without doubt the strongest part of this book even though it has a minimum amount of ‘magical’ elements. The rest just didn’t live up to expecations… It might be the hint at a love triangle, it might be the whiney main character, but I didn’t enjoy Unhooked as much as I thought I would. The writing style was very enjoyable to read in general; the pace was fast in the beginning, but slowed down considerably later on despite the action scenes. In fact, it took me a lot longer than expected to read it and I barely finished it on the last day the book was available. Such a shame, because it sounded so promising!

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Gwendolyn Allister has been on the run her whole life, all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. This time her fear has brought them to London, far away from the life she had trying to build for the last two years, but luckily she will still have her best friend Olivia with her for the summer… Their vacation won’t be what they were expecting though; both Gwen and Olivia end up being kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world that cannot be real. Has Gwen’s mother been right all this time after all? Gwen finds himself in Neverland, but it’s nothing like the original stories. Will she find a way to rescue Olivia and go back to her own world before it’s too late?

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I have to admit, both the cover, blurb and preview had me literally ‘hooked’. I was really looking forward to continue reading Unhooked, but unfortunately the story started to fall flat for me as I continued reading and discovering more about the revamped Neverland. It’s not that I don’t like the mixed up ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but both the romance and some of the main characters were really starting to get on my nerves. The ending wasn’t really satisfying either… What was a very promising and enjoyable start with a spark, soon started to sizzle out and didn’t manage to convince me in the end.


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BOOK REVIEW: Furthermore – by Tahereh Mafi

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Title: Furthermore
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magic
First published: August 30th 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: November 16th 2016
Pages: 416
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“Why must you look like the rest of us? Why do you have to be the one to change? Change the way we see. Don’t change the way you are.”

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I have been wanting to read Furthermore ever since I first heard about it. I admit I haven’t read Tahereh Mafi‘s popular Shatter Me series yet (mostly because of the mixed reviews I’ve seen out there), but this new story seems to be totally unrelated to it. Furthermore is a typical middle grade story that reads like a fairy tale and is full of adventures and a worldbuilding that is both creative and well executed. In fact, both the new world Tahereh Mafi created where color is currency and the plot itself are probably the strongest features of this book. The main characters are ok, although they did feel a bit underdeveloped at points. I loved the symbolism behind Alice though. As for the pace of the story: the beginning was quite slow and didn’t grab my attention right away, while the ending felt quite rushed. In other words, Furthermore lacked the right balance in pace and I would have liked to see a better ending. The story is well written though and I can see why middle graders would enjoy reading this story full of magical adventures. The chapters are not too long either, which makes it a great read to read out loud as well.

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Ferenwood is a world where color is currency and the sign of magic as well. The more colorful the inhabitants are, the more powerful they seem to be… And that’s why Alice Alexis Queensmeadow doesn’t seem to be popular at all. She was born all white from top to bottom, and even though she desperately wants to fit in, everybody seems to treat her indifferently. Well, everyone except for Father, but he disappeared three years ago and nobody knows where he went. Alice is determined to find Father, and one day she gets help from an unexpected source. It turns out she will have to travel through the mythical and dangerous Furthermore to find him, and it will take all her wits to fulfill her quest.

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Maybe my expectations were set too high, but while Furthermore was a very entertaining read I did have some minor problems with it. The biggest flaw might be the pace, which was too slow in the beginning and felt way too rushed in the end. The adventures itself were cute enough and I simply loved the worldbuilding and the idea of color as magic. I would have liked to see a bit more character development, but I liked Alice and I have no doubt it would be a big success in the target group.

BOOK REVIEW: The Neverland Wars – by Audrey Greathouse

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Title: The Neverland Wars
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: May 9th 2016
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Finished reading: July 20th 2016
Pages: 302
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“People think that only the serious is important. They forget how essential it is to remain whimsical.”

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I have to confess I’m confused. Did I miss something and The Neverland Wars is actually the first book of a series? Because I really had the feeling the actual story was still missing after I reached the final page. I mean, for a book that is called the Neverland WARS, there isn’t much explained about this supposed war between the children and adults… And the story kind of ended right when it was starting to become interesting. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t really impressed by this book, and even thought of DNFing it once or twice. The first part had quite a slow pace and the prose/tone really bothered me. For a teenager not wanting to grow up, Gwen sounds awfully dull and ‘adult’. Just to give an example:

“Absorbed in their own antics, the young children did not much care as Gwen slunk away from the table. They continued boisterously, but she crept through the forest, stepping softly with her bare feet.”

Tell me I’m wrong when I say this doesn’t sound like YA appropriate prose. And definitely when it’s supposed to be about a teenager that doesn’t want to grow up… The tone just feels all wrong and the prose is ‘distant’ and doesn’t seem age-appropriate.  I agree things become better once they are in Neverland, but it didn’t stop bothering me. I wasn’t really a fan of Gwen in general, although I liked the general idea behind The Neverland Wars of an older Peter Pan and a teenager being torn between average teenage life and Neverland. I just wish the plot itself would have made more sense; less cliche teenage life and more Neverland magic, and of course more focus on the war itself. I kind of hope there will be a sequel focusing on the war… Because that truly was the most interesting part of this retelling.

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Gwen is just like any normal sixteen-year-old girl with a place on the debate team and a crush on the soon-to-be homecoming king. She doesn’t really want to grow up, but doesn’t really believe in magic either… And she definitely didn’t know her little sister Rosemary could actually run away with Peter Pan, or that magic does really exist. Because that is exactly what  did end up happening, and Gwen soon finds herself chasing after her little sister so she can bring her home safe. But Neverland is without doubt a magical place, and Gwen is starting to like it there even though she feels out of place as a teenager. And her sister doesn’t seem to want to leave either. Gwen will have to make the difficult choice whether to stay in Neverland or return to reality, and the war isn’t making things easier.

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I was really looking forward to this Peter Pan retelling, but unfortunately The Neverland Wars didn’t live up to expectations. I enjoyed the part that was set in Neverland and the descriptions of the fictional place, but I wasn’t too convinced by the plot itself. I wish there would have been more about the war and less about Gwen and her cliche teenage life… Because that is what would have made this read truly interesting. And I think I have already made it clear I wasn’t convinced by the prose/tone either.

BOOK REVIEW: As Red As Blood – by Salla Simukka

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Title: As Red As Blood
(Lumukki Andersson #1)
Author: Salla Simukka
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: February 20th 2013
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: July 4th 2016
Pages: 274
(Originally written in Finnish: “Punainen Kuin Veri”)
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“Do not seek power for revenge. Seek power in order to avoid situations that would make you want revenge.”

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After talking to a good friend of mine the other day (she’s Finnish), I remembered I had this book by the Finnish author Salla Simukka on my TBR shelves. I decided to pick up my copy of As Red As Blood on a whim even though I had heard mixed things about it, and the beginning definitely had me hooked. A few fairy tale references, the main character Lumikki named after Snow White, lots of action and suspense… The start of As Red As Blood had all the signs I was going to enjoy it. BUT: as things slowly got out of hand, I started to doubt the credibility of Lumikki and the plot in general. This novel is not a fantasy story, but the plot sure sounds fantastical at times. Lumikki is able to do and understand things only a ‘superspy’ could without no real explanation how she got those skills.. And why would she agree to help those three in the first place if they are not even friends? She also had too many ‘close calls’ for the story to be credible… I mean, she is just a teenage girl with a complicated past after all. I think this all would have bothered me less if there would have been more fantasy elements and it might just be that something was lost in translation, but I personally didn’t enjoy As Red As Blood as much as I hoped even though it was a fast read.

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When Lumikki Andersson walks into her school’s dark room and finds a stash of wet, blood-stained money drying, she knows she found trouble. The thousands of Euros splattered with someone’s blood left to dry can only mean one thing: someone with access to the schoolgrounds either is a murderer or mixed up with the wrong crowd… But when she goes back after the first period to decide what to do with the money, it’s gone. She doesn’t want to get involved, focusing just on studying and graduating and ignoring the rest, but the blood-stained money changes everything. She follows one of the students to a bar, and when one of the trio recognizes Lumikki she soon finds herself right in the middle of a chain of chaotic events. Events that turn out to be even more deadly and dangerous after there are signs dirty cops and a drug kingpin are involved…

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One of the things I liked of As Red As Blood is the setting: my friend used to live in Tampere as well and the descriptions made it feel like I was walking the streets myself. The pace of the story is fast and there is a lot of action involved, but unfortunately I can’t say the plot and character were really credible. I will still try to read the sequel at some point though!