Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub date: Nov. 13, 2018 (read Nov. 2018)
Series: Nevermoor #2

Happy Pub Day Wundersmith!

Hachette Book Group was so kind as to send me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And all I can say is that this book is WUNDERFUL!

I heard some really great stuff about Nevermoor, the first book in this series, so I read it a few months ago and absolutely loved it! It’s a middle grade book that I can’t help but compare to Harry Potter. They have a lot of similar elements, but are still quite different. In my opinion, Nevermoor incorporates all the features that made Harry Potter a phenomenon and I feel like it’s the series I’ve been searching for since Harry Potter ended.

Over the last few years, Throne of Glass has been my go to series, but it’s over now and now I just can’t stop thinking about Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. The second book in a series is super important because author’s can often get the second book blues after a really successful first book, and the chance to prove to your readers that you’re not just a one-book phenomenon. After finishing Wundersmith, I am totally on the Jessica Townsend bandwagon and even MORE obsessed with this series.

First of all, the covers are gorgeous and I think they perfectly capture the whimsical nature of these books. Just to give you a quick synopsis, Nevermoor is about 11 year old Morrigan Crow. Because of when she was born, she’s spent her entire life as a cursed child, being blamed for all the misfortune that happens in her town in the Wintersea Republic. Until one day, red-head Jupiter North shows up on her doorstep and invites Morrigan to move to the mythical city of Nevermoor to compete in the trials for the Wundrous Society.

Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead for Nevermoor if you haven’t read it, but I will keep the rest of the review spoiler free for Wundersmith.

At the end of Nevermoor, Morrigan is successful in passing her trials and is invited to join Wunsoc. However, she is shocked to discover that she is a Wundersmith. The last Wundersmith in Nevermoor was Ezra Squall, who committed such evil acts that he was forever banned from Nevermoor. For this reason, Wundersmiths are not well liked or accepted and Morrigan is forbidden from learning the arts of the Wundersmith or from telling anyone her talents. But when strange events start taking place in Nevermoor and she is bullied by her classmates, she questions whether all Wundersmiths really are bad,

This book was everything I wanted from the sequel. It had all of the whimsical elements that the first book had, while continuing to test Morrigan, introduce new characters, and deepen the plot. I said in my review for Nevermoor, and I’ll reinterate here, that what I like so much about this series is the gradual world building and the fact that you can tell this world is going to have so much more depth than what has been revealed to us. The entire book is a plot within a greater story. What made Harry Potter so good was Rowling’s ability to tell one story, while simultaneously building on that larger story arc. Our questions are not always answered in a single book and the story continues across the greater series. I loved Rowling’s foresight in Harry Potter and her ability to craft her arcs and mysteries in advance of writing each book and then weave them together over the course of the novel and series. I can’t be sure because we’re only two books in, but I suspect Townsend is following a similar format.

I think it takes a very accomplished author not to rush through their world building – to tell a fun and fascinating story, while still withholding enough of the secrets to keep us coming back for more. There can be a tendency to overload your reader with information about the world you’re creating, but slowly introducing parts of that world is a much more effective way to draw your reader in and not overwhelm them. I keep learning more about Nevermoor, yet it already feels like a fully formed place. I don’t feel as if Townsend is trying to explain her world to me, but rather is gradually building that fully formed world around me. It’s hard to explain, but it makes for a really enjoyable reading experience.

The Harry Potter feels continue in this book and I feel like Townsend is setting us up for a substantial series. Morrigan enters the Wunsoc society in this book and we get to know the 8 other students that make up her unit (unit 919). Wunsoc parrots the belief that your unit is your family and that you must learn and grow together. A success or failure on behalf of one person is a success or failure for the entire unit. Morrigan’s initial draw to the society was the opportunity to have 8 ready made friends, something she never had as a cursed child. But she soon learns that Wunsoc is not as perfect as she believed and that trust, respect, and friendship are still things that will need to be earned.

Morrigan is tested in this book. Wunsoc is essentially a little Hogwarts type world where she will attend school for the next 6 or 7 years (can’t remember exactly how many), before pursuing greater endeavors. Her classmates are all signed up for fun and interesting classes, but as a secret Wundersmith, the society is a bit at a loss for what to do with Morrigan. She is forbidden from learning how to use her talents as a Wundersmith, but as wunder keeps gathering to her, her talents can no longer be ignored.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved the mystery element to this book and I loved the characterization. Hawthorne is just as fun in this book as the first book and I really liked getting to know Cadence a bit more in this book. It was a little hard at times to keep track of all 9 of the Wunsoc students as 6 of them are brand new characters to us, but I’m really excited to get to know them better as the series progresses. We’re also introduced to the Scholar Mistresses at the school in this book and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes us with the two different streams of study at Wunsoc. Townsend builds on the relationships of the folks living at the Hotel Deucealion. Jupiter continues to be an elusive, eccentric, Dumbledore type character and I have a lot of questions about what he’s really up to. Fen continues to be one of my favourite characters and I hope to see more of her and Jack in later books.

In conclusion, I still highly recommend this series and I loved every part of this book. My only regret is reading it too fast and having to wait too long for the next book!

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Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Aug. 2018)

I’ve been seeing Nevermoor pop up on Booktube and for some reason decided I didn’t have an interest in it. But I recently heard it labelled as the “next Harry Potter” and that there were a lot of comparisons that could be made between the two, so of course I finally had to pick up a copy. Best decision ever because this book was so much fun from start to finish!

Morrigan Crow is eleven years old and has the unfortunate bad luck of being born on Eventide. As a result, she’s considered a cursed child in the Wintersea Republic and is blamed for every bad thing that happens in her village. But her real bad luck is that cursed children always die on the eve of the next Eventide, which happens to be the day after Morrigan’s eleventh birthday.

Morrigan just wants to be remembered, but when the next Eventide is announced, it’s obvious her family is already preparing to move on and forget about her. However, before death can catch her, Morrigan is whisked away to Nevermoor, the free state, by the enigmatic Jupiter North, who selects Morrigan to be his first ever candidate for the Wundrous Society. But in order to be admitted to the Society, Morrigan must complete her trials and be selected by the judges.

What made this book fantastic was that it had so many layers. It’s been a long time since I read a book like this and it made me realize how much I miss clever fantasy stories with a strong mystery element. This has obvious parallels to Harry Potter with the 11 year old being whisked away to another world, the magical elements, her wise mentor figure, the foreboding unnamed villain, and the humourous moments woven throughout the story. But it’s the larger mystery of this story and the complex world building that made this such a good book and worthy of being compared to Harry Potter.

This was a 450 page book and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this world. It was a brilliant debut with just the right balance of world-building, character development, and whimsy. Townsend doesn’t give up all her secrets and I know there’s so many more surprises and quirks to be developed in this series. I don’t really know where the author plans to take the plot, but I get the feeling that it will have a lot more depth than what we’ve been introduced to in the first book.

I really wouldn’t change anything about this book. I have so many questions, yet I was still satisfied by the ending. I can’t wait to find out more about the Wundrous Society and what mischief Morrigan and Hawthorne will get up to in the next book. There were so many intriguing characters in this book and I can’t wait to learn more about Jupiter, Jack, Fen, Cadence, Noelle, and of course, the Wundersmith.

Book 2 can’t come soon enough! Everyone should read this!

Brown Girl Dreaming

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult, Childrens
Pub Date: Jan. 2014 (Read April 2018)

Thanks for sticking around everyone! I’ve been travelling around Vietnam for the past 3 weeks, so my book reading has been a little slow, but I have several books to update you on now!

I did accomplish my April Reading Challenge, which was to read 3 award winning books. Brown Girl Dreaming was the last book I read right before I went on holiday, but I didn’t get a chance to write a review before I left, so please forgive me for already starting to forget a bit about this book, but I’ll do my best to review!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought this was a fictional book about growing up in the south (written in prose), but I was excited to discover its actually a non-fictional account of the authors childhood! I’m sure some is partially fabricated and written through other people’s memories (the author is very young for some of the experiences). But it is indeed written in prose and it was a joy to read.

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio, spent several years living with her mom and grandparents in South Carolina, before her mother moved her and her siblings to New York. Brown Girl Dreaming tells of her childhood and her relationships with her mother, grandparents, and siblings. Her older sister was a voracious reader who did very well in school, while Jacqueline struggled in school but discovered a deep love of writing and storytelling. As a child she is frustrated by the injustices she sees around her and develops a hunger to see and create change.

It’s not really the story I was expecting, but I really liked the way it was told. I’ve been reading more prose and poetry lately and I thought this was a fantastic medium through which to tell her story. It’s a quick read, but wonderful!

A Sky Full of Stars

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Linda Williams Jackson
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Read: Dec. 2017 (Pub date: Jan. 2, 2018)

 

I don’t know where to start with this book…

I read the first in the series, Midnight Without a Moon, earlier this year and while I liked it, I thought parts of it were a bit problematic. I think A Sky Full of Stars is a stronger novel than the first book, but I still think it had some issues.

Namely, Ma Pearl. What the hell is wrong with Ma Pearl?! I said this in my review of the first book, but I don’t understand why Jackson decided to write Ma Pearl the way she did. She is a very harsh character and I keep waiting to discover why she is so mean, but Jackson gives us absolutely no justification. As far as I’m concerned Ma Pearl has no redeeming qualities and I think that’s unfair to her character. She literally has no empathy. She doesn’t seem like a psychopath to me, so I really don’t know why she’s so unyielding. Sure, she makes a great antagonist, but she’s also not the main villain of the story (hello white people) and I think showing us a little bit more of her humanity would make such a better character.

But let’s talk about plot, because I thought the plot of this story was stronger than the first book. Midnight Without a Moon takes place in Mississippi in 1955 and focuses on the murder of Emmett Till. Rose is shocked when the white men who murdered Emmett walk free of all charges and is desperate to see change. A Sky Full of Stars focuses on the murders of several other black men in the state for doing things like trying to register to vote, demanding to be paid a fair wage, and for simply making a mistake when pumping a white man’s gas. So basically black people are being shot for daring to exist.

I found the plot structure a bit weak in Midnight Without a Moon, but it is much better defined in A Sky Full of Stars. Rose is disgusted that white people can kill black people without suffering any consequence and decides she wants to do something about it. Everyone has different ideas about the most effective ways to create change and Rose has to figure out where she fits in and how far she’s willing to go to try and ensure a better future for her family. She struggles with turning down her Aunt Belle’s offer to move to St. Louis and is afraid of what the consequences might be of speaking out against inequality.

Similar to the first book, I felt this book had no real climax to the story and it felt like it kind of just ends. I could easily see Jackson writing another book about Rose. Mostly I think she just needs to think more about her characterization. Rose has a great character arc, but the rest of the characters feel 1-dimensional. There’s quite a lot of side characters but I feel like barely any of them had depth. The Shorty-Hallelujah conflict had so much potential, but never really came to a head and as such, didn’t really feel that meaningful. There was so much potential for Queen’s character too, but I don’t think her character developed at all in this book.

I applaud Jackson for tackling some pretty tough subjects in a middle grade book, but honestly, I think this book can go so much deeper. I feel like Jackson is hesitant to get into the dark nitty-gritty of her characters. The character conflicts all feel very surface level and I think if Jackson went deeper into her characters, their fears and desires, this would truly be a fantastic series. Have your characters make mistakes and take risks – they live in a harsh world and sometimes they are going to make bad choices. How they react and grow from those challenges is what makes them inspiring.

Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Midnight Without a Moon

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Linda Williams Jackson
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Read: Oct. 2017

 

I wanted to love this, but Midnight Without a Moon fell a bit flat for me. This is definitely a good debut novel for Linda Williams Jackson, I just think she needs to hone her writing skills.

Midnight Without a Moon is a middle grade book set in Mississippi in 1955. It’s a coming of age story featuring 13-year old Rose Lee Carter who is struggling to find her place in the world and justify the atrocities that are happening around her. Black people have been granted the right to vote and want to register, but of course, white people are having none of it and tensions in Rose’s town start to escalate. Rose desperately wants to go to college and make something of herself, but she believes the only way to do that is to get out of Mississippi. When young Emmett Till is brutally murdered and the NAACP shows up to advocate for justice, Rose begins to realize that maybe she’s needed right where she is.

I thought the premise of the book was great – good setting, good subject matter – but I felt it was poorly executed. I found parts of the novel dragged and had a hard time getting into it. The pacing of the plot was really off for me. I thought the main plot of this story was about Emmett Till and the sparking of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, but Jackson kept veering off into side stories. I thought the verdict of the trail would be the climax of the story, but it was very anti-climactic and Jackson kind of glazed over it in a way that made me feel it was no longer integral to the plot. It left me feeling unsure what Jackson’s goal was in retelling this historical event.

Don’t get me wrong, I love side stories and sub-plots between characters and I did love a lot of the side plots in this novel, but they all felt poorly executed and chunky, and they didn’t flow naturally. The ending didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the novel at all and I was super confused when Jackson spent the last 10% of the book talking about religion. I found it interesting to learn about and I think it could still have been included in the novel, it was just in totally the wrong place and it made all of Rose’s epiphanies and reflections seem really forced. I just found the whole “stars shine brighter in the darkness” and “midnight without a moon” references very cheesy and cliche. I know it’s a middle grade novel, but again, it’s not that these points shouldn’t have been in the story, they just flowed very poorly.

I think the strongest part of this novel was the characters. I liked Rose; her drive and ambition. I thought the side story with Queen was interesting, as well as Rose’s relationship with Hallelujah. I was fascinated with Ma Pearl, but I need more information about her background!! I thought she was a great antagonist and all her fears about getting kicked off the Robinson’s land were totally valid, but boy she was harsh. She had really no redeeming qualities and I thought that was unfair. I want to know more about her history and how she has become so jaded. I feel like she was too one-dimensional and I’d like to see other sides of her character. Actually, I feel the same way about Queen. I need more perspective for both of these characters.

Ultimately this is a book about growing up and being introduced to the inequities of life. I do think Rose was a wonderful female role model for middle graders as she has this deep desire to be educated. At first her desire to go to college is just about getting out of Mississippi and gaining wealth and it is heartbreaking when she is pulled out of school, but I like that her desires gradually changed and became more about a better life for black people, not just herself (not that its not okay to want a better life just for yourself).

In conclusion, I don’t regret reading this, I think Jackson has a lot of potential and it’s great to see these kinds of stories and themes being explored in middle grade novels (especially when they’re actually written by people of colour, instead of the whole white saviour narrative). Reviewing 3 star books is always a challenge because it’s tough to convey that I liked the book, but at the same time thought it could have been better. This book is getting a sequel, so I’m hopeful to see some of these issues and character development addressed in the next book!