Hollowpox

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub. Date: Oct. 2020 (read Oct. 2020)
Series: Nevermoor Book #3

I wish I’d taken the time to write a review for Hollowpox closer to when I actually read it, but that’s pretty much the story of my life this year.

What to say about a series that is just so fun and perfect. What can I add that I haven’t already said in the first two reviews? I decided to re-read the first two books before reading Hollowpox, which was definitely a good decision because I’d forgotten almost everything that happened in Wundersmith. Seriously, almost every single twist caught me by surprise again, so it was a real joy to basically experience it for the first time again. 

Given the choice between the three books, I’d probably say this one is my least favourite, but know that it is a super high bar and I still gave this book 5 stars. Everything about the Nevermoor series is so wunderful. The world building is excellently managed, the writing and plot are fun, the characters have depth, and there’s an intriguing mystery that threads its way throughout the entire series. Jessica Townsend has created something magical and along with her complex cast of characters, she weaves a number of subplots into the story that have real life relevance and meaning. 

At the same time though, the series does have an element of frustration because there are a lot of unanswered questions and you want answers. I’ve seen some criticism of this book that it doesn’t take the story anywhere new. I can understand some of the criticism – people want to unravel the greater mystery of Nevermoor, but I disagree that Hollowpox had no relevance. We learn so much more in this book about the Wretched Arts and Morrigan develops so much of her power (even if some think she is still woefully under trained). The very mystery of where the Hollowpox came from reveals so much to us about this world and the relationships that exist between every faction of it. I thought it struck a good balance of giving us answers without giving the game away. 

With a series like this, it’s really all about the journey and I will happily read a dozen more books about Morrigan Crow and Nevermoor! 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: J.K. Rowling (illustrated by Jim Kay)
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Classics
Pub. date: 1998 (read Nov. 2019)

My re-read of Harry Potter continues! For some reason Chamber of Secrets seems to be one of reader’s least favourite of the series, but I’ve always enjoyed it for the mystery element, and later for it’s heavy foreshadowing of Voldemort’s horcruxes.

Chamber of Secrets builds on the magical world Rowling created in the first book. I do always find it a bit annoying to have to be re-introduced to ‘Harry’s world’ at the beginning of each of the earlier books, as if someone would read it without having read the books that came before. But I guess it did serve as a good refresher of the previous book back before the whole world became infinitely familiar of all things Harry Potter.

I do love how Rowling’s writing style and narrative evolve over the course of the series. Chamber of Secrets (and book 1) do very much read like middle grade, but as Harry is only 12 in this book, it’s not really that surprising. We get the introduction to some more great characters in this book – Dobby, Ginny, Colin Creevey, Lockhart – and we get to learn more about the characters we already know – Hagrid, Dumbeldore, Malfoy, and Voldemort. I said it in my last review, but I have to re-iterate again, I love how Rowling is so good at developing her side characters and keeping them consistent throughout the entire series.

Rowling is also genius at integrating just enough humour and lightness into her stories. While each book has it’s own central plot, I’m still Immensely interested in the day to day of life at Hogwarts. I was genuinely disappointed when quidditch was cancelled and I realized I wouldn’t get to watch Harry square up against his opponents on the field. Rowling’s world is magical and interesting enough to be engaging on its own, yet she never wastes a scene. We attend all kinds of classes with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and everything they learn or experience always fits into the plot or is later applied.

The other thing Rowling does wonderfully is make you feel just the perfect amount of indignation at what happens to her characters. She finds the perfect blend of injustice that makes you angry at how characters are treated, while still being believable (I’m thinking of plotlines like Hagrid being shipped off to Azkaban and Harry being misunderstood to be Slytherin’s heir). Rowling gives us just enough information that we could conceivably have guessed who was opening the chamber of secrets and what the monster was, but still keeps us in the dark until the critical moment, which of course thrills us when all is finally revealed.

Mostly, I just love how this book is so full of foreshadowing and the greater meaning that it will have to the series later on. Rowling’s forethought is what keeps her series so interesting and why I keep coming back again and again for more.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Classics
Pub. date: 1997

I’ve never written a review for Harry Potter before, but I guess there’s no reason not to start now. I’ve probably read the 1st book at least a dozen times over the years, so there’s no pretending it’s not my favourite series.

When you look at the series as a whole, there’s no denying that the first book doesn’t really stand out from the books that come after, but it is still a wonderful example of world building and how much more depth a story has when the author is organized from the very beginning in where she plans to take the story. Whenever I re-read Harry Potter I am always impressed with the scope of Rowling’s vision. She didn’t rush into the creation of her world and gave time and thought up front to the complicated relationship that would exist between Harry and Voldemort. Even from the first book, it’s obvious the forethought that she gave to each character and storyline.

One of the things that I think makes Rowling such a successful author is her ability to extend her mystery elements beyond just a single book. She’s always balancing multiple storylines. There’s the immediate mysteries that get answered within the book (what’s the philosopher’s stone, who’s trying to steal it, what’s protecting the stone); and then there’s the greater mysteries that extend across the series (can we trust snape, why did Voldemort care so much about Harry). The question of what Snape did to unequivocally gain Dumbledore’s trust and whether that trust is misplaced is an element that spans the entire series. Rowling strikes a wonderful balance between sating her readers by asking the more immediate questions, but holding back just enough to keep us enthralled throughout 7 books.

The other thing that I think makes Rowling a great writer is her characterization. Harry Potter is filled with a huge cast of characters, yet it never feels overwhelming. She doesn’t rush the characterization and lets her characters develop naturally over the course of the series, but she still spends a lot time letting them grow. At a certain point, her characters do start to write themselves in that you begin to understand them so well that you can almost anticipate how they will react. But what I also love is her attention to the details when it comes to minor characters. We’re introduced to lots of other students and characters throughout the first book, but each character still has a distinct sense of self and I love how she dedicates time to this minor characters over the course of the books.

This was my first time reading the illustrated edition and it made for a wonderful reading experience. I do wish there were more illustrations though because they are so beautiful and at times felt a bit sparse, but I understand you can’t illustrate everything without having this be a beast of a book.

As usual 5 stars to this awesome book and 10 stars to Mr. Neville Longbottom

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Dan Gemeinhart
Genres: Middle Grade, Fiction
Pub. date: Jan. 2019 (read Nov. 2019)

Middle Grade is such an underrated genre and there are so many quality books out there. Even though I generally enjoy it, I don’t read that much middle grade unless it’s by an author I already know and like, but I always pick something out from the Goodreads Choice Awards every year to read in November. The book that appealed to me most in the long list was The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, which I was pleased to see also made it into the shortlist.

Coyote has been travelling America with her dad, Rodeo, in a refurbished school bus for the last 5 years. They’ve been having a great time exploring all over the country, but there is a certain loneliness that comes with always being on the move. Coyote is 12 years old, but she hasn’t really developed any lasting friendships and the only ongoing relationship she has is with her grandma, who she calls once a week on Saturday.

Coyote and Rodeo never talk about it, but they share a secret; they’re both trying to outrun the grief of having lost 3 other family members 5 years prior. The entire topic of their family is a “no-go” with Rodeo and Coyote is fine to go along with that, until she receives a call from her Grandma that really makes her want to return to her hometown, and in a hurry. But she knows Rodeo would never go for it and deceives him on a separate mission that will take them in close proximity to their old home. They’re both on a journey they don’t even really know they’re on and along the way they pick up some individuals who finally start to challenge their lifestyle and make them confront the demons they’ve been running from for 5 years.

It’s a book about grief, but the author balances the story with lots of humour and fun characters. Coyote has a lot of spunk and I loved how the cast of characters kept growing with each new plan Coyote hatches to try and get her closer to home. I love how children’s lit is able to tackle such emotional themes without being dark or upsetting, while also being super perceptive and comforting. Coyote still struggles with losing her mother and sisters, but it’s Rodeo who is really running away from the past. I liked that it’s a book about how a young girl deals with her grief, but also about how she helps her father to finally deal with his grief too.

Ember and the Ice Dragons

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub. date: Oct. 1, 2019 (read Oct. 2019)

I wish I didn’t wait so long to write my review for this book because I really loved it! Heather Fawcett is killing it with her books and I’m really drawn to the settings she creates. I loved her Himalaya inspired fantasy world in Even the Darkest Stars and loved the blend of fantasy she created in Ember and the Ice Dragons.

Ember and the Ice Dragons is a middle grade fantasy series set in our world, but with magic. Ember’s adoptive father is a magician that chases storms because they are where he gets his magic from. On one adventure he discovers a baby dragon, Ember, and turns her into a human to save her life and hide her, because unfortunately the fire dragons have since been hunted to extinction.

As you might expect, Ember struggles in England because she has a tendency to randomly burst into flames and as such, is afraid to make friends. Eventually she convinces her father to ship her off to Antarctica to live with her Aunt because she is much less likely to catch fire in the cold climate. Once in Antarctica, Ember is surprised when two other children, Nisha and Moss, attempt to befriend her. She’s also enraged to discover that the ice dragons of Antarctica are also being hunted and targeted, same as the fire dragons were in England. She teams up with Nisha and Moss to take down the hunt and save the ice dragons.

Like I said, I loved the setting. Most of the book is set in Antarctica and loved reading about it. Fawcett likes to set her stories in the bitter cold outdoors and it just makes for such an enjoyable reading experience in the fall and winter. Ember is the perfect heroine – with just the right amount of spunk and vulnerability. I liked watching her come of age and finally starting to make friends and build relationships with those around her instead of constantly being afraid of being discovered. Fawcett is also good at writing perfect villains and anti-heros and I like that some of her characters are flawed, yet still good.

This read like a standalone, so I’m not sure if Fawcett is planning on expanding the world or not. I kind of hope not because I think this works well as a standalone and I want to see what other types of worlds she will dream up!