Book Review: Anya and the Dragon

I took a big hiatus from reviewing books here, really from reading in general, but I’m back!

Anya and the Dragon had been sitting in my NetGalley queue for a long time. It is the first novel I have read since August, and it was like getting a nice cold drink of water after being really thirsty on a long hike. I missed reading, and this was a great story to sit down with after a very  stressful semester. 

Anya and the Dragon was a story about a girl, her goat, a new friend, a dragon, and tough choices. I loved most of it, but there was one little thing that bothered me.

I’ll start by telling you what I loved about this book.

I love novels with Slavic folklore, and this one was filled with it. I loved how the Domovoi’s personality.

Speaking of personality, Zvezda the goat was my favorite. He was adorable. He was brave, stubborn, loyal, and always chewing on something. 

I loved how the plot seemed to meander for a little while, letting the readers really get a full taste of the characters and the world before the plot really picked up the pace. Shortly after I reached the half-way mark, the story flew by and I couldn’t put the book down. 

The voice, imagery, and the friendships that developed were beautiful. 

The story felt very grounded in historical context and how in spite of that context, I didn’t feel completely smothered by some of the social issues and prejudices of that time. 

Anya seemed certain she didn’t want to get married, not even when she was older. While adult characters may have seemed a little skeptical when it was mentioned once, no one was telling her she had to get married when she was older. No one was every telling she could or couldn’t do something because she was a girl. I loved that the adults in town didn’t treat her any different than the treat the boy characters her age. Sometimes historical fantasy gets bogged down in alleged period sexism. This story didn’t. 

Sexism may not have been an issue in this story, but it didn’t completely ignore other prejudices of the time. The narrative discussed the antisemitism of the time. One of the antagonists was very anti semitic, but then he  got what deserved in the end…or maybe a kinder fate than he deserved. 

I feel like with historical fiction, addressing some of the prejudices of a time period is necessary, to an extent,  and when done right, it can drive home how bad that kind of hate was. 

The problem comes when it becomes gratuitous and/or the narrative doesn’t criticize the hate.

Which leads me to the one little tiny problem I had with this book. 

There was one scene in Chapter 6  where the narrative hinted that Ivan, the second most prominent human character, isn’t straight, but it came up in the context of his brothers making fun of him for having water-magic, like his mother, and for thinking a boy was cute once. 

Nothing about the narrative voice seemed critical of these bothers. There are much kinder ways to hint that a character is possibly gay or bi. 

I was excited to learn Ivan once thought a boy was cute. I’m always excited to see LGBTQ+ rep in books, especially middle grade books. I just wish the author could’ve found a better way to work it into the narrative. Using this casual homophobia as a way to say “this character isn’t straight” is not cool. 

That is the reason this book has 4 stars and not 5, because honestly, I loved just about everything else about it.

Book Review: The Bone Garden

The middle-grade reading spree continues with The Bone Garden. I got a free ARC of this creepy but cute little book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t think necromancy could be the cute, but alas, it was. In spite of its cuteness, I wasn’t as engaged with The Bone Garden as I hoped to be, but I still enjoyed it.

The main character, Irréelle, was adorable even though she was essentially made of dead people’s bones. For a creature most would label as a “monster” she was kind and often put others before herself. Early in the book, I got very annoyed at how she loved her creator even though the woman was cruel and abusive, but towards the end, I was very happy when Irréelle learned to stand up for herself. 

However, the side characters were flat and didn’t have much of an arc. They were good friends for Irréelle, but they didn’t change or grow like she did. Even though I loved seeing Irréelle’s friendship with them bloom, I got a little bored watching them stay the same while she developed. 

The antagonist, Miss Vesper, was too cliche for me. 

The story and plot were a little more complex than I expected, and there were a couple times where I was actually surprised. There were some scary moments, but for the most part, the book was just morbid in a cute way. There was necromancy and bones were the morbid part, but the character and her friendships were the cute. 

The prose were accessible but not bland. 

The Bone Garden would be a great story for a kid who likes things like bones, worms, and dirt, but doesn’t want to be too scared by what he/she/they are reading.

Book Review:All the Impossible Things

Alright, so I’m back to that middle grade reading spree! Granted, it hasn’t felt like much of a spree yet since this is only the third middle grade book I’ve read this summer…

Spree or not, I received a free copy of All the Impossible Things from Netgalley  and read the whole thing in one night.

The first thing I want to say is that I want to meet Gandalf the dog and give her treats and play fetch and be her friend. Really, I want to meet and befriend all the animals.

Second, this book was beautifully written and made me cry more than once. Even though at times it was heart-breaking, it was also heart-warming and up lifting. 

In some ways, All the Impossible Things was a book of contradictions. There were times when on the surface, it felt like not much was happening, but below the surface, everything was happening. There may not have been much as far as external action or adventure, but the internal growth was incredible. 

All the Impossible Things is a story about a girl with magic wind adjusting to life in a new foster home, one with two loving retired people and a whole bunch of amazing animals: dogs, goats, horses, a donkey, chickens, and a giant tortoise. The author did a fantastic job bringing the setting and all its four-legged inhabitants to life. The sense of wonder never flagged. Additionally, there was never a page with no emotional beat. Red/Ruby was constantly learning, growing, being set back, and moving forward throughout the book.

As someone who is used to reading genre fiction, this book was quieter than what I’m used to, but I was never bored with. I was invested enough in the character and her arc that despite its quietness, I just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Red. It was a good reminder to me that the action in a story can be small as long as what is happening inside a character is compelling.

I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the foster-related representation. I have no first hand experience with foster care, and only have acquaintances who have adopted children through the foster care system.

I can say the sentences, character and story are beautiful, thought provoking, and emotional. Based on that, I’d recommend All the Impossible Things.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.

City of Ghosts had everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.

As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the  mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.

A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.

On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.

I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.

The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.

I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.

Book Review: Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll


I requested Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll on NetGalley because I’m currently writing a middle grade horror story, and I haven’t read much middle grade this years. Last year, when I listened to the audio book of Doll Bones, I remembered why I read books in that age category even though I was an adult.

I had been hoping Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would be as magical, spooky, and enthralling as Doll Bones was. Unfortunately, it didn’t come close.

The concept, a haunted doll that cursed people who were rude or didn’t ask permission to take its picture, was great. There was plenty of suspense and tension. After taking a picture without permission and insulting the doll, bad and scary things kept happening to Al, and they gradually got worse as the book went on.

The problem was that Al was very flat as a character. Maybe some kids reading this book would be okay with that. Others would get bored. When I was in elementary school, I was a very reluctant reader. Eventually, it was finding books with fascinating characters that made me fall in love with reading. As a kid, a book like Doll Bones might have held my attention because of the well developed characters. Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would have bored me.

I did like the lesson it taught about consent. I know that word often has sexual connotations, but consent is important with other things too. It’s important in all aspects life whether it is taking pictures, kissing, borrowing things, or playing. In today’s society and political climate, it is especially important for boys to learn about consent.

A book where a boy takes a picture without consent, is punished for it, realizes he was wrong, and apologizes, is valuable even if the character was dull and didn’t grow in any other way.

I didn’t like Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll enough to order it for my cousins’ kids, but I appreciate the suspense and the lesson it taught.