‘The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel’ by Jessica Day George is a fitting ending to a lovely middle grade, horse-filled fantasy

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“The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel” is the final book in the trilogy that began with “The Rose Legacy,” the book that is also the title of the three-book series. In it we learn of a world in which some humans can communicate with horses. And any horse-loving human reading this trilogy would only wish that this was, indeed, a real thing. Talking to horses — how amazing would that be?

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‘The One and Only Bob’ by Katherine Applegate; When a dog, a gorilla, and an elephant are best friends

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Remember Bob, the scrawny little dog with lots of bravado who was Ivan and Ruby’s buddy in “The One and Only Ivan“? Well, author Katherine Applegate decided that Bob deserved his own story, and “The One and Only Bob” is this survivor’s tale.

First, let’s be clear about one thing: Bob is NOT a good dog. Sure, he’s loving and appreciates his two square meals a day, but don’t expect him to listen or obey commands like “sit” or “leave it.” He’s the first to say that he’s a street dog, and he’s proud of it. His opinion of Hachiko, the dog who waited at the train station for his owner for nine years? “That dog was a ninny. A numskull. A nincompoop.”

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‘Catalyst’ by Sarah Beth Durst is just the middle grade summer fantasy adventure your kids need

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Sarah Beth Durst loves fantasy, and she loves cats. In “Catalyst,” she combines those loves to create a kitten that grows and grows and grows. When almost twelve-year-old Zoe finds the tiny kitten, she knows her mother won’t let her keep it. She knows because she wasn’t able to keep any of the other animals she rescued, including the last one, a skunk.

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‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

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“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters.

These monsters don’t respond to love or kindness. They want to kill and maim and destroy everything because of their monstrosity. Tamra, a former elite kehok rider, is desperate to find a kehok to train and a rider to race the kehok in Becar’s national races and win. It’s the only way she will be able to continue paying her daughter’s tuition at the school for augurs. Augurs are elite citizens, and the only ones who can read your soul (aura), who can tell you what you will be in the next life. It’s all about life, death, and rebirth. And the augurs control it all in Becar, where the emperor has died and his younger brother, Dal, cannot be coronated until his brother’s soul has been located in its new vessel and protected. But the augurs cannot find Zarin, his brother, in whatever new body he was reborn into, and time is running out. The neighboring country is amassing troops to invade, and important decisions cannot be made until there is a ruler.

Raia is running from unloving parents and an unwanted engagement to a man who killed his first wife. She is determined to make her way in the world, and if she can ride a kehok and succeed, so be it. What no one expects is how the newborn kehok Tamra buys, an apparently unmanageable killer, reacts to Raia, and what happens when they begin to race together.

The trainer, Tamra, is an unusual main character. She is not beautiful, but rather scarred and determined. She is a wonderful mother, but she is far from perfect. What she does have is an inner kindness and humanity. While other kehok trainers beat and starve their animals into submission, Tamra controls them with her mind, while treating the kehoks humanely. She is so powerful she can control several kehoks using just her thoughts. Strong women in this book show the men in it that physical strength isn’t always most important.

Durst forces us to question the status quo about religion and government. She opens our eyes about the nature of power and the corrupting forces that power and money can bring. She makes readers realize that no one is better than anyone else because of their position or their title. And that those who would preserve their power at the expense of the freedom of others are monsters.

While kehoks are monsters, they are straightforward monsters. You know by looking at them that they are monsters. Human monsters are a different animal. They walk among us, look like us, and often have power over us, but under their human disguise, they are as ugly and venal as any kehok.

“Race the Sands” will grab you and not let go. While the first few chapters take a slower pace because Durst is building the background and the world of Becar, the pace picks up to the point that this becomes a book you can’t put down, a book that you will savor at the same time you are feverishly turning the pages to find out how it all ends. I actually reread it immediately, looking for and enjoying my favorite parts. The characters and their world will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned. It’s a perfect book — powerful, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and impactful.

Review first posted at Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

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“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading

‘A Flicker of Courage’ by Deb Caletti is a farcical fantasy for middle grade readers

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“A Flicker of Courage” by Deb Caletti is a book that will appeal to children who love extremely fantastic books — fantastic in the sense that everything that happens in this story is either the best or the worst in the world, and Henry Every, the main character, and his four friends will have to vanquish evil and do heroic deeds without being caught or killed themselves. Continue reading

‘Highfire’ is indeed a dragon; adult fantasy by Eoin Colfer

 

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Folks who worry about a personal lack of imagination need no longer be concerned; they can simply absorb and digest “Highfire” by Eoin Colfer and the gobs of creative delights he offers.

Colfer’s latest novel is a shining example of those delights. Each of the characters is hilarious and sympathetic. The hero, for example, is fifteen-year-old “Cajun-blood” kid Everett (Squib) Moreau, who is impish, sly, and funny; a bad boy and a good person. But he’s not the first character we meet. That’s Vern. He’s a dragon who loves human beings. That is, he loves to eat them. Humans, you see, have destroyed almost the entire universe of dragons. Vern seeks revenge.

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‘A Heart so Fierce and Broken’ by Brigid Kemmerer is everything YA fantasy should be

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“A Heart So Fierce and Broken” is Brigid Kemmerer’s second book, following “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” a tale of Beauty and the Beast reimagined with lots of violence and a heartstopping ending. It was the story of Rhen, the prince cursed to turn into a beast, and Harper, the tough young girl who is determined to save Rhen and his kingdom, Emberfall. Grey is the loyal Guardsman who risks his life repeatedly to save them.

In this second story, Grey becomes the pivotal character with a new character, Lia Mara, the daughter of the cruel queen of Syhl Shallow, Karis Luran. Lia Mara is not destined to be queen; her sister is. Her sister can be cruel and harsh while Lia Mara prefers to use intellect and persuasion instead of brute strength and fear to create alliances.

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