Coming at you today with a couple middling middle-grade reviews that took me too long to write because, you know, that’s how things are now.
Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt and illustrated by Taryn Knight
My Edition: ARC Paperback – 256 pages – 2020 – Walker Books US – ISBN: 9781536210477 – Expected Publication: September 2020
I won a copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for my honest review.
Jake Green finds himself talking to ghosts and hunted by a reaper when he opens a mysterious box containing a severed finger. With the help of reluctant Stiffkey, a former undertaker, and spunky schoolgirl, Cora, (both ghosts!), Jake must try to reach the Embassy of the Dead. As they run from the reaper, the group discovers they’re being pursued by a man who wants to use the finger to raise a powerful ghost and wreak havoc on the living and the dead.
Hello, I’m still very bad at writing descriptions of books.
This was a fun, relatively quick read. While the characters and plot didn’t blow me away, it was compelling enough to keep me reading. Jake is maybe a little too accepting of the sudden revelation that he can see and talk to ghosts, but I think that’s a hard thing to get just right.
Jake is pretty level-headed and determined, Stiffkey is the loveable old man type who just wants to retire but has to keep track of the kiddos on this crazy adventure, and Cora is the sass and spark of the group. The characters play pretty well off each other. The embassy is interesting and I’d like to know more; it reminds me a bit of the office in the afterlife in Beetlejuice.
I’d like to see a finished copy of the book because I’ve been following Taryn on Instagram for years and I love her style. There are some illustrations in the ARC and I’m curious as to whether the images are sketches, or if they’ll maybe be in color in the final copy. There are also a few pages that describe the different types of ghosts, like poltergeists, and I’d love to see more inserts like that.
I don’t have much more to say than this. It was a fun book and it appears to be the start of a series. It’s one of those books where I likely won’t seek out the sequel, but if I won a copy or was offered one by the publisher, I’d be interested in seeing how it plays out. If you like spoopy middle-grade and ghostly adventures, this is one to check out.
Dwarf Story by Professor W.W. Marplot
My Edition: ARC Paperback – 408 pages – 2020 – Waxing Gibbous Books – ISBN: 9781734758306
Thank you to Books Forward PR for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.
Arty finds a dwarf one morning before school and he enlists the help of his friends Emma and Cry to figure out what the dwarf wants and why more magical creatures are suddenly appearing in their town. As they work together, they discover there’s an evil witch with a plan to take over the neighborhood and the magical creatures within it – they must learn to work together and with their new friends in order to stop her
Sometimes a book seems like it will be a good fit – middle-grade, modern, magical – but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Sadly, this is one of those times. Nothing about the plot, characters, or writing style grabbed me or held my attention.
Magical creatures started appearing, seemingly one per child, and then, there was an evil witch, and she was kind of brainwashing kids, a la the white witch from Narnia. Unfortunately, not much was making sense to me because of the narration, so I kind of checked out and can’t really speak to the plot more than that.
The timeline was also confusing. The chapters are told from the kids’ perspectives; Arty, Emma, Cry, and Ted all take turns talking about what happens. At times, it seems like they’re taking turns writing about the events after the fact. Others, it seems like they’re writing them in the moment, because sometimes Arty will say he thinks Emma should write the chapter, but he can’t find her. Then the next time Emma chimes in, she will fill in details and it seems like she wasn’t available, because of the events that were happening in the story. Then it goes back to feeling like the four kids are sitting together after the events of the book have come to pass and taking turns writing out what happened. The format definitely didn’t work for me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the characters to be compelling either. Arty is smart and organized, to the point where sometimes he gets so caught up in his methodology that he can’t see obvious or creative solutions. But rather than interesting, he just came across as a big nerd stereotype. Emma is a girl and creative. Cry is called ‘Cry’ by literally everyone…because…he cries a lot? Throughout the book, he will just be crying, for seemingly no reason. I also recall him being described as really tall/large and his friends often need to ask him question after question to get information out of him. I wondered if he was supposed to be neurodiverse in some way, but Ted is insulting to him and even Arty and Emma sometimes speak harshly to him, and if Cry is a neurodiverse character, the way his “friends” treat him doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’m just missing something?!
Then there’s Ted. Oh, Ted. He’s so creepy; to a degree that’s concerning! Again, I’m not sure of the intent here. He basically introduces himself by saying that Emma wants him as a girlfriend, but won’t admit it, and that he follows her around a lot. The next time Emma narrates after Ted appears, she mentions that she knows he stalks her and refers to him as part weasel, snake, and fox. It’s later mentioned, by Arty I think, that the 4th graders refer to spying as “Ted-ing.” How much spying/stalking does this kid do that an entire grade named it after him?! Middle-grade novels can successfully tackle tough topics, like stalking, but this book didn’t do that. Again, I was left confused about the intent behind the character.
I’m disappointed that this book ended up being such a letdown for me. I can’t say that I’d recommend this, but younger readers might enjoy it a lot more than I did.
And another thanks to Workman for sending the book along with a bunch of goodies that Mum and I had fun with! Not pictured, flower seeds that we set aside to plant, but definitely forgot to…but enjoy pictures of me as a dwarf xD