Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book Review: Between Worlds

Book Review: Between Worlds by Skip Brittenham 

Goodreads Description: Immersive augmented reality brings this action-packed fantasy to life. 

The town of Eden Grove has a legend: In the center of a pine forest there is an aspen grove, and in the center of the aspen grove is an ancient, magnificent tree. A tree that grants wishes.

Mayberry and Marshall have heard the stories about the Wishing Tree, but they know nothing like that could really exist near their dreary town. Misunderstood and restless, the teenagers wish for a lot of things, including being on another planet altogether. Somewhere with magic and adventure—someplace where they can be heroes.

And then the unlikeliest thing happens: On a hike through the forest, they find the Wishing Tree. The pair make their wish, fall asleep . . . and wake up on Nith, a world that is exactly what they asked for. The alien landscape is beautiful, but it’s also full of dangerous and fantastic creatures, and almost without exception, the creatures are hungry. Soon Mayberry and Marshall learn two very important facts about their wish: First, that magic comes at a very steep cost; second, that they can only be heroes if they can survive. The journey that follows will test the limits of their courage and strength . . . and change them in ways they haven’t begun to imagine.

My Review: I received an advanced reader’s copy from MB Communications in exchange for an honest review. 

Between Worlds is the story of Marshall and Mayberry, two teens that stumble upon another world through a Wishing Tree. They head out into their town’s Mystery Forest, which is a thick aspen grove steeped in legend. After falling asleep beneath the wishing tree, Marshall and Mayberry wake up in Nith, a parallel world filled with fantastical creatures and magic. In a world rich with beings Marshall and Mayberry could have only ever dreamed of, it becomes difficult to tell friend from foe. But they’ll have to figure it out fast—as well as their newfound magical abilities—for there to be any hope of getting home. 

When I first heard about Between Worlds, the thing that caught me was the supposed ‘Augmented Reality’ that can be achieved with this book through an app. I raised an eyebrow at first, as these gimmicks can at times take away from the actual story. Before I even began the book, I opened the app and directed it at the cover. Basically, the app works through your camera, and when you point it at the book or certain pages within (any artwork page), 3D creatures pop up on the app. It looks as though they’re standing on the book, which I admit I was impressed by. There are, at times, more than one creature per page, and each comes with a diary style entry written by one of the characters to describe the creature and what it can do. The creatures also move and fight back if you poke them, which was very cool. It added a lot of information that is needed in heavy fantasy, but isn’t always easy to incorporate into the narrative without boring the reader. Not to mention that it brought the book to life in a way I’ve never before experienced. You had to read the book for these creatures to have any meaning to you, and as you read each artwork page you stumble upon gives you something new to look at through the app. So I was very pleased to see how the augmented reality complimented the story and encourages kids to read through, and not just sit on the app poking creatures all day. 

As for the story itself, the writing was very solid. The thing that really caught my breath, as is probably expected, was the world building. I loved the richness of creatures, as well as the fact that nothing in Nith looks human, even those that have intelligence or human traits. It felt fresh in the way that it explored the “kids falling into another world” idea. I find a lot of YA and MG that follow that trope have their main characters almost immediately find someone that wants to help them. Not so is the case in Between Worlds. Mayberry and Marshall had to struggle and survive very much on their own strength throughout the whole story, which really helped to build them into the kind of heroes you want to see in this type of world. 

The prose flows nicely and steadily, offering just enough background without slowing down the pace of the story. At the same time, the story doesn’t rush anything, allowing us to see Mayberry and Marshal’s world before  they travel to Nith, which I believe is so important when you want to establish character growth. How do we know how the characters have changed if we don’t see how they lived before their harrowing adventure? It’s nice to see the contrast later, after Marshall and Mayberry return, and how much confidence they’ve gained. 

The only thing I could have asked for when it came to Between Worlds would have been something more for my heart to grab onto. The prologue starts off with Aaron dealing with the conflict of his sister’s death, but aside from that there wasn’t much inner conflict or motivations that really tugged at my heart. Mayberry goes off into the forest partly to help her mother in getting samples, but as we never get a chance to see her mother or their relationship, it’s hard to feel connected to her motivation on an emotional level. Even Marshall’s main motivation to go was because was he was her friend. Even when they struggled to get home, it was Aaron who brought on the heart wrenching idea of home baked cookies. There didn’t seem to be as much driving Marshall or Mayberry to get home. 

TL;DR: All in all, 4/5 stars. A gripping creature fantasy complimented by amazing augmented reality. 

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