Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of Unicorn on a Roll, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Unicorn on a Roll

Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. 222 pages.

This is the second collection about a girl named Phoebe and her best friend, the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. And I am officially a Phoebe and her Unicorn fan.

In this volume, Phoebe releases Marigold from the wish that made Marigold Phoebe’s best friend – and discovers Marigold wants to be her friend anyway.

Phoebe faces normal kid things – such as wanting a part in the school play and competing in the school spelling bee against the boy she has a crush on. But she also faces things unique to someone whose best friend is a unicorn who is convinced she’s the best thing in the universe.

One nice sequence is when Phoebe gets to go to the land of the unicorns for a party – when the unicorns decide to hold an intervention, trying to convince Marigold to stop being friends with an icky human. They are unsuccessful.

Oh, and we learn that Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is skilled at roller skating – though Phoebe can’t ride her when she does. (Hence the title.)

This comic strip is all that a comic strip should be – inventive, funny, true to life, and with insights about life that sneak up on you.

danasimpson.com
ampkids.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

jessicacluess.com
booksontape.com
randomhouseteens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Assassin’s Heart

by Sarah Ahiers

HarperTeen, 2016. 420 pages.
Starred Review

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Come on, it’s about a girl assassin, from a family of assassins. The plot of the book is about finding vengeance.

Not long after the book opens, Lea’s entire family is murdered, burned to death in their sleep, because of a betrayal. I read the start of the book before going to sleep — and woke up the next morning to some pretty depressing thoughts!

But I wasn’t ever tempted to stop reading the book. Despite its dark subject matter, this is good writing and compelling characters.

The world of the book is innovative and unexpected. The nine Families of clippers (assassins) in Lovero serve the goddess Safraella by accepting contracts to kill people. That is also how they keep order in Lovero. If someone pays for someone else to be killed without a good reason, they can be sure their own death will be next. The kingdom accepts this service and doesn’t interfere in matters between the Families.

As part of the service, clippers place a gold coin in the mouth of those they kill.

The coin would act as a balm and prevent the man from becoming an angry ghost, because it signaled that the person deserved a quick rebirth. Instead of wandering the dead plains, Safraella, goddess of death, murder, and resurrection, patron of Lovero, would see the offering and grant him a faster return to a new life. A better life.

Ever since the king of Lovero devoted himself and the kingdom to Safraella, angry ghosts stay out on the plains outside the kingdom. Now Loverans can go out of their homes at night without fearing their souls will be pulled out of their bodies.

But because the Families are outside the law, Lea Saldana has nowhere to turn when her whole family is killed in the fire. She knows the Family that did this will try to hunt her down once they learn she survived. She needs to find her one living relative, an uncle who was banished from the Family years ago. Of course, that will mean crossing the dead plains, filled with angry ghosts. And then somehow finding her uncle, who has gone deep into hiding.

Besides being a compelling story (even if it did had a lot of death and gore), this book also had some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. There’s also romance — and I always have a soft spot for a romance that shows true character in the beloved, someone who’s more than a handsome face.

sarahahiers.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Imagine! by Raúl Colón

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Imagine!

by Raúl Colón

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2018. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Look! A 2018 picture book that I can review!

Why can I review it? Well, I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, but the Newbery Medal is given for the text of a book – and this book has no words. So it can’t win. (The Caldecott Medal is another story, by the way.) And I can review it.

In this book, a boy leaves his house on a skateboard and crosses a bridge to go into the city. He enters the Museum of Modern Art and checks his skateboard at the checkroom.

But when he looks at the paintings, some of the characters come out and join him! The first one, from Matisse’s Icarus, dances with him, and they climb into Picasso’s Three Musicians and get the musicians to come along, too. Next they round up a lion and another musician from Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. Now they practically have a band!

The happy throng goes out of the museum, exchanging instruments along the way. They have joyful adventures around New York City. They finish up in Central Park with songs, balloons, and bubbles.

When the adventures are done, it’s back to their paintings, and then the boy rides his skateboard back home. And he finishes by drawing a mural of his day with his friends.

This is a beautiful and joyous book. I feel confident that children will find more in its pages every time they go through it.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Emily Bevan

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Empty Grave

by Jonathan Stroud
read by Emily Bevan

Listening Library, 2017. 12 hours, 41 minutes on 10 compact discs.
Starred Review

Ah! Another chance to enjoy the fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series! Yes, listening to the book on CD is even more fun than reading it yourself.

Of course the reader’s accent helps you get into the mood of this alternate-reality London. And hearing it read slows you down so you can savor the story. (The books are hard to put down, but sometimes I had to simply turn off the car, shut off the CD, and go to work.)

I still say that these books make outstanding family listening – once your children are old enough to handle some seriously spooky events as well as people seriously trying to murder our heroes besides the incidental life-or-death danger they face routinely.

For the plot, I refer you to my review of the written book. I’m here to say that the audiobooks make them even more enjoyable – though it’s hard to believe that’s even possible, because they’re so good in the first place.

I have liked my approach to the whole series – devour each book as quickly as possible as soon as it comes out. Then, when I can get my hands on the audiobook, enjoy it again, savoring it a bit more slowly and catching some details I didn’t notice the first time.

(And that reminds me! I noticed a tiny, tiny flaw while I was listening! At the end, there’s a rapier fight between Lucy and the powerful woman who’s been running London. Well, the woman kicks off her heels when she starts fighting – but we’d already been told there were shards of glass all over the floor. If she had done that – then as the two move around the room fighting, she would have cut her feet and given Lucy a big advantage. But that’s the very first quibble I’ve found in these books.)

jonathanstroud.com
booksontape.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Prince Ribbit, by Jonathan Emmett

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Prince Ribbit

written by Jonathan Emmett
illustrated by Poly Bernatene

Peachtree, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a fun twist on the Frog Prince fairy tale. Three princesses live in a castle. The two older ones love fairy tales and argue about who would treat a frog prince better.

Princess Martha rolled her eyes. She liked facts more than fairy tales and real frogs more than enchanted ones.

But a clever frog has been listening to the princesses talk. He figures out a clever scheme for getting the princesses to let him sleep in a soft bed and eat fine foods. Just tell them he’s a prince!

The two older princesses fall for it! They treat the frog like the prince he claims to be.

Martha has more insight. And she brings the story to a surprising conclusion that left me with a big smile.

A very fun story. And remember: Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true!

scribblestreet.co.uk
polybernatene.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Creeping Shadow audiobook, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Emily Bevan

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

The Creeping Shadow

Lockwood & Co., Book Four

by Jonathan Stroud
read by Emily Bevan

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 58 minutes on 11 compact discs.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016

I do so love the Lockwood & Co. books! Listening to them in audio form is an even greater treat. It’s a wonderful excuse to hear the story again, this time with accents. I’d forgotten how very thrilling this story is – there’s not a disc that isn’t full of tension, and in several places, Lucy is barely escaping with her life.

As I said with the print version of the book, you definitely need to read these in order, and this is book four. If you’ve come this far, you won’t need any urging from me to read on.

The scenario is an alternate reality England where “visitors” – ghosts of various types – are walking among the living – and trying to kill them. Only children can see them, so children work in agencies to deal with ghosts for people, to find the source of trouble and neutralize it. Lockwood & Co. is the smallest such agency, and it’s run by the teens themselves.

In this book, Lucy and the folks of Lockwood & Co. are up against powerful human forces as well, and they seem to be getting more information about the source of the Problem itself.

I’ve said that these are good for family listening, and the back of the audiobook case recommends it for ages 8 to 12. But I was reminded when listening that this is scary stuff! There’s a particularly frightening ghost of a cannibal giant in this book – and several places Lucy has living humans trying to kill her.

I know, most kids can probably handle it. But I probably wouldn’t recommend it for kids younger than eight. I can say confidently, though, that this is family listening that will have adults wanting more as eagerly as the children. I’m still annoyed about the world-shaking revelation at the end of this book (as at the end of each book) – I wish the next book were already published! But rereading the book by listening was a nice way to tide me over while I’m waiting.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

evelynskye.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ruined, by Amy Tintera

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

Ruined

by Amy Tintera

HarperTeen, 2016. 355 pages.

Ruined begins with the main character killing someone, which is fair enough – It’s a violent and bloody book. But the author wins you over anyway.

The stakes are obviously high right from the start. Em and two Ruined fighters are attacking the carriage of the princess of Vallos. This princess is the one who killed Em’s father, the King of Ruina, and left his head on a stick for her to find. The princess was traveling to marry the prince of Lera. Lera was responsible for the death of Em’s mother, and they took her sister Olivia captive. Em is going to take the princess’s place and marry Cas, the prince of Lera.

The plan is dangerous. If anyone discovers her deception, she will of course be killed. At the start of the book, as Em meets the royal family of Lera, with each person she meets, she thinks about how she could kill them if things go bad. What weapons are handy? How could she use them?

The Ruined are feared because they have magic. Anyway, most of them have magic. Em was born without magic and is considered useless. Her powerful sister was to be the next queen. Em hopes that by infiltrating the royal family, she can learn Olivia’s whereabouts, before warriors from Olso attack with the remaining Ruined.

Em didn’t expect to find Cas so different from his parents, so willing to listen to reason. She didn’t expect to fall in love with him.

This book is full of action and, yes, blood and gore. There’s a violent history on both sides. And not everything goes smoothly in the attack Em had tried to coordinate.

By the time I read this book, during my reading Teen Speculative Fiction for the 2016 Cybils, I was getting tired of girls falling in love with a prince-of-a-family-who-oppressed-my-people-but-has-a-heart-of-gold. Really? I did enjoy the book, but wasn’t quite comfortable with that aspect of it, even by the end.

Unfortunately, this is only Book One. Though the story comes to a decent stopping place, it’s not finished. There will be conflict ahead! Fortunately, this is only Book One. There will be more!

Amytintera.com
Epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?