Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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
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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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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 Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Fish Girl

story by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
pictures by David Wiesner

Clarion Books, 2017. 188 pages.
Review written in 2017.

One of my favorite children’s fantasy writers Donna Jo Napoli has teamed up with the amazing illustrator David Wiesner to produce a gorgeous graphic novel.

The story is about a young mermaid who is kept in captivity by a man who calls himself Neptune, god of the sea. The building is next to the ocean, and the man puts on shows for tourists. Fish Girl’s job is to let the tourists get glimpses of her, but never a good look. And she picks up the coins they throw into the tank after the show.

Then a 12-year-old girl sees Fish Girl. She’s afraid Neptune will find out. But the girl comes back, and the two become friends. Fish Girl starts climbing out of the tank at night – which changes things. She begins asking questions about the stories Neptune has told her.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in this graphic novel – the story is mostly told through the pictures. But the story is gripping, and the pictures are stunning. And we’re rooting for Fish Girl as she makes a friend and gets a name and starts thinking about freedom.

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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 The Giant of Jum, by Elli Woollard and Benji Davies

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

The Giant of Jum

by Elli Woollard
and Benji Davies

Henry Holt and Company, 2017. First published in the United Kingdom in 2015. 28 pages.

Rhyming picture books are often awful. But when done right – like The Giant of Jum — they beg to be read aloud.

The Giant of Jum was a grumpy old grouch
who was constantly grizzling and grumbling.
And when he was hungry, he’d slobber and slouch
and say, “Oh, how my tummy is rumbling!”

“Fee!” he said, and “Fi!” he said, and “Fo!” he said, and “Fum!
How I pine, how I wish, for a child on a dish.
Little children are yummy yum yum!”

So he sets out to find some tasty children. He continues to say those four syllables, but in a different order each time – resulting in a nice rhyme.

He does find children, and they are delighted to have some tall about. Why, he can help them get their ball down from the top of a fountain and rescue their cat from a tree!

The ending is reminiscent of Troll and the Oliver — because when someone thinks he’s hungry for children, who wouldn’t be happier with cake?

This one isn’t terribly profound, and there may be a few holes in the story – but it sure is fun to read. I’m going to set it aside for storytime.

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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 The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

Friday, June 29th, 2018

The Dark Days Club

by Alison Goodman

Viking, 2016. 482 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

This book is one of my favorite kinds – a Regency novel with magic thrown in.

We’re introduced to Lady Helen Wrexhall, eighteen years old and getting ready for her Royal presentation. Lady Helen is an orphan, and her mother died with the cloud of treason over her name. Helen lives with her aunt and uncle, who want her to curb any impulses to be anything like her mother. Lady Helen has recently noticed herself extra excitable and restless.

Then she meets Lord Carlston, about whom rumors swirl that he killed his wife. Lord Carlston believes that Helen, like her mother, is a Reclaimer – one of eight people in England who is able to fight the thousands of Deceivers who feed on the souls of others.

Lady Helen indeed discovers unusual powers. And when she holds the miniature her mother left her, she is able to see Deceivers. She witnesses the shocking scene of Lord Carlston fighting a Deceiver. He tells about the Dark Days Club – a group of people who work with the Reclaimers to fight the Deceivers and save humankind.

But meanwhile, her aunt and uncle and brother know nothing of this and are intent that Helen should be seeking a husband. They continue with preparations for her Royal presentation and her ball.

The two worlds are at odds and one is very dangerous. Then Helen receives a letter her mother left for her and discovers that she may have a choice as to which world she wishes to remain in.

This novel is clearly just the first of a series – and I definitely want to find out what happens next. Regency plus magic is one of my favorite genres. There’s still romantic tension going on, as well as real peril associated with the activities of Reclaimers. She is a Direct Inheritor from her mother, so it is believed this means a Grand Deceiver will arise, and Helen needs to fight them. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

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alisongoodman.com.au
penguin.com/teens

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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 The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

The Seventh Wish

by Kate Messner

Bloomsbury, 2016. 228 pages.

This is a nice quiet middle grade story with a touch of fantasy. It reminds me of Edward Eager books – dealing with wishes – except that it’s only one kid figuring out the wishes instead of a family of brothers and sisters.

I like all the details in this book. Charlie (short for Charlotte) lives in a town where winters and long and cold and her neighbors like to go ice fishing. Charlie’s always been afraid to go far out on the ice – until one day at a hole in the ice at a shallow part of the lake, she catches a fish with sparkling green eyes. It promises her a wish if she releases it.

Charlie thinks she must be imagining it, so she makes a frivolous wish – that Roberto Sullivan (the cutest boy in her school) will fall in love with her and that she won’t be afraid to go on the ice.

Instantly, she is no longer afraid. She goes out on the ice with the others and catches more fish. She starts to forget about it – and then the next day at school Robert O’Sullivan – definitely not the cutest boy in the school – is crazy about her, embarrassing her with love notes.

It turns out that when Charlie fishes at that hole in the ice, she usually catches the fish again – and is promised a wish if she releases it. She tries to help her friends – but wishes don’t always turn out exactly like you hope they will. And when she makes a wish for herself, it especially backfires.

I love all the details in this book. Charlie competes in Irish dancing and wants to save money to get a solo dress for the competition. I knew nothing about Irish dancing or ice fishing.

But the central problem of the book is that Charlie’s older sister who’s off at college turns out to be addicted to heroin. This book reveals how that affects Charlie and how much it affects her whole family.

So what starts as a light-hearted book as Charlie is saving money for a dress and catching fish and having fun with friends – does delve into some heavier issues. But Kate Messner keeps things firmly from the 7th grade protagonist’s perspective.

There is a message, done with a very light touch, about how hard it is to get out of heroin use once you’ve started. And that your life will be much better if you never start. The Serenity Prayer comes up frequently – Charlie does have to learn that she can’t magically fix her sister. Not even with a magic fish.

But mostly it’s a playful story about a seventh grade girl who finds a magic wishing fish.

What would you say if a fish offered you a wish, and you had to come up with a good one in time to let it back in the water?

katemessner.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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Audiobook Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, performed by Katherine Kellgren

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperAudio, 2016. 13.75 hours on 11 discs.
Starred Review

I’ve already reviewed this book in print form, but oh, Katherine Kellgren’s performance makes it so much fun!

We’ve got alternate history England, featuring Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. In this version, many people have the magic power to turn into an animal. In the course of things, Jane finds out she is one, which is how she escapes losing her head.

The story is funny and clever and twists history just enough to be terribly fun. And Katherine Kellgren’s brilliant vocal abilities are perfect to bring out all the humor in the situations.

By now, I’ve become Katherine Kellgren’s fan. In a story set in England that was already outstanding in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, her performance puts it even more over the top. Now when I recommend this book, I’m going to suggest listening.

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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 Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Blood Rose Rebellion

by Rosalyn Eves

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2017. 407 pages.

I’m getting used to alternate histories with magic, but this was an alternate history of something I didn’t know much about in the real world – the Hungarian revolution in 1848.

Anna Arden doesn’t mean to break other people’s spells. But sometimes, especially when her emotions get stirred up, this happens spectacularly, and people get hurt. After she ruins her sister’s debut, she’s sent off with her grandmother to stay in Hungary for awhile at her grandmother’s childhood home.

But various people find out about Anna’s unusual abilities. Would she be able to break the Binding spell – the one that confines magic to the nobility, the Luminate class? And what are the motives of the people who want to use her in this way? But at the same time, what would be the cost? Would this break the power of the Circle, so that common people can have access to magic? But what will the Circle do to stop her?

Anna’s confused as to what she should do. Meanwhile, there’s a handsome Romani young man whom Anna would like to teach her Romani magic. Maybe if she can’t do Luminate magic, maybe she could do Romani magic, which is so different.

Romance and adventure, magic and danger – all put into the context of the actual history of the Hungarian rebellion from the Hapsburgs.

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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 The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown
read by Kate Atwater

Hachette Audio, 2016. 4 hours on 4 CDs.
Review written in 2016.

This is a simple story about a robot that survives a shipwreck and washes up on an island. There Roz learns to live among the animals, to act like them and speak their language.

After an accident kills a family of geese – except for one egg – Roz feels responsible and adopts the gosling, who imprints on Roz when he hatches. In order to bring up the gosling, Roz needs help from the animals of the island. She works even harder at adapting to their wild ways and making the island her home.

When I first checked out this book, I was impatient with the simple sentences and mistook it for a simplistic story. I had more patience with the audio book and found more depth than I had expected. This book is geared for kids just beginning to read chapter books, but for those, it asks some fascinating questions about what it means to be alive and what it means to feel emotions and how to make friends when you are seen as different from everybody else.

I enjoyed the audiobook so much, I think this would also make a good classroom readaloud for an early elementary classroom. There would be plenty to talk about. The language and story are simple, but they do make you think. This would also do well for a family bedtime story when a child is ready for a book with many chapters.

One odd thing about the audiobook is that there is accompanying music and sound effects at the beginning and at the end. It wasn’t clear to me why the sounds suddenly started up again on the last CD. I did think the sound effects enhanced the story, but was curious why they were only there for part of the story.

The audiobook includes a pdf of illustrations, but of course that’s not a real substitute for seeing the pictures as you read the story. Which brings me back to thinking this would be an even better readaloud than it is an audiobook.

Now, I have a lot of quibbles about a robot having emotions, or if things would really go this way, but for a simple chapter book with a lot of depth, The Wild Robot is a lovely offering.

peterbrownstudio.com
HachetteAudio.com

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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 After the Fall, by Dan Santat

Friday, May 18th, 2018

After the Fall

How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

by Dan Santat

Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 36 pages.
Review written October 2017.

Here’s a lovely parable about Humpty Dumpty’s recovery.

Humpty Dumpty’s favorite spot was high up on a wall, close to the birds.

Then one day, I fell. (I’m sort of famous for that part.)
Folks called it “The Great Fall,” which sounds a little grand.
It was just an accident.

But it changed my life.

After that, Humpty was afraid of heights. But he got an idea. He made a paper airplane, and painted it to look like a beautiful bird.

But then, another accident happens (They always do.), and Humpty’s bird got stuck on the top of the wall.

I almost walked away, again.
But then I thought about all the time I’d spent working on my plane, and all the other things I’d missed.

I decided I was going to climb that wall.

But the higher I got,
the more nervous I felt.
I didn’t want to admit it:
I was terrified.

But he keeps going, one step at a time, until he’s no longer afraid.

This sounds simple, and it is – but the execution is brilliant. The timing of the page turns and the dramatic illustrations carry the theme beautifully. I love the page where Humpty reflects that his fear of heights is keeping him from enjoying some of his favorite things – the illustration shows a range of cereals, with gray, boring cereals on the bottom (names like “Fiber Flakes” and “Grown-up Food” and Humpty holding “Bo-Rings”), and bright, colorful cereals on the top (including “Rainbow Bites,” “Sugar Bunny,” “Just Marshmallow,” “Bowl-O-Cookies,” and “Free Toy”).

The catch is the climax. It’s lovely and inspirational – you just have to not think about it too hard (which I have a big problem not doing). Humpty Dumpty hatches! Into a beautiful bird, and flies away!

It’s lovely and wonderful and all about overcoming your fears and going on to soar. There are two problems that persnickety me can’t quite overlook. One is that if Humpty was an egg with a live embryo inside – that embryo wouldn’t have survived his fall. (I always thought he was hard-boiled.) The second problem is that birds can’t fly moments after hatching.

But every other single thing about this book is beautiful and brilliant. You can rise again after unfortunate accidents and emerge better than ever.

dantat.com
mackids.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.

What did you think of this book?