Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of We Forgot Brock, by Carter Goodrich

Friday, May 5th, 2017

We Forgot Brock!

by Carter Goodrich

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2015. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll say it. I’m a little tired of the recent spate of books about imaginary friends. Usually, they simply don’t win me over. There’s pretty much always a logical inconsistency somewhere in the idea of the reality of these imaginary friends. Something that wouldn’t quite work if carried to its logical conclusion.

Maybe this one caught me on a good day, but I was charmed by We Forgot Brock!.

This is Phillip and Brock. They’re best friends. They spend all their time goofing around together.

The weird thing is, nobody else can see Brock. Everyone calls him “Phillip’s Imaginary Friend.” Whatever that means.

Carter Goodrich uses the same technique used in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Most pictures show the world from the kid’s perspective, but sometimes we see what the adults see – no Brock.

Then the whole family goes to the Big Fair. They have a great time. Phillip falls asleep, but Brock wants to ride the Brain Shaker.

When Phillip wakes up in the car, to his dismay, his parents have left Brock behind!

Meanwhile, at the Big Fair, someone sees that Brock is upset. It’s a little girl named Anne with her friend, Princess Sparkle Dust. They take Brock home with them, and fortunately, it’s in the same neighborhood where Phillip lives.

Brock has a great time with Anne and Princess Sparkle Dust. But when he sees the Lost poster Phillip put up for him, he remembers how much he misses Phillip. Fortunately, they find each other.

Somehow, the adults are happier when Phillip and Brock play with Anne and Princess Sparkle Dust than they were when Phillip and Brock just played together. Fortunately, Phillip and Brock are happier, too.

There are lots of lovely touches in the illustrations of this story. Brock and Princess Sparkle Dust both appear to be drawn by one crayon. Both children are clearly imaginative. Phillip always wears a cape and Anne wears wings.

Maybe I was won over this time because the author didn’t try to explain where imaginary friends come from (That’s usually where the world-building breaks down for me). Maybe I was prepped for this book by loving Calvin and Hobbes. But whatever the reason, We Forgot Brock! stands out for me in the Imaginary Friends Genre. It takes imagination seriously and takes friendship seriously.

Don’t forget to read this book!

cartergoodrich.com
KIDS.SimonandSchuster.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 Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 16, 2017. 339 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s how eagerly I’ve been looking forward to this book: First I reread three books in the Queen’s Thief series in the week before ALA Midwinter Meeting in January. (I couldn’t find my copy of the first book, The Thief. I am going to order myself a new copy.) I looked up the number of the HarperCollins booth at ALA, and on opening night of the exhibits, I went straight there, without passing Go. I asked for and received an advance reader copy of Thick as Thieves. I had my reading material for the rest of the conference!

There’s a note at the front of the advance reader copy from the author. She says, “If you’ve read any of the other Queen’s Thief books, there are characters here you might recognize and be happy to spend time with again. If you haven’t read any of my other books, you can start with this one if you like. Every book spoils some other book, just a little, so there are advantages and disadvantages no matter where you begin.”

On the back of the book, it says that Megan Whalen Turner is the “bestselling and award-winning author of four other stand-alone novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief.” The “stand-alone” part is arguable. I think you’ll enjoy them more if you read at least the first three books in order.

However, they have a case about this book being stand-alone. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so impatient for Eugenides (the Queen’s Thief) to show up and for me to find out what he was up to. (I knew he was up to more than met the eye.)

Anyway, this book is set in the Mede empire, focusing on Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador to Attolia, who was a part of the second book, The Queen of Attolia. Now they are back home, and Kamet is again close to great power. His master, whose affairs he manages, is the nephew of the Mede emperor, and brother of the emperor’s chosen heir.

As the book begins, Kamet is accosted in an alleyway by an Attolian, who tells Kamet to meet him at the docks after dark. The Attolian will escort Kamet to freedom.

Kamet pretends to go along with it, but he’s laughing inside. Here are some of the reasons why he is happy in his place:

As a slave in the emperor’s palace I had authority over all of my master’s other slaves and most of his free men. I had my own money in my master’s cashbox. I had a library of my own, a collection of texts in my alcove that I carefully packed into their own case whenever my master moved households. I not only could read and write, I could read and write in most of the significant languages of the empire. My master had paid good money for it to be so. Someday he meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor’s personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire. I wouldn’t have taken the Attolians’ offer even if I’d believed it was sincere – and I didn’t. They meant to slice my throat and toss me in a sewer, I was sure.

But that same day, something happens to change Kamet’s mind. A friend in the household informs him that their master has been poisoned in his room.

When a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured. If any confess, then all are executed whether they share in the guilt or not. No one will buy them and they can hardly be freed – what a temptation that would put before the enslaved population. In the case of a poisoning, where the administration of the poison is unclear, the slaves are put to death on principle. The Medes fear little in quite the way they fear their own slaves.

So Kamet lets the Attolian help him escape. Most of the book deals with their adventures trying to escape the Mede empire and get to Attolia. All the while, Kamet has not told the Attolian that his master is dead and he’s a wanted man. The Attolian thinks that the emperor’s elite guard are after them because an important slave has escaped. They must deal with pursuit, slavers, hunger, illness, and many other pitfalls along the way.

As with the other books in the series, Megan Whalen Turner has her characters telling each other myths about the gods. I enjoyed that this time, as tales from the Mede empire, they are in a completely different style from the tales told in the earlier books. Those resembled Greek myths, and these resemble Assyrian tales. As before, the tales told mirror situations the travelers face.

Now, I wanted the journey to finish a lot sooner than it did. I suspect that might not be as much of a problem for folks who aren’t already familiar with the series. Also, the Advance Reader Copy has blank pages that it says will be filled with maps. I think maps would really help me enjoy the story of the journey more, so I could see that the two are making progress. As it is, without a map it feels like the journey is going on and on, facing obstacle after obstacle. This is enough motivation for me to preorder the finished book, despite having this advance copy. (And advance copy isn’t enough for one of my very favorite series!)

In the big picture of the series, we know that the Mede empire is eventually going to attempt to annex the three kingdoms of the peninsula. In the previous books, the big picture story focused on getting those three kingdoms to stop fighting one another so they could deal with the Mede threat. In this book, we saw one small step in holding off that threat a bit longer.

The author says at the front that she’s not done with the world of the Queen’s Thief, and she’s definitely not done with the Queen’s Thief. I’m so glad! Of course, she spends so much time crafting her tales, it’s time to settle in for another long wait. Good thing the wait is always worth it!

meganwhalenturner.org
meganwhalenturner.tumblr.com
greenwillowblog.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 The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

The Queen of Blood

Book One of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2016. 353 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Alex Award Winner

Daleina is ten years old when her entire village is destroyed by the spirits – all except her family, who Daleina manages to save. She suddenly discovers in the terror of the destruction that she has an affinity to command the spirits. But she wasn’t strong enough to save the village.

But why didn’t the queen save their village? The queen is supposed to control the spirits and command them all to do no harm.

Ven, a champion who got to the village too late, doesn’t get a satisfactory answer either. In fact, he gets disgraced in return for questioning the queen.

Years pass. Daleina goes to the Academy to be trained to command the spirits. She wants to be chosen to be trained by a champion and then to be one of the heirs. The heirs must be ready in case of the queen’s death. Because then the spirits must be stopped from their instinct to destroy and made to choose a new queen, a new queen who will then harness their energy afresh and keep the people safe.

The people of Aratay lives in the trees. Wood spirits have been compelled to grow homes and bridges in the trees. Fire spirits provide light. Air spirits, ice spirits, water spirits, and earth spirits all work to make life continue in Aratay – even though those spirits would like to feed on human flesh.

This book has some elements of a wizard-in-training novel, and of a young leader learning what qualities are important in a ruler. But there are also elements of corruption in power. There is mystery as to what is going on and how it can be stopped. And, in keeping with the title, there’s a whole lot of death and blood.

The story is compelling. You can’t help but love Daleina. She’s not as skilled as her classmates. Her power is less direct. But she’s loyal and good at bringing teams together. Why does the disgraced champion choose her?

I spent a happy afternoon reading this novel. The world it presents is inventive, and the characters are people you want to spend time with. (I only wished fewer had died.) I’m looking forward to the next installment from the creative mind of Sarah Beth Durst.

Here’s the scene at the start when Daleina meets the champion, after her village has been destroyed, with only her family left:

For a brief instant, she imagined him sweeping her away, taking her to the capital, and proclaiming her his chosen candidate. It happened that way in the tales: a champion would appear in a tiny village, test the children, and pluck one to be trained to become an heir, and the heirs became legends themselves, creating villages, securing the borders, and keeping the spirits in check, in conjunction with the queen. She imagined herself in the palace, a circle of golden leaves on her head, with her family beside her, safe because of her power. Never again huddling afraid in a hut in a tree.

Her story should have begun right then, in that moment. Fate had declared that her power would emerge in her village’s tragedy, and chance had put the champion in the nearby trees at the moment the spirits attacked, too late to save the village but in time to meet Daleina. It should have been the beginning of a legend, the moment he recognized her potential and she embraced her future with both arms.

But it wasn’t.

The champion looked away, across the ruined village and the broken bodies. “Only the best can become queen. And she is not the best.” Daleina felt his words hit like slaps, and then he added the worst blow of all: “If she were, these people would still be alive.”

sarahbethdurst.com
hc.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 The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Newbery Medal Winner

In the Protectorate every year, the youngest baby is left in the woods for the Witch.

But this year, the mother of the child protests and goes mad and has to be locked up.

And Antain, the young apprentice to the Elders is disturbed by what he sees and asks uncomfortable questions. But the elders leave the baby anyway.

They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch – that is, the belief in her – made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the coulds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.

They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.

They thought she was gone forever.

They were wrong, of course.

Now, there is a witch who lived in the woods named Xan. Here’s her perspective on the Day of Sacrifice:

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

But this year, which was turning out so differently from usual, something about the baby caught at Xan’s heart. And as she journeyed with the baby, she accidentally fed it moonlight rather than the usual starlight.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby’s heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

So, baby Luna gets enmagicked, and Xan realizes that means she must care for the baby herself. So Luna grows up in the forest with tiny dragon Fyrian (who thinks he is Simply Enormous) and bog monster Glerk. When her magic comes in, there may be disastrous consequences, so Xan has to take momentous steps to control it.

Luna has no idea of her origins. And Xan has no idea what she has set in motion – things that are going to change the lives of everyone in the Protectorate and the forest. They will find the source of all the Sorrows and discover how to fight against it.

This is a lovely book with a fantasy world not quite like any other. We have the usual quest of good versus evil, but it proceeds in surprising ways.

I like the way this book celebrates Love and Joy. And conquering those who feed on Sorrows.

kellybarnhill.wordpress.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.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 Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Three Dark Crowns

by Kendare Blake

HarperTeen, 2016. 398 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #12 Teen Fiction

I’m going to say right up front that the only bad thing about this book is that it’s apparently only Book One of a series. If I had realized that from the start, I might not have been so disappointed when the book stopped at an exciting place where the story is far from over.

This book takes place on the enchanted Island of Fennbirn, favored by the goddess. It is the queens’ 16th birthday. But there are three queens — a queen who is a Poisoner, a queen who is an Elemental, and a queen who is a Naturalist. Each queen is supported by those of her kind, who have particular powers from the goddess.

At Beltane, four months away, the queens will meet for the first time since they were children. There will be great ceremony and each queen will display her power at the Quickening. Then, in the next year, each queen will attempt to kill the other two. The last queen alive will rule over Fennbirn.

There’s a problem right from the start. Queen Katharine of the poisoners and Queen Arsinoe of the Naturalists have so far displayed no gift at all, unlike Queen Mirabelle of the Elementals, who is strong in her gift. But the families behind them aren’t going to lose power easily.

The author shows us each queen and her way of living, the people she loves and the plots around her — and I found myself hoping that, somehow, all the queens will survive.

Mind you, that still might happen — like I said, the book doesn’t finish the story. It takes us only up to the Quickening. Now the queens have a year to kill each other. But it’s more and more difficult to imagine how things could end so tidily.

The writing is wonderful. The author alternates between the three queens, but I never found myself impatient to skip one story — each queen has a fascinating and tension-filled story as they all progress toward Beltane. We also learn much about their friends and foster families. Arsinoe has a friend with a cougar as her familiar. Katharine has a young man teaching her how to attract the Suitors who will come to court the queens. And Mirabella, surrounded by priestesses, does have loyal servants who help her when she dreams of when she was young and still with her sisters.

The world-building is well-crafted. There’s no exposition hell, with the details of this world skillfully woven into the stories.

I will say that all three queens are still alive at the end of this book. And I desperately want to find out how long they will stay that way and what will happen next.

kendareblake.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 The Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

The Keeper of the Mist

by Rachel Neumeier

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 391 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Teen Fiction

Here’s a fantasy story that warmed my heart. It had plenty of danger and suspense, but I liked these people. I enjoyed spending time with them. The fantasy world was unique and interesting.

Keri runs a bakery she inherited from her mother, and is struggling to keep it going. She’s the illegitimate daughter of the Lord of Nimmira, but she doesn’t have time to think about that, even when her best friend Tassel speculates which of the Lord’s sons will inherit his title and magic, the magic that keeps a mist around Nimmira.

Nimmira is a small country on the boundary of two countries at war with one another. On one side is Tor Carron, and on the other Eschalion, which has been ruled by a powerful sorcerer for hundreds of years and has a habit of conquering and absorbing its neighbors. But the mist around Nimmira magically makes outsiders forget that anything is there. Eschalion and Tor Carron think they have a border only with each other.

But when Lord Dorric dies, the magic of Nimmira chooses Keri to be the next Lady of Nimmira, much to her surprise. The Timekeeper comes to her door with the news, and right away her friend Tassel becomes the Bookkeeper and her friend Cort becomes the Doorkeeper.

However, immediately the Mist fails, and Keri’s ascension does not bring it back. A group of soldiers crosses the border from Tor Carron, and a sorcerer comes from Eschalion. Keri decides to pretend that she let down the Mist on purpose to get to know their neighbors and invite them to her ascension. But that can only hold off more trouble for a little while.

This story was creative. I’m not sure why the author chose the essential people of the magic to be a Lord or Lady, a Timekeeper, a Bookkeeper, and a Doorkeeper, but I like the way they worked out in the story. Though there were some questions about the magic of Nimmira and the other lands, it all did follow rules and didn’t change willy-nilly. During the course of the story, they’re threatened by a powerful sorcerer, and I like the way they used their own unique magic against him.

This book portrays a girl who’s always been underestimated who suddenly becomes the ruler of a magical kingdom when the magic may be failing. I like the part where she tries to make the representatives of the other countries think she wants a big strong man to take the burdens off her shoulders, though not so much when her half-brothers think that’s actually a good solution. I also like where Keri goes to the House kitchens and makes an exquisite cake when she’s feeling stressed.

Keri’s up against huge obstacles, and you root for her all the way.

RachelNeumeier.com
randomhouseteens.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 When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver

by Grace Lin

read by Kim Mai Guest

Hachette Audio, 2016. 7.5 hours on 6 CDs. Unabridged.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award Finalist
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Fiction

Like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, Grace Lin weaves Chinese fairy tales throughout this story, bringing elements from the various tales into the conclusion at the end. It’s okay if you haven’t read or don’t remember the other two, as this story stands well on its own.

The audiobook includes a pdf file of the illustrations, but I chose to check out a copy of the print book so I could enjoy them as I went. Each day after my commute, I’d look at the pictures as far as I’d gotten in the audiobook. Grace Lin is an illustrator as well as a writer, and this book includes color plates at intervals, and small one-color illustrations at the start of each chapter. This book is a treat to hold in your hands, and would make a wonderful read-aloud.

At the start of the book, the evil emperor comes with his soldiers up the mountain, during a winter that has lasted far too long, and takes away Pinmei’s grandmother, the Storyteller. When the neighbor boy Yishan protests, the emperor tells him that they can have the Storyteller back if they bring the emperor the Luminous Stone that Lights Up the Night.

The soldiers set fire to the hut and leave, but Yishan rescues Pinmei from her hiding place, and the two travel together to try to find a Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s Amah. Their adventures take them to the City of Bright Moonlight and the kingdom of Sea Bottom. Along the way, Pinmei tells stories she’s learned from her Amah – and those stories provide clues to what the emperor is looking for and how to thwart him and get Amah back.

This book has a theme of immortality, the importance of stories, and finding your voice. At the start, Pinmei is too shy to even speak in the presence of others, but by the end, she can speak truth even in front of the emperor.

This book would make a wonderful family or classroom read-aloud. The fairy tales woven throughout give it a timeless appeal for a wide age range.

gracelin.com
HachetteAudio.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 Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Goldenhand

by Garth Nix

Harper, 2016. 344 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Teen Fiction

This is now the fifth novel set in the Old Kingdom, not counting a novella and short story. The events of this book happen just as the title story of Across the Wall finishes.

You don’t necessarily need to read the prequel, Clariel, before you read this one. But reading the other books would be helpful, so you have a feel for how Charter Magic works. And Clariel gives you background about the Witch With No Face, who is behind the scenes in this book. It had been years since I read the earlier books, so I didn’t remember details, but I didn’t have any trouble following this story.

The title refers to Lirael herself. Right at the beginning, we learn how she got the name:

Lirael hurried up the steps to the mews. She flexed her replacement hand as she did so, marveling at how well it worked. When her own hand had been bitten off by the Disreputable Dog almost seven months before in order to save her life from the ravening power of Orannis, Sameth had promised to make her a replacement. He had lived up to that promise, and shown he was indeed a true inheritor of the Wallmakers’ engineering ingenuity and magical craft, though it had taken him a long time to get it right, with much tinkering and adjustment. It was only in the last few days that it felt entirely normal to Lirael, really just like her own flesh-and-blood hand.

It was mostly made from meteoric steel, but Sam had gilded the metal, and unasked had added an extra layer of Charter spells atop the ones that made the hand work and even feel like flesh, so it also glowed faintly with a golden light.

Already, many people were calling her Lirael Goldenhand.

Sabriel and Touchstone are taking a vacation while things are apparently quiet. This leaves Lirael in charge when a dangerous free magic creature emerges across the wall. The message comes from Nicholas Sayre.

Lirael deals with the creature and tries to heal Nick, but he’s got a strange combination of free magic and charter magic inside him (from what happened in Abhorsen). She decides she needs to take him to the Clayr. Perhaps they have a book in the Great Library that will help figure out his case.

Meanwhile, north of the kingdom, a girl of the Athask tribe named Ferin is trying to bring a message to Lirael. A message left from Lirael’s mother before she died. But all the other tribes are sending their sorcerers to stop her. When Ferin is turned away at the bridge, she takes a boat, but after some fisher folk save her, they are all in danger.

For most of the book, chapters alternate between Lirael and Ferin. Lirael travels with Nick to the Clayr, and Ferin is desperately traveling over water and over mountains to get into the Old Kingdom. When Ferin does finally deliver her message, an even more daunting danger faces the Old Kingdom.

This book had me enthralled from the start. Even though the story is complete in itself, it will be especially beloved by people who already know Lirael and care about her. In this book we’re rooting for her as she faces responsibility as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, dealing with several crises as well as facing her family at the Clayr glacier and the Great Library.

Garth Nix’s world-building is flawless. The map’s been expanded and we learn about the northern tribes. His descriptions of the way free magic and charter magic work still sound plausible and consistent and true. You’re never drawn out of the story by hand-wavy descriptions.

When I started the book, Ferin’s desperate run from free magic sorcerers manipulating the Dead to chase her were so scary, I woke up one morning from a dream about it. (It was combined with drones from Railhead, which I’d finished before starting Goldenhand. Fortunately, I woke up before I got too scared.)

Yet another wonderful and captivating story of the Old Kingdom and the Abhorsens who travel in Death to fight evil, using a necromancer’s bells.

garthnix.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 Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Den of Wolves

A Blackthorn & Grim Novel

by Juliet Marillier

ROC (Penguin Random House), 2016. 433 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Fiction

I was saving this book up to read after I finished judging books for the Cybils Award, and was happy about having a sick day this week — because I got to spend the day reading it. So my memory of the day is lovely.

This is the third book in Juliet Marillier’s series about Blackthorn, a wise woman and healer, and Grim, her giant-sized companion. Though you wouldn’t feel lost if you started with this book, to really enjoy the nuances and character growth in these books, you should start at the beginning with Dreamer’s Pool.

At the beginning of the series, Blackthorn and Grim were locked up in a nightmarish prison. Here she’s reflecting on how they escaped.

Ah, Conmael; my mentor, who was one of the fey. A mysterious stranger, or so I’d thought at the time, who had saved me from execution and released me and Grim from vile imprisonment, but only after I’d promised to adhere to his rules for seven years, gods help me. Those rules were three: I must live here in Dalriada and not go south to seek vengeance against my enemy, Mathuin of Laios; I must say yes to every request for help; and I must use my abilities only for good. To someone who did not know the angry, bitter creature I had become, that might not have sounded so hard. But it was hard. Making Mathuin pay for his crimes, not only against me but against a whole host of wronged innocents, had become the only thing that mattered to me; even more so after a year’s incarceration in his cesspit of a lockup. I had struggled to keep my promise. Twice, I had come within a hairsbreadth of breaking it, even in the knowledge of the punishment Conmael had threatened. As for saying yes when folk asked me for help, that was not always as simple as it sounded.

In each book, Blackthorn and Grim have a large case to solve for someone else, involving something uncanny. But at the same time, in each book, things come up regarding Mathuin. By now, he’s found out where Blackthorn lives and wants to eliminate her.

It turns out that this third book brings the larger story to a satisfying conclusion, but I hope this won’t be the last we see of Blackthorn and Grim. After all, Juliet Marillier continued the Sevenwaters series after the first trilogy.

But the more immediate issue in this book involves a wild man who returns to Wolf Glen after being in the Otherworld for 15 years. The landlord at Wolf Glen wants Bardan, the wild man, to finish the heartwood house that he began 15 years ago. He hires Grim to help build it, but sends his daughter away to Winterfalls. At Winterfalls, she comes under Blackthorn’s wing. Between the two of them, Blackthorn and Grim realize something is not as it seems at Wolf Glen.

I think what I love most about this series is the gradual growth and healing we get to watch happen in Blackthorn. Yes, they were both traumatized, and both still have nightmares and flashbacks. (I like that the author doesn’t pretend that just goes away.) But as Blackthorn helps people, we watch her innate kindness shine. And slowly, slowly, she learns to trust. Slowly, slowly, her heart opens again.

Grim, for his part, also shines as someone who’s kind and will give himself to help others, but especially Blackthorn. His growth is mainly in learning to value himself, and offer his common sense and great strength.

The resulting romance is exquisite.

julietmarillier.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, pre-ordered via Amazon.com.

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 Stowaway in a Sleigh, by C. Roger Madder

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

stowaway_in_a_sleigh_largeStowaway in a Sleigh

by C. Roger Madder

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another new Christmas picture book that passed the hurdle of my approval. This one’s appropriate for very young kids, because there aren’t many words on each page, and the story is simple. The paintings are lovely, and bring you to a cat’s viewpoint.

It was the darkest hour of night when Slipper heard strange footsteps in the house.

When she goes to investigate, she finds Mr. Furry Boots! Kids will know this is Santa Claus.

My favorite part is when Slipper does “exactly what any curious cat would do” — she climbs into Santa’s bag.

Santa unwittingly brings the cat back to the North Pole, where Mrs. Furry Boots lets the cat out of the bag.

Slipper has a good time exploring Santa’s workshop, but when she starts longing for home, Santa makes a special trip to deliver her.

The story is one kids can understand and empathize with, and much of it is told through the beautiful illustrations. I plan to remember this book for December story times next year.

hmhco.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/stowaway_in_a_sleigh.html

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?