Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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.

harperaudio.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 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.

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 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.

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Review of Sword and Verse, by Kathy MacMillan

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Sword and Verse

by Kathy MacMillan

HarperTeen, 2016. 376 pages.
Review written October 2016.

This book starts on the day the palace Tutor-in-training is executed for teaching other slaves to read. Raisa is one of the Arnath slaves who cleans the palace friezes, but she is chosen to be the new Tutor-in-training.

Only the Qilarite nobles are allowed to learn to read, and only the royal family learn the Higher Order symbols, which they use to write to the gods. No one in Qilara knows that Raisa has a piece of writing given to her by her father, one of the Learned Ones of Arnath, where they believed that all should be given knowledge. Before their village was raided and he was killed, her father gave her her heart verse, written out on a soft piece of paper. Raisa hopes that when she’s taught to read, she will be able to understand what that valuable piece of paper says.

But as Raisa is studying with Prince Mati, learning the word-based writing system of Qilara, the prince begins seeking quiet moments with her, and she can’t resist.

But he is a prince and she is a slave. He needs to marry for political gain.

Raisa does remember enough to know the Arnath writing system is sound-based, so it’s going to take some work to decipher it. And if anyone finds out she’s saving any writing from one day to the next, she knows she would be executed.

All these threads are woven together in such a way that not only Raisa’s romance, but the whole kingdom lies in the balance. Prince Mati is to be the next king, and he talks about putting an end to slavery, but there are powerful forces in the Council who won’t let that happen. Meanwhile, Raisa’s being contacted by members of the Rebellion who want to put an end to it their way.

It all leads to Raisa being embroiled in dramatic political upheaval and even needing to request help from the gods.

This book is absorbing and well-written, and was a lovely way to start my reading retreat. I did enjoy that it was a stand-alone fantasy novel rather than a trilogy – but I’m afraid it did feel like it all wrapped up too neatly.

It’s hard for me to root for a romance between a prince and a slave, hard for me to believe that he’s actually a good guy she can trust, and hard to believe they would really end up together.

The author did have the enslaved people from Arnath be the fair-skinned blondes and the ruling Qilarites be dark-skinned with curly hair. It would have been nice to be a little more subtle there, but at least it was a reversal of American history.

I was recently faulting a different book because in it, the protagonist taught herself to read a sound-based writing system, which isn’t actually possible. In this book, Raisa does have verbal cues to start with, and she is taught the word-based writing system, so it was more plausible. I did like that the author made clear it took her a lot of work to figure out the Arnath sound-based system, but she was rather vague about how that could actually be done.

But those are quibbles. I enjoyed reading this book, and was personally glad Raisa got a happy ending, even if the skeptical side of me thought it was a little too neat. If you’re looking for a cautionary tale about not trusting a powerful young man who wants to have sex with you, don’t look here. But if you’re looking for a fun story about daring to learn and daring to shake up the status quo and trusting your heart – this book is absorbing reading and will leave you smiling.

kathymacmillan.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 Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McNell Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 222 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

I was sent some later volumes about Phoebe and Her Unicorn and realized at last what I’d been missing. I’d even had this first volume checked out, but never cracked it open.

This time, I read the Introduction by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and I knew I needed to read this. He mentions that in the early pages of his book, he wrote, “Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone in one place: usually a forest where there is a pool clear enough for them to see themselves – for they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides . . .”

He continues:

A little vain . . . Marigold would be an appalling monster of ego, utterly self-concerned and completely unlikable, if it weren’t for her sense of humor and her occasional surprising capacity for compassion – both crucial attributes when bound by a wish granted to a nine-year-old girl in need of a Best Friend to play invented superhero games with, to introduce to slumber parties and girl-talk gossip and to ride through the wind after being called nerd and Princess Stupidbutt one time too many. For Phoebe is a remarkably real little girl, as bright and imaginative as Bill Watterson’s Calvin, as touchingly vulnerable as Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. And if these strike you as big names to conjure with, I’ll go further and state for the record that in my opinion Heavenly Nostrils is nothing less than the best comic strip to come along since Calvin and Hobbes. Simpson is that good, and that original.

And yes, he’s right — Phoebe and her Unicorn is in the tradition of Calvin and Hobbes, this time with a nerdy and precocious little girl – so perhaps I related a little more than to Calvin.

However, Phoebe’s Unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is not an imaginary friend. She’s real, and people can see her, but unicorns are protected by a SHIELD OF BORINGNESS. (This word should be printed in a fancy font.) As Marigold explains, “The SHIELD OF BORINGNESS is a bit of spellcraft that allows unicorns to remain a myth. Those humans who have seen us don’t find it important enough to mention.”

It helped me enjoy the book more once I realized this is a comic strip collection. There is an ongoing story, but most of the strips end with a joke. And they’re good jokes! (Okay, I like the unicorn puns about Phoebe being pointless.) It helped me enjoy reading them more when I realized what I was reading.

There is an ongoing story. But there are also comic-strip traditions in play. For example, Phoebe is a fourth grader at the start of the book. Then she has a lovely summer off and goes back to school – and starts fourth grade.

And like other great comic strips, there are profound observations behind the jokes. This is a lovely book about a nerdy little girl who wants to be awesome, about a unicorn she rescued (by hitting her with a rock and breaking her out of the cycle of gazing at her own reflection) who granted a wish by becoming her best friend, and about a unicorn who is well aware that she is the loveliest thing on the planet.

Tremendously fun!

ampkids.com
gocomics.com/phoebe-and-her-unicorn

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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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Singing in the Rain, illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Monday, May 7th, 2018

Singing in the Rain

based on the Song by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
pictures by Tim Hopgood

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2017. 36 pages.

Yes, this is the song from the film by the same name, illustrated in a picture book. It’s nice simply to have the words!

But yes, the illustrations are what make this extra delightful. We’ve got seven children wearing the colors of the rainbow, some with umbrellas, some with hoods – enjoying the rain.

There are fanciful elements. At some points, their umbrellas make them fly, and they get a trip through a rain forest. Other scenes show them enjoying puddles and rain in a city. The opening page has a girl dancing around a lamp post like Gene Kelly.

I like the artist’s note at the back:

Apart from “Singing in the Rain” being the centerpiece of one of my favorite films, the reason I chose to illustrate this song is its underlying positive message. As adults, it is easy to forget the joy of rain.

We tend to view it as an inconvenience rather than the wonderful thing that it is. Rain is something beautiful that connects all life, from the city to the rain forest. So next time it rains, don’t stay indoors. Go outside and soak it up like the children in this book. What a glorious feeling it is!

Truly a joyous book!

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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 Rose and the Dagger, by Renée Ahdieh

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The Rose and the Dagger

by Renée Ahdieh

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 416 pages.
Review written in 2016.

The Rose and the Dagger is the conclusion to the story begun in The Wrath and the Dawn. I enjoyed this volume even better than the first. It was a little less confusing, a little easier to believe and understand who was in love with whom.

Anyway, in this volume, Shahrzad and her caliph Khalid are separated after the storm that blew apart his city. But Shahrzad is learning that she has magic of her own. She needs to learn to use it. And that starts with a flying carpet.

This book involves Shahrzad learning magic and trying to break Khalid’s curse. But his kingdom is also in danger, and there are shifting loyalties and treacheries around them to navigate.

Can they break the curse and simply live together in a peaceful kingdom? Or is that too big a dream?

This yarn will keep you absorbed with its twists and turns. A tale of love and magic and treachery and loyalty in the desert.

reneeahdieh.com
penguin.com/teen

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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 Door by the Staircase, by Katherine Marsh

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh

Disney Hyperion, 2016. 272 pages.

Mary Hayes is a resourceful little girl who lives in an orphanage. One night, she manages to escape – but is stopped by a moving whirlwind. The very next morning, an old lady, Madame Z, comes to adopt Mary, first confirming that she has no family at all.

Madame Z takes Mary to a home outside the town of Iris, where all sorts of two-bit magic users live. She meets Jacob, a kid her age who also longs for a home. Jacob is the son of an Illusionist, and they move around a lot. Jacob’s good at pointing out how magicians do their tricks.

Then Mary thinks she’s spotted some real magic. And Madame Z turns out not to be the sweet old lady she pretends to be.

This book reminded me a little too much of Baba Yaga’s Assistant — but I liked the graphic novel a little better, for its conciseness and charm. Still, this book works in more elements of Russian folklore – including the firebird, rusalkas, and a domovoi.

Mary and Jacob must navigate various magical perils and prizes in order to escape a dangerous magical villain and win homes for themselves.

This is a light-hearted magical tale mixed with Russian folklore and cooking, and an orphan longing for a home.

katherinemarsh.com
DisneyBooks.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 One Dark Throne, by Kendare Blake

Friday, April 6th, 2018

One Dark Throne

by Kendare Blake

HarperTeen, 2017. 448 pages.

I read Three Dark Crowns last year for the Cybils awards, so I wanted to find out what happened next. Unfortunately, I had trouble remembering all the characters and all the situations – the author doesn’t do a whole lot of reviewing.

This fantasy series is a cross between a typical fantasy kingdom and The Hunger Games. In this world, each generation three queens are born as triplets. When they come of age, they have a year to kill each other. The one queen remaining at the end of the year will rule the island under the Goddess until she gives birth to triplets herself.

One Dark Throne is the story of what happens after the competitive year starts. Katharine, who has been brought up with the family of Poisoners, the family that has controlled the throne for generations, has drastically changed because of the events at the end of the first book. (I won’t say more, but it’s partly because I didn’t completely remember them.)

Arsinoe, who has been brought up with the naturalists, has surprised everyone – but she is harboring a secret. And Mirabella, who was once considered the certain winner, seems at a disadvantage.

Since the author has made you care about all three queens and the people surrounding each one, the reader definitely doesn’t want any of the queens to die. But they must.

This story was a little more confusing to me, because of the aforementioned forgetting of details from the first book. I’m not crazy about this bloodthirsty island. I’ll say only that people you care about die in this book. However, the story is not finished.

The author has spun an inventive fantasy, a world that’s unique and complex, however bloodthirsty. Because you’re seeing the world of each one of the three queens, there is a large cast of characters, though – which is what makes it difficult to remember details after a year away.

There’s lots of intrigue going on, and she does make you want to find out what happens next. I think I almost want to recommend reading these books when the series is finished, so you aren’t prone to forget the previous book when you start the next – then take them all up in one binge of reading. I do hope that the final volume will make the journey worth it. And I probably won’t be able to resist finding out (depending on how much I’ve forgotten by then).

kendareblake.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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