Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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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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 audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner, performed by Steve West

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner
performed by Steve West

HarperAudio, 2017. 8.75 hours on 7 discs.
Starred Review

This is now the third time I’ve read Thick as Thieves, and I don’t get tired of it. As with all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I discovered a few more nuances each time.

But the audiobook version has the advantage of being read by my new narrator-crush, Steve West, discovered when he read Strange the Dreamer. I could (and do) listen to his voice for hours. He delineates the characters well with different voices. Although the audio version doesn’t have a map, I didn’t feel like it was dragging as I listened to his narration – it made each episode that much more interesting.

And there’s probably not much more I need to say. This is the fifth book in one of my very favorite series. It’s got adventure and danger and characters you root for. And has an outstanding narrator as well. I do recommend reading the books in order, beginning with The Thief, but let me say that they also make outstanding family listening.

harperaudio.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 Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

JessicaDayGeorge.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

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 Snowbear, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Claire Alexander

Friday, January 26th, 2018

The Snowbear

by Sean Taylor
illustrated by Claire Alexander

words & pictures (Quarto Publishing), Lake Forest, CA, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Charming, sweet, and simple – this would be a great pick for a winter storytime. It’s from the point of view of two small children, and the words and pictures are realistically childlike.

When Iggy and Martina wake up to snow, they go out to play. Their mother warns them to be careful of the hill, because it’s too steep and slippery. So they make a snowman – but it ends up looking more like a snowbear.

“He looks happy to be made,” said Martina.

And it was true.

Then Iggy wants to slide down the hill on their sled. Oops! It really is too steep and slippery. They slide on and on, into the deep dark woods.

There’s lots of atmosphere:

Nothing moved except for one grey pigeon.

“I want to go home,” said Martina.

“So do I,” said Iggy.

He got off the sledge and tried to pull it back the way they’d come.

But Mom was right.
It was too steep and slippery.

Next, there’s a wolf staring at them through the trees. It’s a scary moment. But they hear something, and an entire spread is their open-mouthed faces staring in amazement.

The snowbear has come lolloping down the hill toward them! The wolf leaves, and without a word, the snowbear picks them up and carries them home. Then it goes back to where they’d made it, keeping its friendly smile all along.

The ending is nice and open ended. Mom says it’s a lovely snowbear, but only the kids understand what really happened.

The pictures and text work together beautifully in this tale with child-sized drama and danger – and wonderful coziness.

QuartoKnows.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 Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.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 Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with illustrations by Erin Stead

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

by Mark Twain
and Philip Stead
with illustrations by Erin Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017. 152 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, this is such a lovely book! The story is based on 16 pages of notes discovered in Mark Twain’s papers. It was discovered by a researcher hoping to write a Twain cookbook – found because of the word “Oleomargarine.” Mark Twain House & Museum authorized Philip and Erin Stead to make a book from those notes, which were based on a story Mark Twain spun for his daughters at bedtime while in a Paris hotel.

The result is delightful. Philip Stead retained Mark Twain’s folksy style. He presents it as a conversation with Mark Twain – but where Mark Twain disappears right before the story ends. He includes some discussion between the two authors. Here’s a small example:

“How did she know she was a fairy?” I asked.

“Because,” answered Twain, “the woman in question was only four and a half inches tall. It was the scientific conclusion to make. Now, let’s try not to interrupt, shall we?”

The story turns out to be a gentle one – about a boy named Johnny who, through his kindness, receives the gift of understanding the speech of animals and gains a family of animal friends. The animal friends are observant and know what happened when Prince Oleomargarine disappeared, so they tell Johnny.

The story is presented in picture book format, with Erin Stead’s delicate woodcut illustrations on each spread, and many spreads with few words or no words at all. It’s a book to savor slowly and would make magnificent classroom reading or for reading aloud at bedtime for a sequence of nights (imitating the original creation of the story).

Okay, I was browsing through the book for the delightful language, and found a part I simply have to quote. This is supposedly what Mark Twain said to Philip Stead as he was relating the story, and is off on quite a tangent from the tale of Johnny. It started with a skunk who was the first to befriend Johnny.

“Of course,” he added, “I could have saved myself – and Johnny – from the silly prejudices of the unenlightened. I could have lied and said porcupine or kangaroo instead of skunk.

“But if I lie to you once, you will never trust me again. And if history is our guide, our entire undertaking will be lost –

“Napoleon,” he explained, “lied to his men at Waterloo. He said: We are going to have a great time! They did not.

“King Henry VIII lied to Anne Boleyn, and the whole thing caused nothing but headaches.

“There are other examples, too! –

“Consider George Washington. He made an awful stink about the nobleness of truth telling after the fact, but the sad reality is this – he looked that cherry tree in the face and told it: This won’t hurt a bit.

“History tells us these things. And we can trust history on the matter of lies because history is mostly lies, along with some exaggerations.”

Spend some time savoring this uplifting and ultimately very silly story.

Here are Twain’s notes: (Much better in this book form!)
http://admin.rhcbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Twain-fragment.pdf

randomhousekids.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 La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, Volume One, by Philip Pullman

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust, Volume One

by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 451 pages.

It’s no secret that Philip Pullman is a magnificent writer. His rich use of language, his astonishingly detailed, imaginative worlds are all marks of a master craftsman. So, yes, I was impressed by how well-written this book was.

But did I enjoy it? Not so much.

This surprised me. I enjoyed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. (Not enough to want to read them again, but I did enjoy them.) In this book, I liked the character of Malcolm tremendously – but not really anyone else.

This book is a prequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra, who is a young girl in those books, is now a baby – and a baby with a prophecy about her, a baby who needs protection. In the majority of the book, Malcolm is trying to rescue baby Lyra from danger in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, riding over floodwaters, pursued by one of the most horrific villains imaginable.

You don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this, since it is a prequel. (Knowing Lyra must make it does help make things a little less scary.) Maybe if I had reread the original trilogy I would have been ready for what seemed like out-of-place fantastical elements, including an encounter with faeries and traveling through some sort of mystical kingdom. I know it’s an alternate universe, but I had forgotten that they’re not really going with a scientific explanation of alternate universes, since the one Lyra’s in has lots of magic.

And I know – it’s magic – it’s an alternate universe – but this time the explanation of “Dust” as an “elementary particle” of a “Rusakov field” responsible for consciousness – seemed rather silly. That’s not really how elementary particles work. This Dust is also what makes the alethiometer magically answer questions. And that, too, seems a bit silly reading it afresh. If the author just called it “magic” and didn’t try to make it sound scientific, it would work better. (Ah! That’s the problem! When I read The Golden Compass, I just thought it was dealing with a world where magic existed, and I hadn’t read any pseudo-scientific explanation.)

All that aside, there’s a fair amount of coincidence. How does the monstrous villain keep following Malcolm? Now, to be fair, that particular coincidence simply makes the book all the more intensely frightening. But when the good guy happens upon Malcolm later, that seems a little more remarkable.

I liked that Malcolm wondered how baby Lyra’s daemon could know the shapes of various animals to take on that it hadn’t yet seen. I imagine someone complained about that in the first book, so now it’s something remarkable about Lyra’s daemon rather than an oversight by the author.

And I do love the daemons – an animal expression of a person’s soul that lives outside their body. Children’s daemons can change form at will, but adults’ daemons have a set form. An interesting thing is that no two people in the book have the same form for their daemons.

I never do like it when the Church is villainous, though I knew to expect it from the first trilogy. In this book, there’s an extra sinister effort to get children to turn in their parents to the forces of evil run by the Church.

All that said, La Belle Sauvage is an absorbing read. Philip Pullman’s world-building is full of intricate details and extremely atmospheric. You can see this by how the book begins:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

The inn was an old stone-built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the landlord’s wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire, and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

Those that have read His Dark Materials will almost certainly want to read this. If you haven’t yet – you might prefer to start with that one since you can read all three books in succession and won’t be stymied by those annoying words that end this book: “To be continued . . .”

philip-pullman.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 Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2017. 90 pages.
Starred Review

A fifth book about the Princess in Black! I like the way she’s maintaining her secret identity, but now her friends are emulating the Princess in Black with their own attempts to fight monsters.

At the start, the Princess in Black and the Goat Avenger drive a monster back into Monster Land. But then the Princess in Black has mysterious plans and must leave. What she doesn’t tell the Goat Avenger is that she has a playdate with Princess Sneezewort.

But a very sneaky monster follows her to Princess Sneezewort’s kingdom! It interrupts the playdate. Princess Sneezewort, inspired by the Princess in Black, becomes the Princess in Blankets. (After all, blankets make a good disguise.) As it happens, she discovers exactly the ninja skills needed against a super-sneaky monster.

I like the way these books inspire everyone to become a hero, battle monsters – and then celebrate together!

squeetus.com
candlewick.com

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

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Review of Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor, read by Steve West

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

by Laini Taylor
read by Steve West

Hachette Audio, 2017. 18.5 hours on 15 CDs.
Starred Review

Note to self: Any time I start a new book by Laini Taylor, even if it doesn’t say “Book One” on the cover, check the last page for the words “TO BE CONTINUED.” This one has those words – and I would have been less dismayed if I had been prepared.

Laini Taylor’s imagination will never cease to amaze me. Every new world she builds is completely different from anything that’s ever been done before.

In this new world, we start with a boy named Laszlo Strange. He’s an orphan and is being brought up by monks. One of the monks tells him stories about a mythical long-lost city. Later, when he grows up, he becomes a librarian and finds more tales of this city.

And Laszlo knows that magic exists because of this city. For one day, suddenly, he forgets the city’s name, and all he can think of is “Weep.” Any writings about the city have the new name, Weep.

A lot more goes on. As a librarian, Laszlo helps the golden boy of the city, an alchemist, because he thinks there is a clue to the secret of alchemy within the writings about Weep.

Along the way, when talking about alchemy, we learn that everyone in this world has two hearts – one that pumps blood, and one that pumps spirit. (Where does Laini Taylor come up with these ideas?)

We also periodically visit an isolated family of five children with blue skin who live in a citadel and have special powers. A large part of the book is finding out how these two threads come together. The whole thing is stunning, and an incredible work of imagination. And okay, I really hate that these eighteen hours are only the beginning.

And yes, I said eighteen hours. Fortunately, I started this book on the way to South Carolina to see the total solar eclipse – and with traffic, it took me 13 hours to get home. I think it helped me get mesmerized by the story because I got to listen to most of it in one sitting (though I still had a lot left).

The book is long, and she repeats herself in a few places, but it was absolutely perfect for a long car drive. And Steve West may be my new favorite narrator. He distinguished between the voices of the various characters, and the voice he used for Strange the Dreamer was just plain dreamy. So I didn’t mind listening to his voice for a very long time. I hope he narrates however many books are still to come.

StrangetheDreamer.com
lainitaylor.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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