Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

by Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury, 2017. 247 pages.
Starred Review

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is delightful! Aventurine is a young dragon, cooped up in her family’s cave for decades while her scales harden. Here’s how sibling roughhousing goes in a dragon’s cave:

He let out the most satisfying roar of rage and leaped forward, landing exactly where I’d been sitting only a moment ago. If I hadn’t been expecting it, I would have been slammed into a mountain of loose diamonds and emeralds, and my still-soft scales would have been bruised all over. But Jasper was the one who landed there instead, while I joyously pounced on his back and rubbed his snout in the pile of rocks.

“Children!” Our mother raised her head from her forefeet and let out a long-suffering snort that blew through the cave, sending more gold coins flying. “Some of us are trying to sleep after a long, hard hunt!”

“I would have helped you hunt,” I said, jumping off Jasper. “If you’d let me come –”

“Your scales haven’t hardened enough to withstand even a wolf’s bite.” Mother’s great head sank back down toward her glittering blue-and-gold feet. “Let alone a bullet or a mage’s spell,” she added wearily. “In another thirty years, perhaps, when you’re nearly grown and ready to fly . . .”

“I can’t wait another thirty years!” I bellowed. My voice echoed around the cave, until Grandfather and both of my aunts were calling their own sleepy protests down the long tunnels of our home, but I ignored them. “I can’t live cooped up in this mountain forever, going nowhere, doing nothing –”

Jasper is using his quiet years to teach himself philosophy.” Mother’s voice no longer sounded weary; it grew cold and hard, like a diamond, as her neck stretched higher and higher above me, her giant golden eyes narrowing into dangerous slits focused solely on me, her disobedient daughter. “Other dragons have found their own passions in literature, history, or mathematics. Tell me, Aventurine: Have you managed to find your passion yet?”

Aventurine thinks lessons are boring. She wants to go explore. As it happens, she knows of a secret way out of the cave, big enough only for a very small dragon like her. She’ll go out and show her family a thing or two! They’d find out how capable she was of taking care of herself!

And then she comes across a human! And he’s cooking a pot of something and singing. He won’t even see Aventurine as she sneaks up on him. But just as she’s about to pounce – she smells what’s in the pot. It’s amazing!

As she goes to eat it, the human stops her. He says it’s supposed to be hot chocolate and she really needs the full experience. She watches him work. The smells get even better.

I was almost starting to wish that I didn’t have to take him home afterward for my family to eat. It would be much more satisfying to keep this human as a pet, to make hot chocolate for me any time I wanted.

He would be a hardworking pet, too, I could tell. As he stirred the hot chocolate, he kept on whispering to himself the whole time in that funny rhythmic chant, his whole body taut with concentration. I suppose I could have listened harder, to try to pick out his words, but really, when had I ever cared about anything that humans said? Besides, I was far too busy enjoying the smells from his pot. If I could have, I would have wrapped myself up in those steamy tendrils of scent and rolled around in them for hours. Hot chocolate. Talk about a treasure fit for a dragon!

But when the hot chocolate is ready and Aventurine drinks it, first she experiences bliss, and then the world goes black. When she wakes up – her body has been transformed into that of a human. Turns out, that human was a food mage. He enchanted her with the chocolate.

The food mage is a bit sympathetic of her plight, but he won’t change her back – he knows he’d get eaten. He tells her to go into the city and look for a position as an apprentice. She looks to be twelve years old, which is the right age.

So – Aventurine must navigate the world as a human. First, she tries to go back to the family cave, but when her grandfather sends a warning ball of flame her way, she figures out that won’t work. Eventually, a scheming couple stops for her and takes her into the city. They mean Aventurine to be their maid, but she’s not interested. She intends to be an apprentice at one of the city’s chocolatiers.

That’s an adventure in itself. Not surprisingly, this isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. But with the help of a street girl, she finds a place where her passion for chocolate is enough of a recommendation, and Aventurine begins to learn how to make chocolate. She has found her passion!

The story of what happens to a dragon in girl form with a passion for chocolate who now must live among humans – is a delight. It will make you hungry, though. I recommend having some chocolate handy if you start reading this book.

stephanieburgis.com
bloomsbury.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 Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst

Friday, July 21st, 2017

The Reluctant Queen

Book Two of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2017. 360 pages.
Starred Review

The Reluctant Queen begins exactly as a Book Two should do, with a quick summing up that jumps into the action (Don’t read this if you haven’t read Book One!):

Everything has a spirit; the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

And those spirits want to kill you.

It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.

At age five, Daleina saw her uncle torn apart by a tree spirit for plucking an apple from his own orchard. At age ten, she witnessed the destruction of her home village by rogue spirits. At age fifteen, she entered the renowned Northeast Academy, and at age nineteen, she was chosen by a champion to train as his candidate. She became heir that same year and was crowned shortly after, Queen Daleina of the Forests of Aratay, the sole survivor of the Coronation Massacre. She’d heard at least a half-dozen songs about her history, each more earsplitting than the last. She particularly hated the shrill ballads about her coronation, a day she wished she could forget. Instead she had it hammered into her skull by a soprano with overly enthusiastic lungs.

Six months after her coronation, now that the funerals – and so many of her friends’ graves – weren’t so fresh, all of Aratay wanted to celebrate their new queen, and she was swept along with them. For her part, she planned to demonstrate her sovereignty by healing one of the barren patches created during the massacre and replacing it with a new village tree.

It is, she thought, one of the worst ideas I’ve had in weeks.

Indeed, when she collapses during the effort – and people who came to witness it are killed, Daleina is even more convinced it was a bad idea. Her friend the Healer tests her blood, and tells Daleina that she is dying. She has an incurable sickness that will lead to more and more blackouts and eventually her death. These will get worse the more she uses her power. But what is a Queen of Aratay without using her power?

Even worse, in the last book, when Daleina became Queen, all the other candidates died. There is no one remotely ready to step into her place. But if Daleina dies before an heir is ready – the spirits will destroy Aratay and everyone in it.

So this second book is, once again, about finding someone to be queen. Daleina asks her champions to look for suitable candidates to train. But only very young girls are left in the academies.

Then there’s Naelin. She’s not in any academy. She’s a mother of two young children who has always tried to hide her power. Nothing good can come of getting attention from the spirits! But will she step up for the good of Aratay? How about to protect her own children?

There are two plot threads in this book. One is the training of Naelin. The other is back at the palace, trying to find a cure. And then there are signs of foul play. And candidates start dying. The plot threads come together in an exciting and satisfying showdown.

The first book in this series was nicely self-contained, as I like first books to be. This one? Well, you do need to read the first book first to fully understand this world. Part of me felt like, But we just found a queen! – But I think it helped me feel more fully the tragedy of Daleina coming down with this illness so quickly after her coronation.

And the book ends with new impending dangers. I very much want to read on! My review of the next book will probably give away what happens in this one. Trust me! This is an imaginative series with some awesome world-building, intriguing characters, and plenty of suspense and danger. I am definitely going to want to read on as long as it continues!

sarahbethdurst.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
performed by the author

HarperAudio, 2017. 6.5 hours on 6 compact discs. Unabridged.

I could listen to Neil Gaiman read the phone book! Although I ended up finding Norse mythology quite strange and wild – I can’t imagine a better way to hear these stories than read by Neil Gaiman. And written by Neil Gaiman doesn’t hurt, either. He captures the magical and mystical feel of the tales.

There’s an explanation at the beginning about Asgard and Midgard and the Land of the Giants and all the rest – It might have been simpler if I’d had that explanation in print to refer back to. Anyway, this way I was caught up in the stories. Most of them had Loki being a trickster and Thor throwing his hammer around to get his way.

There are many stories in this collection, and many of them have more than one chapter. There’s a dizzying array of characters, though usually Neil Gaiman refers back to where we have seen an obscure character before, so it seems quite coherent.

We do learn how Thor gets his hammer and what powers it has. And we find out about many adventures of the gods and goddesses, which so often start by an action that wasn’t terribly wise. And then there are consequences. And gods and giants try to trick others and are tricked themselves. And most of the stories were not familiar to me like Greek myths, so they were all new adventures.

That review seems a little coherent, but here’s the bottom line: Norse mythology explained and retold by Neil Gaiman, and even read by Neil Gaiman. Now that’s worth listening to!

neilgaiman.com
harperaudio.com

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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 Fox Wish, by Kimiko Aman

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

The Fox Wish

by Kimiko Aman
illustrated by Komako Sakai

Chronicle Books, 2017. Originally published in Japan in 2003. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book charmed, surprised, and enchanted me.

The book starts in the middle of the action, well, in the middle of a snack. We see a little blonde girl and her younger brother, and she’s got big surprised eyes. She left her jump rope at the park!

She goes to get it, and Lukie comes along. But when they get to the park, the jump rope isn’t there. But they hear laughter in the trees. They go to investigate.

The laughs were louder now, and I could hear it:
the swish, whip of the jump rope.

But it wasn’t Thomas and Samantha jump-roping.
It was foxes.

“Doxy, foxy,
touch the ground.

Doxy, foxy,
turn around.

Turn to the east,
and turn to the west,

and choose the one that
you like best.”

The spread shows the children looking out from behind some trees at a line of foxes jumping rope. Two are turning the rope, one is watching, and seven foxes are joyfully jumping, in various poses in the air.

The foxes were not very good at jump rope.
They were good jumpers, but their tails kept getting caught in the rope.

Lukie can’t help but laugh. So then they come out and join the foxes. The foxes politely ask them how to jump rope without tripping, and Roxie is glad to explain that they simply need to hold their tails up.

They all have a lovely time jumping rope together until it starts to get dark. When it’s Roxie’s time to turn the rope, she sees that the rope indeed has her name on the handle.

But when it’s time to go home, there’s a surprise. This is the part where I was utterly charmed. I don’t want to give it away, so let me just say that it’s delightful to watch wishes come true.

I love this book. The illustrations (Those fox faces! The joyful jumping!) are a big part of that. But also the story of a little girl who learns to give joy to others.

chroniclekids.com

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Review of Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Frogkisser!

by Garth Nix

Scholastic Press, February 2017. 372 pages.
Starred Review

This one’s fun. Garth Nix, the author of dark and mysterious tales of necromancy in the Old Kingdom has here taken a light-hearted and more traditional route. In a tale peppered with cleverness and delightful twists on tropes, we meet Princess Anya, whose wicked stepstepfather wants to take over her sister Morven’s kingdom.

He’s her stepstepfather because he married her stepmother. The stepmother “was expected to be quite evil but mainly turned out to be a very enthusiastic botanist.” But Anya’s father died a year after marrying the stepmother, and her stepmother married Duke Rikard.

So the girls had two stepparents. Their stepmother the botanist wasn’t a huge problem, but as it turned out, their stepstepfather was evil and wanted to be the king. Though Morven should by rights be crowned when she turned sixteen, in three months’ time, it was fairly certain Duke Rikard would somehow prevent this from happening.

Anya’s adventures begin when Duke Rikard transforms the current prince Morven’s in love with into a frog. But then he jumped into the moat with thousands of other frogs. Morven gets Anya to make a Sister Promise that she’ll find him. Anya makes a magical dowsing rod with the help of Gotfried, their castle librarian/sorcerer, to figure out which frog is Denholm, using hair from Morven’s locket.

But when she brings the frog to Morven, her sister refuses to kiss a frog. Fortunately, Gotfried has one dose left of Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm. This works best when a princess uses it, so now Anya gets to kiss the frog.

But when Anya does so, the frog turns out to have been a different former love of Morven’s, not Denholm. And then her stepstepfather, who notices someone has tampered with his spell, decides to send Anya to a distant land to school, and he’s got a new prince for Morwen who Anya realizes is a transformed magpie – with no actual family or kingdom to help Morwen take her rightful place as queen.

Anya does manage to find Denholm, in the hands of the local frogcatcher. But then consultation with the Royal Dogs convinces her the time has come for her to go on a quest.

“You can’t hide away,” the elder dog informed Anya. “You can’t even go back to the castle now. It is time that you sought help against the Duke. He grows in strength and power, and he clearly feels he can move against you and Morven now. This is your Quest: to find those who can help you defeat the Duke.”

When Gotfried gives her a copy of the spell for the making of “Fairly Reliable Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm,” Anya gives in and adds to her quest a search for the ingredients to the spell, which include witch’s tears, a retired druid’s blood, and feathers fresh-pulled from a cockatrice’s tail.

Along the way, Anya collects allies – but many of those have also suffered transmogrification. Anya will get their help if she promises to reverse their transformation once she makes the lip balm. And so she assembles a motley crew. Once the heralds give her the name Frogkisser, her reputation spreads. When she finally assembles the ingredients, Denholm manages to break free and get into a pond with many other transformed frogs – so the Frogkisser name is apt.

This book is full of silly fun, with a nice traditional quest and amusing obstacles.

I enjoyed it immensely – so I’m not quite sure why it took me a very long time to finish. Probably the episodic nature of the story made the book easy to put down. This is light-hearted magical fun that makes me smile as I write the review.

garthnix.com

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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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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
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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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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/3_dark_crowns.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?