Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of A Dance with Fate, by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

A Dance with Fate

by Juliet Marillier

ACE (Penguin Random House), 2020. 491 pages.
Review written September 16, 2020, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com
Starred Review

A Dance with Fate is a wonderful sequel to The Harp of Kings, though each holds a self-contained story and it’s not important to remember what happened in the first book, though reading this one will give away a couple things that happened in the first book, so I do recommend reading them in order.

I rave about Juliet Marillier’s books every time, and this one did not disappoint me. She has the ability to pull you into her characters’ hearts and deeply care about their predicaments. There’s always an element of the Otherworld in her books, and there’s always some romance, but they don’t follow a formula or a set pattern at all.

In this book, Liobhan and Dau are ready to prove they are Swan Island warriors and deserve a permanent place on the island. But in an exhibition battle, Dau trips and hits his head. Before they’re sure he will survive, his family is contacted, even though Dau wanted nothing to do with them because of the cruelty he faced there from his older brother.

Dau does survive, but he is blind and an invalid, so he must go back to his father’s holding. His family doesn’t accept the verdict that the injury was accidental and demand that Liobhan serve on the holding as a lowly bondservant.

As feared, they both get pulled into the dark secrets Dau’s brother is keeping. He has not become any less cruel over the years. And meanwhile, Liobhan’s brother Brocc is in the Otherworld, trying to keep the folk safe and having to make a terrible bargain along the way. We guess there will be some overlap in the two stories, since Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc alternate as the viewpoint characters.

Liobhan is the daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, from the trilogy that told about them. And Swan Island was established in a series before that. But that all adds to the richness and isn’t necessary reading ahead of time. If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier before, you can jump right in. If you have, you will be delighted to find a new installment. There were a few threads left hanging, so I happily anticipate that this will end up being a trilogy as well. Her trilogies are the kind I love most – each book in the trilogy has its own complete story, but they all weave together. I think before long I’m going to need to do a grand rereading of her books. (And there are still a few older ones I haven’t read.)

Do you get the idea? If you love fantasy at all, or specifically Celtic fantasy with romance, you will love these books.

julietmarillier.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Sunny, by Celia Krampien

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

Sunny

by Cecilia Krampien

Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This little picture book is in the tradition of tall tales of bad luck followed by good luck followed by bad luck followed by good luck. In this case, there’s a sequence of apparently terribly bad things that happen to a little girl named Sunny – but she sees the bright side. And has some really good luck to offset the bad luck.

It starts with just a dreary day, windy and rainy, with kids trudging through the rain on the way to school. Most people would say that’s a bad day.

But not Sunny.
Sunny thought this day was the perfect day to use her big yellow umbrella. And it was.

But then the wind catches the umbrella and Sunny’s flying through the air. Most people would say that’s a bad situation, but not Sunny. Not even when she gets blown out to sea and stranded in a little boat and washed up on a lonely big rock.

When things finally get so very dreary that even Sunny starts to cry – that’s when there’s a dramatic, lovely, and perhaps slightly unlikely rescue.

So, sure, she’s a little bit late to school, but she has a mighty good story to tell.

This fun picture book gives readers a chance to think about looking at the bright side with a story whose unlikeliness makes it all the more enjoyable.

And hmmm. Perhaps I liked it all the more because I read it during 2020, when a successive series of unlikely bad events have happened. I wonder if I can find good sides like Sunny?

mackids.com

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

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Review of Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 540 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Ahhhhh! Such a magnificent series!

Series? you ask. Isn’t this supposed to be the second book in a duology? Well, yes it is, but you can think of the duology as a continuation of the trilogy that began with Grave Mercy, because it begins where the trilogy ended, and you will better understand the characters and relationships of the duology if you’ve already read the trilogy.

The main way the trilogy is different from the duology is that in the trilogy, each book was a stand-alone story in its own right, though they all went together well. Each book featured a different trained assassin from the convent that served Saint Mortain of Brittany, the god of Death. Each book told a love story, and each love story was different from the one before.

I got annoyed with the first book of the duology, Courting Darkness, because it did not follow this pattern. Though it did tell of a new daughter of Death from the convent, it did not complete her story at all and most issues were unresolved. All that intricate pulling together of a tapestry of threads was missing.

Because of my annoyance, I did not preorder my own copy of this book, but just read a library copy. I have already rectified that mistake. I ordered a copy so I can have my own when I reread all five books, which I have no doubt I’m going to want to do from time to time.

Was I missing intricate tying together of disparate threads? They’re all pulled together here. Courtly intrigue and daring adventure? It’s here. Satisfying love stories? Yes. Apparent doom and an appearance that victory is impossible? Yes. Utterly clever plans to overcome the insurmountable odds? Yes, again we’ve got them.

And it all comes together in an ending that’s worthy of the five magnificent books.

I won’t say a whole lot about details, since I want those who haven’t started this series to start at the beginning with Grave Mercy. I will say this is rich historical fiction of the kind I like best – for all we know, it could have really happened. It features the Duchy of Brittany, which at the start of the series and in actual history was ruled by a young duchess who had been promised in marriage to competing nobles from various places.

It also features assassin nuns! In the small touch of fantasy in these books, the heroines are daughters of Mortain, the god Death, one of nine gods of Brittany who were cleaned up and made saints by the Church. They serve the Duchess of Brittany during a time when women aren’t usually given that kind of power. Indeed, the Duchess’s new husband isn’t too happy about her wielding power of her own, and his sister who had been regent before he came of age, has her own plans for holding onto power.

This is a book of historical political intrigue, of desperate plots within plots, and women apparently without power figuring out what they can do to stand up against evil men who are accustomed to doing anything they want. It does help that those women have gifts from their father, the god of Death, and training from those who serve Death.

And you are lucky, Dear Reader – you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out! I’m definitely planning to sit down and read all five books some time in the near future.

RobinLaFevers.com
hmhbooks.com

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Review of Monster and Boy, by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

Monster and Boy

by Hannah Barnaby
illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Godwin Books (Henry Holt), 2020. 138 pages.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Monster and Boy is a charming beginning chapter book that tells about what happens after a mother tells her son during a bedtime story that there is no such thing as monsters.

The monster who lives under the bed and loves the boy hears the mother say this. He can’t resist. After the mother leaves, he decides to prove that she was wrong and shows himself to the boy. But things quickly get out of control.

“Hello,” the monster said.

The boy was silent. The monster thought maybe the boy couldn’t see him, so he made himself light up.

“Ta-da!” the monster said.

The boy took a deep breath and opened his mouth, and the monster knew he was going to scream.

The monster panicked. He did the only thing he could think of.

He swallowed the boy.

There’s a chapter discussing this with the reader. Then I like the part about what happens next:

The monster was instantly sorry that he’d swallowed the boy. The boy felt strange in his stomach, heavy and nervous. The monster did not like how it felt, and also he missed the boy terribly.

Then he heard a small voice from inside himself.

It was not his conscience. It was not his soul.

It was the boy.

“I’d like to come out, please,” said the boy.

“I’d like that, too,” the monster replied.

So their first problem is getting the boy out of the monster. But when they manage that, it turns out that the boy is now very small. So they must figure out how to get him back to his normal side.

This turns out to involve adventures downstairs (Monsters are terrified of going downstairs.) and an encounter with another monster – the boy’s little sister. Oh, and a swim in the toilet bowl.

It’s all wonderfully entertaining. The sentences are simple, and there are pictures on every page, but this story will make you laugh even if you mastered reading long ago.

The back cover says this book is introducing a new illustrated chapter book series, which is fantastic news for kids gaining confidence in their reading.

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 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 Lift, by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Thursday, July 30th, 2020

Lift

by Minh Lê
illustrated by Dan Santat

Disney Hyperion, 2020. 52 pages.
Review written July 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful picture book told in comic book format with not a lot of words and with fabulous richly colored illustrations.

The book begins with a small family getting into an apartment building elevator. We focus in on the little girl. She says:

Hi, my name is Iris.
When I’m feeling a bit down, there’s one thing that always cheers me up:
PUSHING ELEVATOR BUTTONS.

Luckily, that’s my job. Up or down, our floor or the lobby,
I always get to push the button.

But then one day, her baby brother pushes the button. And her parents are happy! Betrayal! In her rebellion, Iris pushes ALL the buttons.

Later, one of the elevators is out of order. Iris sees the repairman throw an old elevator call button into the trash. She fishes it out and later tapes it to the wall in her room so she has a button to push.

And it’s then that her adventures begin. For when she pushes the button, to her surprise it gives a Ding and lights up. And when she opens her closet door, she discovers magical worlds to explore.

Now pushing the button gives her a lift in a whole new way.

There’s some more family dynamics in the rest of this book, a wonderful celebration of adventure and imagination and family and small things that give you a lift.

And Dan Santat is so wonderful at making imagination come to life in his pictures. Another perfect pairing of author and illustrator.

minhlebooks.com
dantat.com
DisneyBooks.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Nothing, by Holly Black, read by Caitlin Kelly

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
read by Caitlin Kelly

Hachette Audio, 2019. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Review written February 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

The Folk of the Air trilogy is so good! The Queen of Nothing is the third and final volume of the trilogy. The whole series is full of twists and turns and reversals. Each book has multiple moments where you’re not sure how the main character is even going to survive, let alone triumph. The books are full of assassinations and betrayals and political intrigue, and each book is more intense than the one before. I listened to this audiobook on my commute, and it’s one of those that once I got somewhere near the end, I had to bring the final CD inside the house to listen because I couldn’t bear to stop.

Jude has been brought up in Faerie after the redcap former husband of her mother killed both her mother and father, but pledged to take care of her and her twin sister. This adopted father taught her to be a deadly fighter, but at the start of this book, he’s fighting on the other side.

I don’t want to say much about how the book opens, because it gives away some of what went before. (And, yes, you must read these books in order.) I’ll just say that Jude is in exile in the mortal world. Her twin sister, Taryn, convinces Jude to go into Faerie “just for a few hours” pretending to be Taryn, so she can truthfully testify in the case of Taryn’s murdered husband.

Not surprisingly, things do not go as planned, and Jude is trapped in Faerie with people planning to make war against the High King of Faerie. Perhaps Jude can get information to use against them….

Twists and turns and treacheries follow. Holly Black is unsurpassed in her ability to surprise and shock her readers. But she is also able to delight us.

It is just as well I listened to this book, because in print form I don’t think I would have been able to stop. This way the enjoyment lasted longer. As it is, this book is responsible for me not remembering where I was going on an evening when I planned to go to choir rehearsal after work.

blackholly.com
HachetteAudio.com

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

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Review of As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

As You Wish

by Chelsea Sedoti

Sourcebooks Fire, January 2018. 412 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 2017 from an advance reader copy
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Teen Speculative Fiction

I’m so excited! As You Wish is the first book I’ve read that’s eligible for the 2019 Newbery Award, being a book published in America during 2018 for an audience that includes some group between the ages of 0 and 14. (In this case, it’s for 14 and up.)

I’m writing this review in August 2017 after finishing the book and before having discussed it with anyone at all. So this is entirely my opinion and not the opinion of anyone else – and I have no idea at this writing if the committee will consider it (or even if they’ll decide that the age range doesn’t fit the criteria) or what anyone else on the committee thinks of it. That’s my disclaimer – but I can still post this review after our decision has been announced in 2019. Writing a review will also help me remember what happened in this book as the year goes on and the number of books I’ve read gets bigger and bigger.

As You Wish is about a small town in Nevada near the site of Area 51. Alien hunters come through town often – but the town conspires to give them the message, “Nothing to see here! Move along!” Because the town of Madison, Nevada, has a secret.

That secret is that on their eighteenth birthday, every teen living in Madison gets a wish. And the wish will come true.

There are rules about wishing. The scope of the wishing is the town itself. You can’t wish for something that will affect things outside Madison and thus bring the attention of outsiders. For example, you can’t wish to be the best football player in the country, but you can wish to be the best football player in Madison.

The book starts 25 days before Eldon Wilkes’ wish day. Eldon used to be the best football player in town – he was always naturally talented. But that was before this year, when his friends started getting their wishes. Now he’s a bit at loose ends, not used to being an average player. He doesn’t know what he’s going to wish for.

Eldon has seen lots of wishes go wrong. His dad wished to be the best football player in town – and then he got injured. Now he coaches their team. Eldon’s mother Luella wished that Harmon Wilkes (Eldon’s dad) would love her and only her forever. Trouble is, somewhere along the way, Luella stopped loving him.

She knows there’s no reversing her wish. She could divorce Harmon and move out of Madison. She could go to the other side of the world. But no matter what she says or does or how far away she moves, Harmon Wilkes will never stop loving her.

Eldon does some exploring. He asks people about their wishes. What did they wish? Why did they wish for that thing? Are they happy with it?

I like the way this premise is explored. I like how wishing has taken over the dynamics of the town. People in Madison don’t ask kids what they’re going to be when they grow up. They ask kids what they are going to wish for.

And so many people regret making the wish they did. Even the one person Eldon meets who gave up his wish regrets giving it up. There’s a lot riding on his choice – what will Eldon do?

This book also presents a realistic picture of a jock in a small town who is no longer the star of the team and looking for some meaning, dealing with friends, and also with missing his little sister, who was in a horrible accident when hit by a speeding car driven by a kid who was late for making his wish. If only they hadn’t taken his sister out of Madison so soon, but now she’s in a hospital in Las Vegas in a vegetative state.

My reading year is off to a great start!

chelseasedoti.com
sourcebooks.com

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Review of The Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Queen of Sorrow

Book Three of the Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2018. 419 pages.
Review written May 6, 2020, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com

The Queen of Sorrow is the third book in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, which unfortunately came out when I was in the middle of reading for the Newbery. Since this is not a children’s book, I couldn’t justify giving it my time then. I happily finally got to it this past week and enjoyed getting pulled back into that world.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the title, that this book does not start out happily. Just when they think they can settle down and try to live in peace and prosperity after the events of Book Two, The Reluctant Queen, one of the queens has her children kidnapped. She’s not exactly calm and measured in her desire to get them back, and the reader does find out there’s a bigger plot involved.

Without giving anything away, I felt like the resolution of that big plot was a little anticlimactic. However, the book itself is an absorbing read, with many plotlines going on and our beloved characters facing multiple dangers and difficult decisions. (There! Is that vague enough to not give anything away from the earlier books?) And I did like the way things ended up for each set of characters.

You do want to read these books in order. And even though I wasn’t crazy about that one element of the ending – I immensely enjoyed the journey getting there.

The big strength of the Queens of Renthia series is the world-building. We’ve got a world where spirits of nature create and destroy – but must be controlled by powerful queens. And if the queen’s power slips, the spirits will attack the humans, whom they hate. In this book, we gain some more insights into the spirits and their motivation and how this whole thing works, as well as more insight into the queens we have met along the way.

This is an imaginative and creative fantasy trilogy for adults. Since I took so long to finish reading it, there is already a stand-alone novel out about a queen from one of the neighboring countries in Renthia, so I will get to enjoy more of this world.

sarahbethdurst.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Knights vs. Dinosaurs

by Matt Phelan

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 150 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

This one is silly fun with speculation: What would happen if knights had to fight dinosaurs?

Erec is a knight in King Arthur’s court, and he’s been bragging. The truth is, he’s never seen even one dragon. But all the knights start bragging when they get together, and he got carried away and claimed he’d defeated 40 dragons.

That gave Merlin an idea. He suggested that Erec go defeat a “Terrible Lizard” in a cave the next morning – Merlin would give him a map.

It’s probably just as well that some other knights didn’t want Erec to get all the glory. Because it turned out that Merlin put a time-traveling spell on the cave – and sent them all back to the time of the dinosaurs.

(Okay, the truth is that not all the dinosaurs that appear in this book lived at the same time. But that’s admitted at the back of the book and kind of beside the point. We’ve got knights fighting dinosaurs and living to tell the tale.)

There’s a nice twist that it turns out the strongest knight of them all is female. It’s a lot of good-hearted fun, including battles with dinosaurs.

This is an early chapter book and includes plenty of Matt Phelan’s illustrations. Some of the battles are told with panels, in fact.

Knights fighting dinosaurs and realizing they’re going to have to work together. What could be more fun?

mattphelan.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

by M. T. Anderson
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Candlewick Press, 2018. 530 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 14, 2018, from an advance reader copy
2019 National Book Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. This book is amazing!

It’s a story about a clash of cultures – elfin and goblin cultures, specifically.

Historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent to the land of the goblins – flying through the air in a barrel – to present to them an ancient artifact found that they believe was made by goblin ancestors.

Werfel the Archivist, goblin historian at the Court of the Mighty Ghohg, has been eagerly preparing for weeks to host the elfin scholar. He worries – are elves allergic to chocolate? Will the hospitality chocolates placed on his pillow be appropriate?

It was Werfel’s job to host the elfin emissary in the city, to take the scholar in as a guest in his own home. It was a huge responsibility. Elves were used to a certain luxury. Goose-down mattresses and stained glass windows. My poor guest will be joggled to bits after slamming into the ground like that, Werfel fretted.

And, goblins had a strong code of hospitality. Once a goblin invited someone across the threshold into their home, it was their duty to serve and protect their guest, no matter what. Hospitality was holy.

Werfel sat up. He had to get to work plumping pillows and stocking the fruit bowl. It was no use trying to sleep, anyway. He was too excited.

Unfortunately, it becomes all too clear that Werfel’s efforts aren’t being appreciated as intended. In fact, periodically we see a series of images. These are what Brangwain Spurge has been magically transporting back to those who sent him. His view doesn’t quite match Werfel’s eager ministrations.

And some things go sadly wrong. Spurge learns of the goblin habit of insulting their close friends and misunderstands when insults are actually intended as a mortal combat challenge. Werfel knows he will have to protect his guest with his life – but that devotion is completely unappreciated.

As one misadventure leads to another, the two come to understand one another better. I love the way the images change as Spurge’s perspective on the goblins changes. But can they survive their new level of understanding?

This book is a lovely look at cross-cultural misunderstanding – but in the goblin-elfin setting no human reading it will be offended. And the story (and the goblin and elfin cultures described) is a whole lot of fun, too.

M. T. Anderson writes clever books, and this one is no exception. It’s told with humor and compassion. I like it that the goblin host ends up being noble and self-sacrificing and kind, whereas the elves who sent Spurge on his mission are not folks you’d want to live among.

candlewick.com

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