Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of How Big Is Zagnodd? by Sandra Boynton

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021

How Big Is Zagnodd?

by Sandra Boynton

Little Simon, 2020. 16 pages.
Review written December 4, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the very first time I’m reviewing a board book. But it’s a new Sandra Boynton board book!

Honestly? I don’t often even notice the board books that come into the library because you can’t put them on hold so I can’t look them over as they come in. But today I was pulling a bag of board books for a customer (we’ve had them on an ask-for-a-bag basis during the pandemic so they don’t collect drool), and saw this one, read it and was utterly charmed.

Spoiler alert: Zagnodd is SO big!

And then we’re asked more questions about other aliens. “How long is Boknuk?”, “How fuzzy are Fleeb, Fleeeb, & Fleeeeb?”, and “How bright is Igwak?”

But the place where I laugh out loud is, “How dancey are the nimble Klorggix of Planet 9?” And after that, we see one earthling named Steve who is SO lost.

If you delight in reading nonsense words, obviously this is the board book for your family.

Sandra Boynton’s genius is in making books that are short and sweet but delight little ones and adults alike. My own 32-year-old daughter had a set of Boynton board books and I swear her first word was “Fffff!” when reading the book called Doggies that had a WOOF! on each page. How Big Is Zagnodd? is a worthy addition to her offerings.

sandraboynton.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Mermaid Moon, by Susann Cokal

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

Mermaid Moon

by Susann Cokal

Candlewick Press, 2020. 480 pages.
Review written December 1, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Mermaid Moon is the story of Sanna, a mermaid who comes to land not for the love of a man, but in order to find her mother. She’s been brought up by her father, after the witch of their flok put a powerful spell of forgetting on all of them. But Sanna has been apprenticed to the witch and is learning magic. And she learns her mother’s name and that her mother is landish. Then Sanna learns the magic to give herself legs and go to the island where she may have been born.

The book is set in medieval times, and when the folk of the island see Sanna’s accidental magic, they are sure she’s a saint doing miracles. But the baroness of the island is a witch herself, and she develops her own plans for Sanna.

The language used in all of this is lyrical and beautiful, as if we’re hearing a folk tale, or perhaps an epic heroic tale. Sanna tells her own story, but we also get chapters from the perspectives of people in the islands as well as songs the mermaids sing and a look at what the mermaids do while waiting to see how Sanna’s quest turns out.

Here’s how Sanna’s first sight of the islanders is described:

I limp under a series of archways, and then I see them: the landish folk. There are many more here than belong to my own clan and flok, and they are sitting on broken trees arranged within a big five-sided hollow of stone, with so many shining objects around them that my eyes are dazzled. I smell them fully, and hear them – all at once, overwhelming with sensation, as if smell and sound are always tangible things (to us, they are) and batter my body like waves.

“How are you going to bear them?” my age-mates asked when they heard of my plan. Especially Addra, who is flame-haired and dark-eyed and the most beautiful of all, forever admiring the reflection of her face and breasts in a rock pool – though she has the tongue of a dead clam, as Sjaeldent likes to say, and must rely on her beauty, not her singing, to win her way in the world.

The magic in this book stands out as working very differently from any other fantasy book I’ve read, especially the magic of the landish witch, sinisterly using bones from family members.

Let me close with one of the songs of the Mermaids:

You who sail upon the seaskin –
You look to the skies to guide you.
Why up at air and not down to sea?
Trust, we will show you the way.

candlewick.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 The Princess Will Save You, by Sarah Henning

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

The Princess Will Save You

by Sarah Henning

TOR Teen (Tom Doherty Associates), 2020. 351 pages.
Review written October 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Princess Will Save You takes the essentials of the story from The Princess Bride but makes her stable boy true love the one who is kidnapped and needs to be rescued. He knows that the princess will save him.

The princess, Amarande, is the daughter of the Warrior King and has been trained to fight. In fact, she trains with the stable boy. But after her father suddenly dies, she is not allowed to rule unless she marries. And the neighboring countries all have candidates for her hand. One of those isn’t allowed to take the throne from the Dowager Queen Mother before he’s eighteen unless he marries. So the match should be just right. If not for the problem of Amarande’s true love. Oh, and the fact that the prince is odious and power hungry.

In a couple of things, the plot is a little more plausible than The Princess Bride, though it adds some new coincidences. And though the initial problems are cleared up in this book, we make some new discoveries at the very end that will greatly affect power on the continent.

This is unashamedly a kissing book. It’s also got swordplay and pirates. Not quite as much witty banter as The Princess Bride, but it’s still a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the sequel when they’re not loosely following the movie plot.

sarahhenningwrites.com
torteen.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 Poisoned, by Jennifer Donnelly

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Poisoned

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, 2020. 307 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Like her earlier novel, Stepsister, in Poisoned, Jennifer Donnelly takes the basic skeleton from a fairy tale and goes far afield with it, ending up with a story that includes the main plot elements, but with very different applications.

Both stories begin with gore. In Stepsister, the stepsister cuts off her toes to try to fit her foot into the glass slipper. In Poisoned, a huntsman skillfully succeeds in cutting out Sophie’s heart and putting it into a box.

Fortunately, seven brothers living in the woods find her, and one of them is a skilled clockmaker. He makes her a clockwork heart. It happened on the morning of Sophie’s birthday, when she would have become queen. Everyone had told her that she was too soft-hearted to be a good ruler, but she had found a handsome prince to marry, who would be able to make the tough decisions.

It does turn out that Sophie’s stepmother, who ordered the killing, wasn’t entirely to blame. She was ordered to have Sophie’s heart put in the box by a sinister dark king, Corvus, the King of Crows, who comes to her in her magic mirror.

But clockwork doesn’t last forever. So after Sophie learns what the brothers did, she decides she will go find the prince she’d agreed to marry, the man who said he loved her, and ask him to use his army to attack the castle of the King of Crows. Never mind that he seems to have accepted the story of her death and doesn’t seem to be looking for her.

Both of Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings also put a feminist spin on things. Yes, dear reader, it will turn out that Sophie can’t rely on a handsome prince to save her and must do so herself. In fact, it may turn out that her soft heart is exactly what she needs to defeat the dark king.

Another marvelously spun tale, making you look at a familiar story in a completely different way.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.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 Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Raybearer

by Jordan Ifueko
read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Blackstone Publishing, 2020. 14 hours.
Review written February 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Raybearer is a complex fantasy story set in a richly-imagined world amazing in its detail.

Our main character, Tarisai, was brought up by servants and tutors in an isolated house in the desert, always longing for her mother, known simply as “The Lady,” who spent most of her days traveling. Tarisai learns that she is also the child of a desert spirit that the Lady bound to grant three wishes – and Tarisai has the burden of fulfilling the third wish. Tarisai is shown a face and told that after she loves him and is anointed by him, she must kill him. That is the wish she is bound to fulfill.

Tarisai only learns later that the face belongs to the prince, the Raybearer heir. The emperor of their land bears a ray that binds to him eleven council members. The bond between them, through the ray, is intensely close. They can speak to each other silently through the ray and they get Council Sickness if they are ever apart from all council members. Tarisai becomes a candidate for the prince’s council, but she resists becoming a council member, because she doesn’t want to kill him.

Tarisai has a gift, a hallow, where she can touch a person or thing and take memories from them. Maybe if she takes her own memories, she can thwart the curse.

That’s only the beginning, though. My only caveat with this book and the amazing world-building is that the plot is a bit too convoluted. We’ve got some major injustices to be righted, trying to thwart the curse, secrets about the ruling family, unjust new decrees, and much more. And it doesn’t come to a tidy solution – there will have to be further books because of what we know is coming.

The plot is maybe a little convoluted, but the characters are amazingly drawn. There are a lot of parents who are not great parents, but it is rarely so simple as plain good or bad. The Lady especially is a very complex character who loved Tarisai – but was afraid to show that love. She made some decisions in the past that seem bad, but Tarisai learns why she made those decisions.

I love that this world is so unlike any other I’ve ever read about in a fantasy novel. And the author smoothly gives us the information without information dumps. We learn how things are done and the beautiful and intricate setting, including magical travel and griots who tell stories and many more wonderful details.

This book is an amazing achievement, especially given that this is Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel. Yes, I will be looking for the next installment.

jordanifueko.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 How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, by Holly Black, illustrated by Rovina Cai

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories

by Holly Black
illustrated by Rovina Cai

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 173 pages.
Review written January 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this is marvelous! It’s an illustrated novella for teens. And why shouldn’t teens get illustrations in beautifully printed books?

This is for people who have read the author’s Folk of the Air trilogy. The book begins after that trilogy ends, with Cardan and Jude making a visit to the mortal world to fight a monster – but gives us much of the back story of Cardan, King of Elfhame, when he was growing up as a young and out-of-favor prince of faerie.

The book reads like a fairy tale, with an inner story – the one Cardan learned to hate – repeated three times, with significant variations.

It also has a confrontation at the end that requires cleverness in order to come out alive.

This is a lovely reading experience for all Holly Black’s fans.

blackholly.com
lbyr.com
thenovl.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 The Passover Guest, by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

The Passover Guest

by Susan Kusel
illustrated by Sean Rubin

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 36 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from my own copy, signed to me by the author
Starred Review

I’ll be honest right up front: The author of this book is a friend of mine. I met her at KidLitCon in 2008 (I think) when she had been accepted to attend the William Morris Seminar to learn about book evaluation, but my application had not been accepted. But I joined her monthly book club talking about children’s books. In 2012 was my turn to attend the seminar. Then I got on the ballot for the Newbery Committee the same year Susan was on the ballot for the Caldecott committee. Susan got elected to the committee, but I missed it by 15 votes. Well, a few years later, my turn did come along and I served on the 2019 Newbery committee. So I’m getting to where I delight in Susan’s successes, as she shows how these things are possible! Oh, and that reminds me – Susan took obvious, joyful delight in each of those successes in a way that spreads the joy to those who see it. Her joyous posts on Facebook about signing copies of the new book ordered through a local independent bookstore prompted me to order a copy of my own.

And the book – with all that build-up, I wasn’t surprised to find it wonderful. It’s a retelling of The Magician, by I. L. Peretz, about a mysterious and magical person showing up at Passover time. Susan sets this story in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression in Washington, D.C., which is so beautiful in the Springtime. (And she researched that peak cherry blossoms that year hit the first night of Passover.) The illustrator did a wonderful job showing the beauty and grandeur of the monuments among the cherry trees – and then the poverty and plainness of a poor Jewish family with the father out of work.

A miracle happens, and we see the whole thing through the eyes of a little girl named Muriel who sees more than most. Ultimately, the whole community comes together and shares in the traditional celebration.

A lovely story of magic and blessing.

HolidayHouse.com

Order a signed copy from One More Page Books

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Review of The Camelot Betrayal, by Kiersten White, read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

The Camelot Betrayal

Camelot Rising, Book Two

by Kiersten White
read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Listening Library, 2020. 15 hours, 28 minutes.
Review written February 18, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

When I finished reading for the 2020 Cybils Awards, the first thing I did was put on hold the sequel to The Guinevere Deception, which was published while we were deliberating. Best of all, I could get it in audiobook form and hear more of the mesmerizing voice of Elizabeth Knowelden, whose reading is so perfect for a tale of fantasy and mystery.

In the first book, Guinevere, who is not really Guinevere, was finding her place in Camelot and fighting the Dark Queen. In this book there are more adventures, and Guinevere must save herself from them, relying on her own magic. And while she’s battling other dangers and rescuing innocents and fighting evil, within Camelot there’s another threat – the sister of the real Guinevere has come to visit.

I love the way even though this is based on the well-known Arthurian legend, I have no idea what to expect. Sir Launcelot, for example, is a woman, and the legend of Tristan and Isolde isn’t at all what we expect it to be. And of course Guinevere herself is not really the princess she is thought to be… or is she? And does she really belong in Camelot by Arthur’s side?

Like so many good trilogies, this second book ends on a cliff-hanger, including, yes, a betrayal. Though we’re not completely sure who’s doing the betraying and who is betrayed. The plot is getting twisted, and it will be hard to wait for what I hope is the final volume, with some untwisting of knots.

I loved listening to this even more than the first book. I do get annoyed with Guinevere at times, getting obsessed with trouble coming where there isn’t necessarily trouble to be found – but then when trouble comes from a different direction, her worry seems worth it and I realize that as a reader I was expertly misdirected. I should probably say no more about that, so I’ll simply state that this book is full of adventure and danger and magic and makes for a magnificent listening experience.

listeninglibrary.com

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Source: This review is based on a library eaudiobook 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 Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Saturday, February 13th, 2021

Mañanaland

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic Press, 2020. 247 pages.
Review written March 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#11 Children’s Fiction

This lovely book tells the story of a boy growing into the legacy of his family of helping people in need.

Here’s how the book begins:

Somewhere in the Américas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after, a boy climbed the cobbled steps of an arched bridge in the tiny village of Santa Maria, in the country of the same name.

He bounced a fútbol on each stone ledge.

In the land of a hundred bridges, this was his favorite. When he was only a baby, Papá, a master stonemason and bridge builder, had carved his name on the spandrel wall for all to see

MAXIMILIANO CÓRDOBA

Max is twelve years old and ready this year to join Santa Maria’s famous fútbol team. He also ready for more responsibility and more freedom, like going to another town for a free fútbol clinic with his friends, but his Papá is overprotective and won’t let him go. Papá is also full of secrets, and never talks about Max’s mother, who left when Max was a baby.

In this book, Max discovers many family secrets and is placed in a situation where he must rise to the occasion and follow the family tradition of helping others.

I like the little blend of fantasy in this book, with a beginning like a fairy tale. The setting is fictional, but there’s a country troubled by war and oppression over the nearby border. Max and his grandfather like to tell stories, though his Papá is more of a realist and doesn’t seem to believe in happy endings any more. But Max discovers that some of the stories are hiding important truths.

I also like the tower standing over the town, a tower like a giant queen from a chessboard. The picture on the cover added to Max’s thinking of her as a giant lady watching over the town and its people.

This book had just the right blend of mystery, danger, adventure, and hope.

scholastic.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 A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

A Phoenix First Must Burn

Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope

edited by Patrice Caldwell

Viking, 2020. 354 pages.
Review written December 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Teen Speculative Fiction

I don’t usually have the patience for short stories, but I took up this collection as part of my reading for the first round of the Cybils Awards, and read a story between each full-length book I read, sort of as a way to cleanse my palate. And I ended up being delighted.

I shouldn’t have been surprised – there are some powerhouse writers included in this book. The ones I’ve read before are Elizabeth Acevedo, Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, and Ibi Zoboi, and they and the rest of the authors told stories that contained magic along with a big punch.

Here’s an extended section from editor Patrice Caldwell’s Introduction:

But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were, more often than not, rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder. Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?

Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.

Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. We are constantly under attack.

And yet still we rise from our own ashes.

We never accept no.

With each rebirth comes a new strength.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hair-stylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.

This collection does not disappoint. And take it from this white lady, you don’t have to be a Black girl to thoroughly enjoy these stories in their variety, their surprise, and their magic.

patricecaldwell.com
penguinteen.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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