Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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.

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 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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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 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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Review of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 314 pages.
Review written November 26, 2019, from a library book
2020 John Newbery Honor

This is a book of an old fox telling scary stories to a family of young foxes. One by one, the kits are too scared and leave the storytelling, until only one is left. The storyteller is correct – it’s worth staying to hear the end of the stories.

But these are truly scary stories – too scary for me! There’s an abusive fox-father in a really disturbing situation, and there’s the “yellow smell” that infects foxes so they go crazy and attack other foxes, spreading the “yellow smell.” We follow the stories of two young fox kits in particular who lose the protection of their mothers.

One story made me laugh, though – because the truly horrific villain of that story is – Beatrix Potter!

That’s right, it turns out that Beatrix liked to paint woodland creatures from life. We all knew that, right? Well, according to this author, after she’d finished her paintings for a story, she didn’t set the animal free. No, she’d kill it with ether, then skin it and eat the meat. She’d stuff the skin and keep the stuffed creature in her home. All that is truly horrific for a young fox trapped in a cage in her house who witnesses what happens to a rabbit she’s been painting. So when Beatrix begins painting the fox, she has reason to be afraid!

But I will never look at Beatrix Potter books the same way again!

This is a well-written book. And lots of kids love scary stories. I never happened to be one of them, but next time a kid asks me for a scary book, I have another option. And I was very glad I read all the way to the end.

Added note after learning this is a Newbery Honor book: I approve! The book really is well-crafted, and it’s distinctive and unusual. I still say it’s a better choice for kids who like scary stories than it would have been for me as a child. But I agree that it’s distinguished.

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mackids.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Love Sugar Magic

A Sprinkle of Spirits

by Anna Meriano

Walden Pond Press, 2019. 309 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 11, 2019, from a library book
2019 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalist

This is the second book in the Love Sugar Magic series, and I liked it even better than the first one. Leo discovered in the first book that she’s from a family of brujas and their family magic is concentrated in the things they bake in their bakery. She’s been studying the principles of magic to try to keep any more disasters from happening.

But despite Leo’s efforts to do everything right, something huge happens – Her abuela comes back to life and shows up in Leo’s bedroom. And so do several other once-dead people from the whole town. What’s going on? And more important, how can Leo help these spirits in the flesh get back to the other side of the veil before it’s too late?

You’ve got to admit – that’s a big problem. I liked the way this book kept the action going and didn’t pause with too much soul-searching. We learned more about the family business, and I loved the way Leo was able to turn to her friends for help.

There was a big coincidence with Leo’s best friend Caroline, but that coincidence caused a lot of trouble. In books, coincidences that cause trouble are infinitely more palatable than coincidences that solve problems. All the characters gain some depth in this installment, and I am now more convinced that I want to keep reading the series.

Some on our Cybils panel hadn’t read the first book, but still enjoyed this one. It’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, though you might as well.

harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

by Kwame Mbalia

Rick Riordan Presents (Disney Hyperion), 2019. 482 pages.
Review written November 13, 2019, from a library book
2019 Cybils Finalist Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
2020 Coretta Scott King Author Honor

Big Kudos to Rick Riordan for recruiting authors from many different ethnicities to write books similar to his own – mythology comes to life, only now the mythology featured is from a different cultural background, which the author is writing from.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky tells about an African American kid who punches an ancient bottle tree in the South and then falls into a world where the characters from the stories his Nana tells are real – and that world is in danger.

It turns out that Tristan has a gift from Anansi of storytelling, and that will be key to saving the mythical characters.

I do love that this book builds off of African American tales. The non-stop danger and adventure will appeal to Rick Riordan’s fans.

I personally wasn’t completely convinced by the world-building and was a little bewildered about how the whole life-or-death crisis got started and how it was to be resolved. I also wasn’t fully present with Tristan’s emotions – I felt like I was told about them more than shown what they would be. But a lot of kids won’t care about details like that, and I will still gladly recommend it to kids who want a rip-roaring adventure in a world where fantasy turns out to be real and kids are needed to save the day.

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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 Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano

Monday, February 10th, 2020

Love Sugar Magic

A Dash of Trouble

by Anna Meriano

Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2018. 310 pages.
Review written January 30, 2018.
2018 Cybils Finalist, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

A Dash of Trouble begins a new series about Leonora Logroños, a sixth-grader who learns that she’s from a family of brujas. The women in her family can do magic, and they can put magic into the things they bake.

But Leo only finds this out by being sneaky. She’s the youngest, and the whole family seems to be keeping secrets from her, working at their Mamá’s bakery during the big festival on the Day of the Dead. She’s tired of everyone leaving her out. She’s not a baby, after all!

And when Leo’s best friend gets her feelings hurt by a boy who lives next door, Leo thinks this is a perfect time to use magic to help the situation.

And that’s where she gets into a dash of trouble.

There were some things that annoyed me about this book – mostly, all of Leo’s sneaking. But when I think about it more, I remember how I subverted the early bedtime my mother tried to impose when I was in sixth grade. (It was No Fair in comparison with how late my two older siblings got to stay up.) So I have to give her some sympathy. Even if I was wanting to shake her at times during the story.

There’s a lot of Spanish language used in the book – the old family recipe book is written in Spanish – but Leo doesn’t speak Spanish, either, so what’s mystifying to me is also mystifying to her. So I think it enhances the book. (Readers who do understand Spanish will enjoy having that edge.)

This is a fun and light-hearted story about Leo finding out she’s got a heritage of magic – but finding out a little earlier than her family intended. The book is labelled “Book One,” so I think Leo’s going to learn more about magic.

harpercollinschildrens.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 Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

The Lost Girl

by Anne Ursu

Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2019. 356 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 22, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Children’s Fiction

The Lost Girl is about identical twins, Lark and Iris, and the story is told from Iris’s perspective. She’s always taken care of her sister, and they can tap messages to each other in a secret code. But now as they’re starting fifth grade, their parents are letting them be assigned to different classes.

The girls are identical but not the same.

Lark always knew when their parents had been arguing. Lark could tell you what the consequences for stealing were in different fairy tales, and that the best bad guys had interesting backstories. Lark always knew which books she wanted to check out from the library next.

No, they were not the same. But Iris always knew when Lark was feeling too anxious to speak in class, and Lark always knew when Iris’s anger was getting the better of her. Iris always knew when Lark was too busy daydreaming to pay attention, and Lark always knew when Iris was too reliant on finding order when things were in chaos. Iris talked for Lark. Lark talked down Iris.

This is the way it was.

No, they were not the same. But yes, they were twin sisters, and for Iris and Lark that meant something, something far deeper than what lay at the surface. They each knew the monsters that haunted the shadowy parts of the other’s mind, and they knew how to fight those monsters.

The school year does not get off to a good start with the girls having to be in different classes. Lark gets laughed at, and she’s in the class with the bully. Iris doesn’t even know who she is without Lark to defend. After school, Lark goes to art class, and Iris gets tricked into going to an all-girl group at the library called Camp Awesome.

After Camp Awesome is done, Lark is supposed to bike home, but sometimes she talks to the strange man at the new antiques store with an unusual sign in front. He puts simple science experiments out on the shop counter, and he says that they are magic. He’s looking for someone named Alice. He lets Iris look at books in his shop, and she finds one with Alice’s writing in it, saying things like “Magic has a cost.”

As the book goes on, Iris feels like she’s losing herself. Who is she without Lark? She starts keeping secrets from Lark. She doesn’t mean to. But maybe Lark is better off without her. What is going on?

This is a story of a sign and a store. Of a key. Of crows and shiny things. Of magic. Of bad decisions made from good intentions. Of bad guys with bad intentions. Of collective nouns, fairy tales, and backstories.

But most of all this is a story of the two sisters, and what they did when the monsters really came.

This is a story about the power of having a flock.

anneursu.com
harpercollinschildrens.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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