Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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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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

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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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Review of The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten White, read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

The Guinevere Deception

by Kiersten White
read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Delacorte Press, 2019. 10 hours, 51 minutes.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Teen Speculative Fiction
Starred Review

This is the second book I’ve listened to that’s read by Elizabeth Knowelden (the first being Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold), and she’s my new favorite female narrator. Her voice makes anything sound magical. Interestingly, The Guinevere Deception has a beginning similar to Damsel, with both having a young teenage girl being brought to a castle to wed a king.

In The Guinevere Deception, the girl is going to wed King Arthur. But as the title hints, the girl is not actually Guinevere. Merlin, who has been banished from Camelot along with all magic, has substituted this girl for Guinevere so that she will be in place to protect King Arthur from a coming threat.

We don’t even learn the girl’s original name, as she takes on the identity of Princess Guinevere and marries Arthur. She learns about Camelot and what’s expected of a queen, while always on the look out for threats to Arthur, especially magical threats, which is where she can best protect him.

Even knowing a skeleton version of Arthurian legend, I had plenty of surprises reading this book. Guinevere is proficient in certain simple types of magic, but how can she protect Arthur when she doesn’t even know what threat is coming, and when he is often away from Camelot and from his queen? There’s a patchwork knight winning jousts, and Guinevere is sure he is not what he seems. And what about the Dark Queen – was she really defeated as decisively as Arthur thinks? How, then, was a village destroyed by the forest right on the border of Camelot?

And meanwhile, why is Guinevere forgetting her past and who she was before she took on the identity of Guinevere?

I was delighted to learn that this is Book One of a trilogy – so now I’ll get to listen to more!

kierstenwhite.com
GetUnderlined.com

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Review of The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

The Beast Player

by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2019. 344 pages. First published in Japanese in 2009.
Review written July 8, 2020, from a library book
2020 Printz Honor Book

The Beast Player is set in a detailed fantasy world. Elin’s mother is a steward of the Toda, fearsome beasts that are used for war. But when the Toda under her care get fatally ill, Elin’s mother is executed. Before they can carry it out, she sends Elin on the back of a Toda to a faraway land.

In that land, Elin encounters a friendly old beekeeper who was once a teacher. He finds an eager pupil in Elin. When she grows to be a teenager, he gets her a place learning to care for the Royal Beasts of that country, which are even more fearsome than the Toda.

Elin doesn’t think it’s right to force the beasts to do the will of humans with the Silent Whistle that paralyzes them. She takes on the care of an injured cub and by listening and care, learns to communicate with that beast.

But meanwhile, there are political intrigues at work in the two parts of the country. Elin being able to communicate with a Royal Beast is going to become political if anyone with power finds out. And when the leader of the country is threatened in sight of Elin and her beast, they do find out.

I love the character of Elin in this book, determined to let beasts and people make their own choices, but caught up in large events she’d rather avoid. The world is rich and detailed. I understand there are going to be more books coming out, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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

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Review of Knights vs. Monsters, by Matt Phelan

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Knights vs. Monsters

by Matt Phelan

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 168 pages.
Review written June 1, 2019, from a library book.

Knights vs. Monsters is a sequel to Knights vs. Dinosaurs, where a band of knights from King Arthur’s Round Table brag a little too much about fighting dragons, and Merlin sends them back in time to try their skills against terrible lizards – dinosaurs.

In this book, the same knights are feeling a little bored in Camelot and aren’t having much luck searching for the Grail – so when a magic boat appears on a river, they board it and end up on an adventure in the Orkney Isles.

There they find a sorceress, Queen Morgause. She’s heard of their exploits, and now conjures up monsters for them to fight every night. All as part of a grand plot that threatens Camelot itself. Can the knights survive against fearsome monsters?

You’ll enjoy this a bit more if you’ve read the first book and met our characters. This will help you appreciate the title of a song a minstrel wrote, “Melancholy the Erstwhile Squire Who Is Now an Accomplished Archer.”

This book is a light-hearted diversion taking off from the legends of Arthur. With lots of battling monsters.

mattphelan.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, October 12th, 2020

Return of the Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 464 pages.
Reviewed October 12, 2020, from my own copy, preordered via amazon.com
Starred Review

She did it. Megan Whalen Turner brought her Queen’s Thief series to an amazing conclusion. And I’m sad it’s come to an end, but happy about what an amazing series this is.

The publisher persists in talking about these as stand-alone books. There’s a sense in which they are – since this new book introduces a new character as narrator and shows his perspective on some of the events that happened in earlier books. But if you’re tempted to jump into the series in the middle, don’t do it! Start at the beginning and you’ll understand the multiple threads coming together in this amazing conclusion. (I suspect the publisher does this because it took the author twenty years to write the six books. Look at it this way: If you’re only starting the series now, you can read them ALL and don’t have to wait years for the next installment.)

I never want to say a lot about the plot of these books, so as to not give away things that went before. I will say that the long-anticipated invasion of the Medes happens in this book. So the countries of the peninsula need to unite – and they still have some trouble with that.

I love the narrator in this book. He’s a new character, Pheris, the mute and deformed grandson and heir of the powerful and treacherous Baron Erondites of Attolia. Pheris has been forced to come to the court of Attolia, and he sees and understands more than most people realize.

There’s cryptic intervention from the gods, as usual. And plots and intrigue and questions of trust. The plot isn’t quite as twisty as the other books in the series – but in war with the Median empire, there’s so much at stake that every decision requires wisdom and has weighty consequences.

And she’s such a good writer! The whole world and the political relationships feel authentic and nuanced. The characters are realistically imperfect – especially Eugenides, who never really wanted to be a king at all, let alone a high king.

I don’t have to write a review at all really. For those who have read any of the other books, all I have to do is say: The conclusion to The Queen’s Thief series is out!

I’m currently a panelist for the Cybils Awards Round One, so I’m going to have to wait until January to sit down and reread the entire series. I’m looking forward to it!

meganwhalenturner.org

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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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