Review of Lintang and the Pirate Queen, by Tamara Moss

Lintang and the Pirate Queen

by Tamara Moss

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 360 pages.
Review written October 15, 2019, from an advance reader copy

Lintang lives on the Twin Islands, not part of the United Republic, and she’s known as a storyteller and a troublemaker. Lintang wants nothing more than to see the world.

When the Pirate Queen comes to their island, she needs an islander on board to get past the giant mythie Nyssamdra, the island’s guardian. Lintang is thrilled when she gets chosen.

But when she discovers a stowaway, her best friend Bayani, she has to decide if she will risk the Pirate Queen’s trust and tell her about the stowaway or be loyal to her friend. To make matters worse, Bayani won’t tell her why he wants to get to the island of Zaiben so badly.

The fantasy world of this story is inhabited by “mythies,” and most chapters are preceded by an entry from The Mythie Guidebook — and then that particular mythie shows up in the chapter. It begins with a tiny pixie – known for mischief – and continues through giant and fearsome creatures such as dragons and sirens.

The existence of sirens is the reason that most ships are crewed by women – who aren’t affected by the call of the siren. I do love that this book included a transgender man – who was in fact affected by the siren, though some thought he wouldn’t be.

It turns out that Bayani knows a secret about mythies that changes everyone’s perspective on them and can shake up the world. But will anyone believe him?

This is a fun fantasy adventure story about an impulsive girl seeing the world, learning to think before she acts, and loyally helping her friends.

I do have a few little issues about the way the fantasy world works, but I doubt that those issues will bother most readers.

Not everything is neatly wrapped up in this book, so I suspect and hope there will be more to come.

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Review of The Excalibur Curse, by Kiersten White, read by Elizabeth Knowelden

The Excalibur Curse

Camelot Rising, Book Three

by Kiersten White
read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Listening Library (Penguin Random House), 2021. 10 hours, 55 minutes.
Review written January 14, 2022, based on a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The Excalibur Curse is the conclusion to the amazing Camelot Rising Trilogy and was everything I hoped it would be.

The entire trilogy stands everything you know about Arthurian Legend on its head. In this volume, Guinevere has trapped her loyal knight Lancelot in a shield dome protecting Camelot while she sets off to find out who she really is – she has known all along that she was not the real Guinevere.

Or is she? In this book, Guinevere finds out exactly how she came to be and the terrible cost for her identity. She wants to make it right.

But there are dark forces at work, and Guinevere has trouble knowing who to trust. So many with great power do not care about little humans. Guinevere’s purposes throughout this book get twisted and diverted, but she’s always trying to do what’s right.

Guinevere makes a new friend in this volume, Feena, a princess of the northern kingdom who is at first her captor. I am crazy about every word of Elizabeth Knowelden’s narration, but I especially loved Feena’s Scottish accent representing the northerners.

I don’t want to say too much since this is the third volume of a trilogy that you should definitely read in order. Let me just say that this trilogy will forever change the way I think about King Arthur’s court. It brings a feminine and compassionate outlook to the whole story and shows the power of being a human girl – a power that is often overlooked.

Such a wonderful trilogy! I can say that confidently after now finishing the whole thing. And I do recommend listening to it because Elizabeth Knowelden’s narration is unbeatable. I listened to this even when I should have put it off because of award reading I had to do. Magnificent in every way, but it also makes you think about the human cost in epic history.

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Review of Beasts and Beauty, by Soman Chainani

Beasts and Beauty

Dangerous Tales

by Soman Chainani
illustrated by Julia Iredale

Harper, 2021. 320 pages.
Review written January 6, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Teen Fiction

This is a book of fairy tales – delightfully twisted, sinister fairy tales. I had read the first few stories some weeks before, but it ended up being the last book I finished in 2021 – I knew from the beginning that I’d want it to be a Sonderbooks Stand-out.

Here’s how the first story, “Red Riding Hood,” begins:

On the first day of spring, the wolves eat the prettiest girl.

They warn the town which girl they want, slashing the door to her house and urinating on the step. No one sees the wolves, just as no one sees the dew before it sops the grass. As winter wanes, the town thinks the curse is broken, seduced by the mercy of spring. But then the marking comes. Sometimes a few weeks before she will be eaten, sometimes a few days, for wolves decide on a prey in their own time. But once a girl is chosen, she is theirs. Neither child nor family can appeal. On the eve of spring, the wolves howl for their meal and the town marshals her to the edge of the forest and sends her in. Fail to deliver her and worse things will come than the loss of a pretty girl, though no one knows what these worse things could be. Soon the second howl echoes from the forest’s belly: quieter, sated, the wolves’ work done. The people disperse. The girl forgotten. A price to pay for time unfettered.

It’s unquestionably a sinister beginning. But the weak and apparently powerless have a way of triumphing in these stories.

We’ve got Snow White with black skin, Rapunzel’s witch a man, Jack of the Beanstalk looking for his missing father, living with an abusive mother, Hansel and Gretel’s missing mother a baker living in a house of sweets, a new twist on Wendy’s adventures with Peter Pan.

“Dangerous” is a good choice for describing these tales. They’re not the fairy tales you’ve heard before. They’re subversive and triumphant.

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Review of The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo

The Beatryce Prophecy

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Candlewick Press, 2021. 247 pages.
Review written November 2, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This is probably my favorite book written by Kate DiCamillo, who has won the Newbery Medal twice. It’s a fantasy tale, with illustrations by two-time Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall, which elevate it another level.

As usual with Kate DiCamillo books, we’ve got a set of quirky characters. The first one we meet is the goat Answelica, and this is how we meet her:

Answelica was a goat with teeth that were the mirror of her soul – large, sharp, and uncompromising.

Answelica terrorizes the monks of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, sending them flying through the air with her very hard head and then biting them with her terrible teeth.

One of those monks, Brother Edik, once wrote a prophecy about a girl who would unseat a king. When Brother Edik finds a girl curled up next to Answelica, holding the goat’s ear, he doesn’t realize this is the prophesied child, but unfortunately we learn the king’s men know this and are looking for her.

Beatryce doesn’t remember anything at first except her name. However, it’s clear that, shockingly, this girl can read and write, which is against the law in the kingdom.

Beatryce gets sent away from the monastery, along with the goat, and gathers two more interesting and quirky characters along the way.

And in the adventure that follows, we find out if she will, in fact, unseat the king.

It’s all woven together in a lovely tale that’s all about love and stories.

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Review of A Song of Flight, by Juliet Marillier

A Song of Flight

by Juliet Marillier

ACE (Penguin Random House), 2021. 446 pages.
Review written October 23, 2021, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com
Starred Review
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #12 Fiction

A Song of Flight culminates another wonderful fantasy trilogy by Juliet Marillier, the Warrior Bards trilogy.

A new problem has arisen. The prince of Dalriada has disappeared, after he and Liobhan’s brother Galen were attacked by strangers and Crow Folk. Galen is frantic to find him, and the warriors of Swan Island are called on to help.

At first Dau is sent without Liobhan, because she is too personally involved. But Liobhan has more experience with the Uncanny, so her skills will be needed.

At the same time, her brother Brocc and his baby daughter have been expelled from the Other World, because he was too compassionate toward the Crow Folk. But then an unscrupulous person sees his connection with them and forces him to help her with some sinister plans.

All these plot threads get woven together in satisfying ways, answering questions that were opened up since the beginning of the series.

Do read the other two books in the trilogy first. After you do, you’ll be as eager as I was to once again get immersed in this magical world.

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Review of The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate

Lesson Two of The Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey (Penguin Random House), 2021. 388 pages.
Review written November 16, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

The Last Graduate is the sequel to A Deadly Education, and it looks like this will be a series with more to come — there sure better be more to come! (Both books ended with a dramatic surprise.) You definitely need to read the books in order, and I will try not to give away anything that happens in the first book from my description of the second.

This series is about a school for wizard children — but it upends everything you expect in such a novel. This school, the Scholomance, is out to kill the students. Or at least it seems so. But our viewpoint character, Galadriel, known as El to her friends, turns out to be an underestimated powerful wizard with a prophecy about her and who is only able to learn spells about death and devastation. Against her intentions, she has made friends with Orion Lake, whose favorite thing is killing the maleficaria (malicious monsters) that seek out the school and try to kill the students.

Since El and Orion are seniors in this book, my past experience with stories of wizard schools made me expect the series would end with this book. But I assure you, the story is far from over, though the next volume may not have a school setting.

Normally, every year the seniors make alliances in preparation for the day when they will be sent to the Graduation Hall — and only some of them will make it through alive.

This year, many expectations were upended because of what El and Orion did at the end of the first book. And the Scholomance has ways of making El take on a new mission.

Who knew that an original wizarding school story can still be told? The world-building in this series is amazing and imaginative. I’m not completely sure why it’s marketed to adults and not young adults, except that all the author’s other books are for adults. Teens can certainly handle the death and destruction found here.

And now I very much have to find out what comes next.

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Review of Terciel & Elinor, by Garth Nix

Terciel and Elinor

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 338 pages.
Review written November 29, 2021, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com.
Starred Review

A prequel to Sabriel! I preordered myself a copy as soon as I found out about it. It’s been a very long time since I read Sabriel, but I still recognized the names of the foes threatening the Old Kingdom.

Terciel is a young man and the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Elinor is a young woman who has grown up on the south side of the border with the Old Kingdom, isolated in a manor house with her mother, a governess and the governess’s uncle, an old groom. She has been told that the mark her great-aunt put on her forehead when she was young is a disfiguring scar – rather than a charter mark giving her access to the magic of the Charter.

Elinor’s mother gets mysteriously sick, and then the Abhorsen-in-Waiting comes abruptly to her house just in time to protect her from the Greater Dead monster that has inhabited her mother’s body.

After barely escaping that incident, with those she loves dead, Elinor goes to Wyverley College to try to learn magic and go to the Old Kingdom. But another incident with the dead has Elinor traveling north sooner than she expected – and she becomes an important part of working with Terciel and the Abhorsen to stop a great threat.

I think you can read these books in whatever order you like, though I already know about the Abhorsens and necromancers and free magic and charter magic – I don’t know if it would be confusing for someone first picking up the books. But this unusual world and its magic and the dead who walk still has the power to captivate me. In fact, I’m soon going to need to reread Sabriel now that I’ve been reminded of this amazing world.

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Review of The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, by Tom Gauld

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess

by Tom Gauld

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 32 pages.
Review written October 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book gives a sweet original fairy tale about perseverance and devotion. It hit just exactly the right note with me.

As we begin, a king and queen (with different color skin from each other) are childless and want a baby. The king goes to see the royal inventor, and the queen goes to see a clever old witch.

They both asked for the same thing: a child.

And so the little wooden robot and the log princess come to life. They love each other and are loved by their parents and play happily together. But at night, the log princess turns back into a log when she goes to sleep and has to be woken up with magic words.

Usually, her brother wakes her first thing in the morning, but one morning he’s distracted by a traveling circus.

When he gets back, the log that is his sister has been thrown out the window!

So begins a long saga to rescue her. And then he winds down, and his sister needs to rescue him. And it all comes full circle in the end and we get a nice surprise at who does the ultimate rescuing before happily ever after.

And it’s just such a nice story that makes me really happy.

My favorite pages, though, are the ones about the adventures they have along the way, “too many to recount here.” For the little wooden robot, they are:

The Giant’s Key
The Family of Robbers
The Old Lady in a Bottle
The Magic Pudding
The Lonely Bear
The Queen of the Mushrooms

These adventures are listed on a page with a small picture for each adventure — so intriguing and fun! There’s a similar page when it’s the log princess’s turn to have adventures.

I suppose part of why you just have to love these characters is their smiley face features and the sweet simplicity of their determination.

This one would be good for young elementary school kids as well as preschoolers, so I’m going to mark it to booktalk next summer.

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Review of Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas

Dragonfell

by Sarah Prineas

Harper, 2019. 261 pages.
Review written December 24, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

People in Rafi’s village are afraid of him. He’s different. He’s got fire-red hair, he likes to hang out up high on the fell where a dragon used to hoard teacups, there’s a spark in his eyes, he isn’t bothered by heat or cold, and most alarming of all, he has been seen to start fires by looking at something.

But when people come from the factory owner from the big city and they notice Rafi, that’s when trouble starts up. They threaten his Da and threaten his village if he doesn’t come with them.

With one thing and another, Rafi sets out on a quest to find and save the dragons. But he’s being followed. The factory owner Mr. Flitch wants something from Rafi, and he’ll take it from Rafi’s village if Rafi won’t give it up.

I like the dragons in this book. They’re varying ages, abilities, and sizes, and they all hoard something distinctive, things like knitted items, or pieces of glass, or spiders. Rafi has to travel far to talk to the different dragons. Mr. Flitch is after the dragons, and they’re in danger. Is there anything Rafi can do about that?

I also especially like Maud, the companion Rafi meets along the way. She says she’s a dragon scientist, and she’s interested in dragons for the love of them. She’s not bothered or scared by the ways Rafi is different, and she helps him along the way.

Despite being chased, this book comes across as a gentle story of a kind-hearted boy who’s dragon-touched and is trying to figure out what that means.

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Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
narrated by Julia Whelan

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written October 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This is the amazing epic tale of a girl who sold her soul to the god of Darkness.

She was at her wits’ end. She lived in a small village in France in 1714. At 23 years old, her family had decided she must marry an older man from the village. Her life stretched out before her bleak and hard. She wanted to live! And she wanted to be free.

But when she prayed desperately to the gods on the day of her wedding, she hadn’t realized that the sun went down and it was the Dark who answered. He was happy to give her the wish – but when she got tired of living, her soul would be forfeit.

However, in granting her wish to be completely free, the Dark cursed her to never be remembered. She could interact with people, but as soon as they turned their back or a door closed between them and Addie, they would completely forget her. And there was more – she couldn’t speak her name or tell her story. If she tried to write words or make any kind of mark, it was instantly erased. In fact, the only person who remembered her and knew her name was the god of Darkness himself.

First, her family and the friends in her village forgot her, as if she had never existed. But Addie quickly learned that it was difficult even to order food or rent a room. Eventually, she learned that she could steal, because that is anonymous. But if someone saw her stealing and was able to stop her, she would still suffer.

She could suffer – but she did not age or get illness or lasting wounds. She had immortality – and the Dark underestimated her stubbornness, as well as her excitement in discovering new things. She wasn’t willing to forfeit her soul. She even learned, over the years, that ideas are more lasting than memory. While she never could have an accurate painting or photograph made of her, she could and did inspire art and music.

But one day in New York City, almost 300 years from the day she was cursed, she brings a book back to a bookstore that she stole from it the day before – and the bookstore clerk remembers her! And it continues! She finds she can even tell him her name.

And so, after almost three hundred years, Addie LaRue’s life changes. But the reason why this boy can remember her brings with it a new set of problems.

This story tells about Addie’s long life and adventures interspersed with scenes from the present (2014), weaving a rich tapestry of an amazing life, which may not have been entirely invisible.

And of course it raises many questions. Would it be worth living a long life if you couldn’t leave any mark on the world? Is it possible to love people who forget you? What are the things that make life worth living? And of course the big one: What would you be willing to give up your soul to get?

The audiobook was wonderful, giving Addie a slight French accent and distinguishing the characters well, but it’s very long. I enjoyed a trip through Skyline Drive in early Autumn to finish it off, and it made the drive all the more incredible.

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