Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Going Postal and Making Money by Terry Pratchett

I am late in discovering the great Terry Pratchett, but at least I have gotten here at last. (Many, many thanks to my former student Anthony who first recommended the Discworld novels many, many years ago. They are as good as you promised me!)

Normally tyrants and con men are not among my favorite characters, but within the city of Ankh-Morpork, I have come to adore con man Moist Von Lipwig and even admire the tyrant Lord Vetinari who knows everything that happens–and controls most of it. Going Postal and Making Money give a hilarious account of the sometimes reluctant partnership.

Going Postal opens with Moist von Lipwig being led to his death. He falls through the trap door into a new chance at life–if he will accept Lord Vetinari’s offer to run the Post Office. It is no easy task. The Post Office has been falling apart–literally and figuratively–for years. Mail is no longer being delivered, so it piles up and fills every nook and cranny in the building. The only staff left are a bit strange. And there are powerful business forces that would like to see the whole thing put out of its misery.

Even though von Lipwig is not used to making an honest living, he finds that his skills as a con man can be put to good use as he gets the Post Office up and running. All it takes is a glittering gold suit, the introduction of stamps (even more fascinating to collect than pins), and a willingness to take on the clacks conglomerate. In his spare time, von Lipwig even discovers romance with a fierce defender of golems nicknamed killer and listens to the secrets whispered by the undelivered letters.

When Making Money opens, Moist von Lipwig has the Post Office running smoothly, but he is getting a bit bored. Lord Vetinari steps him to offer him a new challenge–making money by taking over the Mint and shaking up the entire banking industry. Von Lipwig is not sure he wants it (taking it on will ensure that powerful people such as the Lavish family will want to kill him), but fate intervenes when Topsy Lavish leaves her majority shares of the bank to her dog–and names von Lipwig as his caretaker.

Life may get even shorter for von Lipwig if he can’t pull the biggest con of his life on the people of Ankh-Morpork. All he as to do is break the world’s best counterfeiter out of jail, break into his own bank vault to rescue the chief clerk (who is hiding a desperate secret of his own) and discover what happened to all the gold that used to be in the vault. Oh yeah, he also has to talk to the dead to learn–and share–the secret to controlling the golems who now surround the city and threaten the balance of power throughout Discworld.

Life is never dull in Ankh-Morpork. I love the surreal world where things that shouldn’t make sense almost do. Even though the bizarre is commonplace, it has an eerie resemblance to our own world. I laughed out loud through much of these books and can’t wait to read more. I do hope the saga continues with the hinted promise of taking on taxes.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley knows how to weave magic through the words of her stories, and magic flows freely through the four stories in The Door in the Hedge (Firebird 1981). Whether she spins an original tale or retells a an old favorite, I loved wandering through them to discover fairies and magic just around every turn of the page. What awaits in these four tales?

  • The Stolen Princess – Linadel grows up a princess, but as she approaches her seventeenth birthday, the looming shadow of the neighboring fairyland grows darker. While living next to fairies can offer some advantages, it also threatens. Sometimes boys are stolen as infants, but girls are stolen on their seventeenth birthdays. No one knows why or where, just when. What will happen when Linadel leaves behind an empty bed strewn with flower petals and awakens in a strange land? I love these fairies that are both beautiful and eerie. I got chills reading it until the end.
  • The Princess and the Frog – This has to be my favorite take on this fairy tale. Princess Rana has a problem: The evil Prince Aliyander has brainwashed her brother and wants to marry her to take over the kingdom. Her only hope comes when she meets a frog by the pond. The two form an alliance that might defeat the prince, as improbable as that seems. Oh yes, this princess is no spoiled brat. She is resourceful and determined and true to her word.
  • The Hunting of the Hind – The Golden Hind leads all hunters to their doom. If they return, they are beyond help. Even the Prince lies near death after he chases her through the woods. The only one who dares to seek the Golden Hind now is his neglected little stepsister. Even though this princess is unloved by all but her brother, she sets out to find the Golden Hind and demand a cure for her brother. What she finds is not what she expects even as she is able to see truth beyond deception.
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses – A soldier’s life is a hard life, but after twenty years the soldier leaves to explore the Kingdom he has defended these many years. Along the way, he hears a strange story of twelve princesses under a curse and decides to offer his services to his king one last time. He discovers wondrous and terrible things, but it is his kindness and steadfastness that save the princesses.

 

 

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer

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If you hold the opinion that vampires should not sparkle, check out Heather Brewer’s series The Chronicles of Vladimer Todd. Vlad is awkward and gravitates toward the Goth clique at his school, but he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. Part of the problem is that he is half human and half vampire. After the death of his parents, he lives with his aunt Nellie, who conveniently brings home bags of blood (she is a nurse at the hospital) for him to consume along with copious amounts of human food. Otis reveals himself as his vampire uncle and seeks to educate Vlad concerning his vampire heritage.

There’s just one slight problem–Vlad’s very existence breaks the laws of Eylsia, the vampire world that exists in secret alongside the human world. Then there’s that disturbing prophecy of the Pravus, that may or may not refer to Vlad as the savior of vampire kind and the enslaver of human kind. Oh yeah, there’s also a vampire slayer society, and Vlad’s best friend Henry’s cousin Joss is a member and on a mission to take out Vlad. Throw in some regular high school drama (girls and bullies and school dances) and life is never dull for Vlad.Vlad’s story begins in eighth grade with Eighth Grade Bites and continues through each year of school until the final installment Twelfth Grade Kills.

As he begins twelfth grade, Vlad just wants to survive until graduation, but that doesn’t seem likely. The Elysian Council has set a date for his trial, which will likely end in a death sentence for Vlad. The Slayer Society has given Joss an ultimatum–kill Vlad or the society will “cleanse” the town by killing everyone. In the middle of avoiding killers on all sides, Vlad thinks he sees his dead father. Is dear old dad dead or alive? As the clock ticks down, Vlad uncovers secrets that will destroy everything he thought he knew.

One of the things I like the most about this series is Vlad. He is not only a vampire (and one with some unique powers), but he is adorably awkward. He is completely unnerved by girls, especially when his ex-crush and his ex-girlfriend happen to be in the same room. He befriends his sworn enemy (Joss from the Slayer Society), and convinces him that not all vampires are evil.

Even though there is a little romance, the action keeps the pace moving. TVlad has to fight off vampires and slayers who want to kill him. He also has to deal with a school bully who is determined to learn Vlad’s secrets and share them with the world with a less than savory school newspaper (think supermarket tabloid for high schooolers). There is even a hint of mystery as Vlad searches for the truth of the Pravus prophecy that claim Vlad will enslave both vampirekind and humankind. Through it all, Vlad just wants to survive and live in both worlds that he is part of. Will he be the bridge that brings them together or the spark that destroys everything?

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

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I fell in love with Blue Sargent, the Raven Boys and their quest to wake the sleeping Welsh king–Glendower–from the very first book in The Raven Cycle. With each volume, Maggie Steifvater weaves ever more complex layers of magic and mystery throughout the area of Virginia that intersects with Cabewater. This third volume–Blue Lily, Lily Blue–explores the magic of Cabeswater and the ley line even further, until the magic can’t help colliding with the real world in the most unexpected of ways.

The growing power of Cabeswater and the ley line attract more outsiders to their small town. Gansey’s old mentor Professor Malory comes along with his service dog. Greenmantle and his wife Piper show up to track down and punish the Grey Man and are willing to destroy everything he values to do so. The locals are also affected by the growing magic. Noah becomes even more ghostly at times, and Adam nearly gets lost in his promised service to Cabeswater. I love getting to know these characters more and more, but I am most intrigued by Ronan and getting to glimpse beneath his sharp exterior. Don’t worry, he’s not losing his edge, but Stiefvater gives us just enough to understand and even appreciate it.

Once again, the ending leaves me begging for more.  Rather than a disappearance (people do have a tendency to disappear into Cabeswater), the ending provides the sudden reappearance of a character. There are also questions of what to do with the 600 year old crazy woman–Gwenllian, daughter of Glendower–they released back into the world.

This is a book that weaves magic with the modern world and creates characters that I long to go on a quest with. At least I get to journey with them through the pages. I hope we don’t have to wait long for the next installment.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

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The fairy tales (and nursery rhymes and Biblical allusions) are back with the absolutely true (and sometimes bloody) account of Jack and Jill. Yes, they fell down and hill and Jack indeed split his head open, but they were not sent up to fetch a pail of water. Oh no, they climbed a beanstalk, killed the giants, and then fell off the clouds. Why did they do this? Well, it has to do with finding a magic mirror or else they die. Of course, death and gore and horror lurk around every corner where Jack and Jill go in search of this magic mirror. If the giants don’t succeed in squashing them, then they might succomb to evil mermaids or devious goblins. Don’t forget the fire-breathing salamandar and the murderous Others.

At least the narrator is once again a reliable guide. He generously points out the places where it might be best to close your eyes or walk away from the book altogether. Except when he forgets. At least he apologizes after the blood and gore finishes dripping down the page. Just as I did in the first book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, I love the humor the narrator adds as he (or maybe she) interrupts the story to warn and taunt the reader.

Adam Gidwitz has created another hilarious (if somewhat bloody) romp through another collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes with In a Glass Grimmly (Puffin Books 2012). Rather than connecting retold stories as he did in A Tale Dark and Grimm, he uses the fairy tales as inspiration and and jumping off point for original stories involving characters we thought we knew–llike the Frog Prince. He’s really just a frog, but a funny frog.

Even though this is a fun story to read, it explores big ideas that will resonate with readers young and old. For much of the story, Jack and Jill are con-fused. They can’t separate how they want others to see them from how they see themselves. It is only once they learn to see themselves clearly, that they find what they have been searching for all along.

Maybe that’s why fairy tales have such enduring power. Through tales of princesses and giants and enchantments, we learn to see more clearly through the fog that con-fuses us our “real” lives. Which fairy tales–fractured or not–help you to see life more clearly?

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

The False Princes by Eilis O’Neal

false princessSinda is not a princess in need of rescuing. In fact, she is not a princess at all–a fact she learns just after her sixteenth birthday. Instead, Sinda is one smart and brave girl, even if she is a bit clumsy. She’d rather spend her days reading books in the library, but she faces up to her new circumstances and determines to make a new life for herself (once she can figure out who she now is). Along the way, she just might rescue the true princess and save the kingdom from betrayal.

Eilis O’Neal has crafted an unforgettable–if unlikely–heroine with Sinda’s story in The False Princess (Egmont USA 2011). Sinda was raised to be a princess and one day a queen. Nothing in her training prepared her for her new status in life as the unwanted niece of a dye woman in a poor village far from the character. Even though she is seemingly hopeless, she doesn’t give up. When she discovers that she has magic–powerful magic–within her, she sets out on a journey to learn to master her magic before she destroys someone or something. Rejected by the college of magic (they don’t mess with anyone who isn’t of the nobility or doesn’t come with wealth), she turns to the eccentric Phlantha for work and study.

Sinda is not sure of herself. How could she be when everything she thought she was turns out to have been a lie? Even as she searches for the truth about the princess and the plot to steal the throne, her bigger journey is one of self-discovery. In meeting Orianne and Mika, the other two princesses, she learns more about herself through what they share–and what they don’t.

Did I mention that there is also a love story? Sinda is blind to that as well. Kiernan has long been her best friend, but she doesn’t know what to make of the growing awkwardness between them. She alternates between pushing him away and asking for his help. When it comes down to the crucial decision, though, Sinda is willing to stand up for what she believes is the right choice even if she loses Kiernan in the process. I liked the fact the the romance didn’t overshadow the adventure and quest to set the kingdom to rights again.

If you are looking for a princess story in which the princess saves the kingdom, look no further than this magical fantasy.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

blood of olympusThe final days are counting down for the prophecy of seven. The young demigods have split up to save the world one (hopefully) last time. Reyna, Nico, and Coach Hedge are shadow jumping with the Athena Parthenos, hoping to deliver it to Camp Halfblood before the Roman legion attacks. Will they get there before it’s too late? Only if Nico can find the strength to master the shadows before they overcome him, and only if the mighty hunter Orion doesn’t track them down first.

The rest of the crew–Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank, and Leo–are on board the Argo II. They are traveling through the ancient lands of Rome and Greece to stop Gaia from rising. The prophecy says one will go down in storm and fire, but which one will it be? Is there anything they can do to keep them all alive and prevent Gaia from destroying the world?

My daughter has been hounding me to read this last installment by Rick Riordan ever since she bought it for our Kindles. I was determined to finish Les Miserables before I started any other book on Kindle, so it’s taken me a while to get to it. Once I started, thought, I raced through the digital pages of The Blood of Olympus (Disney-Hyperion 2014). I found it a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Like the previous installments, our heroes have no rest in their quest to save the world. Every page brings a new monster to face or a new problem to solve. The fast action makes this hefty book a quick read as does the shifting viewpoints. I know some readers miss the focus on Percy and the original cast of demigods, but I have enjoyed getting to know the new heroes. Some of my favorite storyines are the ones in which the less confident heroes–Hazel, Frank, Piper, Leo–grow into their own strengths. Throughout the series, the Greeks and Romans have had to overcome their distrust of each other, and it this last book, they truly come together.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t read it yet. (You mean I’m not the last one!) But this ending is the most satisfying–no cliffhanger to leave me desperate for the next book. I especially like the future outlook for Leo and Nico. I’ve been pulling for these underdogs/outcasts since I first met them, and I loved seeing them rise to the occasion throughout this book. The ending ties up the loose ends nicely, but it also leaves enough room to wonder and dream about what might come next.

Now that Riordan has explored Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies, I’m excited to see what he will do with his upcoming series based on Norse mythology in the modern world.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

girl who circumnavigated fairylandOnce upon a time there was an avid reader who finally got brave enough to request an ARC from a publisher. The publisher sent the ARC, and the book went straight into the TBR pile. Alas, life for the reader got busier and busier, and the book worked its way down to the bottom of the pile despite the many rave reviews floating around the Internet. One day a long time later the book resurfaced and completely captivated the reader.

And so begins the story of how I finally came to read The Girl Who Circumnagivated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Feiwell and Friends 2011) by Catherynne M. Valente. I’m not sure what took me so long to dive into this book, but I am so glad I finally did. The book did get lost on the bottom of one of many TBR piles in my house. I also had a hard time getting past the title. It’s such a mouthful. Having now read the book, I get the title, but it was a turnoff at first.

Once I fell into the pages of Fairyland with September, it didn’t matter. I was quite captivated and can’t wait to go back again for more adventures. September may be heartless–as most children are–when she leaves her mother withouth a backwards glance, but her heart grows with each creature she meets in Fairyland. She first promises to steal back a stolen spoon for the witches. She sacrifices her shadow to save a Pookah girl from a horrible fate. She gains two friends–A-through-L, the Wyvern, and Saturday, the Marid. Together they travel through the regions of Fairyland, looking for a sword that the Marquess demands. Through it all, September tries to make the right choices, but she is so small to stand against the Marquess and so hungry.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Fairyland is wild and unpredictable but each page brings new delights. Its creatures are even more fantastical. What’s not to love about a loyal Wyvern, who loves to read (and who is half library)? I would love to ride on the back of one of the leopoard winds. But the absolute best of this book was the lanuage.There were so many times when I had to stop and reread just for the sheer pleasure of the way the words flowed together. If I had stopped to copy down all of my favorite lines, I would have filled a book with the quotes.

I am eager to return to Fairyland in the next installments. Our local library doesn’t have them, so I will have to hunt them down from another source, but find them, I will.

More Picture Books Are Coming!

I continued to stick with the theme of the familiar with the rest of the picture books in my stack. Some were books and authors and illustrators that I had been hearing about–usually more than once for them to stick in my mind.

old bearOld Bear by Kevin Henkes – I don’t listen in on a discussion about picture books before someone speaks up in praise of Kevin Henkes. Old Bear was the only title on the shelf, so I grabbed it. Old Bear falls asleep in his den for the winter, but his dreams carry him throughout the seasons. I loved the illustrations that brought the simple text to life. I want to nap in flowers as big as trees and catch blueberries on my tongue as they rain from the sky.

extra yarnExtra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen – I get it now! I have heard readers rave about this book since it first came out, and now I’m ready to join the chorus. Annabelle found a box filled with yarn and her world will never be the same. She gets busy knitting and knitting and soon the drab black and white of winter is bursting with color and snuggled in sweaters. Not even an evil archduke can steal the magic (even though he tries). This is a book I could read over and over again. I’m not sure which I like better–the story or the illustrations. They blend together perfectly to create this magical tale.

click clack mooClick, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin – This is another book that I have heard many readers rave about. I can see why. I chuckled at the cows with the typewriter and at Farmer Brown’s growing frustration with cows that demand electric blankets. Before long the hens and ducks want their demands heard as well. The lighthearted, whimsical illustrations add to the fun–at least for the reader if not for Farmer Brown.

The last three books in this stack are from authors and illustrators that are new to me, but they are the familiar genres of fairy tale and fantasy. I love the concept of fractured fairy tales where things are turned upside down and topsy turvy in a story I thought was familiar.

wolf who cried boyThe Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman and Tim Raglin – This time it’s Little Wolf who raises the false alarm a few too many times. He can’t help it. He’s tired of the same old dishes for dinner and just wants his favorite meal–BOY! But when a boy–a whole troop of them–shows up, his parents are wise to his tricks and won’t look up from the paper. This funny twist on an old favorite will have you howling along with Little Wolf. Not many tots today can relate to tending the sheep, but many of them will relate to Little Wolf trying to get out of dinner and eating snacks instead.

little red riding hoodLittle Red Riding Hood A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst – When this Little Red Riding Hood sets off on her bicycle, nothing will stop her from getting to Grandmother’s house–not even a wolf with nefarious plans. The Midwestern grandmother is pretty tough herself as the wolf soon discovers. But never fear, a surprise twist leaves everyone living happily ever after. There’s even a recipe for wheatberry muffins (if you promise to make sure no wolves are lurking around when you add the secret ingredient).

dancing tigerThe Dancing Tiger by Malachy Doyle and Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher – I picked this one up based on the title and cover. I could not resist the image of a tiger and little girl dancing under a starry sky. The lyrical paintings and inviting verse invite you to dance along through the seasons, but only when the moon shines bright. It’s also an invitation to pass on treasured traditions from one generation to another.

I am excited by the pictures books I’ve discovered so far. What picture books do you recommend?

The Picture Books Are Coming!

Did you know that November is National Picture Book Month? I didn’t until Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts shared her plans to read #bookaday–and share out on her blog–for the month. I decided to join in the fun.

When it comes to middle grade and young adult literature, I can list hundreds of books on hundreds of topics and genres and by hundreds of authors. But when it comes to picture books, not so much. I’ve been seeing the pictures books shared by other readers and have wanted to explore this format more.

I headed to the children’s room in our  public library and quickly became overwhelmed. All those thin books sticking out at odd angles up and down the shelves. Where do I  even begin? I sat down at one end of the shelves and began browsing. (Of course, I didn’t write down any of the titles I discovered through IMWAYR or other blog posts.) Even so, it didn’t take long to create a stack of books to bring home.

I discovered some familiar friends among the authors. Some wrote books that I enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was younger. Other were authors I recognized from their books for middle grade or young adult readers. The picture books did not disappoint.

hello red foxHello, Red Fox by Eric Carle – My daugher (and me, too) loved Eric Carle. We had board books and hardback and paperback picture books. As soon as she saw Hello, Red Fox, she recognized Carle’s distinctive artwork. I was surprised there was another Carle book that we hadn’t read. Little Frong invites his friends to his birthday party, but Mama Frog thinks they are the wrong color! Using an optical illsusion based on the color wheel, the reader helps Mama Frog “see” the right colors. As a kid, I loved these illusions. I enjoyed the concept even now, but my eyes are getting old! It’s hard to stare at the colors page after page.

louise the adventure of a chickenLouise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss – How could I go wrong with a story by Kate DiCamillo? Louise is a brave chicken who yearns for more adventure than she can find in the hen house and farm yard. She discovers pirates sailing over the seas, lions rampaging at the circus, mysterious strangers lurking at a bazaar. After each adventure, she is glad to return home…until the next adventure calls.

holly & ivyThe Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney – Godden’s The Diddakoi was one of my most treasured books from my grandmother’s library. Discovering The Story of Holly & Ivy was like having tea with an old friend. The magic of Christmas wishes brings together three unlikely characters on a cold Christmas night. The oprhan ivy wishes for a family of her own, so she sets out for Appleton to find the grandmother she is sure is waiting for her. Holly wishes to leave her perch in the toy store window so she can be some little girl’s Christmas doll (even if the scary owl Abracadabra says impossible). Mrs. Jones wishes for a child and decorates a tree even though she’s not quite sure what she’s hoping for this Christmas.

strega nona's giftStrega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola – Of course I remembered Strega Nona. This one turned out to be another Christmas story. (I’m really not trying to rush the season, but I do love Christmas stories.) Strega Nona is cooking and cooking and cooking for all the feasts through the month of December in her village of Calabria. She even cooks a feast for the animals, but something goes wrong when Big Anthony can’t resist the goat’s treat. What will it take to set the world right again?

I have even more great picture books to share tomorrow. What picture books should I be looking for to read next? Let me know your suggestions in the comments.

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