Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer

Amazon affiliate link

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

Amazon affiliate link

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

Amazon affiliate link

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.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

I’m not a big horror fan. I close my eyes in the scary parts of movies and don’t read Stephen King because his stories give me nightmares. But I did get brave enough to listen Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein last summer through SYNC YA’s free downloads over the summer. It was not what I was expecting, to say the least. I found the doctor to be much more monstrous than his creation.

this dark endeavorI’ve had This Dark Endeavor (Scholastic 2011) by Kenneth Oppel on my bookshelf for some time. I wanted to read it because I had heard such good things about it, but I was also nervous (see nightmares above). I am glad I finally read it.

Oppel’s vision of a young Victor Frankenstein is complicated. Yes, Victor loves his twin brother, Konrad, and would go to all lengths to save him. Much of the excitement in the book comes from his (along with the spirited Elizabeth and dreamy Henry) adventures in securing the ingredients to make the elixir of life to give to Konrad. Yet at the same time, Victor is intensely jealous of his twin and wants all the glory for himself. I can see how this Victor grows into the doctor of Shelley’s book.

Did I mention that the adventure starts with the discovery of a secret library? Down a narrow staircase behind a secret door is the Dark Library, filled with tomes of alchemy and magic. Even though the Frankenstein family is quite on the cutting edge of science, Victor is fascinated. He returns again and again even though his father forbids it. Then when Konrad falls ill, Victor becomes desperate to save him–and to be the hero. Victor and his friends make a secret alliance with the mysterious Polidori–a man reknowned for his alchemical works and whose life was ruined by practicing them.

For all of Victor’s complicated nature, I couldn’t help but like him–even knowing where his fascination ultimately leads. My favorite character, though, has to be Elizabeth. She is determined not to be left behind on any adventure and can match Victor’s rages with her own temper. Henry would much rather write or read about adventures than go on them himself, but he goes along and tries to restrain some of Victor’s impulses–not with much success.

I found myself engrossed in this lush, gothic adventure–and no nightmares! I’m looking forward to finding the next installment, Such Wicked Intent.

Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

song of the quarkbeastA gift came in the mail this week, a gift of the best kind, a brown envelop containing a book I have been waiting for most of this year.  You see, last Christmas I had gift cards to spend on books.  Since I had been given Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer in paperback, I chose to preorder the second book in the Chronicles of Kazam in paperback, too.  The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, Hodder and Stroughton 2011) finally released in the US in paperback this month.

That’s a long time to wait to see what the rise of magic might mean to Jennifer Strange and the motley collection of magicians at Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  It was worth the wait.  Even though magic is surging through the Ununited Kingdoms, all is not well.  King Snodd and his Useless Brother are up to their usual tricks.  This time they are joined by an evil magician who goes by the name of Conrad Blix, and the fate of magic–and the world–hangs in the balance. Who is the only one who can stop them?  Jennifer Strange, of course.

The highly capable foundling might have her hands full.  Kazam Mystical Arts Management forced into accepting a challenge from Blix.  Kazam should have no trouble taking on Blix and his few magicians, but the contest just might be rigged.  Two of Kazam’s most powerful wizards get turned into stone.  They others are being rounded up by the police.

Just like the first book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast is packed with quirky humor and unforgettable characters.  Blix is a villain that you will love to hate.  I loved the introduction of the Mysterious Boo. What’s not to love about someone who rescues quarkbeasts and has a deep, dark secret?  We even learn more about the transient moose and finally meet–however briefly–the Great Zambini.

If you’re totally confused right now, don’t worry.  Jasper Fforde excels at the kind of humor that introduces random things that somehow make sense in the end.  Just hang on tight and enjoy the ride.  The only down side is now I have to wait for the release of The Eye of Zoltar.  The sneak peek in the back is just enough to leave me wanting more.

1 2 3 12