Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

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.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.


I got some writing done, I canned more tomatoes and pasta sauce.  I battled yellow jackets and baby snakes.  I even read some.  Here are the books that joined me through this week.

I finished…

cup of our lifeThe Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp – I’ve been using this book for my morning devotions the past six weeks.  I’ve used it before, but since I’m at a different place in my life, the reflections are still fresh and relevant.  Once again, I am moved by the symbolism of a cup for many things in my life.

staff of serapisStaff of Serapis by Rick Riordan – I found this one while poking around on Amazon looking for something else.  I still have to wait until October for The Blood of Olympus, but this long short story–or is it a short novella–might hold me over until then.  This time Annabeth Chase and Sadie Kane come together to defeat a monster that combines Greek and Egyptian elements.  The question remains, is Riordan just teasing us with these shorts, or is he planning another series joining the Greek demigods and the Egyptian magicians?

I’m currently reading…

les-miserablesLes Miserables by VIctor Hugo – I know this is one reason my reading (in terms of number of books) has slowed down.  I have spent quite a bit of time this week with Gavroche (a Paris street urchin) as he rescued his unknown younger brothers and escaping from prison with Thenadier.  He may be a rascal and the “master of the house,”  but he does have street smarts.  I am now 67% of the way through.  I’m still working to finish it by the end of the year.

code name verityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – I am almost done–just 25 minutes or so left.  I loved Morven Christie’s narration of Queenie/Julie.  She wrung every drop of emotion out of the character without being overwrought.  Then when Lucy Gaskell started narrating Maddy’s/Kitty Hawk’s part, I was blown away.  Her voice brought Maddy to life in my mind.  I will be sad to finish with this story again.

2014 childrens writers market2014 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market edited by Chuck Sambuchino – I have learned so much from reading the articles and interviews–making the most of conferences, creating compelling characters, taking the plunge into self-publishing, and more.  I am almost through the informational part for writing craft and business and to the list of publishers, agents, editors, magazines.

buggedBugged!  How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee – I am having too much fun reading this one.  I have to bite my tongue to keep from sharing gross facts about bugs and the diseases they spread at inopportune times.  Even though much of the information is groww, I find myself laughing, too.


How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals by Mal Warwick – This one is due back at the library today, and I think I’m going to hand it back in unread.  My heart is with writing stories–both fiction and nonfiction–not in copywriting.  If that opportunity presents itself, I know where I can get the book if I want to learn it later.

Coming up…

I am nearly finished with several books.  I’m not sure what I what I will grab off the shelf next.  I will choose another audio book from the ones I downloaded from Sync YA earlier this summer.  I’m looking for something lighter after the intensity of Code Name Verity.  I’ve also been picking up Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, so it may be next up, too.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

imageI was captivated by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and have been waiting for the release of the second book, Hollow City (Quirk Books 2014).  Ransom Riggs did not disappoint.  Hollow City picks up just where the first book ends–with the peculiar children rowing the boats across the sea to reach the mainland and escape from the wights who are chasing them.

Once they reach the shore, their troubles have just begun.  Jacob, our hero, is now stuck in 1945 unless they can find an ymbryne who can open a time loop and send him back to the present.  While they search, the other peculiar children look to Jacob to lead them to safety–at least some of them do.  Others, including Jacob himself, aren’t sure he is up to the job and are sure he will never live up to his grandfather’s legendary feats.

Not only does Jacob discover the strength and power of his peculiar talent, but each of the children learns the strength they have.  Each of them is given the chance to be a hero and rescue the rest from near disaster and destruction.

Every page uncovers new secrets and reveals unexpected twists.  New characters from gypsies to peculiar animals help the children on their journey to London.  Along the way, nothing is what it seems to be.  The story races along, full of mystery and suspense.  The pictures that accompany the text are eerie and propel the story brilliantly.  I can’t wait for the next installment.

Hidden Talents by David Lubar

imageIn the author’s note in the back (yes, I’m that geeky reader that reads those, too), David Lubar shared that he did not want to write a sequel to Hidden Talents.  I am glad he gave in to reader requests and wrote True Talents (A Tom Doherty Associates Book 2007).

Trash, otherwise known as Eddie Thalmeyer, wakes up in a concrete cell and knows he is in trouble.  He is seeing gorillas on the wall and has vague memories of pain.  A guy named Bowdler insists that he use his mind to move a marble across a table.  If he can use his powers and his strength and his wits, he just might be able to escape.  But who has him and why do they want him?  Who can he turn to once he escapes?

Even though this story focuses on Trash, all the other guys from Edgeview Alternative School find themselves drawn to Philadelphia.  As they come together to first help Trash and then rescue Lucky.  This time the bad guys are much worse than a few school bullies.  Along the way the pull on their powers, and more importantly, they count on each other to discover their true talents.

I enjoyed the shifting points of view that allow glimpses of each of the boys and their different paths to Philly.  Martin still runs his mouth, but he is learning to control it around everyone except his dad.  My favorite, though, is Torchie.  Torchie has taken up a new hobby–playing the accordion.  He is in constant wonder at the generosity of the neighbors, who gladly take up a collection to send him to accordion camp (in Philly, of course) and then to purchase a piano.  Too bad they won’t get to enjoy any more of Torchie’s traveling concerts.  Flinch has put his impeccable timing to use in a stand up comedy routine.  Cheater meets his match when he tries to outplay a group of poker playing friends who don’t like losing money.  Poor Lucky is finally driven over the edge by the voices of lost objects.


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