The Paper Magician: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergLong before her admission to the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony Twill wanted to be a Smelter.

Instead, the nineteen-year-old is told that she will be a Folder apprenticed to Magician Emery Thane. Worse, once Ceony bonds to paper her fate will be sealed. She will never be able to manipulate any other magic.

Nothing about Ceony’s apprenticeship with Magician Thane is quite what she expected. Instead of a cold and disinterested teacher, Mg. Thane is kind and keen to show Ceony that even lowly paper magic can have its wonders.

Ceony also learns, firsthand, that there is a darker side to magic when an Excisioner–a magician who manipulates flesh–rips Emery’s heart from his chest. Desperate to save her teacher, Ceony sets out after the Excisioner on a journey that will lead Ceony far from the safety of her apprenticeship and deep into the secret chambers of Emery’s heart in The Paper Magician (2014) by Charlie N. Holmberg.

The Paper Magician is Holmberg’s first novel and the start of her Magician trilogy which continues with The Glass Magician and The Master Magician.

The Paper Magician is a charming fantasy with strong crossover appeal. Elements of alternate history and steampunk aesthetics comes together to create a frothy and engrossing novel.

Ceony is a thoughtful and pragmatic heroine. Although she is decidedly unenthused about her future as a Folder, Ceony is smart enough to know an opportunity to wield magic–any magic–is not one to be taken lightly. When her circumstances abruptly change after Emery’s heart is stolen, Ceony also demonstrates pluck and resolve as she sets out to rescue it and save her teacher’s life.

Although outlandish at times (particularly while Ceony is inside Emery’s heart) and not always perfectly paced, The Paper Magician remains a strong debut and a solid series starter. Ideal for readers of all ages. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, steampunk and Victorian sensibilities.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Marvels: A Review

The Marvels by Brian SelznickThe story starts in 1776 with Billy Marvel, the only survivor of a shipwreck. Alone in the world and looking to start over Billy finds himself drawn to a London theater beginning a dynasty of actors and theater performers that will span five generations.

In 1990 Joseph Jervis runs away from his boarding school to the home of an estranged uncle he has never met. Uncle Albert’s house is like nothing Joseph has ever seen. As he struggles to find his place in the world, Joseph will also have to unravel the mystery of the strange Marvel family and how their story is intricately linked to Joseph’s family and his own future in The Marvels (2015) by Brian Selznick.

The Marvels is Selznick’s third novel in his innovative blend of traditional prose narrative and wordless illustrations. This time the illustrations and prose offer two distinct stories that blend together in surprising ways by the end of the novel.

The Marvels begins with wordless illustrations following the larger-than-life Marvel family and their exploits on the London stage from 1776 with Billy Marvel down to 1900 when young Leo Marvel wonders if it is time to choose another path.

The prose narrative picks up in 1990 as Joseph arrives in London desperate to find somewhere he can call home–even if it is with a prickly uncle he has never met in a strange house filled with artifacts whose important Joseph will come to understand over the course of the book.

The less you know about The Marvels before you read it, the better. This book is one that should be experienced cold as readers work with Joseph to make sense of Uncle Albert’s mysterious house and all of the secrets it holds.

The Marvels is an obvious progression of Selznick’s work as he masterfully brings together two seemingly unrelated narratives to create a cohesive story that is as complex as it is enthralling. Definitely a must-read of 2015.

If you want to know more about Selznick’s inspiration and process, check out this article: http://www.vulture.com/2015/08/brian-selznicks-latest-the-marvels.html

You can also check out the trailer which Selznick created to get a sense of the sweeping beauty of this novel.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Weedflower by Jacqueline Woodson

Lock & Mori: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lock & Mori by Heather W. PettyModern London can be a strange and dangerous place. For Miss James “Mori” Moriarty it can also be decidedly dull. Between school, where she knows all of the answers, and home, where life with her father can feel like stepping into a mine field, Mori’s only refuge is solitude.

After one especially bad day, Mori meets Sherlock “Lock” Holmes.

That night they meet again in Regent’s Park at the scene of a murder.

When Lock challenges Mori to solve the murder before him, she has no intention of participating in his game–particularly with the only rule being that they share all information. She has no intention of having anything to do with Lock at all.

Mori’s intentions quickly change when she is drawn into the investigation and realizes the truth might be closer than she could possibly imagine. Mori begins keeping secrets even as she finds herself drawn closer to Lock and to a revelation about the case that could change her life forever in Lock & Mori (2015) by Heather W. Petty.

Lock & Mori is Petty’s first novel and the start to a Lock and Mori trilogy.

Almost everyone knows what happens to these characters in the original Sherlock Holmes stories–it’s impossible not to when the struggle between Sherlock and Moriarty has become part of the public consciousness over the years.

Lock & Mori is an admirable homage to one of literature’s best villains and arguably the greatest of fictional detectives. It is also, thanks to a solid plot and some unique reinterpretations on Petty’s part, an excellent mystery in its own right. By imagining Moriarty as a girl, Petty complicates and adds new dimensions to Moriarty’s relationship with Holmes.

Lock and Mori are, of course, smart characters. Readers familiar with their inspirations would expect nothing less. Although both Mori and Lock are analytical in the extreme, they are never cold. Mori struggles with affection (both receiving and giving) while Lock is often mystified by basic human interaction. Even with those limitations, both characters have obvious moments of empathy and sincerity without any of the aloofness so often associated with a sharply deductive mind.

It is also fascinating to see these two characters when they are younger and less sure. Sherlock, so often beyond reproach, is still learning here. Mori, although the hero of this story, remains a mystery as readers wonder what path will unfold for her in future installments.

Lock & Mori is a fantastic series starter. A great read for mystery fans in general and Sherlock fans in particular. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Body in the Woods by April Henry, Every Breath by Ellie Marney, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

You can also read my exclusive interview with Heather!

The Perilous Gard: A (classic) Review

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie PopeEngland, 1558. Kate Sutton is serving as lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth when a disastrous letter from Kate’s sister changes everything. Exiled by Queen Mary Tudor, Kate is sent to a distant castle called the Perilous Gard.

The Perilous Gard and the surrounding Elvenwood are steeped in mystery. Villagers fear the inhabitants of the castle and the castle staff refuse to explain why to Kate. The master of the castle, Sir Geoffrey Heron, offers even less in the way of answers as he is keen to be as far from the Gard as often as possible.

Sir Geoffrey’s brooding brother, Christopher, soon becomes Kate’s unlikely source for information. As Kate learns more about the castle and surrounding grounds, she begins to realize the Perilous Gard is hiding a secret–one that could change Christopher’s life. But secrets are dangerous things and trying to get to the truth surrounding her new home could lead to things far worse for Kate than mere exile in The Perilous Gard (1974) by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

The Perilous Gard was a Newbery Honor title in 1975. It is a retelling of Tam Lin.

The Perilous Gard is a perfect blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Kate’s story is very grounded in the reality of life in 1558 England, a period that Pope brings to life with carefully detailed prose and obviously thorough research. The story of Tam Lin is turned on its head here as fairies and Druid customs converge in a story of secrets, peril and human sacrifice.

Kate is an excellent heroine. She is pragmatic, stubborn and loyal to a fault. She refuses to let circumstances (or even dangerous fairies) stop her from doing what is necessary. She is also one of the most level-headed characters you are likely to meet.

Tam Lin, of course, centers heavily on a love story as a maiden tries to save her lover from the fairies who have laid claim to him. While there is still romance here, it is refreshingly honest and realistic. Kate and Christopher are rash and often quite thoughtless. At first they do not understand let alone like each other. Yes during unexpected time together, it becomes obvious that there might be (maybe should be) more to their relationship as this unlikely pair becomes fast friends.

It’s easy to think that a book from 1974–an arguable classic–would feel stale or stilted. Instead The Perilous Gard writing draws readers in and creates an all-consuming story that is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, fantasy and fairy tale retellings, this book also has strong crossover potential for readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Beauty by Robin McKinley,The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Ghosts of Heaven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It was all the same thing; the same sign, and now she knew what it meant.”

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickIn a time before modern history, a girl tries to use a charred stick and ochre to make magic with disastrous results. Staring at the spiral shapes found everywhere in nature, she begins to grasp the enormity–the power–that can be found in written marks.

Centuries later, Anna hopes to care for her brother after her mother’s death only to have the entire town turn against her. As she fights rumors and increasingly vocal accusations that she is a witch, Anna too begins to see hidden meaning in the spiral found in their traditional spiral dance that begins to appear everywhere.

In the twentieth century an American poet watches the ocean from within the walls of an inhospitable asylum. He can see the shapes there too. Spirals. Helixes. Shapes that have become emblematic of the horrors he can scarcely fathom.

Keir Bowman knows, in the distant future, that he will become an astronaut on a desperate mission to colonize a new planet. He knows he will keep looking forward. What Bowman can’t guess is that in hurtling himself through space, he will also move toward his destiny and an understanding of these spirals that march through history in The Ghosts of Heaven (2015) by Marcus Sedgwick.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a standalone novel in the same style as Sedgwick’s Printz Award winner Midwinterblood.

After an introduction from the author, The Ghosts of Heaven includes four short stories titled “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny.” As the introduction explains, these stories can be read in any order. (I read them in the order given in the book which is also the order listed above.)

The Ghosts of Heaven is an incredibly smart and ambitious novel. The stories here span a variety of genres and forms as they work together to convey a larger meaning.

“Whispers in the Dark” is told in sparse verse as a girl begins to make sense of written words and forms.

“The Witch in the Water” returns to more traditional prose as the story watches the hysteria and fear that fed the fires of witch accusations and  trials in the seventeenth century. This segment also demonstrates how much of the novel deals with unequal power dynamics–in this case as Anna tries to work around much unwanted attention.

“The Easiest Room in Hell” brings readers to an asylum on Long Island where supposedly revolutionary treatments highlight the arcane and unfeeling nature of much mental health care in the early twentieth century. This story also underscores the fine line that can exist between creativity and madness.

Finally in “The Song of Destiny” Sedgwick brings the golden ratio (and the Fibonacci sequence) to the forefront in this solitary and meditative story as all of the vignettes come together in a conclusion with surprising revelations about the spirals and their ultimate meaning.

Sedgwick weaves subtle references between each quarter to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as readers–along with the characters–move toward a larger understanding over the course of the entire novel.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a startling, clever and life-affirming novel that pushes the written word to its limit as Sedgwick expertly demonstrates the many ways in which a story can be told.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Folly by Marthe Jocelyn, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, In the Shadow of Blackbirds of Cat Winters

You can also read my interview with Marcus Sedgwick about the book.

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

Whisper the Dead: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra HarveyCousins Gretchen, Penelope and Emma are still learning to control their new-found powers and understand what it means to be members of one of the oldest witching families, the Lovegroves, in 1814 London.

Penelope struggles with a familiar that frightens her and unwieldy powers that allow her to read the past in objects. Emma, on the other hand, now has antlers to conceal while trying to find a way to rescue her father from the underworld and convince her mother to assume her human form instead of  that of a deer.

Reluctant debutante Gretchen, meanwhile, is still not entirely sure of the full scope of her powers. Or what embroidery has to do with magic. Gretchen will have to harness her powers as a Whisperer who can hear the spells of dead witches if she wants to help stop the dark witches the Greymalkins from wreaking all manner of havoc in London and beyond.

She will also have to contend with the frustratingly proper Tobias Lawless and other Keepers tasked with keeping the cousins under surveillance. The only positive is that with so much danger and problems ranging from angry ghosts to werewolves, Gretchen will definitely be able to avoid any balls for the foreseeable future in Whisper the Dead (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

Whisper the Dead is the second book in the Lovegrove Legacy. It is preceded by A Breath of Frost.

Recaps and multiple viewpoints help summarize key events from the first book in this trilogy. The narrative focus also shifts from Emma to Gretchen in this volume. (Presumably the trilogy will conclude with a book focused on Penelope.) These facts make this volume approachable and only slightly confusing to new readers.

Rollicking action and mystery come together with humor and charm to make this a fast-paced and engrossing story. A well-developed romance and a cliffhanger ending help guarantee that Whisper the Dead will have high appeal and leave readers eager for the final installment.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

A Breath of Frost: A Review

A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra HarveyLondon, 1814: Emma, Gretchen and Penelope–three cousins and reluctant debutantes–discover their families have been hiding a host of secrets one snowy night at a dull party. It starts with a broken bottle and a fire. It ends with the cousins discovering they have magical powers and a girl found dead, her body covered in strange bruises and, stranger still, a coating of snow.

With their powers unbound, the gates of the underworld open to allow all manner of nasty creatures from the underworld including the feared ghosts of the Greymalkin warlocks–three dark witch sisters–to wreak further havoc across London. Worse, more debutantes are turning up dead.

While all three cousins try to understand and control their new powers, Emma has an added problem. Somehow she is connected to the murders; she keeps finding the bodies. With the authorities targeting her as a suspect, Emma will have to work with Cormac–an unlikely (and entirely too attractive) ally–in order to clear her name and find the real culprit before it’s too late in A Breath of Frost (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

A Breath of Frost is the first book in Harvey’s Lovegrove Legacy–a trilogy which will presumably allot one book to each cousin. The second book, Whisper the Dead, will be published in October 2014.

In this alternate historical London, magic runs rampant for the people who know where to look including the Order of the Iron Nail, Madcaps and various sundry characters and groups readers will have to sift through in the early pages of the novel. Patient readers will be rewarded with explanations of all of these names and a motley group of characters magical and otherwise.

Although the cousins often read more like sisters, Harvey still creates a romantic, adventurous novel with a strong familial bond at its core. The cousins are stronger together–something that is not often featured enough in literature. Magic and mystery come together here to create a suspenseful, if not always perfectly paced, adventure. Filled with wit, adventure, and just the right amount of romance, A Breath of Frost is a delightful start to what promises to be a superb trilogy.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer