Tag Archives: fantasy

The Stone Girl’s Story: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstMayka and her stone family were brought to life by the markings etched into their bodies–symbols that represent who they are and the stories of their live. Mayka’s father was a talented stonemason. He created fish that could swim, rabbits, birds, and even a turtle before he used everything he had learned to create Mayka a girl who lives and thinks even if she does not need to breath or eat the way humans do.

But stone erodes over time and Mayka’s father is no longer alive to tend to his stone creations. Without a stonemason to maintain them, the stone creature’s markings are fading. Unless a stonemason can recarve their markings Mayka and her stone family will cease to live–becoming nothing more than still statues.

Finding a stonemason won’t be easy. It will force Mayka to leave the only home she has ever known high up on her family’s mountain. Off the mountain Mayka discovers that there is more to the magic that brings her to life than Father ever let on. When her search for a stonemason reveals a threat to all stone creatures, Mayka may not have any time left to wait for a stonemason to save her in The Stone Girl’s Story (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest standalone middle grade fantasy is an evocative adventure where, with the right markings, stone can be brought to life. Durst once again brings her imaginative vision to life in a novel whose heroine is as surprising as her world.

Mayka’s stone family consists of herself and a variety of talking animals eager to help in the search for a new stonemason. The high stakes of this mission are offset with the wonder and enthusiasm with which Mayka explores new lands and makes some surprising friends.

The Stone Girl’s Story is an engrossing adventure and a thoughtful commentary on agency as Mayka realizes that the best way to save herself and her friends might be to do it herself. A delightful addition to the author’s extensive body of work.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

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The Bone Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We have come a long way only to fall apart.”

cover art for The Bone Witch by Rin ChupecoTea never meant to raise her brother Fox from the dead or expected to become a dark asha—a bone witch to those who fear and revile them—but that is exactly what happens setting Tea’s life on a dramatically different course when she is thirteen and comes into her powers.

Asha training is rigorous and takes Tea and her brother far home. Life in the asha-ka is both less exciting and more dangerous than Tea ever could have imagined making it hard for her to ever feel completely comfortable in her new role as an asha-in-training.

But that doesn’t explain what happened four years later to leave Tea banished to the Sea of Skulls where she tells her story to an exiled bard while raising fearsome daeva (demons) to use for dark purposes.

The nobility in the Eight Kingdoms and even the asha elders have always viewed dark asha as expendable–meant to serve their purpose slaying daeva and not much else. Raising the daeva is one step in Tea’s plan to save dark asha lives. The next steps will change the shape of the world forever or break apart the Eight Kingdoms in the process in The Bone Witch (2017) by Rin Chupeco.

The Bone Witch is the first book in Chupeco’s trilogy by the same name. The story continues in The Heart Forger.

Most of this novel is narrated by Tea in the first person as she looks back on her initiation into the world of the asha and her subsequent training. Tea relates these memories to an exiled bard with the jaded detachment brought on by the distance of four years and her own banishment.

The Bone Witch is a tightly wound story filled with intrigue and tension. The story lines of Tea’s past at the asha-ka and her present on the Isle of Skulls build simultaneously to a shocking crescendo as secrets are revealed and loyalties tested. Careful plotting and deliberate reveals will leave readers questioning everything and breathless for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, Sabriel by Garth Nix

Weave a Circle Round: A Review

cover art for Weave a Circle Round by Kari MaarenFourteen-year-old Freddy just wants to be normal. She wants to blend in at her high school and disappear. But that’s hard when her step-brother Roland is always telling outlandish stories and leaves a trail of chaos in his wake despite his best efforts. Meanwhile her little sister Mel is like an amateur detective.

Freddy’s mother and step-father are so wrapped up in each other they hardly notice. And it’s not like they can force Freddy to like her siblings anymore than they can force her to learn sign language so she can talk more with Roland.

It becomes even harder to pretend everything is normal when new tenants move into the house on Grosvenor Street–hardly a surprise since the house always seems to be in a state of flux.

Cuerva Lachance and Josiah aren’t like any of the people who have previously rented the house on Grosvenor street. In fact, based on the way the house begins to defy the laws of physics, they may not even be people in Weave a Circle Round (2017) Kari Maaren.

Maaren’s debut standalone is an intentionally chaotic and frenetic novel about time travel, family, and the power of story and talismans. Maaren pulls intricate plot threads together to create a story with eclectic characters and detailed world building.

Because of Freddy’s age and the overall tone of the novel, Weave a Circle Round feels much younger than marketing would suggest–something not helped by flat and often one-dimensional characters. I’d put this book much more firmly in the middle grade category than YA were it left to my own devices.

While I’d love to give Weave a Circle Round points for inclusion, I can’t. Every synopsis I found for this novel describes Freddy’s sister Mel as smart and Roland as . . . deaf. That’s it. He gets no other defining attribute despite being one of the more layered characters in the novel not to mention being key to the plot.

Roland’s deafness feels more like a plot device than a key trait and is only ever seen in relation to Freddy. Freddy finds Roland tedious. She doesn’t want to interact with him or learn sign language to talk to him. She has to get over that to move the plot forward. Bizarrely Roland talks throughout the book with only minimal mention of sign language at all. He also falls into the common trap of being a super lip reader carrying entire conversations with multiple people without signing at all.

Weave a Circle Round is likely to appeal to fans of A Wrinkle in Time and books in that vein. Unfortunately this story never quite realizes its potential or does right by its characters–especially Roland.

Possible Pairings: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Alchemy by Margaret Mahy, In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Audrey’s Magic Nine: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Audrey's Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy BaileyAfter ten long years in foster care and increasingly worse foster home situations, it finally looks like Audrey’s luck is turning when she is adopted. Her adoptive parents are a bit over-zealous with the extracurriculars and a bit too enthusiastic but Audrey has her own room and plenty of food which is more than she could say before. It could be worse.

Turns out it could be stranger too. Audrey doesn’t know much about her puppet Asa–just that she’s had him since she was a baby. When Asa starts talking, Audrey realizes she isn’t the only one with a mysterious past. Turns out Asa is part of a legendary council of magical creatures. The council of nine fought evil but during their last battle something went wrong and transported Asa and the others to Earth where they have been turned into puppets.

Once she sketches out a plan Audrey is ready to help but finding the puppets is only half the battle as she and Asa try to figure out how the portal sent the council to Earth and how to get them home in Audrey’s Magic Nine (2018) by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey.

Audrey’s Magic Nine is a webcomic turned graphic novel. The first volume follows as she (spoiler) tracks down the first three puppets. Like a lot of comics, things end abruptly but the book includes four bonus comics to flesh out Audrey’s world.

The comic features full color illustrations along with Audrey’s own sketches of her life (and her plans to help Asa). The story blends humor and action as Audrey braves a startling puppet theater and a sentient slide in her quest for answers.

Audrey is a young black girl adopted by white parents. I didn’t love the way that the foster care and adoption situations were portrayed–one as painfully horrible and the other as comically simple–but it works well to get the story moving (and isn’t too different from anything we see in many middle grade novels). While Audrey’s parents initially adopt her as a prop to keep up with their popular neighbors they do begin to genuinely bond with Audrey. The story also gives Audrey plenty of space for Audrey and readers to see that her adoptive parents are absurd and misguided in many ways.

Audrey’s Magic Nine is a rollicking adventure filled with action, humor, and powerful friendships. Not to mention a healthy dose of magic. Recommended for graphic novel readers and fantasy readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Midnight at the Electric: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You become as strong as you have to be.”

cover art for Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn AndersonKansas, 2065: Adri has been handpicked to live on Mars as a Colonist. With just weeks before her launch date, Adri is sent to acquaint herself with the only family she has left–an aging cousin named Lily that she’s never met before. While Adri trains for life on Mars and prepares to leave Earth behind forever she finds an old notebook about a different girl who lived in the house more than a hundred years ago. As she says her goodbyes to everything she’s ever known, can Adri find answers about the girl in the notebook and what happened to her with what little time she has left?

Oklahoma, 1934: Catherine dreams of a life away from the danger and severity of the Dust Bowl. She pines for her family’s farmhand, James, even as she knows must have eyes for someone else. Most of all she yearns for a way to help her younger sister before the dust finally kills her. A midnight exhibition at a strange traveling show called the Electric promises hopes and maybe a cure. When everything goes wrong will Catherine have the courage to leave everything she knows behind to save the person she loves most?

England, 1919: The Great War is over and things should be going back to normal. But Lenore isn’t sure what normal means when her brother died in battle. Desperate for a chance to start again, Lenore plans to sail to America and her childhood friend. In the days leading up to her departure Lenore keeps writing. As more days pass without a reply, Lenore wonders will the friend she remembers be the same one she meets? Will their reunion will be enough to help Lenore remember herself?

Three young women separated by miles and generations, three stories, one shocking moment of connection in Midnight at the Electric (2017) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Anderson’s latest standalone novel blends romance, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction in three interconnected stories. Adri, Catherine, and Lenore’s stories unfold in alternating parts as their separate paths begin to connect and even intersect.

Adri’s story unfolds in close third person while Catherine story is presented through her diary and Lenore’s through letters she writes to her friend in America. These changing formats offer windows into each girl’s personality. Adri is clinical and detached while she prepares to become a Colonist. Catherine is more conversational and clings to optimism to try and make sense of her bleak possibilities in the Dust Bowl. Lenore is all bravado as she tries to chase away the shadows and grief left in the wake of WWI.

At its core this is a story about leaving. All three heroines are hoping for something more–an adventure, salvation, change–if only they can reach that next destination. But before they can pursue what comes next each girl, in their own way, has to make peace with what came before and let it go.

 

Midnight at the Electric is a brief book that packs a punch. This character driven story offers poignant vignettes about human connection, loneliness, and perseverance. This book just about broke my heart in half while I was reading it. But then it mended it too. If I had to rank the stories I would say my favorite–and the one at the core of the novel’s overarching plot–is Catherine’s, followed closely by Adri’s, then Lenore’s. While Catherine’s story was the most buoyant and hopeful, Adri’s story and her relationship with Lily just about wrecked me. I cried for the entire final part of the book and I doubt I’m the only one.

Anderson has outdone herself in this beautifully written novel with a clever premise that is truly high concept. Midnight at the Electric is a book about leaving and endings but also about origins and coming home—even if home isn’t the same place as where you started. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Ink, Iron, and Glass: A Review

cover art for Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn ClareWith the right tools–a special pen, specific ink–the right person can create an entire world thanks to the science of scriptology. Detailed manuals, called worldbooks, outline the parameters of the world from how gravity works there to whether or not the air is breathable.

There are no limits to how complex a worldbook can be–something scriptologists and the world at large learned when Charles Montaigne created Veldana–the first populated world created with scriptology. After Jumi, a talented scriptologist in her own right, helped her people secure their independence Veldana remains the only populated scriptologist world.

Now in 1891 Jumi’s daughter Elsa is looking forward to the day when she can take on a larger role helping her mother maintain the Veldana worldbook and pursuing her other scientific interests.

Those plans change abruptly and violently when Veldana is attacked and her mother is kidnapped. Forced to flee Veldana Elsa finds herself in the real world with no way to get home or even know if the Veldana worldbook still exists.

With no option but to move forward Elsa travels to Sicily with her mother’s mentor to regroup and find help. Among the pazzerellones Elsa learns about the madness that fuels innovation here–a singular interest in scriptology, mechanics, or other sciences that manifests as madness, particularly for the rare few polymaths whose interests cross multiple disciplines.

Uncertain who to trust or where to begin, Elsa seeks help from the other madboys and madgirls she encounters including calculating Porzia and mechanist Leo. With the right tools Elsa can write almost anything she can imagine into existence but she still doesn’t know if that will be enough to save her entire world in Ink, Iron, and Glass (2018) by Gwendolyn Clare.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is Clare’s debut novel and the start to a duology.

This novel is a refreshing blend of adventure and excitement with a heroine who is both pragmatic and scientifically inclined. Clare’s world borrows from real historic events to build the bones of her alternate history filled with scientific madness and steampunk elements including automated machines, talking houses, and more.

The main sticking point with Clare’s complex and well-realized world (and for me it was a big one) is the concept of an affinity for the sciences being construed as madness. There are no negative connotations to this madness–nor is there any discussion of what mental illness might look like in this world–but the intense gendering of the madness by calling those who have it “madboys” or “madgirls” was incredibly frustrating and served no purpose in the larger context of the story. If you poke too hard at this aspect of the world and the conceit that all great innovation is tied to madness and a complete lack of focus on the big picture (the idea being that the mad ones can focus on nothing but their chosen sciences) the premise starts to fall apart.

Despite an exceedingly large ensemble cast, Elsa spends much of the novel in her own head as she works through using her mechanical and scriptological talents to pursue her mother’s kidnappers and mount a rescue. While this offers insight into the nuances of scriptology it makes for a narrative that is often surprisingly dry despite madcap chases and boisterous secondary characters.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is an entertaining story with fascinating if sometimes hastily sketched characters and world building. Fans will be eager for the sequel after the shocking conclusion of this volume. Recommended for readers who enjoy plot-driven stories and have a fondness for steampunk settings.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Reader by Traci Chee, Invictus by Ryan Graudin, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Mirror King: A Review

*The Mirror King is the final book in a duology. This review has spoilers for the first book The Orphan Queen.*

cover art for The Mirror King by Jodi MeadowsEverything changed the moment she revealed herself as princess Wilhemina Korte and vowed to reclaim her kingdom of Aecor and the Vermillion Throne. Now Wil is torn between old allies and new friends as she struggles to become the leader her people deserve.

Wil’s closest ally Tobiah has been gravely wounded and struggles with his own reluctance to take his place on the Indigo Throne when he would much prefer to continue his vigilante work as Black Knife.

Both Wil and Tobiah will have to put aside their differences and their decisions as the Wraith continues to grow in power and come closer to their homes. Wil controlled the Wraith once with disastrous consequences. She isn’t sure she can trust herself, or her magic, to try again.

For the last ten years Wil has relied on her anonymity to keep her safe. Now, as alliances crumble and dangers loom she will have to learn to place her trust in others and step into the light if she wants to save her kingdom and everyone she cares about in The Mirror King (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Mirror King is the final book in a duology which began with The Orphan Queen. Meadows once again writes this story in Wil’s pragmatic first person narration.

This series–and particularly this book–highlights everything that can be done when a duology is handled well. The Mirror King continues to explore themes of identity and leadership in this novel while also expanding the world and the story as Wil and her friends race to stop the Wraith. Even the cover art nicely ties back to book one with clever design choices.

Wil’s external conflicts with the Wraith and to reclaim Aecor are juxtaposed against her reluctance to become a queen when she feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities or the costs. There are no easy choices for Wil or Tobiah and Wil’s development throughout the series illustrates that as she begins to understand and accept her obligations.

The Mirror King is an excellent conclusion to a fast-paced, truly engaging fantasy series. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy novels filled with intrigue, adventure, and just a little romance.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace