Strange the Dreamer: A Review

“He’d sooner die trying to hold the world on his shoulders than running away. Better, always, to run toward.”

No one knows what happened in Weep two hundred years ago to isolate the wondrous city from the rest of the world.

Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with Weep since he felt the city’s true name stripped from his mind when he was five years old. Now he spends every free moment tracking down what clues he can about the city as it once was and hints to what might have transpired there.

Unlikely as it may be for a war orphan turned into a lowly junior librarian, Lazlo’s greatest dream is to visit Weep and see its wonders with his own eyes. He knows such opportunities, such legends, are more suitable to men like Thyon Nero–a scholar renowned through the land for his alchemical wonders–but that does little to tamp down his hope. Lazlo is a dreamer who survives on a steady diet of magic and fairy tales. To deny the possibility of either in his own small life is unthinkable.

When an unexpected caravan led by Eril-Fane, the Godslayer, arrives Lazlo has to embrace his dream and strive for the impossible: not just the chance to see the Unseen City for himself but possibly the chance to save it.

The city is more than even Lazlo could have expected filled with wonders and horrors in equal measure. The city is still haunted by the centuries long legacy of war and terror under the Mesarthium–blue-skinned gods who came down from the sky when the city was still whole.

There are problems to solve in Weep and answers to find. But as Lazlo explores his dream city, he realizes there are also more questions as his own dreamscape becomes something he doesn’t recognize with moments that are strikingly, vividly real, and a blue-skinned goddess who seems nothing like the terror he’s heard about from the Godslayer.

In a world where the old gods are dead and dreams have weight, Lazlo will have to decide what he wants to protect and what he’s willing to lose in Strange the Dreamer (2017) by Laini Taylor. Welcome to Weep.

Strange the Dreamer is the first book in Taylor’s latest duology which will continue in The Muse of Nightmares. While this story is very obviously unfinished (the last line of the novel is “Because this story was not over yet.”) Strange the Dreamer does provide a partially contained arc in terms of Lazlo’s journey and growth as he comes into his own upon arriving in Weep.

Through Weep and its history Strange the Dreamer artfully explores themes of forgiveness and recovery as both Lazlo and the rest of Weep struggle to determine next steps for the wounded but healing city. The imagined city of Weep is evocative and vibrant with distinct customs, landscapes, and even language. The use of language is demonstrated especially well with the words in Weep’s native language used to start each section of the novel.

Taylor builds drama that remains taut from the opening prologue until the very last page. Written with an omniscient third person point of view this story is very self-aware and encompasses numerous points of view. This narrative structure and the tone of the novel are deliberately reminiscent of the fairy tales that Lazlo so richly loves and serve to underscore the fairy tale nature of Strange the Dreamer where magic continuously appears in seemingly mundane and unexpected places.

Strange the Dreamer is a captivating fantasy sure to appeal to readers looking for an intricate and unique story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

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Frostblood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ruby’s life is destroyed when her Fireblood powers are discovered. Betrayed by her village, Ruby is helpless when her mother is killed in front of her.

Arrested by the king’s Frostblood soldiers Ruby is sent to prison. Between the abuses of the guards and fear of her Fireblood powers, Ruby knows she won’t survive long in prison. When she is offered the chance to escape, Ruby has no choice but to except. The promise of revenge against the king is an added bonus and enough to make Ruby reluctantly agree to her rescuers terms.

After her escape Ruby will have to recover her health and learn to control her powers all under the scornful eye of Arcus–an infuriating rebel who Ruby is slow to trust despite her immediate attraction to him.

Before Ruby can do more than begin to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Separated from the rebels and thrust into a dangerous new world, Ruby will have to rely on the fire that rages inside if she hopes to survive in Frostblood (2017) by Elly Blake.

Frostblood is Blake’s debut novel and the first book in her Frostblood Saga. Blake begins this series with an promising if sometimes familiar conceit and underwhelming world building.

Ruby is a gifted but undisciplined Fireblood (basically fire magician) in a kingdom ruled by Frostbloods (ice magicians, if you will). Ruby is inexperienced when it comes to wielding and controlling her power after hiding it for years to avoid arrest or execution. Like many heroines, Ruby seems to be ninety percent bravado and ten percent skill–a flaw she acknowledges while recklessly trying to exercise control she does not yet possess. In addition to being impetuous, Ruby demonstrates a stunning lack of perception and awareness as predictable plot twists and revelations repeatedly leave her shocked.

Nevertheless, Frostblood begins with Ruby practicing in secret–a necessary way to start the plot but one with unclear motivations as Ruby is discouraged by her mother who fears detection. After that the plot moves quickly with Ruby’s escape from prison and her subsequent recovery and training. There is also ample banter between Ruby and Arcus–a bright spot throughout the novel. Uneven pacing including and an especially abrupt break between the first and second halves of the book make Frostblood feel disjointed with a story that develops in starts and stops.

Frostblood joins the recent trend of fast-paced, high action fantasies featuring a powerful girl in the lead. Readers seeking a book in that vein will enjoy this one and be eager to see what comes next for Ruby and Arcus. Readers who prefer slower pacing and stronger world building may see the potential while seeking a weightier read.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Valiant by Lesley Livingston, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

I started Frostblood today on my morning commute. It seems appropriate with the way the weather is vacillating between warm and cold this month. 🔮 Ruby's life is destroyed when she is outed as a Fireblood and arrested by Frostblood soldiers working for the king. When Ruby is offered the chance to escape and the promise of revenge against the king, she jumps at the chance. But before Ruby can do more than try to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Will the fire that rages inside Ruby be enough to help her survive? 🔮 I wasn't sure about this one when I started but Ruby is a fun heroine and I'm curious to see what happens next. Frostblood is sure to appeal to fans of Snow Like Ashes or Red Queen. 🔮 Have you read this one yet? Are you planning to? What are you up to this Tuesday? 🔮 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #book

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Every Exquisite Thing: A Review

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew QuickNanette O’Hare has spent most of her life doing exactly what people expect of her. She gets good grades. She is the star of her high school soccer team and essentially guaranteed an athletic scholarship to the college of her choice. She works hard. She doesn’t cause any trouble.

When a favorite teacher gives Nanette a worn copy of a book called The Bubblegum Reaper she isn’t sure what to expect. Within the pages of the out-of-print cult classic, Nanette finds a character who seems to understand all of the frustration and fatigue that she has been trying to articulate for years.

An unlikely friendship with the book’s reclusive author and a turbulent relationship with a young poet and fellow fan leads Nanette to discover her inner rebel. As Nanette tries to become a truer version of herself, she realizes that rebellion rarely comes without a cost in Every Exquisite Thing (2016) by Matthew Quick.

Quick peppers the novel with references to canonical literary works of poetry and novels (all by men, almost exclusively white–this is either a glaring oversight or an intentional reference to the insular world these characters inhabit . . . or possibly both). Every Exquisite Thing is very self-aware and intentionally referential to the book within a book (The Bubblegum Reaper) which is summarized, quoted and otherwise integral to the plot of this novel.

Nanette’s character arc is intrinsically linked to her discovery of The Bubblegum Reaper. As she bonds with the author and another fan (the young poet) she learns how literature can change a person. She also learns that idols inevitably fall short of their pedestals in the real world and that fiction–however true it may seem–doesn’t always translate well into everyday life.

Parts of Every Exquisite Thing are poignant and moving–as is to be expected from a talent like Matthew Quick. Other aspects of the story, particularly in the second half, are impenetrable and mystifying. Sometimes, particularly with the one-sided representation of the majority of female characters (besides Nanette) as routinely over-sexualized and vapid. This is a high-tension, introspective novel that won’t work for everyone. Ideal for readers who don’t necessarily need to like a book to enjoy it and who want a text they can engage with on multiple levels.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, The Catcher in the Rye by Lee Salinger

Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad: A Picture Book Review

Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad by Liz ClimoRory is an energetic dinosaur who lives on an island with his father in Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad (2015) by Liz Climo.

When Rory’s dad needs quiet time, Rory sets out to find some adventures all by himself. Little does he know, Dad is there every step of the way to make sure that nothing goes wrong.

Bright, bold colors and clean lines help bring these whimsical characters (previously seen in Climo’s comic Tumblr and her book The Little World of Liz Climo) to life.

Climo’s hand lettering lends a folksy quality to the otherwise sleek style of her digital artwork. Ample white space on each page and small pieces of text make this a read-aloud option with broad appeal. An excellent addition for most collections.

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

Wolfie the Bunny: A Picture Book Review

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHoraWhen a baby wolf is left on the doorstep of the Bunny family, Dot has some serious concerns. Much to Dot’s dismay she is alone in her fears as Mama and Papa soon adopt the abandoned wolf. Dot remains worried about Wolfie as he grows and becomes much more likely to eat them all up. Worse, Wolfie really loves Dot–so much so that he spends all of his time following Dot around and even drooling on her!

Dot is certain Wolfie could not be more annoying until she and Wolfie go to the local co-op The Carrot Patch to get more food for the family. Dot is sure this moment will be when Wolfie chooses to make his move and eat her. Instead, when a mean (big) bear shows up, it’s Wolfie who is in peril. And Dot who is left to do the rescuing in Wolfie the Bunny (2015) by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora.

Ame Dyckman returns with another delightful story in this picture book about a wolf in rabbit’s clothing. Wolfie the Bunny is a riotous story that leaves readers wondering if Dot’s fears really are warranted until the last moment when readers (and Dot) realize that being family means being there for each other no matter what.

OHora brings an extra dimension to the story as he moves Wolfie and company from what could have been a natural setting into the wilds of Brooklyn. His signature style and bold colors in each acrylic painting guarantee that these illustrations will stand up to close scrutiny as well as being viewed from a distance.

Bold text and a variety of font faces work to add further interest to each page as each page spread comes together seamlessly to create an engrossing read.

Wolfie the Bunny is a story about new babies, sibling rivalry and unconditional love (and maybe carrots) that is brimming over with humor and enthusiastic energy. Ideal for any story time scenario.

You can also read my interview with Ame and Zachariah!

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But in all the stories, you have a single chance; and if you miss it, then it’s gone. The door isn’t there when you go back to look. There is no second invitation to the ball”

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackHazel has always known that life in Fairfold is different from the glass coffin that houses a sleeping prince to the strange things that are known to happen to tourists. She has always known that the fairies that live around Fairfold can be as lethal as they are charming; that they will just as soon kill a human as they will bargain with one.

Even then, knowing the dangers, Hazel finds herself drawn to the dark things that lurk outside of Fairfold. With a sword and her brother Ben by her side, Hazel hoped once to become a knight and hunt the monsters that lurked in the Fairfold woods. But Ben put a stop to that.

Seven years ago Hazel made a bargain to try and fix things. To get back the life she thought she wanted. But that fell apart as well.

Now Hazel kisses boys with wild abandon and has fun, hoping to shore up enough in reserve for the day it all might be lost to her. But the payment for Hazel’s bargain is coming due and time is running out for regrets or preparation.

That is until the coffin in the woods is broken and the prince, who has been there for as long as anyone can remember, disappears. Until Hazel wakes up in her bed surrounded by dirt and pieces of broken glass with no idea how to fix anything in The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015) by Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a fresh-faced fairy story where the fairies are as as entrancing as they are dangerous. Black once again delivers a thoughtful, intricate story of magic and identity in this smartly modern tale.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes traditional fairy tale tropes (not to mention gender roles) and turns them on their heads as this story infuses familiar lore with new twists and turns. Hazel, in particular, is a stunningly authentic and multi-faceted heroine. She is flawed and impulsive. She is genuine and kind. This story expertly negotiates exactly what agency and identity really mean not just for a girl in a small town but also for a girl with a self-proclaimed charge of saving that town.

There are other relationships in this story that are equally well done. Hazel and Ben come to understand each other as equals and family for perhaps the first time while both also come to terms with a less-than-idyllic upbringing. There is romance for both Hazel and Ben in unlikely places.

This novel also wonderfully examines the nature of family and the ramifications that come when people decide to choose their own–even if it is just for a time. Throughout the quests, the adventures, and the reconciliations, Hazel remains firmly grounded at the center of this plot. Her growth, particularly in the second half of the novel, is phenomenal as the narrative explores what it means to truly know oneself and trust oneself after years of doubt.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a wonderful fantasy but where it really shines is as the sensational story of a girl who not only finds her place in the world but also finds herself when she chooses to face the darkness in herself as well as in the forest.

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Beauty by Robin McKinley, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Salt and Storm: A Review

Salt and Storm by Kendall KulperAvery Roe knows her birthright is to serve Prince Island as its witch. Roe women have been on Prince Island off the coast of Massachusetts for generations working charms and other magic to keep whaling ships safe and profitable. The magic sings in Avery’s blood; the call of the island reverberates through her bones.

Avery’s efforts to unlock her magic and succeed her grandmother as the next witch have been thwarted these past four years by Avery’s mother who turned her back on magic as surely as she has kept Avery trapped in a fancy house living a lie.

When Avery becomes a whale in her dreams, she knows what it means. She knows the murdered whale signifies her own murder. And soon.

Her only hope is to become the Roe Witch before fate catches up with her. You can beat a Roe Witch within an inch of her life, you can sicken her with strange magic and scar her, but you cannot kill a Roe Witch. If Avery can unlock her magic in time with the help of a mysterious harpoon boy named Tane, she might be safe. But magic seldom works the way a person wants and changing fate is an even rarer thing in Salt & Storm (2014) by Kendall Kulper.

Salt & Storm is Kulper’s first novel.

Kulper expertly combines historical details with tantalizing bits of fantasy to create a sweeping story that spans three generations. Although this story ostensibly focuses on Avery, and although there is a bit of a romance, Salt & Storm is a story about family at its core.

Avery is a prickly character for the most part. She is driven and sometimes selfish to the point of self-absorption. Although Kulper aptly demonstrates Avery’s growth as a character her default response to almost everything in the story remains anger or rashly impulsive decision making.

As Avery struggles to unlock and understand her magic, she also begins to learn more about the grandmother she was taken from at a young age and the mother she never allowed herself to understand. Compared to the larger themes of family and obligation, it is a disservice to focus too heavily on the romantic relationship in this story which honestly felt more like a plot device than anything resembling actual chemistry.

As you can tell there are several things that are done very well here. Kulper’s writing, in fact, is lovely and the historical details about whaling are integrated very well into the story. While Avery is far from likable or clever for most of the story, her selfishness makes sense and she is at least unapologetic. Avery knows who she is and who she wants to be if nothing else.

There are two real problems with this story.The first problem is that Avery has no agency. Throughout the story she talks about having power and being in charge–but she never is. Now you could say that is because she doesn’t have her magic yet. Except Avery’s mother is at the mercy of her husband and Avery’s grandmother has the entire town as a threat to her own freedom. The idea of the Roe witch is couched in the idea of independence but that is ultimately just lip service at best. I won’t spoil the story but even the way in witch Roe women unlock their magic is one that lacks any degree of agency or power as things are visited upon these women rather than the women choosing to  do anything in their own right.

The second problem-one I wasn’t even sure I wanted to talk about at first because it is such a big problem–is Tane (and this part to follow will have some spoilers so you have been warned). This mysterious tattooed boy may eventually have Avery’s heart but he has no history of his own. His entire culture has been wiped out. And, even if we were to let that stand, Tane’s origins come from an amalgam of sources. Instead of being an authentic representation of any one source Tane is reduced to a pastiche that is meant to appear exotic without any real purpose.

Worse is the fact that Tane dies in the end. We can talk about plot points and whether this was necessary but the key thing to remember here is that Tane dies. Not Avery or her relatives. Not any of the sailors we meet. Tane, the only minority character, dies. Tane was already problematic before all this but to kill off the only person of color in the entire novel means something.

I’m sure none of this was intentional on the part of the author, but even unintentionally killing off literally the only PoC character in a novel is deeply problematic particularly when that death becomes a plot point to move along the main (white) character’s story.

There is a lot of potential here and, as I said, Kulper’s writing is lovely and she is absolutely an author to watch. While this story features magical elements, Salt & Storm remains firmly grounded in its historical context creating a story that will appeal to historical fiction and fantasy lovers alike so long as they can turn a blind eye to the problems already mentioned.

You can also head over to Kirkus to see what Ana from The Book Smugglers has to say about this book (which is an often more eloquent analysis than what I’ve put together here).

Possible Pairings: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Clariel by Garth Nix, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater