Monthly Archives: June 2013

Book Review: Which Witch? (by Eva Ibbotson)

which witch
Which Witch? is for a younger audience than I generally read, but I loved it all the same. Nothing by Eva Ibbotson has ever disappointed me. She is entertaining, quirky, creative and witty. Which Witch? is no exception.

Arriman the Awful (the feared wizard of the North) has decided he needs to marry and produce an heir to take over as wizard for him when he is gone. And who else could a wizard possibly marry but a witch? But he doesn’t want just any witch, he wants a local one. And a powerful one. And a dark one.

There proceeds a contest between all the local witches to win his hand in marriage, wherein each witch must perform a piece of her darkest magic to be judged by Arriman himself and two others. There are witches with warts, a witch who can’t seem to stop turning herself into a coffee table, a white witch around whom flowers tend to spring up whenever she attempts black magic, and an evil enchantress. And each is determined she will be Arriman’s wife.

I read a review of this book before I read it myself, which showed some disappointment in Ibbotson’s lack of character depth and development. I myself find that it takes all kinds of books to make the world go ‘round. And with a children’s book that is meant, obviously, for pure entertainment (which it most definitely succeeds at!), I don’t honestly think character development is all that important. And while I agree that Ibbotson doesn’t delve far below the surface of any of her characters, it proves in the end to not be very important. This book is charming and hilarious (I frightened my husband several times by laughing out loud in bed one night) and thoroughly enjoyable to read. If for some reason you happen to have a rat phobia, I would steer clear of the chapter in which the enchantress works her spell – yikes!

The humor of the characters and their reactions to things and the situations they find themselves in is 80% of what charmed me. Ibbotson’s writing in this respect calls to mind some of Joan Aiken’s works for children, perhaps most especially what my sister and I grew up calling the “Dido Twite” books (in actuality I believe they are called The Wolves Chronicles). As an aside, let me say here that if you haven’t read Joan Aiken – you definitely need to! I can’t imagine my childhood without her books for children.

Conclusion: I couldn’t recommend Which Witch? more. I’ve had it on my reading list for so long … I only regret I didn’t read it sooner!  If you like Which Witch?, check out the list of other books you may like as well, below.

  1. The Castle in the Attic (Elizabeth Winthrop)
  2. Fairest (Gail Carson Levine)secret
  3. Pure Dead Magic (Debi Gliori)
  4. Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)
  5. The Secret of Platform 13 (Eva Ibbotson)
  6. Bewitching Season (Marissa Doyle)
  7. Twice Upon a Time (James Riley)
  8. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken)
  9. No Such Thing as Dragons (Philip Reeve)
  10. The Shakespeare Stealer (Gary L. Blackwood)

 

 

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Book Review: Dragon Flight (by Jessica Day George)

dragonflightIf you caught my review of the first book of this series, Dragon Slippers (http://wp.me/p3BsOl-x), you’ll know already that I am a fan of Jessica Day George.  I couldn’t recommend her Dragon series more for any fantasy-loving kid between the age of 12 and 16.  Although honestly, books like this are appropriate for all ages beyond the recommendation bracket … I’m twice the recommended age and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Creel, our main character, has made it through the Dragon War as its hero (however unwilling), and is now running her own successful dress shop.  She doesn’t spend much time there in this book, though, for trouble begins to brew pretty quickly.  Word comes that a bordering country is training dragons and planning an attack, and Creel, as the one human in her country who is most familiar with the ways of dragons, is nominated to help.  She leads a small troop of dragons to the bordering country with plans to become a spy.  She meets up with the prince (insert *sigh*) and brings with her two of her own human friends to help.

Well, I’m a comparer (is that a word?  Spell check isn’t picking it up, so it must be!  Yes!)  So of course I couldn’t help comparing the second book with the first.  They both had the same charming style, mainly the same cast of characters (although we are introduced to quite a few new dragons in the second book).  The plots both had action and intrigue, and even a hint of romance.  Spoiler alert – the romance begins to bloom significantly more in the second book.  Nothing more intense than a kiss or two and some hand-holding, mind, and definitely all G-rated; but feelings are most definitely in the open by the end of Dragon Flight, let’s just put it that way.

Did I like Dragon Flight better than Dragon Slippers?  Well, yes, actually.  Maybe because I felt I was getting to know the characters a little better in the second book and was more comfortable with them – but I think the real reason was because the plot moved along at a better (and more interesting) pace in Dragon Flight.  Dragon Slippers had a lot of talking, a lot of planning and waiting and traveling and sewing.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for these things.  I do most of them myself on a daily basis.  But a fantasy book that features dragons needs to have actions.  And Dragon Flight, while still having many of these same things, had a lot more action.  I’m sure you are no different than other readers (and neither am I) in believing, whether consciously or not, that the writer should “make” you pay attention to the story they are telling.  You shouldn’t have to force yourself to keep reading if you are simply not feelin’ it.  Dragon Flight did this for me more than Dragon Slippers.  Just my opinion – maybe for you it was different.  If you’ve read either of the books, or even the books in the rest of the series (which I will be getting around to as soon as I can!), then let me know what you think!

Book Review: Dragon’s Keep (by Janet Lee Carey)

dragons keep

First of all, just let me say … I loved this book.  That’s really all I need to say, although I’m betting you are going to want a few more details before you’re willing to take my word for it.

I’ll start by giving you what I call the “jacket flap” description.  If you happen to have already read the actual jacket flap or back of the book, then just skip the next three paragraphs.

Rosalind is a princess, but she has a terrible, un-princess-like secret.  (I’m struggling here to know whether I should let you in on the secret or not.  As you’ll find out anyway by looking at the book cover art or even just by reading the first few paragraphs of the book, I guess I’ll tell you.  If you’d rather not know, just skip to the next paragraph!).  Rosalind was born beautiful in all but one respect – she has a dragon’s claw as her left ring finger, and has been forced by her mother to hide it, wearing gloves, all her life.

Rosalind also happens to be a part of a famous prophecy made by Merlin 600 years before her birth – a prophecy that promises to restore the throne to her banished royal family.  Dragons plague her home, Wilde Island, and though she feels a fear and loathing of the beasts and their hunger for human flesh, Rosalind can’t deny that she also sees their beauty, and feels a strange link to them.

When a dragon comes and carries Rosalind off to its keep, she believes she is as good as dead.  And though many hardships lie in wait for her and the ones she loves, she comes to view what she has always thought of as a curse in a different light – and it just may change the fate of her whole kingdom.

Ok, then – now that THAT part is over … why do I like this book so much?  Isn’t it just another dragon book, just like the plethora of other dragon books on the market right now?  Yes, sort of.  But then again, not really.  To me, anyway, there seemed to be two main differences that caught my attention and drew me in.  Number one:  The writing and character development.  (Is that two reasons in one??  Maybe.  Who cares.)  The plot of this book flowed so wonderfully, and the writing style of the author was so originally her own, that – when coupled with the excitement of the story itself – I couldn’t seem to put the book down.  I have a pretty late bedtime … and believe me, I stayed up with this book way past it.

So, yeah, the plot – awesome.  The writing style – beautiful.  The character development – completely believable.  I have a peeve in young adult books, and it’s superficial characters.  I’m always amazed at the books that make top seller lists.  People can throw in a couple of quirky characteristics and suddenly their hero or heroine is supposed to have depth.  Doesn’t work for me.  Dragon’s Keep, however, had a main character (and indeed, all of its central characters) who had a wealth of traits, fears and qualities that made her unique and realistic.  There was background – there was history – there were reasons she was the person she was.

Number two:  The dragons.  They are mean, and bitter, and hard-headed, and man-eating, and deadly, and tragic, and deep, and feeling, and passionate.  Need I say more?  I could.  In short, they are what dragons are supposed to be.  Not that I have anything against friendly, emotional, human-helping dragons.  But I’ve seen too many of them.  I loved that these dragons were different – that they were hard-core (does anyone use that phrase anymore?  Well, I do).

Some books are exhausting to read.  They feel like homework.  And I’m one of those people who feel the need to finish something I’ve begun, even if it’s torture.  It’s rare I stop a book that I’ve started.  So you’ll believe me when I say I was hoping for a really good read – something that I wouldn’t have to work at, and that would grab me and draw me in whether I wanted it or not.  That is exactly what Dragon’s Keep did.

The Cat in Fantasy Lit

crookshanks

When you begin to think about it, cats have played some crucial roles in literature, specifically sci-fi and fantasy.  What is it that’s so alluring about a magical cat?  A talking cat?  Or even a goddess cat?

From ancient Egyptian times, when the Goddess Bastet (in the form of a cat) was worshipped, and even before, cats have always held a certain mystery and fascination for us humans.  In medieval times, cats in general, and black cats specifically, were thought to be evil.  Women who took them in to care for the poor mistreated or neglected animals were in turn labeled witches.

I myself love cats … I’ve owned probably over a hundred of them over the course of my life.  And while my husband might argue with you as to whether I’m a witch or not … depending on the day … like any cat lover, I can tell you they are anything but evil.  Spooky sometimes, yes.  Spastic and quirky … yeah.  Moody and uppity and picky – uh-huh.  The one thing I know from my years of cat experiences is that, without a doubt, cats definitely have personality.  And I suppose that’s why they so naturally fit into literature, whether as characters themselves, or as interesting sidekicks.

Here’s a list of fantasy and sci-fi cats you should definitely check out.  Who is your favorite feline in fantasy?aslan

  1. The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  2. Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  3. Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  4. Fritti Tailchaser in Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams
  5. Magicats! books (collection of cat stories) edited by Jack Dann
  6. The ThunderClan cats in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter
  7. Rhiow and the team of cat-wizards in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane
  8. Gareth in Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander
  9. The cat with no name in Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  10. “The Cat” in The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
  11. Thelma, Roger, James and Harriet in Catwings by Ursula Le Guin
  12. Goldeneyes in the Catmage Chronicles by Meryl Yourish

Teen Book Review Sites

books3So you’re a young adult, or you’re an … older than young … adult like myself who happens to love YA fiction.  You’d like to know what’s out there without going to too much trouble, and you want to know up front if it’s going to be worth the read before you even begin.  Well, who doesn’t?  Well, I’ve compiled a list of great sites to visit with some of the latest in YA fiction.  One or two of the sites cater particularly to fantasy, I’ll warn you, but if you’re like me and you prefer fantasy anyway, that’s for the best.  Do yourself a favor and check some of these sites out!

Fantasy Book Reviews

This one is one of my favorites.  Just two chicks doing fantasy and sci-fi YA reviews.  The best part for me is that they give each book a ranking, or grade, like in school.  A through F (even pluses and minuses!).  They rank the book for additional things as well:  sexual content, language, violence, drug or alcohol use, etc.  Lastly, they give their personal recommendation for the age the book is appropriate for.  Neat, thorough, and trustworthy, especially if you are a parent who likes to screen what your teen is reading without having to sit and read every single book yourself!

Young Adult Books Central

Lots of different search options, including “top reader rated,” “most reviewed ya books” and “hottest books,” among many others.  You’ll get access to a short description of the book you’re looking at, plus get to read all the reviews others have left for it.  You can even sign up for an account and write your own reviews.

Young Adult Book Reviews

This blog, as the author states herself, is not strictly tied to the YA genre.  She reviews all types of books.  She’s witty and clever.  Worth following.

The Literate Mother

Conservative, reliable content ratings for language, violence, sexual content and adult themes.  Reviews are done by eight different mothers of multiples.  Another great one for monitoring your teen’s reading.

Flamingnet Teen

Join their mailing list to get book reviews, or check out their site for thousands of reviewed books for teens.  Become a student reviewer yourself through Flamingnet, or even start your own book club through their site.  I also liked the link, under “resources” for author interviews.

Book Review: Dragon Slippers (by Jessica Day George)

Dragon SlippersWhat a neat beginning to a series of young adult fantasies that I am looking forward to reading.

SHORT SYNOPSIS:  Ok, so I won’t tell you the end or any of the really important bits, since the joy of that is in reading it yourself.  But I’ll fill you in enough to make you want to go check out this adorable book at your local library … how about that?

Creel is our main character.  She’s an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle … and she feels she’s a bit of a burden to them.  Her aunt comes up with the not-so-bright idea of sacrificing her to the local dragon rumored to live in the hills outside of their village.  Why?  So a handsome knight will come rescue Creel, who will then be one less mouth to feed – of course!  Creel just happens to be a fast talker, though, and has no need of a knight or a rescue.  She ends up negotiating her freedom with the dragon, and also gets some lovely slippers in with the bargain … but the slippers are much more than they seem.  Exactly what the slippers are – and what they do – is information that seems to always lie just beyond Creel’s reach as she journeys to another village with hopes of beginning her own dressmaking shop.

Making friends with another dragon along the way, not to mention a prince, and making a couple of enemies besides, Creel ends up having quite the adventure.  Things begin to unravel until at last the very kingdom’s safety is in jeopardy, hanging on the edge of war with a neighboring country … and only Creel can save the day.

WHY I LIKED THIS BOOK, AND WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT:  Well, if the synopsis didn’t convince you to read Dragon Slippers, then I’ll try to give you another reason or two.  Number one: the writing.  It’s fresh, it’s easy-flowing, and it felt so relaxing to read a book that moved along at a pace that kept things interesting but not overly complex.  Number two:  the characters.  They are funny and witty, but each has enough of the light and dark to make them realistic.  Excepting for Princess Amalia, who is perhaps a bit stereotypically nasty, playing the part of the selfish princess a little too well.  In my opinion, every villain should have his or her good points.  But to each her own!  Finally, number three: there is nothing over-the-top for the juvenile audience the book is intended for – and by that, I mean violence, sexuality or anything too graphic.  I’m pretty conservative, and I have a peeve about finding books marketed for juvenile or even young adult, when they are clearly written with an adult audience in mind.

Altogether a great read, and if you are a fan of juvenile and young adult fantasy (basically a 100% chance as you are reading this blog!) – then I think you’ll find Dragon Slippers as adorable as did I.  I’ve got the next one of the series, Dragon Flight, on my list!

Dragons For Young People

An Enchanted Forest in a World Far Away

cropped-forest11.jpgYou are standing in a semi-lit wood.  Ancient, twisted trees tower above you on all sides, their knots and hollows casting strange shadows at your feet.  A cold, curling mist winds its way around your ankles, sending chills up your spine.  Perhaps you see a swift movement from the corner of your eye – a flash of wide eyes and a tiny green cap flowing behind as a small fey creature whisks by you – but when you turn to look at it, you see only a small brown tree stump with a crowning flow of bright emerald leaves.  A branch snaps like a whip and you turn quickly to see the flick of a white equestrian tail through the trees … you’re almost certain you can see a shining golden horn coming from its noble forehead.

You are in an enchanted forest.  A place that can be as terrifying as it is awe-inspiring.  And that chill that went up your spine just a few moments ago?  It was one-part fear, but two-parts pleasure.  Wasn’t it?

I’m not sure about you, but if I could choose a place in all the faerie tale worlds to visit, an enchanted forest would be my first choice.  The worlds of fantasies that live in my imagination, planted there by the countless stories of such places I have been reading my entire life, can come alive when I envision such a place.  Sorcerers, fairies, centaurs and unicorns, magical pools, fairy rings, mysterious caves and hidden portals – who would even try to resist?

There are endless novels and short stories that revolve around enchanted – or at the very least, mysterious – forests.  And honestly, where would fairy tales and fantasy stories be without them?  I have compiled a short list of a few that I highly recommend you check out.

But I want to hear from you, too … what are your favorite stories that involve (or take place in) mystical forests?  I’d love to hear your recommendations!

  1. The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson (Mary is an orphan who flees into the forest seeking freedom from the nobility of Medieval England.)
  2. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (Jena’s home has a magic portal that leads beyond the mysterious wood and into the Other Kingdom, a world she visits every Full Moon with her sisters and her constant companion and friend, a frog.  With a sister falling in love with a dangerous creature, a father who is deathly ill, and a frog who may just be more than meets the eye … things seem to be leading toward heartbreak.)
  3. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Young Keturah follows a hart deep into the wood beyond her home and becomes hopelessly lost, only to be found by Lord Death, who wishes to make a bargain with her she’s not certain she is capable of making.)
  4. Messenger by Lois Lowry (Matty serves as a messenger, communicating with villages on either side of a treacherous wood.  But his village decides to close its gates and Matty must fight his way through the forest, which seems to have a mind of its own, before he is shut out forever.)
  5. The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis (Digory and Polly use a magical ring and find themselves in the Wood Between the Worlds, an place full of enchanted pools that each lead to a different and exciting world. #6 in the Chronicles of Narnia)
  6. Beauty Robin McKinley (The classic tale of Beauty and the Beast retold.)
  7. Phantastes by George MacDonald (A young man journeys through a world of fantasy on a quest for joy and surrender.)
  8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (Two pairs of star-crossed couples get lost in a magical wood only to have the fairy king Oberon tamper with their lives and loves, making everything a glorious mess.)
  9. Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (The “Wood” is larger on the inside than on the outside.  It contains a labyrinth of love and beauty … that just might drive you mad.**This is an adult booki, not YA)
  10. The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson (Sophie and Gabe flee from their parents together to the forest and the Cottage of Seven.  Both are promised to others – but find their feelings for each other becoming dangerously warm.)
  11. On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt (Birle goes on an unexpected journey through forests and faraway kingdoms, running away from the man she was promised to wed, accompanied by a man who is not all he seems.)
  12. A White so Red by K. D. Jones (A retelling of the story of Snow White)
  13. Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (He lives in Deepwoods among wood trolls, but Twig decides to begin a quest to find where he truly belongs.)
  14. Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen (Scarlet poses as a boy and becomes one of Robin Hood’s thieves.)
  15. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley (Classic retelling of Robin Hood by a master storyteller)
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