Tag Archive: fantasy


ms rapscotts girls

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (InfoSoup)

Ms. Rapscott runs a board school for girls that is all about adventure, courage and birthday cake, with candles. When a new summer term begins, five little girls are mailed to the school in their boxes. Mailed because their parents are some of the busiest people in the world and can’t be bothered to drop their children off at school in person. Four little girls make it safe and sound but the fifth has fallen out of her box because it wasn’t sealed properly. Ms. Rapscott has to teach her remaining students some of the basics of life like bathing, brushing teeth, and the importance of stout boots when going on adventures. But most of her lessons are much more fun and involve things like riding the wind into the sky and skimming the surface of the water on seals. As the girls learn how to take care of themselves and embrace adventure, they are also locating the missing student, by trying not to find her.

Funny and delightfully whimsical, this book is at its heart a book that shows that little girls can be just as daring, naughty and adventurous as boys. These are girls who have flaws, like shouting all the time, being a know-it-all, and just wanting to spend time watching TV or asleep. But in each of them is a little adventurer who if fed enough attention and cake will rise to the opportunities before her.

The art in the book adds a delightful richness to the tale as well as breaking up the text so that the book is more approachable for young readers. Done in full double-page spreads, the illustrations show the different parts of the school as well as important moments in the story. At the beginning and end of the book, they appear in a series of illustrations that welcome the girls to the school and then send them home at the end with a promise of adventures to come.

Enter a world of magical wonder in this book for young readers where adventure awaits everyone. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

lunch witch

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

What is a witch to do when no one believes in magic anymore? She has her family’s potion recipes and cauldron, but that’s about it. Then she realizes that there is one perfect job for someone who creates horrible brews – being a lunch lady! So Grunhilda becomes a lunch lady, one who scares all of the children. But Madison isn’t scared of Grunhilda despite the fact that she is the one person who knows that she is not what she seems. Madison has enough knowledge to blackmail the witch, but that’s a dangerous course even when the witch wants to help you. Grunhilda finds a kinship with Madison, but her horrible ancestors are maddened to find their magic being used for good, so they step in and cause all sorts of trouble for both Madison and Grunhilda.

Lucke’s story is a delightful mix of horrible potions, bats that don’t listen, nasty dead ancestors with too many opinions, and amazingly also two people who may just become friends through it all. Lucke creates a story around Grunhilde that offers her back story and makes her transformation to an almost-good witch believable and organic. Madison too has her own story, one that also makes the story work well and makes her own role and connection ring true.

The art of this graphic novel is gorgeously strange and wild. Each chapter leads in with a differently stained page, from oily splotches to actual tomatoes. The pages too are dark and stained, as if Grunhilda herself had been using the book in her kitchen. Against that the white of aprons and speech bubbles pops. Other subtler colors are also used and create a subtle effect against the dark page.

A funny and heartfelt story of unusual friendships created during the most unusual of times. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

league of beastly dreadfuls

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Anastasia started her day by attending a funeral alongside her father, a funeral at the compost pile for her father’s dead venus flytrap. Other than that unusual start to the day which ended with her mother bellowing for waffles from her bedroom, Anastasia was an entirely average girl. There was simply nothing special about her at all. But then at school that morning everything changed when she is kidnapped by two old women calling themselves her “great aunties.” She finds herself trapped in an old Victorian house that was once St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. She is fed only Mystery Lumps and no dinner. She is forced to clean the asylum and at night she is locked into her room. Slowly though Anastasia starts to put together the mystery of her great aunties and what is actually going on in the creepy asylum. An escape plan begins to brew when she meets the frightening gardener and his brother, but can they get past the electrified fence and the guard poodles?

Grant has created a marvelous farce of a book that is filled with broad humor. She also manages to combine that humor with real scares, devious villains, and a nearly hopeless situation. Grant’s use of a quite ordinary young woman as a protagonist adds to the fun, making the scares work better even though they are done just as broadly as the humor is. It is that sense of joy in the situation and the delight that Grant writes with that makes this book such fun to read.

Anastasia is an average girl but also a strong heroine. There are moments in the middle part of the book where readers will want to shake her awake and make her realize what is happening, but in once she realizes she is certainly up to investigating the mystery. The other characters are great fun, including the two horrible aunties who are purely awful in the very best way. The two boys arrive later in the story along with other great characters and they add to the twists and turns of the tale.

A great mix of Victorian and modern fantasy, humor and horror, this book will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.

fork tongue charmers

The Luck Uglies: Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham

This second book in the Luck Uglies series continues the rollicking story of Rye and her family and friends. With a new lawman in town, Rye and her family have been targeted as outlaws. It doesn’t help that Harmless, the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies, is her father. When her mother’s shop is burned to the ground, they take refuge in the inn that belongs to one of Rye’s best friends family where lawlessness is already embraced. But that safety is breached as the soldiers march upon it and Rye and her family are sent across the sea to the safety of the Isle of Pest. It is where Rye’s mother and father first met and where her mother’s father still lives. But Pest will not be the safe haven that they are looking for as they are pursued there as well, putting the entire island in danger. It is up to Rye to figure out what exactly is going on and who the new lawman actually is.

Durham has written another great read for middle graders. He has a knack for creating stories that are fast-paced and wildly exciting. At the same time, his feel for world building is impeccable. Here he creates a new island world for readers to explore even as he continues the story of Drowning and its people. The new island has its own quirks and Durham builds it with such skill that they all make sense and feel natural.

Rye grows even further as a heroine in this second book. Her pluck, courage and grit show on every page. She is clearly the daughter of her parents, who people who don’t back down or ever cower, though they face enemies in different ways and styles. Rye’s relationships with people continue to be the heart of the story from her dear best friends to her budding relationship with her grandfather. It is these moments that add depth to the book.

A great second book in a marvelous series, I can’t wait to see what happens next and neither will young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

dragons guide to the care and feeding of humans

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

The dragon Miss Drake has recently lost her beloved human pet, Fluffy. She is rather surprised and even irritated then when her pet’s great-niece, Winnie, shows up with a key to her lair. Winnie and her mother were given the home above Miss Drake’s and Fluffy, or Great-Aunt Amelia as she was known to Winnie left directions on how to find Miss Drake. Soon the pair are off having adventures together, though Miss Drake has plans to make Winnie far more docile and polite. After flying to a shop up in the clouds, Winnie gets a sketchbook that has a tingle of magic about it. She sets to a project of drawing each of the pretty magical creatures she has seen on their trip. But soon her drawings have come to life and left the pages of the book. Now it is up to Winnie and Miss Drake to work together to catch all of the creatures, even the one that threatens the entire city of San Francisco and the magical world.

Each chapter in this book features tips on how to best train your human pet. The entire book is filled with humor and whimsy and drenched in magic. The book is pure adventure of the fantasy sort. The world makes sense, a hidden world of magic right alongside our own, specifically in San Francisco. There are spells to keep normal people from seeing the magical ones and this book has that wonderful touch of Harry Potter where the magic is right in front of us. The writing here is playful and jolly, setting the tone of a grand adventure with plenty of danger, problems to solve, and one new best friend to discover.

Miss Drake is a grand character. Having a book with the dragon as the narrator adds to the fun of the story and also offers a unique perspective. It would have been a far different book told by Winnie, since the humor of Miss Drake is not always apparent on the surface. Winnie too is a great protagonist. She doesn’t shy away from Miss Drake even when she is rude or shows her huge teeth. She stand up to her and it looks like at the end she is going to be a very different sort of pet than Miss Drake has ever had before.

Magic and humor come together in this warm and wonderful fantasy that looks to be the first in a new series. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Crown Books for Young Readers.

shadow scale

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hautman

Serafina was one of my favorite dragon books of all time and here is its sequel!  I tend to really dislike seconds books in series, especially those that I love. They seem disappointing after the amazement of the first novel. Happily, this sequel does it all right. It continues the story of Serafina the half-dragon. The kingdom of Goredd has long born the brunt of the dragon wars, protecting the rest of the south. Now they must ask for help in order to survive a war. Serafina and the young queen learn of a magical weapon wielded by during the time of the Saints and Serafina sets off to gather all of the other half-dragons, the ones who populate her mind garden. But as she gathers new allies, an old enemy re-emerges and wreaks havoc on those that Serafina holds most dearly. Soon Serafina is without allies and has no one she can trust, and she is the only one who can save the others.

This sequel was a long time coming, but worth all of the wait. Hautman has once again crafted a world of dragons that fits into the dragon myth but also expands upon it and makes it come fully alive. She writes with such amazing detail, crafting a world of intrigue and wonder. At the same time, it is grittily real, with real repercussions, a world filled with bias and bigotry, faith that can be compromised, and a reliance on real intelligence and wit to save.

Serafina remains one of the great fantasy heroines. She reads as real, a girl trapped in a world with greatness forced upon her. She is a musician at heart but she must step up and also be a heroine for the world at large. Hautman shows the strong connection of music and friends, music and science. She creates a world around Serafina that is just as realistic as she is, but also populated by dragons.

Beautifully written with one amazing heroine, this novel is a worthy sequel to the first, and that is the greatest praise that could be given. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Random House.

prairie fire

Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston

Released March 1, 2015.

This sequel to The Story of Owen continues the dragon-slaying adventures of Siobhan and Owen.  Upon graduating from high school, Owen joins the Oil Watch, the international organization that trains dragon slayers and their support teams to fight a variety of different dragons. Despite the damage to her hands, Siobhan manages to qualify to join the Oil Watch too, the first bard in a long time to do so. They must first survive basic training, designed to get them working as a team and Siobhan has the added problem of figuring out a role for a bard in a situation where it is about killing dragons, putting out fires, and tending medical emergencies. As their basic training ends, the dragon slayers are sent all over the world to where they are needed most. But the Canadian government has not forgiven Owen for what happened and their posting is not one that will forge a new dragon slaying hero. That is unless Siobhan can create the songs and stories that tell a different story.

With writing just as fresh and engaging as the first book, this new novel is superb. It builds upon the first novel, returning us to that wonderful world of alternate history with a modern Canada and North America awash in dragon fire. Johnston continues to show her prowess is rewriting history and filling it with dragons as well as creating a new Canada and United States with boundaries that shift and politics that are complexly drawn.

At its heart always though is the intense friendship of Siobhan and Owen, a bard and her dragon slayer, a musician and her muse. Johnston continues as she did in the first book to create a story that is not about romance but instead two complicated people who care deeply for one another as friends. Again, there is no kissing between the two and no longing glances either. It makes for a refreshing change.

A riveting read with a powerful ending that I am working hard not to spoil in the least. This novel is beautifully written, bravely done and purely epic. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.

beastkeeper

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Sarah’s family moves all of the time, away from the cold that her mother despises.  But when her mother walks out one day, Sarah’s father falls apart.  He barely eats and never grocery shops.  It all falls to Sarah to keep them both alive.  Her father seems to be becoming less human by the day, descending into an animal with scruffy hair and yellowed teeth.  Unable to care for Sarah, he takes her to her grandparents’ home, grandparents she had been told were dead.  Left in a moldering castle in a deep woods, Sarah begins to figure out the deep curse that keeps her entire family prisoner.  Her grandmother treats her coldly, putting her to work in the gardens.  Her grandfather is trapped in a cage, fully transformed into a beast yet still able to speak to Sarah at times.  Sarah doesn’t believe in the magic at work at first but soon is forced to admit that something is happening as she witnesses it for herself.  Yet there are twists to the curse that bind her to witches, boys in the wood, and the beasts of her family, including the beast inside herself.

Hellisen beautifully converts the story of Beauty and the Beast into something quite different and extraordinary.  Her writing is as lush as the forest itself and she weaves amazing descriptions onto the pages that bring the entire book to life.  She uses this technique for both characters and the setting.  Here is her description of the castle when Sarah first sees it on page 48:

It was a single squat turret, like a jabbing finger or a lone tooth, made of mottled stone, dribbled and spattered with lichen in yellows and reds.  Furry clumps of moss clung velvety and green at the base.  Ivy grew wild, so thick in some places it distorted the shape of the tower, and sprays of leaves crowned with little blue-black berries rose over the low walls around the outskirts.  Tumbled boulders marked the faint outlines of rooms that had long since fallen.

Talk about showing and not telling!  She is a master at that, creating mood with details that linger in your mind.  This castle is no fairy tale one, or is it?

Hellisen does not set her protagonist on a simple quest either.  Sarah slowly reveals the twists and turns of the curse, binding herself closer and closer to disaster with each revelation.  Disaster waits on the other side of each breath and at times it seems to have already won.  Sarah though is up to the challenge, willing to sacrifice herself to try to prevent the curse from continuing onward in her family. 

This is a gorgeously written tale of love, betrayal, revenge and family.  Fans of retellings of classic fairy tales will find so much to adore in this fantasy novel.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

map to everywhere

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

The first book in a new series, this novel invites readers along on a journey into a series of worlds that are tied together by the Pirate Stream, a river of pure magic.  Fin is an orphan with a strange power where no one remembers him after a few minutes, not even the people at the orphanage who cared for him as a child.  He uses that skill to be a master thief, but then he receives a letter with instructions that take him on a quest to find his mother.  Marrill is living in Arizona, a perfectly dull life, when a ship suddenly appears next to her in the desert.  Climbing aboard, she suddenly finds herself on an adventure in the Pirate Stream with a wizard, the ship’s captain, and the crew of rats.  She has to find the parts of the Map in order to make her way home, exactly what Fin also needs to find his mother.  This adventure takes readers to unknown worlds filled with sinister magic, great friendships, and plenty of action.

Ryan and Davis have crafted a wild fantasy novel that is constantly surprising.  Thanks to the strange waters of the Pirate Stream, the travels on board the ship bring readers and the characters to lands that are unique and fascinating.  There is an island of trees that speak and think where rumors and whispers rule.  There is a frozen land with a leaning tower filled with treasure.  There is a bird made from part of the Map that can lead them to the other pieces.  There are mad wizards who create sorrow wherever they go and are determined to destroy themselves and all of the worlds.

While the adventure is a large part of the book, at its heart is the friendship of Marrill and Fin.  Both of them are lonely children before they meet one another, Marrill because she has traveled a lot with her parents and never settled in one place and Fin because everyone forgets him.  Marrill though does not forget Fin, because she cares so deeply.  Their friendship offers both of them riches beyond treasure and delight beyond the adventure.

This strong middle grade fantasy novel will have readers looking forward to the next book and returning to the dangers and wonders of the Pirate Stream.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

sparkers 

Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

Marah lives in a world where the magicians are in power.  She helps out in the market at the book stall and has managed to teach herself many languages in the process.  There she witnesses the brutality of the magicians and knows to fear them.  But it is also where she meets a little girl who doesn’t mind that Marah is a poor Sparker.  Soon Marah is visiting their home, which is much more opulent than her own.  She meets the girl’s brother and discovers that he shares her love of languages.  When a plague hits their city and people whom both of them love are threatened, the key to figuring out the cure is in a forbidden language.  Marah has to find the courage to trust those she fears as well as her own intelligence in order to save the world she loves and those she holds most dear.

Glewwe herself has a background in linguistics, which means that when she writes about languages it all makes sense and really clicks.  The world she has created is complex with almost a caste system of rank within it.  Tied directly to magical ability, the differences are also racial, so the entire story ties closely to our own world’s struggles with racism and bigotry in a variety of forms.  Glewwe has created a story where the children are truly those who save the world.  They cross the barriers of their society and proceed to have the knowledge themselves to create the solution, but only because they worked together. 

The world building here is exceptional.  The society is unique but also frighteningly familiar at the same time.  The central theme of exclusion and privilege and abuse of power makes for a taut novel that will keep readers going.  The mystery of the plague carries the story forward, so that readers will be compelled to read to the end to figure out the extent of the deception and greed. 

A very strong middle grade fantasy that grapples with some of the most difficult of societal issues, this book is a magical and danger-filled read.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

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