Tag: fantasy

Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

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Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray (InfoSoup)

Released January 17, 2017.

Molly longs not to have a mother who heads into the woods to collect weeds and herbs. She wants a normal family that has a normal house, not one that feels like a caravan inside. She wants a mother who gives her granola bars in packages, not one who creates potions and treatments. Her neighbors want them to calm down too, get control of their rooster who crows at dawn and to neaten up their yard. Molly’s mother creates a powerful potion to grow a tree in one night that will shield them from the neighbors, but accidentally drinks it herself. Suddenly, Molly’s mother has turned into a tree. Now Molly has to decide who to trust with the secrets of her life. It can’t be Ellen, her best friend, who is very normal and whose life Molly covets. Instead she turns to the odd boy in their class, Pim, who creates a plan along with Molly to bring her mother back. But will it work before her neighbors start to cut off the branches of the wild new tree?

This Australian import is a magical read and not only for the real magic that happens on the pages. It has a gorgeous tone about it, one that is organic and delicious at the same time. One feels invited directly into the wonder of potions and weeds, your hands itching to get out there and brew your own green syrup. The voice throughout is fresh and filled with surprise.

Molly grows throughout the book, realizing that her own unique upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of. I love that it is Ellen, the normal one, who teaches her this. She speaks directly to Molly about how it feels to be excluded and how important it is to trust. The writing in the book is very special, creating moments like these that are less about lectures and more about sudden inspiration and realizations.

A gorgeously written novel that offers potions, magic and wonder. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

 

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (InfoSoup)

The author of Anna Dressed in Blood returns with a spectacular series opener. On the isolated and shrouded island of Fennbirn, magic still exists. Separated from the mainland, the island governs itself. Every generation triplets are born to the queen, each one heir to their own type of magic. But only one of them can become queen, the other two are destined to die. Katharine is a poisoner and she should be able to feast on poisons that would kill others, but her magic is weak though that fact is hidden. Arsinoe is a naturalist and should have the ability to grow plants and find an animal familiar, but her familiar has never come. Mirabella is an elemental, able to call down enormous storms and dance with fire. She has more power than any elementalist before her. Behind the three girls exists a web of politics and power willing to lie, steal and kill their queen onto the throne. Let the fight begin.

Blake has created a deep tension in this book that plays across the page beautifully. Everything is balanced on a knife’s edge, from the deception of the two weak queens to the unwillingness of the strong queen to kill her sisters. Readers get to see the mechanization behind the throne, the various factions teaching the queens, pushing them into power and punishing them when they fail. For each queen, there is pain, threats and powerlessness despite their station, each expressed in different ways.

The world building here is exquisite from the mist shrouding the island to the vague mentions of the mainland. It is the politics that frame the book, making the horror of the climb to power so immensely readable. The entire novel is riveting with pacing that is skillfully done, the slower sections allowing for the build of despair or horror, love or lust.

A dark delight of a novel that is a rich mix of fantasy and horror. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

You can check out the book trailer too!

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

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When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (InfoSoup)

Best friends, Miel and Sam each have secrets that they wear both outside and inside themselves. Sam was the first person to approach Miel when she was dumped from the town’s water tower the day it was knocked down. She is a girl whose past is tied to the water, whose skirt hem is always damp. She fears pumpkins and was taken in by Aracely, a woman who can rescue people from their own heartache. Miel also has roses that grow out of one of her wrists, marking her a danger to her family. Sam has lived as a boy, serving as the son his mother never had even though his anatomy is that of a girl. At some point, he was expected to return to being a girl but Sam doesn’t know if he will ever be ready. Meanwhile the four sisters in town seek to control Miel and her roses and restore their power, but first they must discover the secret that will make her do their bidding.

Oh my word, this is a beautiful book. It is written in prose that is wildly lush, almost aromatic, so vivid that it remains in your head after you read it. From descriptions of pumpkins as a world of their own to the beautiful danger of the four redheaded sisters to the delicacy of the eggs and herbs that remove heartbreak from a person, each description is its own painting of magic. It creates a world that is ours and yet not, a world of moons and honey, roses and water, stained glass and blood.

To this beautiful and intense writing you add an understanding of the transgender experience and a willingness to write of sexuality and desire and lust for someone who is deciding how they will transition and what their terms will be. It is a book that captures that in-between moment, allows us to linger there with Miel and Sam as their love is just blooming and they are allowing themselves to explore each other in new ways.

Gorgeous, breathtaking and wise, this is one of the most magical and transcendent books I have ever experienced. Bravo for the courage it took to write this and the love that is expressed on each and every page. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

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Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (InfoSoup)

When the nights in Brooklyn seem to be getting longer and longer, lasting almost entire days, Vassa finds herself looking forward to school just not to be home any longer. Part of it is her stepmother and stepsisters and part is pure boredom. It doesn’t help that Erg, the wooden doll that Vassa’s mother gave her before she died, is stealing things from her stepsisters which are then blamed on Vassa. So when one of her stepsisters basically dares Vassa to head to the dangerous local convenience store, Vassa accepts the challenge. She heads to Babs Yagg’s store, the one that dances on chicken legs and that you have to sing down. She makes sure that Erg is with her, as always, and knows that she is in for an unusual experience. What Vassa doesn’t realize is that she is headed straight into her dangerous destiny and will discover an entire magical world that she never knew existed: one with bleeding swans, a dark motorcyclist, severed hands, and beheaded teens.

Inspired by the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, this novel for teens embraces all of the strange and bizarre in that story and takes it even further. Baba Yaga’s home on chicken feet becomes an amazing convenience store filled with some treats that are tempting and others that seem odd and still others that nauseate. The modern Babs Yagg is still very much a witch, and one that toys with her prey in haunting and excruciating ways. There are impossible tasks, the need for plenty of bravery, and real loss and death threatened at every turn.

This is a mesmerizing book, one that is filled with gorgeous writing that stays out of its own way and then rises beautifully to create new moods. Throughout the book the story turns briefly away and into other perspectives like those of the swans themselves or of the attorneys who are after Babs. The language changes and weaves new patterns, creating completely different worlds and experiences and then gently carrying the reader back to the main story. It’s a powerful magic all its own.

Beautifully written, this twist on a folktale is bizarre, wild and extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tor Teen.

 

 

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk

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Dear Dragon by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (InfoSoup)

At two different schools, two boys are assigned to be penpals with one another. Their letters have to be written in rhyme. The boys start by talking about the assignment and school and then quickly move on to what they enjoy doing and their families. What the boys don’t know though is that George is a human and Blaise is a dragon. As each boy misinterprets the clues that the other is giving them about how different they are, a picnic approaches where the penpals are going to meet. What happens when the class of humans and the class of dragons finally meet one another? Success!

Funk cleverly uses fantasy to speak about how we see differences between one another. His use of dragons and the intelligent way that he hides the truth while all the while revealing it too makes for a fun book to share. This would be a great book to offer to children who are starting their own penpal assignments and also offers an opportunity for any child to see how things can be misunderstood even when they are stated clearly. It also speaks to our ability to think that people are just like us and the ability to see beyond physical differences and to the person (or dragon) inside.

The illustrations are playful and bright. They capture the ways that the two boys are meaning their messages. So one image is the way that the writer intended the message to be read and the other is thought bubbles for how the message is being interpreted by the reader. There is plenty of action and drama imagined about simple messages and then in reverse there are dramatic scenes that are completely misunderstood and downplayed.

Funny and clever, this picture book demonstrates that humans can see beyond green scales to the pal underneath. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd (InfoSoup)

Emmaline lives at a hospital that used to be a grand house. The gardens still exist, but they are overgrown and in shambles. When Emmaline looks into the mirrors in the hospital, she sees winged horses living in the world in the reflection. Then one day when she climbs into a walled garden on the grounds, she discovers a wounded winged horse named Foxfire who is unable to fly and seems to have entered Emmaline’s world. On the sundial, Emmaline discovers a letter from the Horse Lord that gives her a quest to surround Foxfire with all of the colors from the rainbow to protect her from a dark horse who is hunting her. But where is Emmaline going to find bright colors in her world of World War II gray?

Shepherd has crafted a novel for young readers that offers a glimpse into another world where mirrors are filled with wild winged horses. It is a world with a kind Horse Lord who needs a child’s help and also one filled with the hoof and wing beats of a huge Black Horse. Beautifully, she allows readers to wonder if Emmaline is entirely imagining the horses, and keeps that question up until the end and beyond. Yet readers who believe will adore this book filled with mirror magic and dreams.

The “still waters” that Emmaline fights are tuberculosis. Shepherd makes sure that readers know that this can kill when Emmaline loses her closest friend at the hospital. Emmaline’s own tragic past is also revealed late in the book. Though Emmaline is fighting for her life, she is also filled with determination to save the horses and fight back against darkness. As the still waters rise in her, so does the full moon which is the deadline of when she must find all of the colors.

Beautifully written, this novel takes readers to World War II England and the battles fought on the homefront. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (InfoSoup)

Every year, the youngest child in the Protectorate must be left in the woods for the witch. The sacrifice of the child has ensured the survival of their small community for years. Unfortunately, the entire witch story was made up by those in power to keep the population sad and controllable. Still, there is a witch who lives in the woods, but Xan is gentle and kind. She rescues the children who are left in the clearing, taking them to other communities where they are loved and adored. Then one year, Xan accidentally feeds the baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the small child with magic. Xan decides to keep the child, whose magic will need to be controlled. As Luna grows, her magic starts to seep out everywhere, so Xan locks it away deep inside Luna who grows up knowing nothing of magic, despite living with a small dragon and a large swamp monster. As truth starts to appear, those in power struggle to maintain control even as Luna begins to discover what is hidden inside her.

Barnhill has created a brand new classic fairy tale with this book. Her writing is rich and filled with emotion. She allows magic to be incorporated throughout her book with a natural feel and flair. It becomes almost as normal as the trees in the woods, allowing readers to realize that Luna must discover her own magic or not be living at all in this world. The world building is brilliantly done with each piece clicking neatly in, forming a full pattern of the world.

The book does have Luna as a protagonist but it is so filled with rich characters that there are many heroes and heroines. There is Antain, the boy who refused to witness babies die. There is the amazing Xan, elderly and full of life, determined to do good even with her last breath. Glerk and Fyrian the monster and dragon are perfect for both humor and wisdom. Luna herself has to be even more special to stand out against these other characters, and she certainly is!

This book is magical, clever and luminous. Definitely one for young fans of fantasy or for anyone looking for a rich reading experience. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.