January 16, 2019

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:36 pm by suebe2

Trail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Saga Press

Outside the wall, much of the world is now underwater, drowned beneath rising seas brought on by climate change.  Within the wall, Dinetah has been transformed.  What was once the Navajo Reservation in the four corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado), is now a land overrun by magic.

That wouldn’t be all bad except some of this magic comes in the form of monsters and monsters can kill you.  Maggie Hoskie doesn’t want to use her clan powers but if anyone else goes after the monster that just snatched a young girl they will almost certainly end up dead. Maggie has speed and a fighting skill gifted by her clans and even she ends up getting chewed on. When Maggie learns that a witch created this particular monster and others like it, she reluctantly goes on the hunt.

At her side is an unconventional medicine man, Kai Arviso.  Maggie isn’t sure what it is about Kai but something makes him unique.  Just a few years older than her (she’s in her teens), Kai is just too shiny and pretty for the dusty land of Dinetah.  And a man who won’t fight?  Maggie worries he might be worse than useless until he manages to talk them out of a fix that could have easily been deadly.

This isn’t a young adult novel but it does have a teen protagonist that many young women will love.  She’s strong but flawed and by the end of book one realizes that she cannot stand alone.

Yes, book one.  This is the first in the Sixth World series.  Dinetah as portrayed by Roanhorse is postapocalyptic. Drinking and the wild life are still a thing but alcohol is even more important for fueling vehicles like Maggie’s truck. I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I picked the book up because of the truck.  Don’t judge.

But I’m also a sucker for books set in the SW and with strong first nations characters like Maggie and Kai.  This is definitely a world I want to revisit.  I can’t say that I’m an expert on Dine (Navajo) culture but I was glad that I know as much as I do when Roanhorse unapologetically dropped in place names and various terms.  That said, it won’t be too much for devoted fantasy fans who are used to walking unfamiliar paths as they get to know new characters and worlds.

Maggie, Kai and Dinetah?  Definitely worth getting to know.


May 24, 2018

Catwings Return by Ursula K. LeGuin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:35 pm by suebe2

Catwings Return
by Ursula K. LeGuin
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books

In this, the sequel to Catwings, the four winged cats, Thelma, Roger, Harriet and James, have settled into life on the farm.  They are being cared for by Hank and Susan who check out the young cats daily and are careful to keep them a secret.  They are afraid how people would react to the wonder of flying cats.

For their part, the cats are curious about how their mother is doing.  James and Harriet decide to make the trip.  It is longer and more tiring than they remember, perhaps because James isn’t as strong as his sister because of an old injury.

In the city, they discover that their old neighborhood, a group of ramshackle slums, is being torn down.  The problem is that Mom is nowhere to be seen but they’ve discovered a winged kitten.  Finally she let’s them approach.  Together, they are reunited with their mother and discover that this is their little sister.

James and Harriet promise to care fo the kitten and slowly they make their way back to their new home.  All of the necessary background information can be found in this book, but the first book is such a pleasure. Why skip it?

Given the short format of this story, it is only 48 pages long, the characters are not as fleshed out as they would be a longer book.  But the writing is lyrical and poetic.  The short format and spot illustrations will be a great draw for third-grade readers who are still intimidated by full-length novels.

As in so much of Le Guin’s work, she explores good vs evil and what it is to belong.  She also delves into reality and how we perceive it because, although two workmen see the flying cats they do not think it was cats that they saw.  How could it be?  Cats don’t fly unless you are reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s Catwing books.


March 27, 2018

Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:06 pm by suebe2

by Ursula K. Le Guin
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books

“Mrs. Jane Tabby cannot explain why all four of her kittens were born with wings.”  So begins Catwings.  

The tabby cat has her theories but the why of the wings is not what’s important.  What’s important is that the city neighborhood is not safe for her kittens as they grow.  Dogs chase them, and, even worse, they attract the attention of people with their grabbing hands.  Wanting her young to be safe, and because it is the way of cats, she sends them on their way.

Fortunately Roger, James, Harriet and Thelma have been practicing with their wings.  Granted, kittens, especially well-fed kittens, are not built for flying and it quickly tires them out.  But they are able to use their wings to fly to the countryside where pavement and buildings give way to streams, grass and trees.

Unfortunately the young cats don’t realize that all birds are not small and easily startled.  It isn’t until James is attacked by an owl that they grow more cautious.

If you’ve never read the Catwings books by Ursula K. Le Guin, check them out. The publisher lists the reading level as preschool – 3rd grade which seems like an odd age spread until you read the books.  Pre-reading preschoolers will love the playful fantasy element.  Older independent readers will love the books’ small size, much like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The chapters are short but the language is poetic and complex enough to challenge a new readers.

As with so much Le Guin wrote, Catwings explores good and evil and “human” nature.  Given Le Guin’s beautiful language, the books would be a good gift for even an adult who loves fantasy and/or cats.  That said, young readers with similar interests are the books intended audience and will love that Le Guin does not write down to them, instead challenging her readers to stretch toward new heights.

A must have for the bookshelves of fantasy lovers and cat lovers alike.


December 27, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:25 pm by suebe2

An Enchantment of Ravens
by Margaret Rogerson
Margaret K. McElderry Books

We’re used to thinking about artists as being temperamental but Isobel is anything but. A skilled portrait artist, the teen has to keep her wits even when she gets lost in her work because she has a particularly dangerous set of clients.

The fair folk crave things that are crafted – portraits, fancy clothing, jewelry, and sweet cakes.  But they don’t pay for these wares with gold or other coins.  They pay with magical enchantments.  Word the price for your work poorly and you may shorten your life by years or no longer be able to speak any words that begin in vowels.

Isobel is adept at wording the bargains she makes with her fair folk clients.  Her home is layered with protection spells and their hens lay a handy number of eggs on a regular basis. But then she is told that a new client, a prince of the Autumn Court, will be paying her a visit. Isobel begins to worry. Fair folk in general are intimidating with their unreal beauty, inhuman skills, and love of mischief. What will a prince be like?  As much as she fears Rook, the Autumn Prince, his humor and curiosity fascinate her.

It is only after the pair fall in love, a crime punishable by death, that Isobel realizes the client who recommended her to Rook is a prince in his own Spring Court.  Isobel is determined to find a way out, a way that will preserve both their lives and she knows it will have to be a way other than becoming Fair herself.  Because becoming one of the Fair Folk means losing her craft and never again being able to capture someone’s inner likeness in paint.

This may be Rogerson’s first published novel but I suspect it will not be her last.  From Isobel’s home village of Whimsy to the surrounding woods and the Fairy Courts, the setting is created with layer upon layer of detail, just like coats of paint.  The characters are just as complex from Isobel to Rook and even the Fair Folk who seek their deaths.

She has also taken the stories about fairy and created her own world of human and Fair Folk. Themes of family, love, loss, craft and knowledge are woven together in a rich novel.  Although, I will warn you, that it sat unfinished on my bedside table for two weeks.  With just two more chapters to read, I didn’t want the story to end.

Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.




December 1, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:07 pm by suebe2

all the crooked saintsAll the Crooked Saints
by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press

The Soria family doesn’t exactly welcome visitors to Bicho Raro, Colorado.  But still the visitors come, drawn by the promise of a miracle.  And visitors aren’t all that’s drawn to Bicho Raro.  So are owls of all kinds who gather whenever a miracle is imminent.  Good or bad, it doesn’t much matter to the owls but it does matter to the Soria.

Whenever Daniel Soria, the handsome teen who is the family’s current saint, performs a miracle for a pilgrim, it always does more than expected.  The first miracle addresses the pilgrim’s problem but it also unleashes their inner darkness.  A predatory priest who loves the ladies just a little too much finds that he now has a coyote’s head. A pair of twins who can’t quit bickering are joined by a cantankerous snake. Until they resolve this darkness, they are stuck with it and cannot leave.

But a Soria who tries to help may unleash his or her own darkness and Soria darkness is something to be feared.  This means that the family refuses to speak or interact with the bizarre cast of characters with whom they share their ranch.

And, as is always the case in a Stiefvater novel, the characters are amazing.

Daniel seems sweet but he was a hell raiser as a teen.  His cousin Beatrice has a scientific mind but believes she has no emotions.  Joaquin spends his nights running a renegade radio station with the help of his cousins.  His parents don’t know about his radio personality – Diablo Diablo – and would be horrified given the power of Soria words.

Stiefvater’s latest novel is set in Colorado in the 1960s.  It is a world of ranches, rodeos, and radios.  I’ve only touched on the characters because I don’t want to retell the entire novel and, as is always the case, it is hard to talk about a Stiefvater novel without giving too much away.

All the Crooked Saints is magical realism at its finest.  Magical things happen and no one bats an eye.  Unless, of course, the particular event warrants a reaction.  Out in the larger world, there may not be any magic but in Bicho Raro, miracles rule, a spirit owl can hold onto a person’s eyes until they need them again, and a radio DJ from back East becomes a towering giant.  And the desert is a character as influential as any human in the book.

This is a story, and a land, where magic and love are equally strong and capable of doing both great and terrible things.

I plan to add this one to my Christmas shopping for a particular niece who loves fantasy.  Share it with the readers in your life who love adventure but aren’t afraid to step beyond the world of the ordinary.


September 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:15 pm by suebe2

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist
by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

From her youngest years, Mariko was always the curious one.  She wanted to know how and why.  She looked for better ways to do things.  Her brother on the other hand always knew his duty.

As a result of her curiosity, Mariko had a reputation for being odd.  Fortunately, she is the daughter of a high-ranking samurai so she has tutors and leisure time. At least until her father finds a suitable suitor.

And he isn’t just any young man.  He is the crown prince.  He will be the next emperor.

Mariko doesn’t know what to expect when she reaches the palace but she knows better than to ask.  No one cares what a worthless girl thinks.

But then her party enters the forest and is attacked.  Mariko is the only survivor but her survival is anything but guaranteed.  She can feel the eyes of the forest watching her.  She is told that the attack on her group was the work of the Black Clan, a band of bandits and murderers.  Mariko decides to find out why they wanted to kill her by infiltrating the clan.

As is often the case with fantasy, this is a hard book to describe without simply retyping the entire book.  Ahdieh has created a tale peopled with colorful 3 dimensional characters, powerful magic, and treachery.

Not only does Mariko have to find her way out of the forest, she also has to decide who to trust, who to believe, and who she truly is – passive daughter of a samurai or Mariko, inventor, planner and fighter.

This is the first of a two book series set in feudal Japan. The setting definitely comes to life, going so far as to reach out and threaten the unwary.  There is action, there is romance, and there is mystery.  Readers will definitely want to know what happens next.

And I have to admit that was my only problem with the book.  There is enough left hanging that you will want to immediately pick up the next book but that doesn’t come out until May 2018.

That said, this is definitely an excellent book for fantasy fans especially the patient ones who don’t mind waiting until May.


September 6, 2017

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:43 pm by suebe2

rump the true story of rumplestiltskinRump:
The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Knopf Books for Young Readers

When your name sets up your destiny, you want a good name, a great name, a name that makes people take notice.  In a good way.

Unfortunately, Rump’s mother was very sick when he was born.  She whispered his name to the newborn child but Rump was all anyone heard.  So Rump he became.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad name to have?  No, I didn’t think so.

But life was okay.  Rump’s grandmother loved him dearly.  And he had one friend – a girl named Red, a name as fiery as his temper and only a little better than his own.  But food is scarce and if you don’t find gold in the mines your family will go hungry.

Rump has to feed his grandmother.  She’s simply too weak to survive the winter.  So in spite of her warning he gets out his mother’s spinning wheel.  He doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t know why, but he can spin straw into gold.  With gold, he can keep the only family he knows alive.

But with each whir of the wheel, Rump spins himself deeper into the curse.

A have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this one.  But once I did?  I was captured in a rumple, a tangle of threads, that wouldn’t let me go.

Spinning straw into gold may seem like a blessing but it is truly a curse and Rump knows that he needs help to break it.  He leaves behind his village and sets off in search of the town where his mother grew up.  Surely someone who knew her will be able to help him out.

Shurtliff has spun a story that is part fairy tale and fantasy and part mystery and tale of discovery.  With each fact Rump finds about his mother, he learns something about himself.  With each person he meets, he learns about the world he lives in. He learns about the difference between fact and fear.  He learns about friendship and trust.

Although this story involves a character who traipse across the country side, it is comfortably middle grade.  Young readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales but are ready for something beyond the realm of the picture book, this book is a must.


April 12, 2017

Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:58 pm by suebe2

Ccavern of secretsavern of Secrets (Book #2 in the Wing and Claw series)
by Linda Sue Park

If you haven’t read Forest of Wonders, the first book in the series yet, I’d suggest that you pick it up.  Not that you won’t understand Cavern of Secrets without it, but it is such an amazing book.  And series books are just that much better when you read them in order, don’t you agree?

Raffa and his friends have spent the winter hiding in the Sudden Mountains.  Winter is bad enough but they are all still adjusting to the fact that Garith is deaf. Raffa does all that he can to make Garith’s life easier but his cousin always seems to be mad at him.

Then one night Garith disappears.  Raffa wants to go after his cousin — what if he can’t hear danger approaching?  What if he gets in trouble?  But Kuma convinces him that he has no choice but to let the other boy go.  Like all of them, Garith has to choose his own path.

Besides, Raffa has other worries.  Echo, his bat who has eaten a plant that allows him to talk, is growing sicker and sicker.  When Echo flies away, he leads them to a hidden cave system in which Raffa finds a glowing plant with healing properties.  Can Raffa use it to cure-all of the animals that have been given the vine that lets them speak so that they can once again be wild?  And if he can should he also cure Echo?

I’m not going to write any more about the plot because I don’t want to give too much away.  Like the first book in the series, these characters are marvelously complicated.  No one is completely good or completely bad and it makes for a wonderfully complex story.

The story touches on many themes including loyalty and responsibility. Linda Sue Park has created a rich world of magic and science (apothecary), generosity and greed. It is a place your young reader will want to visit if he or she loves fantasy or adventure.


January 21, 2016

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 5:01 am by suebe2

The Sword of Summer
Book 1 in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan

Life isn’t easy on the streets but Magnus has been homeless for two years.  He knows who will give him food, where to find a mostly safe place to sleep and how to avoid the cops.  Then one of his friends hands him a missing person flier.  Magnus can’t believe it.  After two years, his uncle is looking for him.

Magnus spies on his uncle and his cousin Annabeth but his mother told him to avoid her brothers.  He doesn’t really know why but he decides that he needs to know what is going on and breaks into his uncle’s house.

Uncle Randolph catches him in the house and starts to tell him about their family’s history.  They are descended from Vikings.  There is a missing sword.  The only one who can find it is Magnus and, fortunately, the sword is in the Boston area, just a few blocks away.

Soon Magnus finds himself on a bridge holding a corroded piece of metal.  His uncle claims it is an ancient sword and it is all Magnus has to fend off the deadly fire giant that is standing right in front of him.  When his attempt to dice up the giant fails, Magnus’ soul is snatched up by a Valkeyrie who takes him to Asgard.  If he can prove he is a hero, he will have a place there.  If not . . . he doesn’t even want to consider the alternative.

If this sounds a lot like Percy Jackson, don’t be shocked.  Riordan has found his niche and young readers love him for it.  Although Percy Jackson is all about the Greek gods and Magnus Chase is about the Norse, the two worlds overlap.  Annabeth, Magnus’ cousin, is Annabeth daughter of Athena from Percy Jackson.  If you’re expecting the book to be 100% original, you might be disappointed.  Instead, go into it understanding that the two series overlap.

As always, the story is full of Riordan’s quirky brand of humor.  His secondary characters especially seem to be designed to make us laugh. My favorite? Half Born the Beserker.  Or maybe Loki.  His Loki is very bit the amazing trickster that I expected — alluring, coniving and just a little scary.  Riordan has done an admirable job in creating a full range of characters so that both boys and girls will be drawn into the story.  Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.




December 26, 2015

A Riddle in Ruby by Kent Davis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

A Riddle in Ruby
by Kent Davis
Greenwillow Books

If you were lucky enough to get a book store gift card yesterday for Christmas, consider buying A Riddle in Ruby.  

When I met Ruby, my first thought was Oliver Twist.  Ruby was clearly perpetrating a scam.  Pretending to be gravely injured while trying to pick a lock.  I was certain that her accomplice was also her master, forcing her to break the law.

But it quickly become clear that things are much more complicated than that.  Gwath is her senior in age as well as her teacher.  He is also the ship’s cook.  Ruby has grown up aboard the Thrift were her father ferries passengers across the ocean, telling mock pirate stories and pretending to be something he is not.  In fact the whole crew pretends to be pirates and the whole thing gets on Ruby’s nerves.

Until one day when their only passenger is young Lord Athens and his man-servant Crum.  A Royal Navy vessel is in pursuit.  Athens is sure that they are after him but Ruby’s father seems certain that it is his daughter they want.  He orders the pair into hiding.

It is truly impossible to summarize this story without giving it away.  The world is every bit as complicated as Hogwarts and Harry Potter but it isn’t a contemporary story.  This piece of colonial fiction portrays a world that never existed but . . . if it had?  Wow.

Alchemy called chemystry has altered the face of society.  Lights can be lit and food can be cooked if only you can afford the service.  Chemysts have built cities on top of cities, occupying the sunlight expanses above while Ruby and her ilk lurk below, struggling to make a living in the shadows.

When Ruby realizes that she is the one everyone is looking for such doesn’t understand.  At first she thinks she has something that they want but then she realizes that it goes much, much deeper.

Whether it is Ruby posing as a boy or Lord Athen posing as Lord Athen, few characters are who they initially seem to be.  The world is delightfully complex.  Things aren’t so complicated that they are confusing but they are definitely complex enough to support a series.  The characters are equally complicated — doing what they think is best at the time only to discover that they’ve made a dreadful mistake.  They often find themselves in situations where there is no clear-cut good choice.

Pick this one up and share it with the young fantasy lover in your life today.


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