Tag Archives: fantasy

A Beautiful, Lyrical, Magical Story

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye WaltonThis is, without question, one of the best and most beautifully written books I’ve read in several years. Ava Lavender is a normal girl in many respects but with one major difference: she was born with wings. In an effort to determine where she came from, she recounts her family history and in doing so spans continents and generations. Love is gained and then lost, moments turn from thrills to devastation, and families break apart and come together again. Through four generations of women Ava comes to her own story in a stunning coming-of-age novel that embraces humanity in all it’s beauty and fragility. Walton’s use of lyricism, historical detail, powerful and unique characters, and magical realism combines to create a hearbreaking and unforgettable narrative. And though it was published as a young adult novel, its emotional maturity and expressive narrative make it an appealing read for both teens and adults. Continue reading A Beautiful, Lyrical, Magical Story

Action-packed Fantasy (with a bit of history and mythology, too)

The Dragon’s Tooth by N. D. Wilson

In the middle of America (Wisconsin, to be precise), twelve-year-old Cyrus Smith and his older siblings Antigone and Daniel are living their everyday hum-drum lives. Of course, their version of “hum drum” involves living parent-less, managing a run-down motel, and eating pancakes for just about every meal while pretending to the outside world that all is well. But when a strange tattooed man claiming to know their deceased father shows up, a strange turn of events (and one wild taxi ride) takes them to Ashtown and the steps of the Order of Brendan, the secret society of famous explorers throughout history. Thrown headfirst into a world of conspiracy, secrets, and adventure, they fight to prove themselves and stay alive in what is a sometimes crazy, sometimes scary, and always entertaining journey.

N. D. Wilson, author of the 100 Cupboards series, has created an adventurous and magical world that could almost exist in your own backyard. Think Harry Potter but in America and with real historical people as characters. Continue reading Action-packed Fantasy (with a bit of history and mythology, too)

Cinderella is an Assasin

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is a prisoner in the salt mines of Endovier, living out a life sentence for her life as a notorious assassin. After surviving a year as a slave in the harsh mines, she is suddenly given a way to freedom: the king is hosting a competition for a position as his personal assassin, and Prince Dorian, crown prince of Endovier, wants to champion Celaena. Despite her loathing for the war-faring king, Celaena agrees, and her new journey–emotional and physical–begins. Once she arrives at the palace, she finds her competition to be fierce, full of other criminals and soldiers. Over the weeks of elimination challenges, Celaena finds herself involved with many of the big names at court. She also finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery as other potential assassins are found dead, one by one. Is she next? How can she stop what seems to be a malevolent, magical force? A destiny awaits her beyond any she could have imagined. Oh, and don’t forget love interests! (I’ll just say “love triangle with swoon-worthy guys” and leave it at that.)

Maas started her story on the premise that Cinderella was actually a deadly assassin. Continue reading Cinderella is an Assasin

A Healer Wants To Be A Fighter In This Fantasy-Adventure World

Soulbound by Heather Brewer (Legacy of Tril book one)

Review based on Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

What’s worse than being blackmailed to attend a hidden school where you’re treated like a second-class citizen? How about nearly getting eaten by a monster when you arrive? Or learning that your soulmate was killed in a centuries-old secret war? And then there’s the evil king who’s determined to rule the world unless you can stop him…

”  – Goodreads

In the land of Tril, war against the Graplar King has ravaged the land for ages, but only a handful of the population really knows it: the Barrons and Healers. Barrons are warriors, and each Barron is soulbound to a Healer who, you guessed it, heal them when they’re injured. Once bound, they are bound for life, and Shadow Academy protocol dictates that they will stay together, the Barron protecting and the Healer lingering in the background out of danger.

Kaya is seventeen, a Healer, and seriously doesn’t like protocol. In fact, she wouldn’t even be at the Academy if they hadn’t threatened her parents (two married Barrons, a serious protocol no-no). When she gets to Shadow Academy, she learns that her soulbound Barron died in battle, and she becomes bound to a new Barron, a gorgeous guy who makes her melt any time he’s around. When Kaya starts meeting others at the school, though, things are not so smooth–Healers are expected to be complacent and serve, something Kaya cannot stop challenging. When her Barron refuses to teach her how to fight, she learns illegally from a young, brooding teacher who, for some reason, seems to have it in for her. As Kaya learns more about the centuries-old war and the people in her new life, she digs herself closer to the truth and further into danger. Nothing is truly as it seems, and Kaya is thrown about in the waves of conflict, both from within academy walls and in the outside war against the Graplar King.

And can you say super-crazy-cliffhangers ten times fast? Fans will be clamoring for the next book before the first is even published! Continue reading A Healer Wants To Be A Fighter In This Fantasy-Adventure World

Fantasy Adventure with Beauty, Intelligence, and Depth

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Book three in the Graceling series)

Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

Let me start off by saying if you’re not familiar with Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, go here first to read our review of the first book, Graceling, in this companion book trilogy. It’s a great fantasy adventure with an active, feisty female protagonist, and both Ruby and I loved it (and all consequent books!). If you have read Graceling and it’s companion Fire, carry on.

Bitterblue is, obviously, the long-awaited third book in Cashore’s fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms. While Graceling focuses on Katsa (a young woman with a killing grace) and Fire goes over the mountains and into the past to show us the Dells and a human monster named Fire, Bitterblue focuses on the young queen of the same name. (Never fear, Katsa and Po fans: they, along with other familiar faces, are woven throughout the pages and in Bitterblue’s life.)

It has been eight years since Bitterblue’s father, the mind-controlling graceling King Leck, was killed, and she has been growing up under the title of Queen of Monsea. Surrounded by old advisors who would like to pardon all crimes under Leck’s horrific reign and pretend those decades never happened, she finds herself under a mountain of paperwork, governing a land she does not feel she knows. At first Bitterblue trusts her advisers’ judgment, but her growing frustration and a sense of ignorance about the reality of her father, his reign, and the people and society of Monsea makes her realize that she has much to learn. In a moment of exasperation, Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle one night in servant’s clothes and finds herself in a crumbling city full of thieves–some friendly, some dangerous–and finally realizes that the “truths” she is being told in her castle are not real. Through her budding relationship with two thieves and printers, Bitterblue slowly learns about her kingdom through her disguise and starts to uncover the fog that Leck left on his subjects, as well as the deceit and misinformation making its way to her palace. As her own mind wakes up to the realities of her kingdom–both beautiful and tragic–and she starts a secret project to uncover who Leck really was and how she can bring her people back to the light. Bitterblue is more of a mental adventure than its predecessors, but it still holds the key ingredients that have made all of Cashore’s books a success, including romance, adventure, suspense and intrigue, and difficult, sometimes philosophical questions about self and others. I loved Bitterblue, and my only (minor) regret is that I didn’t re-read the companion novels before diving in. Continue reading Fantasy Adventure with Beauty, Intelligence, and Depth

Author Spotlight: Interview with Tamora Pierce

Back in October Ruby and I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with and interview world-renowned (some say legendary) author Tamora Pierce! Known for her young-adult epic fantasy books with strong female protagonists, Tamora Pierce has published nearly 30 books in the worlds she has created, including the popular Alanna books (Song of the Lioness quartet), The Immortals quartet, The Circle of Magic quartet, the Beka Cooper series, and more. Her most recent book, Mastiff, is the third and final installment in the world of Beka Cooper, a rookie being trained in the Provost’s guard as a law-enforcer in the lower city. It was published just before our interview (and the event that followed). Tamora was a hoot to chat with and gave quite the fun performance after. The long delay between October and now is over, and the interview is posted below–enjoy!


Jenny: According to the Frequently Asked Questions on your website, you get your ideas from everywhere. Do you ever have too many ideas—do they ever cramp up in your brain? How do you release them?

Yes, I have too many ideas for books, but I’ve just learned to schedule them rather than let them overtake me all at once. It used to be that I’d have pages and pages of notes of ideas for different projects, and my first agents actually told me I had too many ideas. I didn’t see that as being a problem, but she seemed to think it might be. What I do now is if I get an idea for something, I’ll put it into my brain and let it cook, and if I can’t remember it–and this isn’t something I recommend for most people, ‘cause it doesn’t work always, but for me, I’ve been at this long enough, I know my own processes enough–and I know if I can’t remember it again (and this is for longer-term projects), then it wasn’t meant to be, but if it’s something that I’m meant to work on, then it will come back. And then I will work on it some more, I’ll take it out when I’m doing dishes or showering… There’s something about writers and water and ideas. ‘Cause Bruce Coville, who is my writing buddy and my best writer friend, says that when he’s working on a book there isn’t a dirty dish in the house. […] But I will keep doing that. I’ll put [the idea] back and then take it out and work on it when I’m driving–although that’s not always a good idea–or when I’m feeding the wildlife in back or feeding the cats, and eventually I’ll reach the point where I’ll feel up to saying it aloud to my husband. Sometimes I’ll open my mouth and the idea will come out and it will die right there. But if it survives the conversation with my husband, then I’ll put it back in and let it cook some more. So I’ll repeat the process until I’m feeling confident enough that I’ll go to whichever of my editors is appropriate and I’ll mention, “I’ve been thinking about this.” And we’ll talk about it, […] and eventually, when I’m reaching the end of a contract with that publisher, my editor will say, “Contract?” And I’ll say, “Yes, I think so.”

Jenny: How do you organize your ideas and writing?

It used to be when I started I’d have to do the whole book, and then it was three chapters and an outline and sample outlines for other books in the series, and then it got to be a three page outline for four books, and now it’s four books and a one-page outline, except I can’t even keep it that short, so I had to write three pages of outline for four books. And we’ll draw up a contract on that, and eventually by the time I reach the point of working on the first book, I will have the main character and the main secondary characters. If it’s a series, I’ll have the story arc for each book–because each has to have an enclosed story–and the overarching series arc as well. And I’ll have the ending for each. I’m not so good on middles. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Tamora Pierce

French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin, book one)

Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae has had a harsh life: born the daughter of death, her “mortal” father fears and hates her, and after years of beatings and abuse, she is sold into an arranged marriage. When strangers help her to escape, she finds herself taken to the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that she is not only Death’s daughter but also a tool of Death’s revenge. At the convent Ismae becomes strong, learning everything from poisons and hand-to-hand combat to societal etiquette and effective spying techniques. Over the years, she develops friendships, new skills, and a place she calls home. (All of this takes place in 15th-Century Brittany.)

Several years later and in the midst of her first assassination assignment–her job is to find a man “marked” with Death’s fingerprint and perform His will–she encounters a handsome but frustrating nobleman, Duval, and he becomes a complication that follows her into her next trip and provides riddles as to the protection of the Duchess of Brittany, Death’s true intent, and the way the world truly functions. As the political intrigue grows, Duval and Ismae grow closer, supposedly working together while struggling to trust one another. When the convent determines it is Death’s will that Duval be assassinated, Ismae finds herself in an emotionally tumultuous position, unsure of her loyalties and her developing feelings. All the while Brittany is threatened by attack from France and the young Duchess is in ever-growing danger and in need of Ismae’s protection. Without giving away too much of the plot or romance, let’s just say it’s a really good page-turner! Continue reading French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

It’s Hard to Go Wrong with a Magic Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Castle Glower is a strange, magical place: one day the kitchen may be just next to the throne room, and the next it may be down three flights of stairs and through a winding corridor. Only the castle knows where things will be next, and only Celie–Princess Cecelia, youngest daughter of King Glower–bothers to chart the castle’s fluid blueprint. Celie is a combination archaeologist and architect, mapping out the ever-changing pathways and room arrangements of Castle Glower. She’s determined to be the first one ever to complete an atlas, and hers is stacked high with color-coded markings, for she knows the castle better than anyone. (The castle does, after all, like Celie best.) Along with her brother Rolf (heir to the throne), her older sister Lilah, and their parents (the king and queen), Celie lives happily with her royal family in their country of Sleyne.

When the king and queen, along with Celie’s eldest brother Brandt, go missing on an excursion to the wizarding college, a mutinous royal council declares them dead and their 14-year-old son Rolf to be king under a regency. Lilah, Rolf, and Celie, though, are not convinced, and as clues pile up–the castle itself continues to organize and decorate rooms as though their parents are still alive–they realize that something serious is amiss. When a foreign prince makes his way on the royal council and tries to become heir to the throne, the three Glower children must fight for the home–and country–that they love. Luckily they’ve got a magic castle on their side. Continue reading It’s Hard to Go Wrong with a Magic Castle

Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Really? you must be asking yourselves. Rick Riordan? Hasn’t the whole world pretty much reviewed his books, like, years ago?

Well, yeah.

But hey, I loved the books! (Also, I’d rather review The Son of Neptune than clean my room.)

On the off chance that nobody here has read (or heard of) the Percy Jackson series, here’s a brief overview: ancient Greek gods and goddesses are real, and they never disappeared–they’ve followed the rise of Western culture and currently reside on Mt. Olympus over the Empire State Building. Percy Jackson–main character, obviously–discovers he’s a “hero” or Greek “demigod”, a half-mortal, and his father is Poseidon, which turns out to be problematic. After a brief time at Camp Half Blood, he and his new friends are off on a quest full of mythical beasts, minor deities, and worldwide catastrophe. It’s rollicking good fun, incredibly smart, and impressively accurate on the ancient history/mythology level. Alas, after five books, the series was done.

But wait! There’s more! Continue reading Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!

Prophesy, Magic, & Fantasy Adventure

The Naming: The First Book of Pellinor by Alison Croggon (Pellinor series)

In The Naming, Alison Croggon weaves an intricate, magical world full of compelling and complicated characters that fans of Tolkien’s high fantasy will appreciate.

Maerad is nearly sixteen-years old, an orphan and a slave in the detestable holdings of Gilman’s Cot. Known for her “witch” powers, she manages to keep others at a distance while finding solace in her one escape, her music. Maerad knows true escape is impossible, so when a strange man named Cadvan appears in the stables one day and tells her he can save her–and that she is special–Maerad’s world is turned upside down.

Cadvan is a mystic bard, one from the schools of magic all across the continent. As they escape both Gilman’s Cot and the dangers Cadvan himself is running from, he begins to teach Maerad about her own “gift”, for she too has the power, a remarkably strong and unusual talent for one as untrained as herself. As they journey through wilderness, towns, and the schools of the bards, danger follows, and Cadvan begins to suspect that his meeting with Maerad was not mere coincidence. Together they explore a prophesy of the “Foretold One” who is to save the world from the Nameless One, a bard taken in to the dark forces of magic and politics who, though long thought dead, is returning to power. Is Maerad the prophesied bard, or is Cadvan mistaken? Each adventure reveals new twists to the plot and new elements of magic, and Maerad seeks to come to terms with her new identity and abilities she never knew existed. Politics, battles, intrigue, and beautifully woven scenes make this book a page turner. Maerad is an absorbing character, both determined and unsure, and she grows with her knowledge and powers throughout the story. Continue reading Prophesy, Magic, & Fantasy Adventure