The Language of Thorns
Young Adult / January 6, 2018

Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Author: Leia Bardugo. Summary: Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns. Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Oh, this is very pretty. Each fairytale echoes an older, familiar tale, but they’re not retellings. Some of them are set before the story they echo, or after, and some of them just say what if. What if the girl realized that three impossible missions is an uncertain way to choose a husband, and said no? What if the stepmother wasn’t always evil, but assumptions were made and real culprits overlooked? What if the characters looked and saw the truth of life and didn’t believe in happily-ever-after, but still found a happily-right-now? Leigh Bardugo is intimately familiar with fairy tales, with their language and their rules, with their heroes and their villains, with their slide from whimsical to bloody and back again. Anyone can craft a clever what-if twist, can claim to re-write…

The Blue Sword
Young Adult / June 23, 2017

Damar #1. Author: Robin McKinley. Summary: This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin. And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle. And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies… (Published summary) My Thoughts: The Blue Sword is a story about three ​wholly different things. It’s a story about the coming-of-age journey of a young woman finding her home; the story of a nomadic culture on the decline; and while not the story of, I think we can say a story about, kelar, the wild hill-magic that pervades the setting. Each of these is a strong guiding force in their own way. Harry, our protagonist, is an astonishingly self-possessed young woman, rising to new challenges with ever-growing courage and walking boldly enough down a path she does not know to an end she cannot see. The unfamiliar culture she finds herself in is written with detail…

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Middle Grade / Juvenile / June 6, 2017

Author: Kelly Barnhill. Summary: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known….

The Silver Trumpet
Middle Grade / Juvenile / May 31, 2017

Author: Owen Barfield. Summary: In this delightful fantasy of kings and queens, a magical Silver Trumpet, a jester dwarf, and castle intrigues, English author Owen Barfield has created an enduring tale to captivate the imaginations of all readers. (Goodreads Summary) My Thoughts: Really, a lovely fairy tale in the old style. A handful of interesting metaphors for older readers to discuss, but nothing that tangles the story up or leaves it moralistic or boring. Content Review: Sexual Content: None. Language: One instance of ‘demme’. Violence: One character is killed by fright. There are two instances of planned mob-violence, but both times it is stopped.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Young Adult / August 11, 2016

Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3. Author: Laini Taylor. Summary: By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz. Common enemy, common cause. When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love. But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz … something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world. What power can bruise the sky? (Published summary.) My Thoughts: It’s a little unsettling at first that we have a new view point,…

The White Witch
Adult / June 2, 2016

Author: Elizabeth Goudge. Summary: A lyrical, introspective tale set in 17th Century England, when Cavaliers struggle with Puritans for the king and throne. The story revolves around characters on both sides of the war. On the puritan side, we have a half-gypsy healer with hidden depths, Froniga the white witch. She struggles with her pride and her love for a Catholic. The local squire of her town, Richard, is also a Puritan; he fights his own cowardice and anger as he tries to discern where he really belongs. Froniga’s lover, Yomen, and a young nobleman friend of his, Francis, are both Catholic. The war will test bonds of friendship and love to the limit as it tears them apart, even as the fire purifies and builds them back up again. My Thoughts: It’s easy to tell that this is an older book from the very first page. Where agents and editors now tell authors to “hook readers in the first paragraph” and “keep the action moving”, The White Witch comes from a writing period in which readers were more patient, and appreciative of detail. Elizabeth Goudge takes her time starting, indulging in rich scenic descriptions and narrator-perspective backstory. Beautiful prose…

Black Unicorn

Unicorn Series #1. Author: Tanith Lee. Summary: Nobody knew where it had come from, or what it wanted. Not even Jaive, the sorceress, could fathom the mystery of the fabled beast. But Tanaquil, Jaive’s completely unmagical daughter, understood it at once. She knew why the unicorn was there: It had come for her. It needed her. Tanaquil was amazed because she was the girl with no talent for magic. She could only fiddle with broken bits of machinery and make them work again. What could she do for a unicorn? My Thoughts: Black Unicorn has the taste of a fairy tale; with dreamy landscapes, magical creatures, and set-piece characters intermixed with interesting dimensional characters. It has a simpler story line, with much detail on immediate settings but little over-all world building. While many of the minor characters are undeveloped set-pieces, the main character is an independent multi-dimensional girl with a will of her own and the perseverance to go after what she wants. A good tale for younger readers, as it is quite clean and fairly straight forward, with a fun world and strong protagonist. I think older readers with an inclination to fairy-tales or a certain type of fantasy…

Anna and the Swallow Man
Young Adult / April 30, 2016

Author: Gavriel Savit. Summary: Anna Lania lives in Krakow in 1939, and she’s only seven years old. She doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why her father is gone. But she does understand that a little girl needs a father, so when the Swallow Man goes past she’s ready to follow him. The Swallow Man is an enigma, but he’s in danger, like her father, and he is a speaker of many languages – like her father. He may be reluctant to take on a little girl at first, but she’s a very intelligent child, and there’s nowhere else for her to go. Together, Anna and the Swallow Man will travel for leagues, slipping between the cracks and corners of war. My Thoughts: Anna and the Swallow Man opens in the perspective of a precocious seven-year old girl. Through the story, she will grow and mature, but right now she’s just a little kid lost in a world gone mad. There’s a lot of reading between the lines to be done, because of the view point, and even then it’s confusing in several places. The writing is beautiful, the characters and dynamic compelling. On the one hand we have the girl,…

The Last Unicorn
Adult , Young Adult / April 9, 2016

Author: Peter S. Beagle Summary: A beautiful, bitter-sweet fairytale with the length of a (short) book. Dreamy and haunting, this is the story of the last unicorn of the world. When She left her friendly forest and set out to find others of her kind, the unicorn was soon captured by a witch and bound in a cage she could not break. Released by the witch’s reluctant compatriot, a magician, she continues on her journey, picking up friends and allies on the way. Everywhere she searches, people tell her the unicorns vanished long ago, driven away by a beast known as the Red Bull. In the end she will have to confront him herself. Facing her direst enemy, alone in the end and struggling to keep hold of her true nature, will the world lose the last of her kind? My Thoughts: One of my all time favorites, both for the gorgeous prose, the best treatment of the essential unicorn that I have ever found, and the masterful bitter-sweet tone throughout the entire book as it muses on beauty, youth long past, and loss. Content Review: Sexual content: When the magician turns the unicorn into a girl, she changes into a…

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
Adult , Young Adult / April 8, 2016

Author: Patricia McKillip. Summary: Sybel, with frost-white hair and eyes as black as Drede’s heart, is the sorceress of Eldwold, and she has lived alone on the mountain with her five beasts all her life. So when Coren Sirle, seventh son of a seventh son and nemesis of the king, comes knocking at her door with an infant, she has no idea what to do. Take him and love him, Coren begs, and the sorceress does, raising the boy to young manhood and letting herself love him as nothing else. Then Coren returns, wishing the boy back. Sybel refuses, determined to keep Tamlorn away from the tangled webs of politics and war. But when Tamlorn begs to meet his father, Sybel calls the king of Eldwold to her doorstep to meet his son, setting in motion chains of events that even she will be unable to stop. Tamlorn wants a father. Drede, king of Eldwold, wants the iceflower sorceress for his own. And Sybel wants only to be left alone to call the Liralen – until her power is shaken and her confidence ravaged. Then wakes her anger. My Thoughts: I think The Forgotten Beasts of Eld may be something…