The Man Who was Magic
Young Adult / March 12, 2018

Author: Paul Gallico. Summary: A stranger comes to the city of Mageia and challenges its inhabitants with a new kind of magic – a magic that restores innocence and faith. My Thoughts: The Man Who was Magic is a pretty little fable, a little too straight-forward and moralistic to my tastes. Adam is a sweetly naive young magician who assumes only the best of everyone, but still navigates his time in a city of hostile pseudo-magicians without hurt. He befriends a little girl, teaches her the secrets of his magic, shocks the entire city with his dramatic final display, and vanishes from the city before he can be mobbed. The “lessons” that magic is all around us in nature and ourselves, and that the imagination is a powerful tool when well-exercised, seem awfully moralistic as I said; although I don’t disagree with them, to be sure. Content Review: Sexual Content: None. Language: None. Violence: Magician sends ants and wasps to sting and drive off a boy spying on him. One character is found dead of a broken neck – which happened presumably during a mob panic that happened directly before.

The Storyspinner
Young Adult / March 4, 2018

The Keeper’s Chronicles #1. Author: Becky Wallace. Summary: Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected. In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure. The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna. With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that…

Adult / March 2, 2018

Author: Robin McKinley. Summary: The only daughter of a beloved king and queen, Princess Lissar has grown up in the shadow of her parent’s infinite adoration for each other—an infatuation so great that it could only be broken by the queen’s unexpected passing. As Lissar reaches womanhood, it becomes clear to everyone in the kingdom that she has inherited her late mother’s breathtaking beauty. But on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Lissar’s exquisite looks become a curse… Betrayed and abused, Lissar is forced to flee her home to escape her father’s madness. With her loyal dog Ash at her side, Lissar finds refuge in the mountains where she has the chance to heal and start anew. And as she unlocks a door to a world of magic, Lissar finds the key to her survival and begins an adventure beyond her wildest dreams. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I’m not familiar with the fairy tale (Donkeyskin) this springs from, but long before I got to the end and saw the author’s note I knew the story was a fairy-tale. From the fairy-tale epitaphs like “the fairest woman in seven kingdoms” to the dreamy prose, from the conscious tropes to the startling…

Dandelion Fire
Middle Grade / Juvenile / February 7, 2018

100 Cupboards #2. Author: N.D. Wilson. Summary: Henry York never dreamed his time in Kansas would open a door to adventure, much less a hundred doors. But a visit to his aunt and uncle’s farm took an amazing turn when cupboard doors, hidden behind Henry’s bedroom wall, revealed themselves to be portals to other worlds. Now, with his time at the farm drawing to a close, Henry makes a bold decision–he must go through the cupboards to find the truth about where he’s from and who his parents are. Following that trail will take him from one world to another, and ultimately into direct conflict with the evil of Endor. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: The cupboard series went from 1 to 100 just like that! In the first book, we have a fun, lighthearted portal fantasy, which starts out with Henry meeting his cousins, exploring Kansas, getting some backstory. Kind of a slow opening. Then we move onto exploring the cupboards that open out into different worlds. I didn’t think it was amazing, but it was nice. It’s all pretty mysterious, very obviously a setting-up book, but the main villain seems to be an evil witch Henry accidentally wakes up….

Young Adult / February 1, 2018

Skinjacker #2. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: Everlost, the limbo land of dead children, is at war. Nick the “Chocolate Ogre” wants to help the children of Everlost reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Mary Hightower, self-proclaimed queen of lost children and dangerous fanatic, is determined to keep Everlost’s children trapped within its limbo for all eternity. Traveling in the memory of the Hindenburg, Mary is spreading her propaganda and attracting Afterlights to her cause at a frightening speed. Meanwhile, Allie the Outcast travels home to seek out her parents, along with Mikey, who was once the terrifying monster the McGill. Allie is tempted by the seductive thrill of skinjacking the living, until she discovers the shocking truth about skinjackers. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: So if the first book was a lot of set up, this is the part where that pays off. One awesome bit is how Neal Shusterman embraces the fairy-tale feeling of Everlost itself. Limbo is at war, but this is so much more than a war of numbers – it is a war of propaganda. The Sky Witch versus the Chocolate Ogre. The most dangerous enemy is someone completely convinced they are in the…

Young Adult / January 28, 2018

Skinjacker #1. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident… …but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to get either. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost children run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth. When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost kids, Nick feels like he he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Everlost is a bit like Alice in Wonderland – if Wonderland made sense, in an internal self-contained way. I mean, our characters fall down a long hole into a strange, often whimsical, new land. A land where how you remember yourself determines your appearance, where falling straight to the center of the earth…

100 Cupboards
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 24, 2018

  100 Cupboards #1. Author: N. D. Wilson. Summary: Twelve-year-old Henry York is going to sleep one night when he hears a bump on the attic wall above his head. It’s an unfamiliar house—Henry is staying with his aunt, uncle, and three cousins—so he tries to ignore it. But the next night he wakes up with bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall, and one of them is slowly turning… Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers doors—ninety-nine cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room—with a man strolling back and forth! Henry and his cousin Henrietta soon understand that these are not just cupboards. They are, in fact, portals to other worlds. My Thoughts: Hovering right between 2.5 and 3 stars. The story takes a while to get going, and while Henry is fairly interesting as a withdrawn, sheltered protagonist his behavior also seems inconsistent. Sometimes he’s totally shy and polite, sometimes he’s scared stiff of adventure, and sometimes he strips the wall of his borrowed bedroom apart without a second thought? He seems like…

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…

House of Many Ways
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 4, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #3. Author: Diana Wynn Jones. Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by…

Castle in the Air
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 3, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #2. Author: Diane Wynn Jones. Summary: Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer named Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet. That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess…. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Hm… it’s okay. I’m not sure if my reaction of “meh” is actually from the book, or just because I’ve read a lot of Aladdin retellings, and Aladdin isn’t even one of my favorite stories. The insta-love is a strike, even in middle-grade. But on the plus side, Abdullah is an engaging main character, and the magic carpet is always good. Always. The story’s mostly set in “the Sultanates of Rashpuht”, a land far…