The Marvelous Land of Snergs

by Veronica Cossanteli
First sentence: “‘Children need rules,’ stated Miss Watkyns.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 20, 2022
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at the bookstore.
Content: There is some violence, but not really. I was telling someone at the bookstore that this will make a great read aloud but I have no idea if an 8-10 year old will want to pick it up Maybe the right 8-10 year old. It’s in the Middle Grae section of the bookstore.

Pip and Flora are orphans, who have found themselves at the Sunny By Hoe for Superfluous and Accidentally Parentless Children. They are not entirely happy there; the director, Miss Watkyns, is very strict and always going on about rules, and Pip and Flora are not terribly good at following them. until one day, when they are punished and then end up in the woods, and through a gate that was accidenally left over, and they find themseleves in teh land of the Snergs. Their guide, Gorbo, isn’t not terribly bright or put-together, but together they manage to get in a bit of trouble, meet the Snerg Queen and go up against a wicked witch.

No, it’s not a plot-heavy book though Things do Happen It really would make a delightful read-aloud to a 4-6-year-old, someone who doesn’t mind the low stakes and would be entertained by the silliness. Because it is sill. Not ad, just silly. The marketing material says it’s based on the original story by E. A. Wyke-Smith, which inspired Tolkien to write The Hobbit, so there is that. IT does feel like something from the 1920s, with its Capital Letters and morals (but not terribly heavy-handed morals). Even so, I found it delightful. Not deep, but entertaining.

Which is probably all I really needed.

Forging Silver Into Stars

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “This was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”
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Others in the series (sort-of; it’s a spinoff, but reading these helps):  A Curse So Dark and LonelyA Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Content: There is some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section grades 9+) of the bookstore.

So you know: this book picks up four years after the events in “A Vow So Bold and Deadly”. There will probably be spoilers for the first series.

Friends Jax and Callyn live in a small village, a few hours outside of the main city in Syhl Shallow. They’re just a blacksmith and a baker and are a bit wary of the idea of magic being in their country in the form of the king. so, when an opportunity to earn some silver ones their way, they jump at the chance. Little did they know they were getting into an organized insurrection, one that was determined to overthrow the king. There’s more to the story, one that involves Tycho, who is a friend of the king and a courier between Syhl Shallow and the neighboring country of Emberfall. There’s also some romance, betrayal, and a lot of riding horseback through the country.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t absolutely love it either. Kemmerer has a good storyteller, but maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this. Even so, i might be interested enough to finish the story when th enext book comes out.

Graceling

by Kristin Cashore, illustrated by Gareth Hinds
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Content: There is some violence and an implied sex scene. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Graceling, if I had to choose, is one of my favorite books of all time. So, I’m glad it exists in graphic novel form if only to draw in more readers to the world that Cashore has built. And I admit that I’ve been meaning to reread these before reading Winterkeep (I’ve been putting it off), and reading the graphic novel gave me a reason to read it without having to actually read it.

On the one hand, it was wonderful to be back in Katsa’s world, to see the story that Cashore built, follow its twists and turns. And Hinds’s illustrations are pretty great; I loved the way he illustrated the fights, and how he imagined Cashore’s world.

But I think the graphic novel diluted some of the impact of the novel (or maybe it’s just because I know what’s going to happen). It didn’t have the same punch that the novel did. I didn’t feel the same connection for the characters, the same dread. Maybe, though, it’ll inspire people to pick up the books. Or maybe Hinds will illustrate the other ones. Either way, I’m glad I got a chance to visit the world again.

DNF: The Candle and the Flame

by Nafiza Azad
First sentence: “The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve you too.”
Content: There was some flirting and talk of marriage in the parts that I finished. It’d probably be in the YA (grades 6-8)section of the bookstore if we had it in.

On paper, this should hit all my “really like” buttons: an orphan that survived a massacre and is trying to make ends meet, a city ruled by djinn, magic, fierce girls, sweeping desert vistas, a diverse city on the edge of destruction.

But in actuality? It kind of fell flat. There was WAY too much telling, not nearly enough showing. So much exposition and it was just moving along at a plodding pace (the opener was really good, though). I wanted to like it, but more than 100 pages into it, I realized that I don’t have enough time in my day to spend on a book that I”m not enjoying. Even if it is for a class.

Oh, well. Maybe there’s a djinn book with a fierce girl as the main character out there that is better than this one.

Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim
First sentence: “The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt, and regret.”
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Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Shiori is the only Princess of the Kiata kingdom, the youngest of seven children of the Emperor. She’s basically a good kid, except she has a secret: she is magic. Which is a big deal in a world where magic has been banned. Oh, and she does NOT want to marry the person she is betrothed to. But when she discovers a secret about her stepmother, her six brothers are turned into cranes and Shiori is cursed: for every sound she utters, one of her brothers will die. She is then sent to the farthest reaches of the kingdom, and she has to find her brothers as well as her way back home. Along the way, help comes from the unlikeliest of sources: the same betrothed she was trying so hard to avoid marrying.

I’ve seen Lim’s work around; one of the teens in the teen review group at the store really liked her Spin the Dawn. And I have to admit: Lim has a way with fairy tales. It’s a grand fantasy, with dragons and magic and villains and double crossing, but it’s also, at its heart, a fairy tale, where the main character has growth and learns her lessons and all ends up happily ever after (mostly). Lim was able to keep me turning pages, pulling me in with her storytelling. It wasn’t heavy-handed, and I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns it took (though I did suspect a few things, but I think we were supposed to). It was a really good story, and one where I am curious to see where it goes from here.

Maybe I’ll even go back and read her other duology, too.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down fro the moutnains and sneak under the lather and fur of my jacket.”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely, A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Content: There are two sex scenes, both off-screen. And there is a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Things look bleak for our characters: Grey is in Syhl Shallow, trying to convince them that he’s not going to turn traitor and kill the armies when they march on Emberfall. Lia Mara is trying to find a balance between having her people respect but not fear her, and still maintain control. Rhen feels increasingly like he’s pinned into a corner by Lilith, the enchantress who initially cursed him. And Harper’s just trying to forgive Rhen (or at least move past) for imprisoning and beating Grey. As the two countries head toward war, everything looks like it’s going to come crashing down around everyone.

This was a really good conclusion to a series that started out as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It became something much more: a treatise on violence and when it’s warranted, and the choices that we make because we feel we have to or are forced to. I did enjoy spending time with the characters, and while I didn’t necessarily find it swoon-worthy, it was fun. Which is all you need, sometimes.

It’s a good, solid series, and now that all three are out, there’s reason not to read them.

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.

The Midnight Lie

by Marie Rutkoski
First sentence: “There were warning signs in the War that day that anyone could have seen.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of emotional abuse and some physical abuse. There is off-screen sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’s probably better for the older end of the range (depending on the kid).

Nirrim has grown up as an orphan in the Ward, a place on this remote island where they stick the lowest caste, the Half-Kith. She works for Raven, both in Raven’s tavern and as a forger of passports for Half-Kith to escape the Ward. Then, one day, a rare bird is sighted in the Ward, which Nirrim catches and turns in. Which gets her arrested and thrown in jail to be tithed (they take the blood of the Half-Kith), which is where she meets Sid. And her life completely changes.

The plot is a bit convoluted to get into, but it involves gods and magic and Nirrim waking up to her situation and acting for change. The book is more character and inner-dialogue driven than plot-driven, but it worked for me. Rutoski has written a beautifully worded book (it reminded me of Laini Taylor’s work), that drew me in and kept me turning pages, even when it felt like nothing was happening.

And the love story is gorgeous as well. I enjoyed the push and pull between Sid and Nirrim, how they bring out the best in each other. Though one word of warning: it’s a first book (though it reads like a stand alone) and knowing that may cushion the blow of the brutal ending.

Definitely worth reading.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “I miss knowing exactly what time it is.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some moments of violence and mild swearing It’s in the teen section of the bookstore.

This picks up where the first book in the series left off: Rhen and Harper have put off their enemies to the north in Syhl Shallow, but that seeded unrest in Emberfall. There are rumors that there is another heir, someone more suited to the crown than Rhen, and that his former Commander of the Royal Guard, Grey, knows who it is. But, Grey is refusing to tell. Meanwhile, one of the daughters of the Syhl Shallow queen, Lia Mara, would rather have peace than war, but instead of negotiating, Rhen imprisons her. She and Grey fall in together (after a series of incredibly vicious circumstances) and try to broker peace between the two countries.

It’s been forever since I read the first in this series, and from what I can gather over at Goodreads, that’s a good thing. This book follows Grey and Lia Mara, leaving Rhen and Harper to be background characters. I think if you read these two too close together, you get invested in Rhen and Harper’s story and there’s a bit of backlash with the change in narrators. As for me, I didn’t mind. I liked seeing the growth in Grey and Lia Mara’s quiet strength. I liked following their stories and learning more about characters where were background in the first book. I though it was an interesting development in the story, moving away from the fairy tale retelling and becoming its own thing. It’s probably not perfect, but I found it entertaining and am curious to see where the next book takes these characters.

Arrows of the Queen

by Mercedes Lackey
First sentence: “A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the tree, but the young girl seated beneath it did not seem to notice.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Though, to be honest, you’ll probably have to buy it used.)
Content: There is some violence, and some (tasteful) attempted sex. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, if we had it.

Talia is a young, sheltered girl in a Holding that is super patriarchal, giving all the power to men and making women either wives or nuns in service to the Goddess. But Talia dreams of something more: she wants to be a Queen’s Herald. She’s secretly read tales of the Heralds, with the horse-Companions and the adventures, and longs to be one of them. She has no idea how one becomes a Herald, but when she turns 13 and her elders start talking about marrying her off, she runs off. And is chosen by one of the Companions, Roland. From there, Talia is thrust into a whole new world, one of classes and work and acceptance and challenges and friends. At first, she is hesitant, but as the months and (eventually) years go on, she becomes more confident with her role not only as a Herald, but as the Queen’s Own.

I’ve read Lackey before, but not in a while, and not very much. I like her style, though there seems to be a lot more exposition than either action or dialogue. Perhaps that was part of the style when this was written in 1987, but it did drag the story down. That, and Talia was super perfect. I liked her — I mean you have to be heartless if you don’t — but she wasn’t the most interesting character. She was always stalwart, always likable, and always had the answers to her problems. It got old pretty quickly.

Even so, I liked her adventures and the world that Lackey built, and I’m not sorry I dipped into this one.