Audiobook: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

woodenprinceby John Claude Bemis
Read by Ralph Lister
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Content: There are some scary parts, but not many. I don’t know how it is as a book, but the story is good for 3rd grade and up.

In this magical steampunk retelling of Pinocchio set in a Renaissance-like Vienna, Pinochhio is an automaton, Geppetto is a alchemist, and there are chimera and a magical kingdom ruled by an immortal ruler. All the elements of the story (or at least the Disney movie; I’ve never actually read the story) are there — the blue fairy, the carnival master, the whale (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie) — but in an entirely new, and fantastical form.

I think this is one I would have liked better reading than listening to. The narrator was fantastic; it often sounded like an ensemble rather than just one person. But, there were sound effects added in, and they drove. me. nuts. They were super distracting and sometimes gross (really, do we need a sound effect for throwing up?), and sometimes made it hard for me to understand the dialogue.

And, to be fair, I kept fading in and out of the story, so I missed a bunch of the story line. Though, it didn’t really seem to matter. I was a bit disappointed it was a first, as well. I wanted it to be a wholly contained story, but it seems a stand-alone speculative fiction isn’t something that is often written anymore.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the best experience, either.

Like a River Glorious

likearivergloriousby Rae Carson
First sentence: “Sunrise comes late to California.”
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Others in the series: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Content: There are some difficult scenes of emotional and physical abuse. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d let people know about the abuse before handing it to them.

Lee Westfall and her friends have made it to California, and Lee, with her “witchy” gold sense, have found them a pretty prime spot for gold hunting. Things are going well, until Lee’s awful (doesn’t even begin to describe it) uncle sends his henchmen to fetch her. They kill a couple of her friends, set fire to the camp, and basically kidnap Lee and a couple of others, including her beau, Jefferson. They end up at Lee’s uncle’s camp, which being run horribly, to say the least. He’s kidnapped Native peoples to do the work, and beats them while keeping them in squalor and nearly starving them. He’s “hired” Chinese workers, but doesn’t treat (or pay) them well at all. Lee is horrified, and doesn’t want to help this awful man, but he beats up Jefferson and her other friends in order to gain her cooperation. It’s awful, but it works. The question is: how can she survive in this situation while looking for a way to get out.

I’ll be honest: this one was slow starting. I picked it up and put it down several times, but after about 50 or so pages, it picked up considerably. So much so, that I didn’t want to put it back down. Carson doesn’t airbrush the treatment of the native peoples, and she is quietly feminist as well. Hiram (Lee’s uncle) is horrible, awful, and downright scary (I was thinking he was going to rape her at one point…) and while the ending is a bit too pat, it does wrap things up nicely.

A solid historical fantasy.

Reread: A Hat Full of Sky

hatfullofskyby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The Nac Mac Feegle are the most dangerous of the fairy races, particularly when drunk.”
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Content: It’s a bit complex, story-wise for the younger set, but would make a great read-aloud for ages 8 and up. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Others in the series: The Wee Free Men

Of course when you read The Wee Free Men, you have to follow it up with reading the rest of the series. I’ve read and reviewed this once before, nearly 8 years ago, and I don’t have much else to add. Except that much of what I remember about Tiffany Aching and this series comes from this book. The bit about being afraid of depths. The definition of what a witch is. The encounter with Death. It’s all here. This is the one (aside from the Nac Mac Feegle, which really shine in the first book) that has stayed with me all these years.

Which makes me wonder: what will I think of the others this time around?

The Wee Free Men

weefreemenby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Somethings start before other things.”
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Content: The Nac Mac Feegle’s speech is written in dialect, which might be difficult to understand. But, I’d give it to a precocious 10-year-old, and it worked as a read-aloud to K a couple years back when she was 8. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I don’t really have much to write, since I’ve already reviewed this on my blog twice: first in 2009 and then the audio version in 2011. But I wanted an excuse to put up the pretty new cover (I LOVE IT!) and to say that Tiffany Aching wears well, and that it’s still as wonderful and as fun and as Important as it was when I first read it.

On to the next one!

Caraval

caravalby Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “It took seven years to get the letter right.”
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Release date: January 31, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some domestic abuse and an almost-rape. If the reader is sensitive to those topics, then this probably isn’t for them. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will say this straight up: this one is a hard book to sum up. There’s devoted sisters, the older — Scarlett — of which will do anything for the younger — Tella. There’s a controlling and abusive father who uses the sisters’ devotion against them. There’s a traveling game, Caraval, that is invitation only and that Scarlett has wanted to attend for years. There’s a history between Caraval’s master, Legend, and Scarlett’s grandmother. And then there’s Scarlett’s impending marriage.

And then Scarlett and her sister get invited to the game, the week before her wedding. And it turns out that finding Tella is the POINT of the game. One in which Scarlett must be prepared to risk everything to win.

I loved this. Seriously. No, it’s not lyrical and the writing isn’t the grandest, but it’s good, solid storytelling with an epic story to be told. I loved that the stakes were high. And the chemistry between Scarlett and Julian? When it was on, it was ON. I liked the use of magic in the game and the way it kept me in suspense about what was real and what wasn’t

I liked that the story wrapped up, mostly suitably, even though there was a bit left undone for a sequel. Definitely worth reading.

Audiobook: Three Dark Crowns

threedarkcrownsby Kendare Blake
Read by: Amy Landon
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Content: There’s some off-screen sex, and lots and lots of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The premise of this one is weird and awesome: on the island of Fennbirn, every generation there is born a set of triplet queens. They are fostered out, according to their “powers”, and each one has an equal chance at becoming queen. The catch? The one who becomes queen has to kill her sisters.

Our queens are Arsinoe, a naturalist, said to have power over nature; Katharine, a poisoner, who can ingest the most lethal poisons and not die; and Mirabella, an elemental, who has control over the weather. Except, things aren’t always as they seem. And those who the queens have been fostered to have much more power than the queens.

It had a really slow start to it; there was a lot of exposition about the magic (which I didn’t mind) and the characters (I liked some better than others). There were a couple of love stories, and a love triangle (of sorts). (I kept rooting for one of the queens to be lesbian; I think one is, but not the one I suspected.) It took a long time to get going, and the only thing that kept me listening was the narrator, who was quite spellbinding. For one, there’s a lot of weird names of people and places in this, and it was nice to have someone else pronounce Arsinoe (ar-sin-oye) and Katharine (cat-er-eene), instead of trying to figure it out on my own. I think Blake tried to balance all three queens’ stories, but she ended up focusing more on Arsinoe more than others. (Or at least I felt she did.)

It wasn’t a stand-alone, as I had hoped. And I called one of the major twists fairly early on. But were a couple of things that surprised me, and I have hopes for the direction that the sequel should go (we’ll see). It wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, but it wasn’t bad either.

 

Journey’s End

journeysendby Rachel Hawkins
First sentence: “Albert Macleish woke up early on the morning he disappeared.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a slight bit of crushing going on, so it may turn off those who aren’t interested in that sort of thing. Otherwise, hand it to anyone who’s interested in a quieter fantasy. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Nolie’s parents have recently gotten divorced, and her father’s been living in northern Scotland, a scientist investigating the weird fog that hangs off the coast of the town of Journey’s End. Nolie’s headed to spend the summer with her dad, hoping for a fun Scottish adventure.

Once installed in Journey’s End, she meets Bel, the daughter of a local store owner, someone who cashes in on the tourists who come to experience the fog, which they call the Boundary, and the magical/mystical story behind it.  And then when Nolie and Bel discover that a boy who’s been dead for nearly 100 years is wandering on the beach, things get really interesting for them.

I feel like this one is almost “fantasy light”. There’s no magic, no wizards, no faeries (which I thought there would be when it started). There are some references to ghosts (and one does show up) and there is a curse and a couple of people who are very, very old, but that’s the extent of the fantasy here. It’s fantasy for those who like theirs with a dose of realism, or for those who like their books quiet. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; Hawkins has woven a splendid yarn, with conflict and tension, humor and friendship, one that kept me turning pages wondering what was going to happen next.

It’s quite a lovely book, one that I hope younger readers will enjoy as much as I did.