Amulet series, books #1-8 by Kazuo Ish…

This is one of THE most popular series in my library and knew I really had to get around to reading it. I read them all pretty quickly together. I thought the first book was a lot of magical set up, but I liked it. Books 2 and 3 got a little laggy for me, but then it really started picking up momentum for me and eventually, like all my students, found myself at the end saying “I can’t believe he hasn’t published #9 yet!!!”
Overall, it’s a good fantasy adventure graphic novel. Episodic, though I’d definitely read in order.

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1

I’m not a huge Rick Riordan fan, though I don’t dislike him. I loved the first Percy Jackson book but didn’t feel like I needed to read the whole series. This series I think gets even better reviews and I felt like I really ought to read it. I liked it! I thought it was very funny and read like a movie in my head. The slightly disappointing aspect for me is that my favorite parts were in Valhalla and I didn’t think enough time was spent in this fascinating comically large place that is like a resort. I did mean to immediately read book #2, but I didn’t. Maybe this year…

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

This was good, though not nearly as good as her wonderful Newbery Award winning Girl Who Drank the Moon. I think part of the reason for that, for me, is that this is pretty clearly an allegory. Or at least a fairy tale type story that is mimicking the terrible world we live in and certain terrible people and their terrible administrations. And while I agree 100% with everything being said or not said in the book, it felt very obvious to me. But maybe all stories like this are obvious. Or, possibly more likely, I’m an adult and children are the intended audience. So maybe not feeling obvious to kids? It has a wonderful message of caring and questioning and thinking and acting and not blindly supporting a megalomaniac, so hopefully all that sinks in. Now, that aside, I also just enjoyed this as a tale itself. The ogress, her history, the magical elements, and so on.

Kingdoms & Empires series by by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, The Whispering Wars, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst

Oh boy is there a story here. So, first, thank you to the publisher for an advance reading copy of The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst. I received it and didn’t really know anything about it so opened it up and started reading. I could not put it down! I just loved the author’s style of writing and how funny it was and clever and just all around good. So I read the whole book and wrote this on Goodreads:

“I love love loved this. I haven’t been this entertained by a book in a while and there was just something about the story, the setting (boarding school) and the storyteller’s voice that I loved. She did refer to some big events that happened in the past and I thought “could that have been another book??” and now I see that this is actually the THIRD book in this series. So oh my goodness, looks like I have two fantastic books ahead of me to read.”

THEN I looked up the author because I kep thinking her name was familiar to me and guess what? Way back a hundred years ago when she wrote her first YA novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia, I read that and loved it. I think I read another book and then sort of lost track of her. Well it turns out she’s been busy writing away in Australia (and is also the sister of Liane Moriarty, another popular author I like). So then I excitedly got the next book from the library, which in this case was #2, The Whispering Wars. So I read the whole trilogy one right after the other, but I read them backwards.

The first book I read (the third book) was all about a girl at a boarding school and right away it’s set up that in this kingdoms (or rather, kingdoms) magic exists and is practiced by certain individuals. There are also many bad magic characters. At the boarding school it seems like a wonderful new teacher might be not all that she seems (she’s really mean to the girl but in a way no one else seems to notice) and there is a lot of excitement that one of the students might be a Whisperer, which is someone who can make spells to hold in bad magic (which might be done by a bad character like a Sterling Silver Fox.) So there’s mystery and adventure and it’s very funny and delightful.

Then, I read book #2 which was taking place BEFORE book three, by about 10 years. So every time they mentioned “the Whispering Wars” and I thought “That seems like it could be a story itself”-it was. Book #2 is The Whispering Wars. So some of the character names are familiar because they had been mentioned, and you do see how it all ties together, but it’s a different set of main characters. What I thought was really interesting about this story was that it retained the same jolly humor and quirkiness but it turned out these wars really were bad. Like, lots of innocent people died. There were internment camps. It was a bad time. (but a great story.)
Then, I finally got to the book that started it all– The Extremeley Inconvient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Bronte had been mentioned in book #3 so I was very interested by this point to read her story (which fits in after Whispering Wars, but well before book #3) This was a swashbuckling delight. Bronte has been raised by her aunt and a butler while her parents have been out adventuring around the world. One day they get word that her parents have been killed by pirates. The directions in their will are preposterously specific and elaborate. Bronte must go on a trip by herself to visit all of her father’s nine sisters. She must deliver a gift to each of them at specific times and do certain activities in each location. The trip turns out to be a wonderful way to learn about her absent parents as the aunts all tell her wonderful stories, but it seems there may be another motive.
As with the other two books this was an absolute delight. I’m just going to use the same words over and over for each of them-jolly, delightful, fun. I just felt so charmed and entertained. And I wished that my kids were younger and we were reading them aloud all together. So much so that I do wonder if I need to own them all just to have on hand in our personal library.

*p.s. Paul is reading them in order. He has finished the first book and written about it here (remember, he writes in great detail about what happens in the book so don’t read it if you don’t want spoilers) and is currently reading Whispering Wars.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

My mom passed this one on to me and it’s so the sort of thing I like I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. Time travel + fairy tale origins! I thought it had a bit of a slow start, but I got really caught up in it and couldn’t wait to see how it worked out. Ivan basically kisses a sleeping beauty  (defeating a bear to do so) and ends up saving her and in the year 950 (her time.) I loved the time travel aspect of this. As a linguistics scholar Ivan is fascinated by the history and the language of this ancient Russian place (which, as a scholar of the language, he happens to be one of the few modern people who can speak his Old Slavonic language.) He’s landed in a time that believes in and uses magic, thinks he is a weak sissy, and is embroiled in magic/political war with Baba Yaga. I’m familiar with Baba Yaga and her stories from library school studies and general children’s librarianship, though not super into her. Still, I really liked seeing how all of that tied together.  This was a unique take on these ancient stories, and somewhat wonderfully meta since Ivan himself is pondering the old stories and how they survive and change with modern times.

The Dragon’s Guide to Making Perfect Wishes by Laurence Yep

This is the 3rd (final? I think?) book in this series about a dragon and her “pet”, who is human. They are delightful fantasies with a bit of adventure and the fun of blending humans and magicals together. I’m always trying to promote the first two in my library because they are just right. Sadly they are not as popular as I want them to be.
I liked this one very much, specifically because of the element of traveling through time to visit a 1915 expo in San Francisco. Such fun details! A meeting with a special figure you will recognize!
A satisfying, quick  magical adventure.

Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

The cover of this book is so enchanting–Belle, a swirly beautiful library, it’s very enticing. Plus Jennifer Donnelly is the author which immediately bumped this up in my esteem. I was pretty excited to read this as I’m a fan of Beauty and the Beast. I did slightly misunderstand the premise, though. I thought Belle would be dipping in and out of lots of magical books in the library. Actually it’s just one book and she is a pawn in a game between Love and Death, with Death tempting her in to a realm that she soon won’t be able to leave.
If you had never seen the movie Beauty and the Beast, no fear because the story (film version) is completely explained here. In addition to the enchanted Death book plot, the story mostly serves to fill in how Belle and Beast can grow to care for each other and become friends. Honestly, I found those bits a tad tiresome. What I really liked were details about castle life.
I’m only giving this 3 stars and not 4 and one of the reasons is that there were too many manufactured cliffhangers. “And then her eyes snapped open!” type things.

But overall, girls who enjoy magical adventures and who long for more detail of this charming film, will enjoy this. My favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling remains Beauty by Robin McKinley.

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

quarkThe is the sequel to The Last Dragonslayer and I read it close on the heels of the first.  Picking up shortly after the first has ended Jennifer Strange is still dealing with managing magic and the few functioning wizards she has.  In the first book we saw the unfair and illegal machinations of the King, and that takes center stage in this book.  Basically the other magic company is going to try to become the official royal magician, putting Jennifer’s company out of business, and taking over all magic. But for what nefarious purposes? The two companies agree upon a contest of magic-building a bridge, which will also help the infrastructure and get a much needed task done at the same time.  But of course there is rampant cheating.
I enjoyed very much the addition of new characters, as well as the titular Quarkbeast story.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

dragonslayerI’m a fan of Fforde’s books for adults and somehow had missed out on his YA series. Thanks to a Hub blog post I found out about this one and immediately put it on hold. I was super impressed at how well Fforde was able to retain his trademark humor and skewering of corporations, but bring it to a YA appropriate level.
In this world there is some magic left, but it is highly regulated. Teenager Jennifer Strange is the acting manager, like an agent, for the company that employs the working sorcerors. Strange things have been happening, Big Magic is rumored to be coming. And Jennifer is revealed to be the Last Drangonslayer, with everyone seeing a prediction that she is going to kill the last dragon. It’s all very quick and funny and bizarre.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

hp4Gah! It’s been so long since I’ve finished a book. The problem lies in choosing to read a book I was super excited about, having it be the only book I brought on vacation, not being really into it. When we got back from vacation I picked up HP because the time was right having just spent two days at Universal Studios immersed in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My slow book didn’t stand a chance against HP. So, I know I keep saying this as I am rereading this series, but I’m really really enjoying this. Possibly more than the first time? I love reading the books so much more closely together than as published because this time I’m really appreciating the story arc, the momentum, the turn towards the dark, and I’m feeling very caught up in it without having forgotten any prior details. It’s also fun to read them after we see the movies because the movie leaves out so much of the book that it’s like the movie is an exciting teaser for the full story. [I’ll probably switch to just reading the books now because I don’t think our kids are up for watching #5 yet, but I don’t want to wait to read it.]

As a reminder, this one is the one with Cedric Diggory, the tri-wizard tournament, and the ultimate return of Voldemort, leaving the ending one filled with the threat of impending danger, battle, and sides being drawn. The Malfoys are proven to be aligned with the Dark Lord, Snape continues to confound, and the Weasleys are becoming more prominent characters. Also, Ron, Hermione, and Harry are aware of boys and girls now and thus the beginnings of romantic and confusing feelings.