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.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

bitterFirst of all, I couldn’t believe it when I went to put it on hold and there were five copies in the library system and every one was checked in. What are you waiting for, people? This is one of the best trilogies ever. It has romance, adventure, survival, a fully created and detailed kingdom, and is a perfectly put together trilogy. Put these books on hold post haste! (but your loss is my gain because I ran and checked it out right away.)

So, when the second book ended Hector had been taken by the Inviernos as a lure to Elisa. We knew she’d accept that challenge and try to rescue him. And yes, that is how things start. Although I couldn’t exactly remember all that had happened in the first two books, enough gets told to you to figure it out. There is adventure, dramatic conflicts and reveals, political intrigue, and all kinds of battle plans.  Elisa is really a kick ass heroine. She is not just a queen in name, but fully engaged in her plans to bring peace to the world and regain her kingdom. She has excellent hand to hand combat skills, communicates directly with God, and is also smart. I felt that her relationship with God and her Godstone, while still pivotal, took a slight backseat in this installment to some of the other action (which is totally fine.) I can’t believe how much this book packed in.  This was one of the most exciting and satisfying trilogies I’ve ever enjoyed.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

(Hub Reading Challenge: BFYA)

seraphinaI am coming to grips with the realization that I may not finish the reading challenge. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the books I “have” to read vs. the books that I’m dying to read. Not to mention a lot of these challenge books seem raaaaaather long.  But, for all that Seraphina seemed to take me forever to read, I really liked it a lot. (Ironically, you know how a pull quote by a known author on the cover of a book is supposed to make you want to read it? This had the lamest one ever “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read”. Really? It turned me off.) So, yes, dragons. This is a wonderful fantasy book. One of those great ones with a fully created land with a history, like Tortall (in the Alanna books) or the land in The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  In this land there is an uneasy peace between dragons and humans. In the past dragons just ate the humans and it was constant war. But 40 years ago a peace treaty was created.  The treaty has not eliminated distrust between humans and dragons, though, and most humans despise the dragons (who take a human form when among humans.) Seraphina has a terrible secret that would likely get her killed if people knew-she is half human, half dragon.  Her father didn’t realize her mother was a dragon when he married her.  And as for dragons, who despise emotions, her mother was a terrible creature who deserved to die.  Seraphina tries to attract no attention at the royal court, but her tremendous musical talent does make her known.  There is just so much in this book I couldn’t begin to describe it all-espionage, plots, betrayal, family secrets, falling in love, and the bizarre “mind garden” of “grotesques” that she mentally visits.

This was a terrific fantasy novel, and I’m looking forward to book #2.

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay, Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, & Bill Willingham

angels(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

Phew! That was a lot of contributors’ names to type out in the title field. But, they all deserve to be there because this is a story with different parts of it told and illustrated by different people.  A really neat frame story is set up to allow the different stories to be told. In a wood outside of regular civilization is where the faerie folk live. When one of them sees an angel fall from the sky they gather around and can’t decide whether or not to kill him. They decide to have a tribunal and each will tell a story to convince the “judge” that angels are essentially bad or essentially good. The judge is an innocent faun, who is the possession of a nasty hag. The frame story is illustrated in black and white with very angular lines.  Each story then told is by a different author with a different style-in both story and illustration.

The first story is by Louise Haws and called “Original Sin.” The illustration of this story was my favorite. Very beautiful, soft, romantic. Reminded me of painters such as Reubens and Botticelli.  It is the story of Adam & Eve and the angel who feeds them from the Tree of Knowledge, thus setting them into the world and apart from the animals. I thought this was a really beautiful telling of this story, and I especially liked when the Angel reveals to Eve who some of her daughters will be-such as Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth.

The next story is called “The Story Within the Story Within” by Bill Willingham. I didn’t care for this one as much in terms of illustration style. The setting is a bar for angels where a man sits down with a female angel who is drowning her sorrows and then she tells him her sad story, which is about another angel who is an old friend of hers, but whom she has been sent to kill.  The most interesting part of this story was reading about the target, a lovable f&*( up of an angel.  He keeps getting assigned to different departments but is never very good at them, until he finds he excels in the Cancer department as an angel of death.  I’ve always liked stories imagining that sort of thing (heaven as a workplace), so I did like that part.

The next story told is “Chaya Suvah and the Angel of Death.”  Darker pictures with striking dark lines immediately set the tone of this tale, set in a village in Russia. Chaya Suvah is an old woman who never leaves her house. She once made a deal with the angel of death that he could not take her unless she agreed to it–and she just won’t agree. This story has story has some witch-hunty elements, ancient Jewish tale elements, and also cycle of birth and death.

“The Guardian” comes next and I really liked the watercolor illustrations.  A clumsy young woman attracts the attention of a kindly angel who starts to be by her side constantly to prevent her from falling, tripping, dropping things.  As a maidservant these things make her the brunt of unkind words.  Soon the angel falls in love with her and takes human form so that they can enjoy their love together.  But such form is too difficult for an angel and she makes him leave her.  But, as a guardian angel he is never really far from her.  This was a lovely story start to finish!

The final tale is the story of how the angels fought in heaven and fell to hell and earth.  Those that did not fall all the way to hell are the ones who turned into the faerie folk.

And that brings and end to the storytelling and now the tribunal is over and the boy must decide the angel’s fate! Have angels been proven to be essentially good, or essentially bad troublemakers?

I overall really liked this. It was a very quick read and I was impressed at how successfully these different stories worked together. Because of the framework it made sense to have the stories have different styles both of writing and pictures.

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

This fall is just filled with much anticipated YA sequels, and this was one of the tops for me.  I’m happy to report that it totally lived up to my expectations, if not surpassing them.  Trilogies have become so common now that I find when I am reading a book in one I think more than I ever used to about how the book fits into the trilogy as a whole, it’s function, and what role it plays in the overall story arc.  Because I’m a kid of the 70s/80s, I tend to still reference trilogies by comparing them to Star Wars. So in this case Crown of Embers is Empire Strikes Back, thus I expect it to be a little darker, more intense, and unresolved as the characters prepare for an epic and final battle.

I have to admit that as much as I really loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns last year, I couldn’t remember many details.  They did somewhat return to me as I was reading, but it didn’t matter too much.  Elisa is now the queen of the country, but still not fully safe from the magical and mysterious Invierno.  She has her trusted nurse and lady’s maid and Hector, her personal guard with whom she is clearly in love.  There’s a lot going on in this story, so I’m going to boil it down to this: Elisa and a few others go on a secret and dangerous mission, filled with challenges from God, to fulfill her destiny and claim some power that will help her rule and protect her country.   There was indeed lots of danger and excitement and Elisa is a great heroine.  I enjoyed her relationships with the others, and especially when she turns to Mara to talk to about confusing new feelings and intimacy between a man and woman.

What’s really interesting in these books is that although there is a magical or supernatural element to them (her Godstone has powers, the animagi draw fire from the earth, etc.) the stronger presence is actually religion.  Elisa’s Godstone is a direct conduit to God, her relationship with him is a tremendous part of her life, and the made up religion (which seems to be fact-all the populace believe) is thought out and described very fully.

This was a great installment that can totally stand on its own, but taken as the middle of the trilogy has fulfilled my second book requirement–leaving us with the heroine ready to face a final epic battle with critical relationships changed. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion!