The After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

thornsAn exciting faerie book that felt steeped in traditional elements of storytelling, especially fairy stories, but was sexy and exciting.  Feyre is so poor her family barely survives, yet she is the only one who does anything about it. She’s a hunter and that’s how they manage to live.  One day she shoots a wolf, but it was no ordinary wolf. Feyre is taken into the faerie world where she lives with Tamlin in a court where magic is changing and everyone has a mask fused to his face. It’s mysterious and she knows there is more going on that she is told. This felt very Beauty and the Beast like to me, but then there was much more to it. Political machinations, revenge, and of course a love story. I thought this was marvelous, vividly created, and can’t wait to read the sequel.

Hugo & Rose by Bridget Foley

hugoI found the premise of this book absolutely enchanting. Every single night since she was a little girl Rose has dreamed of the same place, a land where she has adventures with Hugo. Hugo and Rose meet together in their dreams every night and have grown up together. Now, even though Rose is a happily married adult, she still sees Hugo every night and has merry adventures.  Her husband and children know about Hugo, but her husband knows that Hugo is the man in her dreams, not of her dreams.  Then one day Rose sees Hugo in real life. I mean, how great is that premise? What will happen next? Will it affect her marriage? Does Hugo feel the same way about Rose? Can they tell people? It’s just such an interesting concept. And it really didn’t go in any way I thought it would from that point.  I found the ending sad, but couldn’t think of any better way for it to conclude (and it did make sense.)

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.

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

mermaidFantastic! What a wonderful tale, beautifully told like the most excellent fairy tales, legends, and stories are. Clara and her sister, Maren, live with their part faerie Auntie on a mountain. They have had a wonderful childhood and such a loving, if unusual, family. In addition to Auntie Verity there are Scarff and O’Neill, who travel in an exotic caravan and visit the mountain but a couple of times a year. Verity and Scarff have often told the tale of how Clara and Maren came to Verity-Maren in a big seashell and Clara by a stork.  Her seashell origins and ability to swim and remain underwater for an hour make it be no surprise when she begins to transform into a mermaid.  Eventually all agree she must be brought to the ocean, her true home.  But O’Neill and Clara have a challenging journey, including kidnapping, enslavement, a mad huckster, and more.  There is also a love story here as O’Neill is especially devoted to Maren and Clara is torn between her own secret love for O’Neill and her own devotion to her sister.
This was a wonderful story. I truly loved it, everything from the descriptions of Maren as a mermaid, to the setting of a traveling show with sinister characters. (And, refreshingly different from everything else I’ve read lately!)

The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch

After a pretty depressing book I needed something sweet fun and this was just the ticket. I came across it as a Goodreads recommendation if I liked Sarah Addison Allen, and indeed it had a similar tone and flavor. (and btw, there were a million recommendations in this vein, so apparently I could read magical sweet books from here until the end of the year.)
Sugar moves every spring to a new place in the U.S. and starts anew. The one constant is her bees, including a queen that is descended from her grandfather’s original queen.  Her sweet and friendly way and strict adherence to Southern charm and manners have made it easy for her to make new friends every place she goes.  She’s practically like a Mary Poppins what with how she touches people’s lives and changes them.  You can tell that this time it will be the same.  She moves into an apartment building in the Alphabet City part of NYC and promptly meets the other tenants, also known as the colorful secondary characters.  Two grouchy old people, a shy chef, an anorexic, and a crass single mom.  You know Sugar’s unrelenting cheerfulness and honey will somehow fix up all these people. Sugar’s bees have a special connection to her that is, if not magical, definitely special (and anthropomorphic). But what about Sugar herself? What happened in her past that has made her never return home? Why is she so reluctant to give her heart to Theo, whom she meets her first day in NYC and immediately feels an electric connection to him?

Charming and sweet as golden honey itself.