Tag Archives: magic

Book Recommendations

I love it when my friends ask for book recommendations. It is a wonderful challenge. Today my friend asked for YA Fantasy recommendations. I decided to share the list I put together. This isn’t exhaustive by any means. I avoided most fairy tale style fantasy novels and focused on different versions of fantasy/magical worlds. What would you add to this list?

  • The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. 
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow
  • The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner 
  • Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund 
  • The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede 
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones 
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo 
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
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#TBT Skulduggery Pleasant

In the spirit of re-reading more, I thought it might be fun to do a few #TBT (Throwback Thursday) posts with books I really enjoyed but never re-read. The first one I chose was Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Unfortunately, I think I hyped this one up too much to myself over the years. It wasn’t nearly as funny as I remember it being. I originally rated it 3 stars and I think that is fairly accurate. 

Plot: When 12-year-old Stephanie’s uncle dies, she inherits his entire estate and the friendship of the very strange Skulduggery Pleasant. Skulduggery is a skeleton. He should have died centuries ago but he never did so, instead he became a detective. When Stephanie’s new possessions put her in the path of her uncle’s killer, she teams up with the skeleton detective and enters a hidden world of magic to stop an evil maniac bent on destroying the world. 

My thoughts: This is a very creative story with lots of snappy dialogue and unique characters. The action starts right at the beginning and never lets up. Considering that hidden, magical worlds are not exactly new territory, this is book manages to stay fresh and fun even when handling occasionally old tropes.

However…I never found my care-factor fully engaged. Ultimately, I blame the constant action. Someone is always being kidnapped or betrayed or tortured or shot at. There is hardly a moment to catch your breath and actually process what is all going on. The characters are clever and snappy but experience very little character change. It isn’t that I would want this book to be longer, it is already too long, but it needs to be a bit more developed to appeal to a wider audience. Then again, perhaps it has no plans to appeal to a wider audience, and is simply aimed at the Middle School crowd. 

Originally I wanted to re-read this entire series but I don’t think I will. My former reviews and ratings of this series get lower as the books progress and there are other series better worth re-reading. It is a pity, really. I remember this book being so funny. However, I don’t think I laughed out loud once. It merely amused me. 


A Re-rereview of The Blue Sword

Today I finished re-reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley…again. Not only have I read this particular book countless times, I have reviewed on this blog before. However, once again I find myself disagreeing with an earlier opinion. I loved the story in high school, found it disappointing in college, and now love it again. I love because in it I see the younger me, but also because I see the current me too. I see the themes, ideas, and characters that fed me. It is like the Inkheart quote:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

The Blue Sword is an old friend. We had a bit of a separation, but now we are good again. In fact, better. Looking at the story now, I realize what an impact it had on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to visit Damar, like I would Narnia. It was rather that I wanted to be Hari, in a way I never felt about Susan or Lucy. I emotionally connected with her. I understood her boredom and I wanted to escape it like she did. I wanted to go on a quest. I wanted to discover secret guardians and magical abilities. I wanted to be a brilliant horsewoman and swordsman and save the day. I loved Hari for her confusion and frustration and emotions. I loved her for her courage. I wanted to face the world with the same determination as Hari; I too wanted to be part of something greater.

In 2011, I raved about the book but claimed it was only a 4 star. In 2013, I semi-criticized my own contentment and basically declared myself too grown up for the story. Now, I find myself a little older and (I hope) a little wiser and I relate more to C.S. Lewis’s words to his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” For me in 2016, this is beyond a 5 star read. This is a cherished memory.

I am always drawn to authors who claim Robin McKinley as a favorite author. It is like we share a secret understanding about fantasy and what makes it good. This book is at a level with my other favorite fantasy novels, like Plain Kate, The Silver Bowl Series (the first two, at any rate), The Queen’s Thief Series and The Chronicles of Prydain. However, it tops them because it comes with a special connection from growing up. I treasure The Blue Sword because of that, and I hope I won’t lose thta knowledge again.


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

Based on the vast number of good books I read this year, I have broken this post into three parts to help readability. As usual, books are not laid out in any specific way, but in the random order ordained by Goodreads (and myself!) See any favorites?

Enjoy!

Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched A Hundred Years of Federalism by Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips

Rarely do you find biographies so readable and uniquely connected to everyday life. Contempt of Court covers the trial and lynching of Ed Johnson, an African American accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, a judge found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened and eventually went so far as to hold those connected to his lynching in contempt of court. This case was the only time the Supreme Court ever heard a criminal case. United States v. Shipp did more than decide one man’s guilt or innocence. It declared the Supreme Court had authority over a state criminal court case. This both reflected and launched a new age of federal involvement. Very worth reading.

Strong Poison (book 6), Gaudy Night (book 12), and Busman’s Honeymoon (book 13) by Dorothy L. Sayers

These are all books in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. To be honest, I love them all and if you haven’t discovered the brilliance that is Dorothy L. Sayers, you really need to. Her mysteries are intellectual and intriguing and Sir Peter Wimsey is wonderful. However, these three were my absolute favorites. (If you know the series, you’ll realize all these books involve Harriet Vane. She is fabulous.) What is great, though, is that they are all wonderful in equally different ways. Strong Poison involves a cold case, where the murder happened months earlier and now Sir Peter must piece together the clues. Gaudy Night takes place at Oxford and is very soul-searching and academic. Busman’s Honeymoon is everything a fangirl could want for the couple she’s been shipping for 6 books. Oh, so good. I want to go re-read them right now.

The Science of Success by Charles Koch

Easy to understand and filled with helpful principles, this is an “abbreviated” predecessor of Good Profit. It was designed for more internal use and that comes across. Certainly worth reading for a better understanding of Market Based Management and Koch Industries. There are lots of interesting stories and it really is a good grounding in MBM. However. Good Profit is now out. Go read that one.

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

If you want to be technical, only The King of Attolia (book 3) and A Conspiracy of Kings (book 4) got 5 stars from me, but the entire series is totally worth it. While the first book, The Thief, feels a little slow, it has a terrific twist at the end. Plus, the series picks up and gets better and better and BETTER. It has adventure, battles, romance, plot twists. The series will break your heart a million different ways, every one of them worth it. I can’t really give plot descriptions without giving something away, so just go read it already. (There are some mature themes, so I recommended for high schoolers on up)

Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham

Chad Eastham’s book Guys Like Girls Who… played an influential role in my life in high school. It was great reading him again. Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti is aimed at teenagers and talks about the different ways guys and girl function. It covers a myriad of topics like brain development, emotions, and relationships. Funny, serious, and easy to read, the book is a mix of stories, facts, and zany quips.  Even “outside” of the intended age group, I found it very helpful. Highly recommended, especially for teenagers.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

A dark, twisted children’s book that breaks your heart but is eminently worth it. The story is very reminiscent of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. “Plain” Kate is a woodcarver, left on the streets to fend for herself after her parents die. Her woodwork is beautiful, but many whisper that she is a witch. In order to escape the accusations, Kate makes a bargain with a mysterious man: her shadow in exchange for her heart’s wish. Gypsies, magic, and love all come to play in this lyrical story.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend this book to just anyone, and certainly not the intended age group. Plain Kate involves witchcraft, raising the dead, and sacrifices. While many of these things are treated in a negative light, I know many of my readers will not like it.