Books Read in 2021: Four-Star Children's and YA Fantasy

I so appreciate the kind and humorous comments on the boob issue - the actual appointment is tomorrow, so I'll just have to wait the week-end and then three to five more business days to find out what's what - fun for all of us! I've been fine for most of the week. We got 45 centimetres of snow Monday which meant the schools stayed closed an extra day and I couldn't work my library shift, and then more snow on Wednesday and it's been frigid cold, so I've been shoveling and walking and reading and working on the puzzle Eve gave me for Christmas. We worked on it together before she left - she did the edges because I am a "psychopath" (according to her) who just randomly starts a puzzle wherever I feel like - and then I've kept working away at it since. Jody (HI JODY) said when she was working in her office someone set up a puzzle in an empty cubicle for people to have a ten-minute break from work, but once she started she spite-finished it in an afternoon. I laughed at this, but then looked up one night at 2 a.m. and realized I may be in the same compulsive-puzzler camp. I've started setting a timer, but I usually just ignore it. It is really good for taking my focus off of anything but the stupid impossible wretchedly difficult puzzle. 

One day I went for a really lovely sunny snow walk with Lucy and stopped when I was almost home to get the mail. There was a notice telling me YET AGAIN that I had to have another mammogram (both the imaging place and my family doctor called, really cementing the sense that this is not extremely life-threateningly urgent or anything) - it said "this does not mean you have a serious problem. Most women who have more tests have normal results. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you get more tests." So that was funny and a little bitchy on the part of the universe (HI UNIVERSE, be less of a bitch, k?)

Eve seems in a much better mood being back at school this time than she did after her fall break. She's looking for a house for next year with four other girls, and that process is every bit as miserable as I remember it being - I lived in residence for two years, but now residences are chiefly allocated for first-year students, which sort of sucks. I'm trying not to over-identify - she's taking care of it, it will all be fine. It's just one of those things that weigh on the mind for both of us and it would be really nice to have it settled. I know adversity and obstacles are things that help us grow and it's not realistic to want a smooth road for me or my kids, or so says the mature and realistic view. Maturity and realism BLOW. 

Four-Star Children's

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee: From the author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy comes the story of a friendship between two girls set in Victorian England, with magical machines, wizards, witches, a mysterious underworld, and a race against time. Annabel Grey is primed for a proper life as a young lady in Victorian England. But when her mother suddenly disappears, she’s put in the care of two eccentric aunts who thrust her into a decidedly un-ladylike life, full of potions and flying broomsticks and wizards who eat nothing but crackers. Magic, indeed! Who ever heard of such a thing? Before Annabel can assess the most ladylike way to respond to her current predicament, she is swept up in an urgent quest. Annabel is pitted against another young witch, Kitty, to rescue the sacred Moreover Wand from the dangerous underworld that exists beneath London. The two girls outsmart trolls, find passage through a wall of faerie bones, and narrowly escape a dragon, but it doesn’t take long for Annabel to see that the most dangerous part of her journey is her decision to trust this wild, magical girl. Sparkling with Karen Foxlee’s enchanting writing, this is a bewitching tale of one important wand and two most magical girls.

I started this and then kept putting it down and leaving it for weeks, and then I'd start reading it again and I kept thinking that I would like it very much if it was by anyone but the author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, but that it suffered somewhat by comparison. Then I finally picked it up and forced myself to focus (because my lack of focus is not the book's fault) and found it quite lovely. Annabel's coming of age is beautifully rendered, in particular her realization of the unfairness of class differences. Kitty is the perfect foil (although I'm still a little mad that more wasn't done for her). It's pitched maybe a hair younger than Ophelia, except the descriptions of the Dark Magic machine thing and what the evil guy feeds it are pitch black and horrifying. And the writing is beautiful.

Four-Star YA Fantasy

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #1) by Alix E. Harrow: It's Zinnia Gray's twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it's the last birthday she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

I love Alix E. Harrow and fractured fairy tales - I had a roaringly successful display of them in the first school library I did a placement in. This is a more contemporary style than Harrow's usual, which works really well with the source material. 

The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno: A charming and imaginative new novel about getting lost before you can be found. LOST: Frannie and Louis met in an online support group when they were both younger. They have never met face-to-face. They don’t even know each other’s real names. All they know is that they both have a mysterious tendency to lose things. Well, not lose them, exactly. Things just seem to…disappear. FOUND: They each receive news in the mail that sets them off on a road trip to Austin, Texas, looking for answers—and each other. Along the way, each one begins to find, as if by magic, important things the other has lost. And by the time they finally meet in person, they realize that the things you lose might be things you weren’t meant to have at all, and that you never know what you might find if you just take a chance.

The Lost & Found is a bighearted novel about connections (missed and found), family (the kind you’re born with and the kind you make for yourself), and unexpected journeys (on the road, and of the heart), from an author who Publishers Weekly called “a fierce new presence.”

I read my first book by this author last year and then read everything I could find by her from the library based on her unique writing style and imagination. This was very different from her other books - I mean this in a good way because they were all quite good, so she clearly has range. This was more reminiscent of John Green, with the supernatural elements being more magical realism than horror or dark fantasy. It is whimsical and delightful and comforting, and Frannie and Louis along with Frannie's cousin and Louis's sister are wonderful characters. I gave this to Eve and she really liked it too.

Our Last Echoes by Kate Alice Marshall: Kara Thomas meets Twin Peaks in this supernatural thriller about one girl's hunt for the truth about her mother's disappearance. Sophia's first memory is of drowning. She remembers the darkness of the water and the briny taste as it fills her throat. She remembers the cold shock of going under. She remembers her mother pulling her to safety before disappearing forever. But Sophia has never been in the ocean. And her mother died years ago in a hospital. Or so she has been told her whole life. A series of clues have led Sophia to the island of Bitter Rock, Alaska, where she talked her way into a summer internship at the Landon Avian Research Center, the same center her mother worked at right before she died. There, she meets the disarmingly clever Liam, whose own mother runs the LARC, as well as Abby, who's following a mystery of her own: a series of unexplained disappearances. People have been vanishing from Bitter Rock for decades, leaving only their ghostly echoes behind. When it looks like their two mysteries might be one and the same, Sophia vows to dig up the truth, no matter how many lies she has to tell along the way. Even if it leads her to a truth she may not want to face. Our Last Echoes is an eerie collection of found documents and written confessionals, in the style of Rules for Vanishing, with supernatural twists that keep you questioning what is true and what is an illusion.

For once, the x meets x of the description is pretty accurate. I enjoy the found-documents-and-journal-entries format, which is employed to good effect here. This is a nice mix of engaging, mysterious, metaphysical and melancholy. It's a little above the reading level of the kids in my school library, but I would recommend it highly to high school kids. 

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall: In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister--at all costs. Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her--and who won't make it out of the woods? It's been exactly one year since Sara's sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn't know whether her former friends no longer like her...or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to "play the game" and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca--before she's lost forever. And even though she's hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends--and their cameras--following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side. 

I read this on the strength of Our Last Echoes and it was just as good, in both style and substance. Highly enjoyable. 

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman: Thou shalt kill. A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

A few of my Facebook friends were reading this over the Christmas holiday so I decided to buddy read it with them. Of course, I forgot to let any of them know, because I forget almost everything these days (HI JULIE, HI KERRY, HI... possibly other people). Shusterman's Unwind was an excellent book - I recommended it to Matt, who says one of the scenes haunts him to this day, and got Eve to read it when she got to pick a book for a project in high school. I didn't find this quite had the same impact, and for the first few chapters I found it underwhelming - I'm not sure whether the writing got more assured or whether I just wasn't in the proper mood. Then a few gaps were filled in and I was more drawn in. The political strategizing and the ethical issues of how scythes choose which people to cull, and what kind of oversight and standards are in play were engrossing. I'm not sure the romance was entirely convincing, but I will continue the series. 

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik: Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly. A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

I had read and enjoyed other books and stories by Naomi Novik, and a friend recommended this one (HI ZARAH). At first it didn't appeal (too Harry Potter-ish) until I realized how much darker and wonderfully caustic than Harry Potter it was. El is one of my favourite characters of recent reading memory, and I both loved her and ached for her loneliness and her bitter determination not to be evil even when being evil - or even just not all the way good - would be so much easier and more satisfying. There is so much good here - peerless worldmaking, amazing characterization, a bunch of really gnarly monsters and abundant snark. It would make a kickass movie - the worldmaking is so stunning that I can already picture the Scholomance effortlessly in my mind. 


StephLove said…
It must be fun reading kids books (partly) to recommend them to kids at school. I would enjoy that.
Nicole said…

Although, I say that, and the puzzle you sent for me at Christmas, I didn't start at the edges either as all the edges were the same colour/ pattern. But usually, I start at the edges. I cannot start a puzzle unless I know I have time to be obsessed with it, as puzzles take over my life.
I tried to read Scythe and then returned it because it wasn’t grabbing me in the same way Unwind did. But now it seems that everyone I know has read it and is amazed by it so I guess I will have to give it another try.

Also, puzzles yes. I did two over Christmas and really loved the zen of it. Ember works on them periodically with me which is also nice. But I can’t imagine ever making a puzzle without doing the edges first. That really is psychopathic. ;)
Ernie said…
Maturity and realism blow. So true. My sister got us a puzzle for Christmas. It is a family photo. Curly did the faces, so not the edges first, but then had to put it away because the babies were returning (why does it sound like we were under attack by babies?). I can't recall the last time I did a puzzle. I don't think I could sacrifice sleep over a puzzle.

I plan to suggest a few of these to my kids. Ed was looking for a book to bring to Budapest today. He's studying abroad there and leaves tomorrow. I suggested books and he accused me of liking every book I've ever read. Hey, NOT true. There are books that I do not care for. He ended up getting a copy of Unbroken, even though he hated Boys in the Boat - a book I really liked.

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