Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

I’m continuing a strong push with the Newbery Medal winners in my reading, and I recently read the most recent winner, 2017’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  And we have a serious contender for favorite Newbery–at least of the ones I’ve been reading for this challenge!

The story starts in a very sad village in the Bog, where every year on a certain day, the youngest baby is left in the forest for the Witch, so that she won’t destroy everyone else.  We swiftly meet the Witch, Xan, 500 years old and quite unaware that anyone thinks she wants to harm them.  She rescues the babies every year, taking them through the forest to happier towns where they are adopted and cherished.  She feeds them starlight on the journey and they grow favored.  But one year she is especially taken by a baby, and mistakenly feeds her moonlight instead.  The baby grows full of magic, and Xan decides she must adopt Luna herself, adding her to a little family including Fyrian, a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and Glerk, a grumpy, poetical bog monster.

This is a delightful story, full of fantasy, whimsy, humor and heart-tugging moments.  I knew this was going to be good as soon as Glerk and Xan appear, Xan scolding him about apologizing to Fyrian.  I love fantasy that takes the tropes (swamp monster, dragon, witch) and turns them upside down in a funny, human way. Continue reading “Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon”

Book Review: Read My Mind

Read My Mind by [Haworth, Kelly]During NaNo, when I was reading but not reviewing, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Read My Mind by Kelly Haworth.  A little outside my usual genres, it’s a paranormal LGBTQ romance, the first in a series.  The characters and the world-building are wonderful.  Full disclosure, Kelly is a friend of mine, but that’s not why I liked the book!

Set in an alternate Earth, Kelly’s world features a pantheon of gods who have gifted humans (some of them) with a variety of magical abilities, like healing or telekinesis.  The story centers around Scott and Nick, incoming freshmen at the University of Frannesburg (think alternate San Francisco).  Scott is devoutly religious, while Nick, a telekinetic, is much more interested in the pop culture, comic book and action figure version of the gods.  The two begin sparking while negotiating exploring each other’s different experiences of the gods.  When Scott unexpectedly develops telepathy, it creates rifts in his family, while Nick struggles with grieving his mother and dealing with a distant relationship with his father–all problems that interfere with their growing romance.

I loved the world-building in here.  I’m fascinated by Kelly’s created religion, and I love the way it’s involved in the plot and the characters’ lives.  Although this is the first published in the series, Kelly actually wrote another volume first, but decided this was a better introduction and I think that was a great choice.  Because Scott and Nick are each learning from the other about different aspects of the gods, the reader gets to learn too in an organic way.  I also love the way they handle learning from each other–though it seems like an obvious conflict, they approach each other with mutual respect and openness which was just lovely. Continue reading “Book Review: Read My Mind”

Classic Review: Merlin Dreams

I’ve been thinking vaguely of rereading this one soon, and rereading my review has convinced me of it!  A fun note I’m not sure I knew when I wrote this–the author Peter Dickinson was married to Robin McKinley, a long-time favorite author of mine.  I love connections like that!

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There’s an old legend that Merlin never died–that he’s imprisoned beneath a stone somewhere on the moor, sleeping through the centuries.  And while he sleeps, what might he dream?

This is the frame-story for Peter Dickinson’s wonderful book, Merlin Dreams.  He tells eight stories, eight dreams of Merlin beneath his stone.  Between each story Merlin half-wakes, remembers his life or senses what goes on above him, then drifts back into sleep…and has another dream.

I’m fascinated by the frame story, and the short stories are excellent too.  Several have a vaguely Arthurian flare, although I don’t think any retell an actual legend.  But there are dashing (and not so dashing) knights, brave damsels and many unexpected heroes.  There’s a king, fallen from honor and strength who needs a little girl to show him the way back.  Another little girl befriends a unicorn in the woods, only to be threatened by men who want to exploit the opportunity to hunt a unicorn.  Two stories feature tricksters who put on shows for country folk they hold in contempt, only to be undone by their own tricks.  There’s a young prince who fights a dragon, and another, particularly ugly young man, who fights a sorceress.  And woven throughout, Merlin remembers his own life, and strange fragments of other scenes and stories. Continue reading “Classic Review: Merlin Dreams”

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

I was late to the game for Wonder Woman, only getting to the theaters to see it after it had been out several weeks.  That meant there was plenty of time for me to see all the Facebook comments and have all the conversations about how amazing it was, and how empowering my female friends found it.  And to be honest, I heard all that and thought, yeah, okay, cool, I like strong women stories.  Then I saw the movie.  And they were ALL SO RIGHT!!  There are other (not enough) strong female characters in movies, but this one was something special.

Wonder Woman gives us the origin story of Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of the Amazon Queen, who grew up in an entirely female community on a magically-shrouded island.  She grows up among female warriors who fight for peace, and is trained by their greatest fighter (Princess Buttercup–I mean, Robin Wright).  When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy pursued by German ships, breaches the island’s secrecy, Diana learns of World War I raging across the planet.  Convinced Ares is behind the conflict, she leaves with Steve, intent on ending the war by destroying Ares.

Diana is amazing–but I think the real hero(ine) of this story may be Patty Jenkins, the director.  Like I said, there are other strong women in film, but this one felt different–and I think it’s the female director, making different choices. Continue reading “Movie Review: Wonder Woman”

Book Review: Heartstone

I’ve rarely heard a better premise than Pride and Prejudice retold with dragons.  So I guess it’s not that shocking that Heartstone by Elle Katharine White couldn’t quite live up to hopes.  I enjoyed it–someone else might love it–but I didn’t quite love the book as much as I loved the concept.

Heartstone centers around Aliza Bentaine and her sisters, living in a faux-England where magical creatures abound, some friendly, many not.  A band of Riders comes to their small village to fight the horde of gryphons plaguing the area, and among them are the charming Brysney, who swiftly falls for Aliza’s sister Anjey, and the arrogant Daired and his dragon.  And we all kind of know where this is going, right?

That knowing-where-it’s-going may be why I didn’t love this book as much as I hoped to.  Every character and most plot elements exist in a one-to-one relation to Austen’s original book.  There’s some fun in seeing how White re-imagined Austen’s plotline in this new, monster-ridden world…but it was never quite innovative enough to really capture me.  I mean, it is clever that Anjey gets swiped by a gryphon rather than catching a cold.  But it still seemed like we lost too much without gaining enough to compensate. Continue reading “Book Review: Heartstone”

Classic Review: Abel’s Island

Today a look back at a long-time, if quiet, favorite.  This isn’t a book that shows up on my favorite lists usually, but it stuck with me more than most…and it’s my go-to when discussing whether deep and complex subjects can be appropriately portrayed in children’s stories!

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It’s funny the books that stay with you.  I remember around about third grade (maybe, I don’t remember that part for sure) we had to do a certain number of book reports during the school year, maybe per month.  I don’t remember if I found that challenging, but I doubt it.  🙂  I also don’t remember any of the books I did for this, except one: Abel’s Island by William Steig.  For whatever reason, that one stuck.

Although I don’t think it was until I reread it recently that I made the connection–William Steig!  The one who did a bunch of picture books!  You know, Doctor De Soto and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (and he also has the happy good fortune of being alphabetically near James Stevenson, my favorite picture book author).  Yet another advantage of revisiting childhood favorites. Continue reading “Classic Review: Abel’s Island”

Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere

I love a good premise.  I love good characters, but I usually pick up books because something in the premise grabs me—so how could I resist The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig?  It’s a fantasy of traveling to anywhere a map records—in the present or the past, real or imagined.

For sixteen-year-old Nix, this is normal.  She’s lived her whole life aboard her father’s sailing ship, as he sails them into history.  But he’s on a quest to the one place he can’t seem to reach: Hawaii, 1868, the time and place when Nix was born—and her mother died.  Her father hopes to find the perfect map to change the past, while Nix fears what that will mean for her life—and even for her existence.

The book takes us through several times and places, and while I almost always wind up wanting more with this kind of premise, I liked the places we got to visit and how well they were brought to life.  The magic is fascinating, especially as more rules and details emerge around just how this fantastical travel works.

From the good premise the torch was picked up by good characters.  Nix is likable and tough with vulnerabilities she keeps carefully hidden.  She’s cautious about commitments, sometimes impulsive, and struggles with complicated choices, sometimes making questionable ones.  She’s also smart and creative and game for adventure. Continue reading “Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere”