fantasy

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted cover naomi novak“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

The Dragon protects the entire valley of villages where Agnieska has lived. It’s always been this way her entire life, the Dragon and the Wood dueling. The Wood sending out waves of corruption that the Dragon stopped. And all he required was a girl from the valley, every ten years, to live in his tall tower.

Agnieska’s best friend Kasia was always meant to be taken. Beautiful, strong, and brave – where Agnieska is bumbling, apt to daydreaming, and wandering farther into the Wood than she ever should. Kasia will be chosen, and Agnieska is afraid. There’s no way for her to save her friend.

But when the Dragon comes to choose, it’s not Kasia he chooses. It’s Agnieska.

I loved Uprooted. It was overwhelming and meandering at times, but beautiful and raw as well, with layer after layer of complexity. The mythos of it had Russian origins, which, as I noted with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, is a refreshing variation.

It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, right down to magical rose bushes. To be shamelessly honest, I was picturing David Tennant as the Dragon and Anne Hathaway as Agnieska. Whoops. I loved the Dragon’s brittle, curmudgeonly personality, and how he bristled at the unrefined ways of Agnieska. Her stumbling, improvising way with magic made me think that would be the way many of us would go about it

I loved the world Novik built, complete with other wizards and witches, beyond the valley. The man vs nature conflict was like a darker Studio Ghibli movie. Remember kiddies, don’t anger nature.

Kasia and Agnieska’s friendship was realistic and fortunately devoid of unnecessary drama or love triangles. The royalty in this world were also rather realistically depicted, in that they were very fleshed out characters. All of the characters were multifaceted, with hidden depths that slowly, organically were revealed, even as they grew. Well, some of them grew.

I absolutely, positively recommend this book to fantasy fans. It was darker than your typical YA fantasy, funny, and emotive. Like so many of my favorites, I miss the characters already.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre Cover“I was no hero. The dearest wishes of my heart were for safety and tranquility. The world was a perilous place, wrong for the likes of me.”  

I’ve been downsizing and that means I’ve been going through my bookshelves. And it’s something that really makes me pause when I see how well-worn some of the books I have are. There are books I read over and over and over again, so entrenched I was in their stories. And they didn’t even have to be big names.

One of them was The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. She’s best known for writing Ella Enchanted (which in no way is at all similar to the movie).

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in a classic fairy tale kingdom, focusing on two royal sisters. There’s twelve-year-old Addie, who looks up to her courageous sister Meryl. Meryl wants to follow in Drualt, their legendary hero’s footsteps and do the same as he did–go on adventures and rid the kingdom of the evil beasts that lurk in the wilderness.

Addie would be content with staying at home, and not doing any of those things. After all, they already lost their mother, why risk endangering themselves any further?

But Meryl falls victim to another one of the kingdom’s evils—the illness known as the Gray Death. Finding courage she didn’t know she had, Addie sets out into her kingdom to do the impossible and find a cure.

This story reminds me of The Princess Bride because it has everything: adventure, danger, twists and turns, wit, and romance that won’t make you gag. Spectres, ogres, griffins, and even dragons lie in her path, but she keeps going for her sister. She doesn’t have strength to rely on, just her own pluckiness and willpower. As a kid who was athletically-challenged and constantly with my nose stuck in books, this appealed to me. If I ran into danger, I just had to persevere and keep fighting in spite of fear.

Acting as a backdrop against Addie and Meryl’s story is the story of the legendary hero who disappeared mysteriously ages ago. It fleshes out the kingdom’s history, a bit of world building for future readers of A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings. 

The novel has a complex ending, one that doesn’t tie things up as nicely as you might expect in a children’s book. Like life, there is both happiness and sadness in the ending. But the one constant through the story is the sisters’ unshakable love and devotion to one another.

This is not one of your “one day my prince will come” fairy tales. Gail Carson Levine has a penchant for taking the fairy tale world and empowering girl characters within her worlds to face their fears and overcome challenges.

Even as a middle grade novel, I am ready to read this book again! And… again. Addie’s quest speaks to the feelings within all of us. About finding our inner strength, and doing what we need to for the people we love.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinder marissa meyerI did it again. I started a series that wasn’t finished. I was hesitant. I mean, how many fairytale retellings does the world need? I’ve read Ella Enchanted and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I’ve watched Once Upon a Time and I’ve played Kingdom Hearts. So when I read the blurb for a book being about a cyborg Cinderella set in futuristic New Beijing, I wasn’t expecting my mind to be totally, completely blown.

Spoiler alert. Mind was blown.

In the world of Cinder, a deadly plague decimates the world’s population, while above the skies, a dangerous race of lunar people watch and wait to take their place as Earth’s rulers. Cinder is a mechanic, a cyborg, and a fifteen-year-old girl. She doesn’t remember her past, just the day-to-day drudgery of dealing with her stepmother’s disdain. But when Prince Kai comes into Cinder’s shop, everything changes. She’s at the crux of an intergalactic crisis, a forbidden crush, oh, and the fate of Earth.

Cinder is a gritty, action girl, generally accompanied by her chipper android sidekick Iko. Cinder’s not your typical fairytale, Disney-fied princess. When she meets the prince, she is grimy, sweaty, and oh yeah: her foot’s been disconnected. But fixing the prince’s broken android becomes the least of her worries when her stepsister contracts the deadly disease, and her stepmother hatred zeroes in on Cinder with a new reverence. Soon Cinder is making choices she never thought she was capable of. Prince Kai doesn’t have it much easier, with the Lunar queen Levana breathing down his neck and demanding a marriage alliance that is sure to bring the moon’s tyranny to earth.

The series grows to encompass quite an ensemble cast, including Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), the dashing Captain Thorne (questionable morals), and Wolf. Prince Kai is a dreamy prince charming, but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders (and a crush on a certain cyborg we love).

The story continues in Scarlet and Cress, and ends in Winter. Winter is the last book in the series, published this past November, and Winter’s story is reminiscent of Snow White. Plus, there are Marissa Meyer’s short stories between each book. Winter was a deeply thrilling conclusion to this amazing series.

For anyone who’s a fan of fairytales, check out the Lunar Chronicles series. Once upon a time starts stories even in the future.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Why to Read Outside Your Genre

There are people who only read one genre. People who are steadfast horror fans or romance readers, or if the book doesn’t have vampires with smoldering gazes, then count them out.

I can’t imagine doing that. What if I miss something really brilliant?! It’s not like I have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for every single book out there, but if something looks interesting or is about something I want to know more about, I’m going to read it. Because of that, I’ve read some really strange books that surprised me.

plumisland

There was Birth, a really interesting look into the historical, sociological, medical, and cultural aspects of being born. Another book was Plum Island by Nelson Demille, a gritty crime novel that focuses on the secret island off the shore of Long Island. And (cough) I even read a few romance novels, thanks to a friend’s obsession in high school.

I took to asking our lovely contributors for their own experiences! What were books that people would be surprised to hear they read and enjoyed?

wrathandthedawn

Danielle: I’m generally not a big fantasy / adventure story reader, but I really enjoyed Renee Ahdieh’s debut, The Wrath and the Dawn! It was full of suspense and gorgeous prose, and I fell hard for the characters. I can’t wait for the next book!

crossroadsofshouldandmust

Sara: I don’t read a lot of autobiography or self-help books, but I recently read Yes Please by Amy Poehler and The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna, and loved both of them!

bestamericanessays

Kim: I think I’m stuck on YA books because they take no brain power from me, and I am totally done after a 50-hour work week. But one of my favorite series of books in high school was about a span of four year’s worth of The Best American Essays. The topics were all over the place and the writing styles were crazy-different, and I just loved the format and how much I learned so quickly.

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Andrew: I just read my first proper “romance,” or so John Updike calls it. Marry Me was dreamy and horrifying, and now I’m not sure if I ever want to get married. Overall a great intro to the genre!

iputaspellonyou

Eden: I just read I Put a Spell on You – it’s an autobiography by Nina Simone and it was really great. I also read The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles, which describes the adventures of the beat poets in 1960s Paris. Both of these books were different kinds of reads for me but both very interesting and great!

radiancesutras

AlysonBecause of my yoga teacher training I’ve had to read a lot of yoga books. But one of them, The Radiance Sutras translated by Lorin Roche, is written in poetry stanzas. It is a really beautiful take on life and love and spirituality. I’ve never read a poetry book before.

How about you, readers? Is there anything you’ve read that was out of your comfort zone? Did you like it, or totally hate it? Will you try to read outside of your genre in the new year?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

magnuschase Ever since I started reading, I’ve been a big fan of series. They’re the best. I get more time with my favorite characters than I would reading a stand-alone book, and I don’t have any issues finding my next story. You might think that’s why I started reading Rick Riordan’s novels, but you would be wrong.

Actually, I started Riordan’s books because my cousin refused to read the Harry Potter series.

I know. That doesn’t make sense. How does one person’s refusal to read a series impact another person’s next book? Well, when my cousin refused to read Harry Potter, I decided to go to some drastic measures to correct her error. Since my cousin loved the Percy Jackson series, I struck up a deal. I started reading Percy Jackson, and she took on Harry Potter. I expected my cousin’s eyes to be opened wide to the joys of the wonderful world of Harry Potter, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting much on my end. I was wrong. Our little deal left us both loving our experiences more than we thought we would. And so, my journey into the mythological mind of Rick Riordan began.

As I’m sure many of you already know, Riordan has moved far beyond Percy Jackson and his Greek mythology. You may have even read Riordan’s take on Roman myths in the Heroes of Olympus or checked out his Egyptian endeavors with The Kane Chronicles (Editor’s Note: Gabriele reviewed the series here). If you haven’t read them, give them a shot. They’re great.

Now, Riordan has embarked on a new journey: one filled with Viking war ships and the nine worlds of Norse mythology. He’s done a fantastic job.
When I first began The Sword of Summer, the first book in the new Magnus Chase series, I thought it would be a little weird. I was expecting a lot of POV shifts like the Heroes of Olympus and some pacing issues. But The Sword of Summer is different. Riordan goes back to what he does best and gives us the entire story from Magnus’s sarcastic, wonderful point of view, and his pacing is pretty good (if you ignore the first couple of chapters). Like all of Riordan’s characters, Magnus has an incredibly strong voice. He’s funny and, as an added bonus, he’s really up-to-date on his pop culture references. I mean, who doesn’t love getting a little T.A.R.D.I.S. or Britney Spears on the side of their Norse mythology? Plus, Riordan’s inclusion of pop culture references, especially those surrounding the Thor movie franchise, helps the reader understand the history and myths included in the story. And seeing as Norse mythology is already slightly less popular and more unknown than something like Greek or Roman mythology, it’s important to have a place to start from.

Riordan also gives the readers something to connect his previous stories and new stories together. Having read his other books, I really love that. His connections do get a little over the top at times, like when he titled a chapter using a reference to Jason Grace, who our main character, Magnus, has never met or heard of. But, I still enjoyed those little pats on the back for being one of Riordan’s followers.

Rick Riordan excels at including people of different backgrounds in his novels, as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean he gives a completely accurate representation of the diverse characters in his books, but seeing as, yes, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and Riordan is a white male trying to include diverse characters, I appreciate his efforts.

The Magnus Chase series includes one of my favorite characters in all of Riordan’s books, a Muslim girl named Samirah al-Abbas. She’s strong and smart, and she’s not afraid to do what’s right, making her a really kick-ass character to root for. Also in the story is another one of my favorite characters, a deaf character named Hearthstone. I haven’t read many books that include people who are deaf, so this was a nice surprise. I’ve also always wanted to learn sign language, so it was fun having a character use ASL in the story. I wanted a little more time with him, but since this is just the first book in the series I’ll let it slide for now.

The book is a tad predictable and formulaic, but not in a way that makes me want to put it down. I’m not sure if I could handle another five-book series where I know exactly what’s going to happen and how, but for a trilogy I’m definitely not upset that I can guess the endings. It makes it kind of fun, and when I’m wrong I’m all the more excited to learn how.

The Sword of Summer had some ups and downs, but overall, I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in mythology or comedic adventure stories. If you’re already a fan of Rick Riordan, you won’t be disappointed. If you aren’t a fan yet, you will be after reading this book. The only thing you’ll be upset about is the wait you have until you can read book two.

Hannah Levine is a senior at The University of Michigan majoring in Creative Writing and Literature and minoring in Digital Studies. She grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and loved every second of it, although she would never pass up a trip to travel and see the world. Hannah is most proud of the moment she met J.K. Rowling and didn’t break into tears until after getting Rowling’s autograph. She is least proud of the time she walked past Mitch Albom at Campus Martius and was too nervous to say hi. You can check out more of Hannah’s random thoughts on Twitter at @hannah_levine or on her blog, Just Hannah dot Rose.

Get Writing: Published Books from NaNoWriMo

I believe all readers have stories of their own in their hearts, dying to be written. And there’s no better time to write those stories than during National Novel Writing Month, a movement that challenges everyone to complete 50,000 words (the standard length of a novella).

Think NaNoWriMo only produces amateurs? Think again. Check out some of these traditionally published works from the challenge for inspiration for your own writing.

the night circus coverThe Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern
I am dying for a movie of this visually stunning book about two young magicians forced into a rivalry. Their stage? The Night Circus, a place of whimsy and wonder, but also full of danger as the magicians learn what’s needed to end their feud for good, further complicated by their blossoming feelings for one another.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
This young-adult novel sparked two similarly named sequels, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After. These are feel-good, chick-flick lit. Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna as she’s forced to attend a boarding school in Paris during her senior year of high school, leaving behind her best friend, awesome job, and huge crush. It’s a story of romantic near-misses, new love, and taking chances.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I am obsessed with the Lunar Chronicles, a series of futuristic retellings of fairytales, with a cyborg Cinderella having to save the earth (and the prince!) from an evil lunar queen. And to think, it all began as a NaNoWriMo project! Not only that, but the sequels Scarlet and Cress were also NaNoWriMo projects.

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Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Intended as a short story, Wool takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where a community thrives in a silo community deep under the ravaged world above. The society is heavily regulated, with rules people unwaveringly believe are meant to keep them safe. But one man, Sheriff Holston, dares to break the biggest rule of all, when he asks to go outside.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Newly orphaned and broke, young Jacob Jankowski jumps the first freight train he sees and unexpectedly becomes part of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This 1930s historical novel follows Jacob as he dodges danger of circus life—a corrupt boss, brutish conditions, and the most perilous thing of all, his love for Marlena, the beauty of the entire show.

fangirl coverFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I’ve gushed about my love for Rainbow Rowell before, and it’s no surprise the geek author is a NaNo winner. In Fangirl, Cath is a college freshman, who’s dealing with her twin Wren not wanting to room with her, her obsession with writing Simon Snow fanfiction, and her surly roommate and overly friendly roommate’s boyfriend. Carry On just debuted this October, Rowell’s new novel based on Simon Snow, the book within the book.

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Another YA novel, this one written by a teen author! Persistence of Memory follows teenager Erin Misrahe, who is struggling with her alter-ego. Of course, that isn’t easy, since her alter-ego is actually a centuries-old vampire whom Erin shares a link with.

Could your NaNoWriMo novel be next on this list? For a full list of the hundreds of published NaNoWriMo novels, check out their website here. As for me, I have some reading (and writing of my own NaNoWriMo novel!) to do.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Mythic Reads for Riordan Lovers

I am a huge mythology fan. Who isn’t? Mythology’s basically fairytales that people believed once upon a time. Rick Riordan’s books on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myths are some of my favorites (and Logan Lerman is adorable in the movies). They’re about kids who find out they’re demigods… and have to face all the monsters and challenges that come along with the superpowers and godly abilities.

I’m so beyond excited for the latest series by Riordan, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, founded in Norse mythology. Seriously—I spent a few minutes at BookCon pouting I didn’t get the promotional shields they were handing out.

The first book, The Sword of Summer, came out October 6th. After you devour that book, and while you wait for the next in the series to release: I have a long list of books to dive into.

greek myths d'aulaire

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
This is basically the authority on Greek mythology for anyone new to the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece. From the creation of the earth, the seas, and all that inhabit it, to the shenanigans of the gods, and the valiant deeds of the heroes, D’Aulaires’ illustrated book will make you wish we still worshipped these gods.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B Cooney
At six years old, Anaxandra is captured and made to be companion to the king’s crippled daughter on the island of Siphnos. But just a few years later, her new life is thrown into chaos when the island is rampaged by pirates, and Anaxandra is the only survivor. To keep herself alive, she takes the identity of the king’s daughter, Callisto, but her new guardian, Helen of Troy doesn’t believe her story. Plus, Anaxandra has to face another challenge—the start of the tumultuous Trojan War.

Graveyard Shift by Angela Roquet
The first in the Reapers Inc series, Graveyard Shift takes us through the whole spectrum of mythology… in the afterlife. Lana Harvey is a reaper, where she has to harvest souls under the management of the legendary Grim Reaper himself. Since she’d rather be hanging out with her favorite archangel Gabriel in Limbo City’s Purgatory Lounge, she’s shocked when she gets a promotion, especially one that could cause all of Eternity to fall apart.

american gods neil gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
This story is magic. It’s about the old gods immigrants brought with them to America, and the war they’re waging on the new gods, the gods of television, of technology, of fast food. The book meanders, it marvels, it tricks you up. It’s without a doubt, one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Afterward your mind is blown, be sure to check out Gaiman’s book set in the same universe, Anansi Boys.

The Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer
Go right to the source with these classical tales written by Homer. Standing the test of time, the Odyssey and the Iliad are both still read today, thousands of years after the epic poet penned them.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Let’s take a journey away from Greece and to the realm of Jewish mythicism and Arabic mythology. Chava is a golem, created by a disgraced, dark-magic rabbi, and Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire from the Syrian desert. Their paths cross in 1900s New York, where they are both trapped in different circumstances. Though unlikely friends, they find themselves caught in this whimsical, exciting tale that also touches on the convergence of cultures and the meeting of the old world with the new.

the golem and the jinni

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
While we’re touring different mythologies, we can take a stop in Arthurian legend with the Avalon series. The tale of King Arthur is retold through the eyes of the women who were behind the throne. An inspiring and empowering series, these books will make any outcast girl feel like they can kick some butt.

Any must-reads missing from my list? I need to delve more into non-Western mythologies, I know. So many gods to learn about! (And wish that I had their powers). Do you have a favorite mythology from a specific culture, or favorite god?

 

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.