Category Archives: sci-fi/fantasy

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

WintersongLiesl remembers when she used to go into the woods as a child and play with Der Erlkönig [the Goblin King].  She found it strange that he kept asking for her hand in marriage since she was only a child, but he persisted.  As she grew older, she stopped traveling so often into the woods, but she still heard tales of the Der Erlkönig — especially from her grandmother, Constanze, who urged Liesl to respect the “old laws” so that she could keep herself safe as the Der Erlkönig searched for his eternal bride.  Though Leisl was primarily occupied with helping to run her family’s inn, she preferred to spend her spare time composing and playing music with her brother, Josef.  She didn’t give much thought to Der Erlkönig and his search for an eternal bride, but then her sister, Käthe, was kidnapped by goblins.  Suddenly, Leisl’s entire world was turned upside down — because Der Erlkönig had not only taken her sister away, but he had also clouded the minds of everyone around her.

As she struggled to get out of the house and search for her missing sister, the people around her, who didn’t know who this “Käthe” was, seemed to think Leisl had a mental breakdown.  Only Constanze could see through this illusion, but her family thought of *her* as an old woman who had lost her own grip on reality long ago.  Fortunately, she conspired to sneak Leisl out of the house so that she could find Der Erlkönig and negotiate for her sister’s safe return.  Though this book was set at the turn of the 19th century and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest was set in modern times, it somehow made me think of that story.  (Maybe it’s because of the forest setting?  Don’t ask.  I have no idea how my mind works!)  All I know is that I recommend fans of Black’s work to check this out when it’s released in February.

Happy Reading!

The Delphi Effect by Rysa Walker

delphi-effectAnna Morgan is able to communicate with the dead.  Or, to be more accurate, the dead are able to communicate with Anna Morgan.  This communication doesn’t require fancy summoning rituals like a séance or anything; the spirits of the dead can be found nearly everywhere and many of them compete for her attention on a regular basis.  Why?  Because they are hoping she will be able to help them complete some final task before they move on.  These mental hitchhikers have been accosting Anna since she was a small child.  In fact, when she was only a toddler, Anna was abandoned in a food court with a note — “This child is possessed.” — pinned to her clothing.  Anna has spent most of her life being shuffled between foster homes and psychiatric institutions because people just don’t know what to make of her.  But, luckily, she has found two people she can count on — her best friend, Deo, and her therapist, Dr. Kelsey.  Deo is the closest thing Anna has to family, and the two of them look out for one another no matter what.  Dr. Kelsey, on the other hand, has helped Anna to deal with her gift and to erect mental walls to contain or keep out spirits as necessary.  Talk about an invaluable skill!

Occasionally, Anna lets down her guard to help a spirit in need and Molly is one such case.  Anna doesn’t know the entire story, but she knows that Molly was a murder victim who wants Anna’s help bringing her killer to justice.  First, though, they need to get in touch with Molly’s grandfather and convince him that Anna is not just a scam artist looking for a payday.  Since he has contacts in law enforcement, he is the best possible person to contact… but he is also very skeptical, so Anna has her work cut out for her.  This book is a wild ride with plenty of action and mystery throughout, and it even has a dash of conspiracy theories thrown into the mix.  With some fairly graphic descriptions of violence, though, I feel compelled to forewarn anyone who might be squeamish.  If you enjoy murder mysteries like The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, though, you should definitely check this one out.

Happy Reading!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone-gapThe O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons).  Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead.  Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident.  Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn.  Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries.  They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.

Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself.  He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields.  He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her.  People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye.  He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine.  The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.”  Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.

I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be.  I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away…  But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too.  It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost.  Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome.  If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.

Happy Reading!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

23599075[1]I find it funny that people are comparing this book to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games but not to the Graceling series. Game of Thrones makes sense because of the crazy king who thirsts for power, uprisings from conquered peoples, and mystical power that comes into play… But I don’t think Hunger Games is too similar. I mean, yes, there is a competition in which people are trained to fight and then whittle down to a single champion — but they aren’t forced to join the competition in the first place and not everyone who loses the game will end up dead. The Graceling series, on the other hand, has a badass heroine who was trained as an assassin and used as a weapon of sorts by the king. Sounds an awful lot like Celaena Sardothien!

Celaena was known throughout Erilea as one of the greatest assasins of all time, but her legend didn’t include the fact that she was both beautiful and very young. When the Crown Prince, Dorian, went to see her in the salt mines of a prison camp called Endovier — where most people last only about a month, but she had already managed to last over a year — he came with a rather strange proposition. Even though she had been sent to Endovier by order of the king, he asked Celaena to enter the competition to be the king’s champion. There was a catch, of course… She had to use an alias so that the people of the kingdom wouldn’t know they had all been “petrified of a girl” all along, and she had to return to Endovier if she lost. Though it was tempting to simply refuse, Prince Dorian’s offer also came with a pretty awesome reward; if Celaena won the competition and served the king for a number of years, she could actually earn her freedom. She would have been a fool to refuse, but she also worried that she had been foolish to accept — especially once champions started turning up murdered… shredded by some unknown beast.

Happy Reading!

The Young World by Chris Weitz

young-worldEver since I read The Girl Who Owned a City [back in fifth grade], I have been fairly obsessed with dystopian fiction.  There’s just something so intriguing about seeing that the world could be *even more* messed up than it already is, you know?  The thing about this story that instantly brought me back to The Girl Who Owned a City, of course, is the fact that the entire adult population in this story has been wiped out.  In this case, though, all the little kids have been wiped out too.  It’s only the teenagers who have survived — and it must have something to do with the particular blend of hormones that exists in teens, because even the survivors die off once they reach full maturity.

This is not just a random disease that struck and went away, by the way.  This is something that, if left unchecked, will wipe out the entire human race.  Yeah.  Let’s hope there are some super-genius teens out there who can figure out what to do to fix it all, right?!?  Enter the kids of Washington Square.  This story is told from the perspectives of various characters, including an “average” girl named Donna and a guy named Jefferson who has “inherited” leadership of Washington Square now that his older brother has turned 18 and died.  Oh yeah…  Jefferson is also secretly in love with Donna and just so happens to be think he might have found some information that could lead to a cure.  Jeff just needs to convince his friends to join him on a dangerous trip through the city to find more information and, you know, a lab where he can do some research.  Witty banter and fast-paced action make this a fairly quick read.  I recommend this book to fans of series like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Monument 14.

Happy Reading!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling

cursed-childAnyone who knows me, pretty much at all, knows that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan.  I mean, I have a tattoo that incorporates the Deathly Hallows, for goodness’ sake!  So, when this book was announced, I must have gotten a dozen emails from people who wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the news.  Even though I fully appreciated their thoughtfulness, part of me was like,”Do you  even *know* who you’re talking to?!?” 😉

Even though I was slightly concerned that the play format would significantly alter the reading experience, I am happy to report that it didn’t detract from the story at all [for me].  Perhaps that is because I was in the Drama Club in high school and was already used to reading scripts, but I believe that even non-thespians should do just fine with this story.  My one complaint?  It was too short!  I am one of the people who literally cried tears of joy to hear that there was another story in the Harry Potter universe, and then cried tears of despair that JK Rowling said this is definitely her last time writing about the world of Harry Potter.  (I can only hope she has a change of heart.)

This story is essentially a continuation of the epilogue from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  And though it delves into the lives of all of the Weasley-Potters and the Granger-Weasleys, it focuses mostly around Harry and Ginny’s son Albus as he enters Hogwarts and tries to find his place in a world where he fears that he will only ever live in his father’s shadow.  This is not only a great coming-of-age story, and a touching story about the power of friendship, but it is also a wonderful reminder that we all need to rise above self-doubt if we are going to reach our full potential.

Happy Reading!

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzyI have several lenses through which I view the education system in our country.  First, as a former student.  Second, as someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library and information sciences with a concentration in youth services and public libraries.  Third, nevertheless, is the role that has provided me a completely different [admittedly, more biased] view — mom to two children in public school.  Based on my own experiences, the training I have received, the literature I’ve studied on best practices, the work I have done in schools and public libraries, and the ways I have seen my own children navigate the system, I feel extremely confident in my ability to speak about both the successes and shortcomings of recent educational reforms.  And while I feel as though most of the reform in the last couple of decades was well-intentioned, I am both concerned about and disappointed by the general trend toward extreme standardization and hands-off learning because of the focus on high-stakes testing.  This book spoke right to my heart!

Imagine that the school you attended had an all-seeing, computerized Vice Principal who could track every single student’s educational progress and behavior in real time.  For Max, this is her reality.  Every time her grades slip, every time she is late to class, and every time she breaks even the tiniest of school rules, the Vice Principal (aka computerized student tracking/evaluation system) Barbara updates Max’s student record.  That might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Barbara also constantly notifies Max’s parents, who are stressing big time and pressuring Max to turn things around before she ends up kicked out of her regular middle school and enrolled in a remedial program.  School is nothing but stress for Max… but then Fuzzy shows up.

Fuzzy is a new student at Vanguard One Middle School.  The thing that makes him different, nevertheless, is that he is not human; he is a robot.  Sure, the school already had robots who perform routine janitorial and cafeteria work, but Fuzzy is something very new.  Instead of being programmed for only a few specific jobs and functions, he is programmed with “fuzzy logic” so that he can attempt to adapt his code to the demands of being a middle school student.  To help him with his mission, Max has been recruited as a student partner with whom he can interact.  She agrees to help Fuzzy better understand the intricacies of navigating middle school, both literally and figuratively, and Fuzzy “decides” he wants to help Max as well.  In a world where it seems like administrators would rather their students behave more like robots, you would think that Fuzzy would be welcomed with open arms.  But it seems that Barbara is not a fan of the new Robot Integration Program.  Perhaps it’s because she’s afraid Fuzzy will catch on to the fact that she seems to be so obsessed with better test scores that she may be taking liberties with student evaluations?

Happy Reading!