The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple- ARC review

Image result for the last tsar's dragons                Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with the       copy in exchange for an honest review. The book is set to be available June 29, 2019.

It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies―Jews and Bolsheviks―his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air―and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons. (taken from Amazon)

Jane Yolen is an expert in dragons. She’s also a seasoned writer, having written children’s books (my youngest loves the “How Do Dinosaurs” book series), middle grade, and adult books. I was quite excited to read this mother-son team-up. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this one.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it: there were many things that I felt were well done. The book switched back and forth between a few different narrators, one of which was Rasputin. He was an interesting figure in history so it was cool to read chapters written from that character’s point of view. The religious zeal, combined with an enormous amount of narcissism, made him an intriguing character to explore.

I’m not sure why dragons were even included in the book: they actually detracted from the story, although my dragon-loving self hates to admit it. The rest of it is basically a historical fiction, and the dragons just didn’t fit. I might have liked it better without the dragons, and I hate having to say that.

There were parts that really dragged for me. I felt that certain characters, such as the tsarina, weren’t utilized to the best of their potential. She could have been written in a way that contributed much more to the feel of the time. Instead, she was just kind of annoying.

Eventually, it did fall into a sort of storytelling rhythm, and it moved along well after that. It ended up being an enjoyable story, but nothing to write home about. I liked it, but it’s not one that I’ll pick up again.

That being said, give it a go, but maybe don’t rush to pick it up the day it releases. If you go into it with the idea of it being a historical fiction, you might enjoy it more than I did, seeing as I expected the dragons to take a more central role.

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

I finished this gem of a book last night. It’s lovely, but incredibly sad. I didn’t cry (I was afraid it might get me, but my heart of stone prevailed). However, it was touch-and-go there at parts.

While hiding in a bomb shelter during World War 2, the three Hapwell children find themselves suddenly in the Woodlands, which is quite obviously meant to be a similar situation to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they return, no time has passed, again similar to the Narnia books. However, of the three children, Evelyn Hapwell finds herself unable to cope with the “real world”. One morning, her sister Phillipa gets a call: Evelyn has disappeared.

I thought the entire book would be told from Phillipa’s perspective as she tried to determine what happened to Evelyn, and how to go on from that news, but the first half is told from Evelyn’s point of view. The author uses famous poems sprinkled throughout to help describe Evelyn’s state of being, from her feelings of being out of place, to her struggle to appear otherwise.

After the halfway point, Phillipa takes over the narrative and it’s obvious that she, too, has her own struggles and ghosts to tackle. The way she handles them is incredibly different, but also leaves its mark on who she is. The author uses well-known works of art during Phillipa’s story line to the same excellent effect as the poetry.

I was surprised that there were scenes from the Hapwell children’s time in The Woodlands. I assumed that wouldn’t be touched on other than to say it happened. It added to the narrative, though.

The symbolism throughout is impossible to ignore, though it’s woven in subtly and seamlessly. It makes perfect sense and adds to the feel of the book.I found myself identifying with aspects of both Evelyn and Phillipa. I suspected the outcome, but it was still a journey I’m glad I went on.

One thing I was blown away by was the author’s ability to make the ending feel like a beginning. Not in an “I need a sequel” or “this book has no ending” sort of way, but in that it felt like you could catch up with the characters ten years from now and there would be a natural progression in their personalities because they were so realistic.

Warning” there is some mention of both self-harm and possible suicide. It’s done in such a way that I was able to handle it, despite those being incredibly difficult subjects for me to read about.

This book was a melancholy beauty, and is worth picking up.

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Six Degrees of Separation- from The Arsonist to The Light Between Worlds

I love the idea of playing 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but changing Bacon to Books! Because, honestly, books are better. Thanks to @booksaremyfavoriteandbest for your awesome post ( read here: https://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/six-degrees-of-separation-from-the-arsonist-to-tin-man/). This month, the starting point is:

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The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, then sat on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know.

The Arsonist takes readers on the hunt for this man, and inside the strange puzzle of his mind. It is also the story of fire in this country, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element. The command of fire has defined and sustained us as a species – understanding its abuse will define our future.  (taken from Amazon)

I haven’t read The Arsonist, although it looks fascinating and will probably be added to my very long tbr list, so my first link is a wee bit tenuous. But go with me here: I promise it will make sense.
Many people died that day, which leads me to:

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Love Letters to the Dead: A Novel by Ava Dellaira.

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did.

Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more–though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her.

Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was–lovely and amazing and deeply flawed–can she begin to discover her own path in this stunning debut from Ava Dellaira, Love Letters to the Dead. (taken from Amazon)

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was a moving coming-of-age book and didn’t spare the reader or skirt around hard truths. On the other, it felt overdone and maudlin in an unconvincing way from time to time. I picked it up because there was a recommendation on the cover from Stephen Chobsky, the author of one of my all-time favorite books (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), so maybe I subconsciously set the bar way too high because of that. Either way, it was good but not incredible.

This was another book that had spoke about death, leading me to my next degree:

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 Jackaby by William Ritter: 

“Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” -Chicago Tribune Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local authorities–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–seem adamant to deny. (taken from Amazon)

Switching from heavy fare to lighthearted fun, is the wonderful Jackaby series. I loved this book (read my glowing review:  :https://wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog/2018/12/04/jackaby-by-william-ritter/) ! The mysteries in this series are less than ordinary and one of my favorite characters happens to be a ghost,which is the tie-in from Love Letters to the Dead. You can’t get much deader than that. The supernatural creatures in the Jackaby series range from dragons, to the fae, leading me to my next book:

The Wicked King by Holly Black: 

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The enchanting and bloodthirsty sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Cruel Prince.

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.
 
The first lesson is to make yourself strong.
 
After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world. (taken from Amazon)

This series is all about the fae, and is quite enjoyable. I much prefer this sequel to the first book (The Cruel Prince) because one of the storylines from book one that really irritated me has been resolved and more time was spent on intrigue and backstabbing, which made for an interesting read.

The talented Holly Black has also co-written several other great books, leading me to:

The Iron Trial (The Magisterium book 1) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.

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Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst, and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come…(taken from Amazon)

My fifth grader and I both read this series at the same time. Okay, admission: we raced to see who got to each book first. It got pretty cutthroat there for a bit. Ha ha! This book, while its own storyline, owes a lot to the success of books that take place in a school for magic (I’m referring here, of course, to Harry Potter). It’s fun, but does get steadily darker as the series continues.

A big theme of the series is accepting who you are and being that person in a world that is big and scary sometimes, which leads to my final choice:

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth. 

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What happens when you return to the real world after being in a fantastical one like Narnia? This YA debut by Laura E. Weymouth is perfect for fans of Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

Walking the line between where fantasy and reality meet, this lyrical and magical novel is, above all else, an exploration of loss and healing, and what it means to find where you belong. (taken from Amazon)

One of the books I’m currently reading, I can’t say a ton about it because I haven’t finished it yet. It definitely fits in the vein of learning to be who you are and finding your place. My thought on it right now is that it’s beautiful but very, very sad. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be tears from me at some point.

So, there’s my six degrees from The Arsonist to The Light Between Worlds. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

You should play too! Just start with the Arsonist. I’m curious to see where people will end up.

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Wow! This book was phenomenal! I went into it hoping for a new fantasy with an old school fantasy feel (I’ll explain more about that, I promise), and I was not disappointed. It surpassed everything I hoped for.

Here’s a very simplified take on the premise of this book: Veronyka and Val are sisters, eking out a living with only each other to rely on. They’ve been raised on stories of phoenix riders and fierce queens, though their time has passed after a long war. Since then, there have been mutterings of remnants of the Phoenix Riders hiding out and trying to rebuild their diminished numbers.

After Val does something completely horrible, Veronyka leaves her, and disguises herself as a boy in order to join the ranks of the phoenix riders and-hopefully- become one herself.

That is a very basic blurb. There is so much more to this book and it’s all fantastic! There’s another fascinating story line that twists and turns throughout the book, related but separate. Phoenixes, wars, twists and turns-it’s all there.

When I mentioned an “old school fantasy” feel, I meant the sort that includes a hero learning to be who he/she is, magic, fantasy creatures, and a world fully separated from ours, where the fantastical is accepted and not questioned. This all exists within the pages of this book. Now, without further ado, it’s time to spew opinions:

First of all: phoenixes! How cool is that? I’m a sucker for fantasy creatures written well, and these are. In fact, everything about this book is well written. Each character is fully developed and important in some way. There are no “red shirts”, there just to bite the dust. In fact, they’re all so well written that I’m having a hard time deciding who my favorite character even is.

Another thing that I loved about this book is the way it told a very realized history of its world, including wars, betrayals, and belief systems, without ever feeling like it was dragging. It was woven in so well with the main plot line that it just felt natural to be learning so much about this world. There’s also a timeline and glossary at the back of the book, which is awesome.

This book builds slowly, investing time in making you actually care about what happens with these characters. It’s never boring, though, and once it gets going, it really gets going. So much happened so quickly that I was on the edge of my seat for the last quarter of the book.

I can’t think of a single thing about this book that I didn’t like. There is absolutely nothing I would change at all. Well- maybe I’d have the sequel be released already so I don’t have to wait…the agony that can only be caused by a good book.

Read this.

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Tale As Old As Time: New Spins on Old Stories

There’s been a plethora of fairy tale re-imaginings lately, some good, some not so much. It got me thinking: is this a new trend? While it seems that retellings are much more popular recently, there are always books that reinvent older fairy tales and myths. Here are a few that I’ve read, complete with my unsolicited thoughts on each:

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Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige: This reinvention of the Snow Queen was good, but not amazing. I think I would have liked it better if it had been longer, giving it some extra time for setup. That being said, it’s still one worth picking up.

Seventeen-year-old Snow has spent her life locked in the Whittaker Psychiatric Institute, but deep down, she knows she doesn’t belong there. When she meets a mysterious new orderly and dreams about a strange twisted tree, she realizes she must escape and figure out who she really is.

After Snow breaks free and races into the nearby woods, she stumbles into icy Algid–her true home–with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai, none of whom she’s sure she can trust. As secrets are revealed, Snow discovers that she’s on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change everything . . . including Snow’s return to the world she once knew.

With Algid’s fate resting in her hands, will Snow embrace her destiny, even it means paying the ultimate price? (taken from Amazon)

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Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: This is a re-imagining of The Six Swans. I remember really enjoying the book, but it’s been quite a while. I think the time is ripe for a reread! It’s much more of a full-on fantasy book, which is always a plus.

Lord Colum of Sevenwaters is blessed with six sons: Liam, a natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; twins Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight; and the young, compassionate Padriac.

But it is Sorcha, the seventh child and only daughter, who alone is destined to defend her family and protect her land from the Britons and the clan known as Northwoods. For her father has been bewitched, and her brothers bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift.

To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known, and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror.

When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for her to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows no boundaries, and Sorcha will have to choose between the life she has always known and a love that comes only once. (taken from Amazon)

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The Looking Glass Wars trilogy by Frank Beddor: Very loosely based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (not technically a fairy tale, I know), these books are madcap fun.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss’ parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts. (taken from Amazon)


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Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer: I love, love, love this re-imagining of East of the Sun, West of the Moon! Everyone needs to read this! Lovely and atmospheric, it’s not one to miss.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Amazon)

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East by Edith Pattou: This is another retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It’s a lot more simply told than Echo North, possibly intended for a younger reader base, but it’s still a good one.

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.

As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine. (taken from Amazon)

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A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’ll be honest: I really don’t like this one at all, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one on the list. Based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Ballad of Tam Lin, it’s much more of a romance than I enjoy. I also found that some parts bordered on the icky for me. This is an unpopular opinion, though. Most readers really enjoy this series.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin–one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. (taken from Amazon)

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Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton: This is another book that’s not based on a fairy tale, exactly. It’s based on Beowulf. It’s so well done, though! If you enjoy this book, watch The 13th Warrior, adapted to screen from this book. It’s held up well over time.

The year is A.D. 922.  A refined Arab courtier, representative of the powerful Caliph of Baghdad, encounters a party of Viking warriors who are journeying to the barbaric North. He is appalled by their Viking customs—the wanton sexuality of their pale, angular women, their disregard for cleanliness . . . their cold-blooded human sacrifices. But it is not until they reach the depths of the Northland that the courtier learns the horrifying and inescapable truth: he has been enlisted by these savage, inscrutable warriors to help combat a terror that plagues them—a monstrosity that emerges under cover of night to slaughter the Vikings and devour their flesh . . .(taken from Amazon)

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this book is  beautiful and engrossing. I highly recommend it.

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village. 

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales. (taken from Amazon)

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer: This is a steampunk re-imagining of Cinderella. I have tried multiple times to read it, and for some reason I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t know why: by all rights it should be right up my alley. Give it a go: then tell me what I’m missing so I’ll stick with it. Ha ha!

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (taken from Amazon)

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Uprooted by Namoi Novak: Last, but most certainly not least, this book is based on a Slavic fairy tale. While parts of this book followed usual fairy tale tropes, it’s an incredibly unique book overall. I need to read more Slavic fairy tales because the feel of this book is fantastic. I have a feeling I’d love the original source material as well.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (taken from Amazon)

While this list is in no way complete, here are some that I’ve read. Which retellings have you read? Did you enjoy them? What are some I’ve missed that I need to read?

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I was immediately curious about this book: the title held so many possibilities! I’d just watched the TV show The Librarians (which I highly recommend, if you haven’t seen it), and this looked like a fun adventure in the same vein. Indeed, it was!

The main character is Irene, a spunky employee of the Library, a place that collects  dangerous fiction from multiple realities and stores them. Honestly, I’m still a bit shaky on what makes a book “dangerous” enough to be added to the Library’s collection: if you’ve read this book and have the answer, please let me know!

This book already had a lot going for it: A unique premise, room for lots of creativity-after all, multiple realities can look any way an author wants-, and a female main character who is able to think quickly and act decisively. She’s very self-assured, despite being far from perfect.

In this first book, Irene is sent to a version of London with her assistant Kai to pick up a dangerous book for the library. Unfortunately, it turns out it’s already been taken. This particular version of London is full of  magic, supernatural creatures, and some seriously interesting steampunkish critters (don’t mind me, I’m just over here inventing new words).

Add a nemesis for Irene, a quirky Holmes-esque helper, secret societies, and twists aplenty, and this book is just a blast to read. I liked that, while there’s a lot of action, there are also “Aha!” moments, as well as a slight splash of romance. It’s a fun combination of a “whodunnit” and an action novel.

This book is lighthearted, and a fast read. I’d suggest reading this after finishing a heavy book, as a fun detox before starting in on another complicated book. If you like quirky, this is for you.

Have you read it? What did you think?

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Books for Littles #2: Read about Reading

When I was younger, I used to watch Reading Rainbow. It was a great show, not because it taught children how to read, but because it showed that reading is fun. Books are magic and I feel that it’s important to teach kids to love books, not just to read the words. Here are a few great books about books.

The Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk: This is all about a mouse named Sam, who lives in a library and starts writing little books and leaving them out for people to read. Eventually, the librarian (who has no idea he’s a mouse) asks the author to come talk to the patrons. What will Sam do? How can a rodent give writing advice? The answer in this book is both sweet and inspiring. With cute illustrations, this is a great book to read to littles learning to write.

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I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss: I have to include the classic Dr. Seuss, of course! As with 99% of his books, this one is just fun!

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, illustrated by Joe Bluhm: This is a newer one for me. I finally read it for the first time the other day, after my husband had pointed it out (quite a while ago: the youngest was still in the board book phase at the time). While I was reading it to my toddler, I noticed my oldest (who has recently decided he’s too old to be read to), sneaking over to listen. This book is wonderful! All about the wonder of books, it had both kids riveted. The story had me a little choked up by the end, to be honest. Read it and you’ll see why.

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Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library! by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James: This is based on Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Changed the World, an adult nonfiction book. It’s heartwarming and a great bedtime read.

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Born to Read by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown: This book reminds me so much of my oldest when he was young! He taught himself to read at a young age, and would read everything (I remember a certain afternoon where, as we drove in a rather derelict part of town, he suddenly asked, “Mom, what’s the ‘Bottomz Up Club’?” That’s an interesting conversation to have with a four year old). When I read this book to my toddler, I change the character’s name to that of my oldest. It’s super cute and has a cadence that keeps my little toddler tornado interested.

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Have you read any of these with your children? What books about books would you add?

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

My quest to read outside my comfort zone in 2019 continues with The Monk of Mokha. I don’t read many biographies, although I’ve read many more over the past year or so, and this one looked interesting.

This is the story of Mokhtar Alkahanshali, a Yemeni American who grew up in an impoverished area of San Francisco. One of many children, Mokhtar had a propensity to get in trouble as a kid, was rather directionless , and working as a doorman when he came across a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee. Mokhtar was intrigued, and did a little digging. He discovered that coffee brewing originated in Yemen and, so to speak, a star was born.

Mokhtar became driven to become a coffee exporter, improve working conditions of farmers in Yemen, and hopefully build a profitable business for himself. The first half of the book was about his aspirations, and the plans he put into motion. While interesting, it wasn’t fast-moving.

The second half of the book felt like an action novel. In 2015, a civil war broke out in Yemen, trapping Mokhtar there with no way to get out. The U.S. wasn’t working to evacuate its citizens from the country, and Mokhtar was one of many who were trapped in a very dangerous place. How he made it back to the U.S was nail-biting, even more so because it actually happened.

Interspersed throughout were Mokhtar’s viewpoints on money, what it means to be a Muslim in America, and life in general. I really liked reading about another person’s perspective. I’m so glad I read this book!

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Unpopular Opinions Tag

The Orang-utan Librarian did a lovely book tag called Unpopular Opinions (you can find hers here: https://theorangutanlibrarian.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/unpopular-opinions-tag-2/) . Since I have many of those, I just had throw in my two cents’ worth.

A Popular Book or Series That You Didn’t Like: Nope, no, uh-uh. Sarah J. Maas is not an author I enjoy. At all. To each their own, but I definitely feel like she’s a very overrated author and I wanted to smack the main character the entire time.

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A Popular Book or Series that Everyone Else Seems To Hate That You Love: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. I’m right there with you, Orang-utan Librarian: this book is great! Eerie, with a dark fairy-tale vibe, I quite enjoyed it. I’d love to read a book of short stories that take place in the author’s Hinterland. Plus, look at that gorgeous cover!

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A “One True Pairing” That You Don’t Like: I really don’t mind most canon relationships as long as they don’t detract from the story. Hmmm…I can’t think of a single one. Moving on!

A Popular Book Genre That You Hardly Reach For: I don’t read romance or erotica. It’s not my thing.

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A Popular/Beloved Character That You Do Not Like: Snape. He was a Deatheater (basically the KKK of the wizarding world), he only decided to change his ways, so to speak, because he was in love with another man’s wife, and he was just an all-around jerk (and kind of a lousy teacher. Ha ha!).

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A Popular Author That You Can’t Seem To Get Into: Ah, this is where I lose blog followers. Ha ha !
I’ll narrow it down to two:

Gillian Flynn. I hated the movie Gone Girl, and I found the one book I read that she’d written (Dark Places) to be predictable. She’s an author that I feel writes the most messed-up things, not to further a story line, but just because she can. However, that’s a very unpopular opinion.

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John Green: He’s the Hallmark commercial of the fiction world. You know, going into the book, that’s he’s going to do his level best to make you cry. Not my thing.

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A Popular Book Trope That You’re Tired of Seeing: “I hate him, but I love him, but I hate to love him, but he loves this girl, and this girl loves a different girl…” ad nauseum. Oh- I also hate it when the main female character thinks it’s attractive when ye random guy she just met messes with her hair, or tells her how to wear it. That’s not hot. That’s creepy and possessive.

A Popular Series That You Have No Interest In Reading:

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Both of these series, are ones that I know are too harsh for me to be able to get through. I stay away from certain subjects for my own mental and emotional well-being.

The Saying Goes “The book is always better than the movie”, But What Movie Or TV Show Adaptation Do You Prefer To The Book? The Fellowship of the Ring. The book spends so much time describing places that I’d often lose track of what was happening. The movie was able to show those places without slowing the story down.

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I tag anyone who wants to participate! Have fun!

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

This book was fantastic! Steeped in Norse mythology, and utterly creeptastic (add that to your vocabulary: if “fleek” can be a word,  “creeptastic” can be too), this was just what I needed .

Martha senses things about people just by touching their clothes. It started after she fell out of the twisted tree at her Mormer’s (grandmother’s) house, and became blind in one eye. Trying to get answers for this disturbing development from the one person she suspects might know something about it, she runs away to see Mormer- only to learn that she’s dead and that a teen boy has been living in her house.

The book quickly picks up an incredibly eerie atmosphere: out in the middle of nowhere with a huge storm coming, something outside (a wolf- or worse?), ghosts inside, and questions that need answering,  Martha has to face the truth of the Twisted Tree and who she is.

At less than four hundred pages, this is a quick read, perfect for an evening cuddled up with your warm drink of choice. Actually, the shortness of the book is the only thing that I felt even a little negatively towards, and that’s simply because I enjoyed it so much that I wanted it to continue.

The book builds to a crescendo, the mythology aspect is incredibly interesting (although a few liberties have been taken), and the relationship between the two main characters is one of the few I’ve read in a long time that didn’t annoy me. It was natural-feeling, and didn’t distract from the plot-line at all.

This is Rachel Burge’s debut novel, and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. If you’re looking for an eerie read, this book is for you.

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