Interview With a Middle-School Reader: Spring 2021

My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.

Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:

Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate — and find a way to save their world in their own way. (taken from Amazon)

“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.

I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. (taken from Amazon)

“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

With a lonely boy named Ben on board, the brave young dragon Firedrake sets out on a magical journey to find the mythical place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage — and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home. (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people. (taken from Amazon)

“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”

Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.

Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan

Wind-voice the half-dove, formerly enslaved, is now free, and Maldeor, the one-winged archaeopteryx, hungers for supreme power.
Can Wind-voice and his valiant companions—Ewingerale, the wood-pecker scribe; Stormac, the myna warrior; and Fleydur, the musician eagle—save the future of their world? (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”

Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles

Twelve-year-old Ash waves goodbye to her miserable life as a traveling circus stablehand when she and her feisty bird, Flynn, are whisked away to the Academy of Beasts and Magic: a school where wealthy children train unicorns, manticores, and scarf-wearing ice dragons. The downside to owning such a highly magical beast? Everyone wants him. When a mysterious sorcerer suggests the Academy may have dark intentions, Ash realizes her tiny bird might be the key to saving Cascadia…or destroying it. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”

There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?

We Lie With Death (The Reborn Empire book 2) by Devin Madson

There is no calm after the storm.
 
In Kisia’s conquered north, former empress Miko Ts’ai is more determined than ever to save her empire. Yet, as her hunt for allies grows increasingly desperate, she may learn too late that power lies not in names but in people.
 
Dishiva e’Jaroven is fiercely loyal to the new Levanti emperor. Only he can lead them, but his next choice will challenge everything she wants to believe about her people’s future.
 
Abandoned by his Second Swords, Rah e’Torin must learn to survive without a herd. But honor dictates he bring his warriors home-a path that could be his salvation or lead to his destruction.
 
And sold to the Witchdoctor, Cassandra Marius’ desperate search for a cure ties her fate inextricably to Empress Hana and her true nature could condemn them both. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Both We Lie With Death, and We Ride the Storm (book one) are available now. You can find my review of We Ride the Storm here.

After reading and loving We Ride the Storm, I had ridiculously high expectations for We Lie With Death. I thought, “How can the follow up be as good as the first book?”. Devin Madson is a phenomenal writer, that’s how. This book is freaking incredible.

We Lie With Death picks up right after We Ride the Storm and doesn’t pause for a minute. While the pacing is different, there is never a dull moment. There are revelations, new points of view, and plenty of the intrigue that I so love to read. While having multiple points of view in books can sometimes be problematic, Madson handled each one skillfully and kept the characters’ personalities from meshing into each other.

The world building was incredible, of course, with even more being shown and developed. But where I thought We Lie With Death shines is in the relationships between the characters. There were dynamics being shown and explored that had me completely sucked in. It changed how I viewed the characters and showed off just how nuanced they all are.

Rah was my favorite in We Ride the Storm, but he slipped a little in this book. His stubbornness kind of annoyed me. Instead, it was Cassandra that kept me riveted throughout. Her relationship with Hanna was interesting to say the least. They are opposite in many ways and it just…worked.

I’m not going to say too much about the plot, for fear of giving something away. Suffice to say, it was layered and fascinating. The reader was given some answers (and a few more questions). As with book one, I will say that this is on the harsher side of fantasy.

There really isn’t a thing that I would change about the book. We Lie With Death is a fantastic book and a worthy follow-up to one of my favorite reads from last year.

Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 by Terry Brooks

Escape to worlds full of adventure and magic in the first-ever Terry Brooks short-story collection, featuring both new and fan-favorite stories from all three of his major literary worlds: Shannara, Magic Kingdom, and The Word and the Void.

Here are heroes fighting new battles and struggling to conquer the ghosts of the past. Here are quests both small and far reaching; heroism both intimate and vast. Here we learn of Garet Jax’s childhood, see how Allanon first located Shea Ohmsford, and follow an old wing-rider at the end of his life. Here we see Knights of the Word fighting demons within and without, and witness Ben Holiday and his daughter each trying to overcome the unique challenges that Landover offers.

This collection of eleven tales is a must-have addition to the Terry Brooks canon—a delightful way to spend time with favorite characters, and a wonderful reminder of what makes a Brooks story such a timeless classic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 will be available on March second.

Terry Brooks is a giant among fantasy authors. Even if you haven’t read any of his works, chances are you recognize the name. He’s most well known for his Shannara books, although I personally like Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! the best. When I was given the opportunity to check out his short fiction collection, I jumped at the chance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s Terry Brooks! Some of these stories add a new level to already established worlds and characters. His writing skill is on full display and is fantastic, as usual. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of his works, and it was fun to catch up.

On the other hand, some of the story additions were just odd. For example, the very first story was written for an anthology by Poul Anderson called Multiverse. It did not really make a lot of sense to make that the very first story, seeing as it was written for someone else’s anthology collection, and it alienated me a bit. If it was going to be in Small Magic, I personally would have preferred to see it pop up later on, after there had been some short stories that took place in worlds created by Terry Brooks.

My favorite story of the collection featured a cantankerous dragon. While I definitely felt that some stories were much better than others, I feel that most Terry Brooks fans will enjoy the collection, even if only for the sense of nostalgia it provides.

I personally didn’t love it as much as I was expecting, but it wasn’t awful. While Small Magic is worth checking out, I strongly suggest reading some of Terry Brooks’ full length fiction first.

Ari Goes to War by P.J. Sky

In trouble with the Jackroller crime syndicate, and with the warlords of The Black Mulga on her tail, Ari must confront her past when she sets out across the war-torn wasteland to rescue Starla from the clutches of the infamous Bone Pointer. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Ari Goes to War will be available on April sixth.

Ari Goes to War is the sequel to A Girl Called Ari. It continues to follow Ari (and Starla), although this book focuses a lot on Ari’s relationships with others, and how her past affects them. Starla finds herself in a precarious situation and Ari goes to rescue her.

The book continues the story quite well. Ari is a tough-as-nails character most of the time, so it was nice to see a little bit more of what makes her tick, so to speak. There were a couple of other characters for her to interact with, which was interesting, the main one being a girl named Keshia. Keshia lives on the streets and is just trying to get by. Her fingers tend to get a little sticky and she finds herself running from trouble a lot. She makes some bad choices, but it’s either in the interest of survival or in a misguided attempt to help. She was by far my favorite character. To Ari’s credit, she doesn’t ditch Keshia, despite the several occasions when things would have been easier if she had.

I was a little bummed that Starla was once again in need of rescue. It would have been nice to see her character be a little more active. However, the group (dare I say ‘cult’?) that kidnaps her is all kinds of interesting. I really liked seeing how that all played out.

While this book is a sequel, the events of book one are explained throughout in a way that would make it completely possible to read as a stand-alone. I appreciated the references to what went on in A Girl Called Ari, since it helped freshen my memory.

Ari Goes to War is a quick read and an entertaining one. Look for it when it releases: in the meantime, A Girl Called Ari is available now and it’s a good time to jump in.

Wyldblood Magazine Issue #1

Thank you to Wyldblood Press for the opportunity to read and review the first issue of Wyldblood Magazine. You can find Wyldblood Magazine here.

This is a great offering from some truly talented authors. I got sucked into the very first story, and looked up a moment later to realize that I had finished the entire magazine and time had flown by without my noticing.

No one story was like another. Each piece was completely unique and stunningly creative. While I enjoyed all of them, there were two that really stood out to me. The first was Thawing by JL George. This is about the Ice Princess, a frozen statue that stands in the center of a village square. Legend has it that-well, I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll just drop a hint about dragons (oh, how I love stories that contain dragons!), and say that Thawing has a perfect mix of legend and the everyday. I would love to see this expanded to a full novel, I enjoyed it so much.

The other story that really stuck with me was Souls of Smoke and Ash by Sydney Paige Guerrero. Have you ever heard someone being referred to as a “soul sucking —-“? Well, this particular entry happens to actually be about a soul sucker. It’s amazing to see an author lay out the scene, personality, and atmosphere that completely so quickly. The tale was told with confidence and ended in a way that I didn’t expect.

Not only are there some fantastic stories, Wyldblood Magazine also features interviews, book reviews, and some very skillful art. All of it added to the magazine, none of it was just filler. I’ve added a few books from the review section to my already overly large “to be read” list.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the layout. Sometimes, magazines are ordered in a way that makes transitions between pieces seem clunky, or gives a feeling of things being incomplete. Not so with Wyldblood. Each piece moved seamlessly into the next, despite every story being unlike the one before it. It’s hard to believe that this is the first issue of the magazine: it feels effortlessly well done. I am incredibly impressed, and I highly, highly suggest Wyldblood Magazine for all readers of fantasy or science fiction.

The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses Book 2) by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Life is good for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. They’re living together in a fabulous loft, their warlock son, Max, has started learning to walk, and the streets of New York are peaceful and quiet—as peaceful and quiet as they ever are, anyway.

Until the night that two old acquaintances break into Magnus’s apartment and steal the powerful Book of the White. Now Magnus and Alec will have to drop everything to get it back. They need to follow the thieves to Shanghai, they need to call some backup to accompany them, and they need a babysitter.

Also, someone has stabbed Magnus with a strange magical weapon and the wound is glowing, so they have that to worry about too.

Fortunately, their backup consists of Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and newly minted Shadowhunter Simon. In Shanghai, they learn that a much darker threat awaits them. Magnus’s magic is growing unstable, and if they can’t stop the demons flooding into the city, they might have to follow them all the way back to the source—the realm of the dead. Can they stop the threat to the world? Will they make it back home before their kid completely wears out Alec’s mom? (taken from Amazon)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, the Shadowhunter world (I’m a big fan of demons in literature) and Magnus Bane are the reasons I enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books. So, of course a series focusing on Magnus would immediately interest me. What’s not to love about the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

This book follows a quest of sorts: Magnus and Company need to find and retrieve a spellbook that would be very bad news if it’s in the wrong hands. The hands that have stolen it are most definitely the wrong ones and a sense of urgency is added to the mission in the form of nasty, glowing wounds that Magnus suddenly has.

Cassandra Clare has teamed up with author Wesley Chu for this series. He wrote The Lives of Tao, an interesting and unique book. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the series evolves with his contribution. So far, I’m liking the changes. First of all, there’s a distinct lack of love triangles. A while ago I wrote a blog post about tropes. There’s the tried and true, the cool and the ew! For me, love triangles are firmly on the “ew” list, so I’m loving the lack of them.

The book’s main character is Magnus, immediately elevating it in my mind. He’s such a fun character and there’s so much that can be done with him. Since he’s been around forever, he can easily be inserted into different points in history which adds a creative perspective on modern doings. Also, his experience sometimes gives him a long-suffering attitude when dealing with the angst that some of the other characters involve themselves in. That always makes me laugh. Honestly though, what I loved most about him in The Lost Book of the White was his fear and his joy about being a parent. It felt so natural and made his character feel more three-dimensional. It was a fantastic direction for his character to go in, and brand new territory for the authors to explore. It’s been touched on a bit in other books, but it plays a bigger role both in the storyline here, and how Magnus reacts to things.

The problems themselves were a blast to read. Magnus and Company (I’m totally going to trademark this phrase) had to work together and actually communicate to fix the mess that they were in. Alec is worried sick about Magnus (even in the Shadowhunter world, glowing wounds aren’t normal), Simon is feeling very unsure about his career path, and Isabelle has an unfortunate run-in with a hell dimension. A ton is packed into the book and there’s never a dull moment.

The action is well-written and there’s a lot of it. I was definitely on board for that. A good demon fight is always fun to read. Basically, what I’m saying at length is the The Lost Book of the White had much more of what I enjoy in the Shadowhunter books, and much less of what I’m not a huge fan of. I’m jazzed about what’s happening in the series so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. Bring on the Magnus!

The Crosser’s Maze (the Heroes of Spira book 2) by Dorian Hart

The Crosser’s Maze is a legendary device, a mysterious artifact of mind, magic, and metal. The archmage Abernathy believes that it can permanently prevent the malevolent Naradawk Skewn from escaping his otherworldly prison and bringing the world to ruin. But the archmagi are spending all of their wizardly might keeping Naradawk locked away. The burden of finding the Crosser’s Maze rests with Horn’s Company.

Dranko, Morningstar, and the rest of their ragtag band need only acquire the maze and bring it back to Abernathy. Nothing could be easier—except that no one knows exactly what the maze looks like. Or how big it is. Or precisely *where* it is. Or how to use it.

Worse, the Crosser’s Maze waits somewhere in the distant land of Kivia, on the far side of the Uncrossable Sea. The only means of getting there is a magical archway through which a hostile army is, even now, invading from the other side.

And, as if all of *that* weren’t dire enough, the evil Sharshun have sent an agent of their own to Kivia. She seeks the Crosser’s Maze for herself—and she has a month head start. If she finds it first, the world of Spira is doomed.(taken from Amazon)

I enjoyed book one, The Venifact Colossus, so much that I was a little nervous about reading the second book in the series. I am happy to report that I didn’t need to be. The Crosser’s Maze only increased my love of this series. Perfectly balancing action with character growth, author Dorian Hart has created a fantasy series that is utterly engrossing. There will be slight spoilers for book one below, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. You can find my review for book one here: The Ventifact Colossus.

Book two continues with the reappearance of Grey Wolf, who had been separated from the company. Together with a new addition (who is purrfect), they set off in an attempt to acquire the Crosser’s Maze. I’m not going to say any more about that for fear of spoiling things. Half of the enormous fun of book two is the sheer number of twists and unexpected revelations. I couldn’t have predicted the ending if I tried.

One thing I like about questing fantasy is the opportunity it presents regarding world building. It really is only constrained by the author’s creativity. The uniqueness of this world is fantastic. While there are many twists on the usual fantasy creatures, one of the things that set this world apart is the exploration of differing belief systems throughout the world. I loved watching the believers in the different religions interact with each other and seeing how those interactions changed or further strengthened their original beliefs. So often in fantasy worlds, the mythology and religions are there but unexplored. Not so in this case. I found myself eagerly looking forward to every new piece of information regarding the deities in each area.

Now, on to the characters. In the first book, I couldn’t pick just one favorite. I ended up with a top three. The same happened here. I loved each character. Ernie is still a favorite of mine. Watching him grow in self-confidence (he really is his own worst enemy) was a joy. I loved the moments when he would stop questioning himself and take charge. He was smarter and much more capable than he gave himself credit for and his inner pep talks cracked me up. They sounded very familiar (although I tend not to mention turtles in mine).

I thought Kibi’s storyline was great in this book! His magical ability, for lack of a better term, is so interesting. I love how he just accepted what he could do without a ton of questioning because it was so innate to his identity. Seeing him trying to explain it to someone else always makes me laugh a little. The way he solves problems is unique and so much fun to read!

I still loved Dranko, of course. I feel like he is underappreciated by the others simply because his personality is a little coarse. Sure, he’s prickly on the outside, but his depth of character and quiet selflessness adds so much to the group. That moment of understanding when he learned a little bit more about Grey Wolf was so cool!

More of the characters’ backgrounds were revealed and watching how they reacted to revelations of things previously unmentioned was fascinating. It allowed for a vast amount of character growth without taking away from the action in the book (and there was a lot of action). The story continues to develop beautifully. I loved this book and I can’t wait to read book three.

The Crosser’s Maze is filled with action and even more heart. I highly recommend this series.

Shorefall (the Founders trilogy #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.
 
But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.
 
Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.
 
Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.
 
The awe-inspiring second installment of the Founders Trilogy, Shorefall returns us to the world Robert Jackson Bennett created in his acclaimed Foundryside . . . and forges it anew. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Continuing on a few years after the events of book one, Shorefall drops you right into the middle of things. I love it when a sequel does that. The group decides to make like Robin Hood (rob from the rich and give to the poor) and we start with a heist. I am a big fan of a complex theft, whether it goes well or ends up becoming jumbled.

It was a treat to return to Bennett’s awesome setting. The city of Tevanne is a mess, kind of like the real world. Unlike the real world, Tevanne has a rocking magic system called scriving. In essence, scriving is convincing an item that it is something it’s not, so that it functions in a way it wouldn’t normally. It’s the most technological magic I’ve ever read and it makes for an interesting world.

This book throws our ragtag group of not-really heroes against an extremely villainous villain named Crasedes. I truly loved him. There’s something fabulous about a bad guy who has a twisted reasoning that almost makes sense. That being said, this book is much darker than its predecessor. Expect higher stakes and an injury/death list that is quite hefty.

And that leads us into the parts I didn’t love. The banter that added bits of fun to Foundryside was lacking in Shorefall. While the darker tone of the book worked for the storyline, I really missed those dashes of humor. The character development was off the charts, though, which is where the book shone. I finished book one with a sense of awe at the world the author created; I had much the same reaction regarding character growth in this book. Just…wowza.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the pacing in this book, unfortunately. It alternated between slower moments and bursts of action. Normally, I enjoy that in a book, but for some reason it felt a little off here. I really can’t figure out why. From time to time, it would take me out of the plot and leave me less than engrossed.

Shorefall was a mixed bag for me. I truly liked it, but it stopped a bit short of Foundryside for me. However, it is still a well-written book in a truly fascinating world. There was much more to like than dislike and it left me wondering what would happen next.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house―a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known. (taken from Amazon)

Bizarre and beautiful, Piranesi is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Susanna Clarke crafts an unforgettable tale of solitude, loss, and finding oneself in unexpected ways. While it was difficult to predict where the story was going (or indeed, where it started), I was swept away by it, and happily wandered the corridors of this labyrinthine book.

Piranesi has always lived in the House. At least, he thinks so. A flooded place filled with statues, birds, and the ever-present tides, he is mostly content. However, he is alone, aside from the Other. The Other is a mysterious figure whom Piranesi has agreed to look for a Great Knowledge with. What follows this simple premise is something new and entirely unique.

I can’t tell you much about the plot because I’m honestly still going through things in my mind. I would say that it’s convoluted, but the opposite is true. There are very few answers given throughout the book, making my imagination work overtime to fill in gaps in the narrative. Who is Piranesi? Who is the Other? What and where is the House?

As with the rest of Piranesi, the people are intentionally vague. A picture unfolds slowly, and little details are fleshed out, revealing amazingly deep characters. I honestly have no idea how Susanna Clarke was able to bring so much to life with so few words. The book is told almost entirely through journal entries, so physical descriptions of the characters were understandably few and far between. Normally that would really irk me, but I found that a character’s physical description matters much less in Piranesi than in other books I’ve read.

In a complete turnabout from the characters, there was a plethora of descriptions surrounding the House. It was done so well that I’m still half-convinced I’ve been there. I could hear the bird wings. I could smell the salt water. I could feel bits of seaweed in between my toes. It was astounding. To read this book is to become fully immersed in a different, introspective world.

It is absolutely impossible for me to compare this book to any other, including the author’s previous book. It stands alone and, while it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m planning to revisit it soon. I highly recommend Piranesi to readers who appreciate beautiful prose, who like open-ended books, and who want to be swept away.

 

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes by Nicky Raven and John Howe

Hardcover Beowulf : A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes Book

The exhilarating epic blazes to life — featuring illustrations by a lead artist on the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

“Look into the flames and let your minds empty. . . . For this is a tale of blood and heat and ashes.”

It is a tale that has been retold countless times through the centuries — and here, in an enthralling edition illustrated by a noted Tolkien artist, the mighty Beowulf is well set to capture new legions of followers. This contemporary retelling of the ancient epic — narrated with a touch of banter by the faithful Wiglaf and featuring vividly dramatic illustrations — follows the mythic hero from his disarming of the gruesome Grendel to his sword battle with the monster’s sea hag mother to his final, fiery showdown with an avenging dragon. (taken from Amazon)
I love Beowulf. I have read a few different versions of it, as well as some novels that are inspired by this epic poem. When I found out that there is a retelling that includes illustrations by the artist John Howe, I just had to have it.

Like with any classic, there are translations and retellings. This would fall more under the “retelling” category than a full-blown new translation of the original text. It flows a little bit more like a fairy tale than like the epic itself. It’s also a bit simplified, which makes it more accessible to a broader age range. It’s a fantastic retelling, but in no way can it replace the original.

To be honest, what sold me on the book are the illustrations. Most of you know who John Howe is. For those who don’t let me give a little example of his fantasy cred: he was a concept designer for The Lord of the Rings movies (his style is very apparent in the Fell Beasts), has created cover art for many fantasy novels, worked on other movies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his art can even be found on Magic the Gathering cards (sadly, my own Magic cards don’t have his art on them). I personally also love his art in A Diversity of Dragons. And let me tell you, his popularity is well-deserved.

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His art in Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes is phenomenal. The depth and atmosphere he brought to the book elevates it from a story to something more. It drew me in. My oldest will be reading Beowulf  (Seamus Heaney’s translation) this school year and I am going to have him also read Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes. I am positive it will deepen his appreciation for the original, as well as give him an opportunity to enjoy some stunning artwork.

I highly suggest reading this book. Actually, just buy it and add it to your collection. I guarantee you’ll want to own it.

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