March 26, 2012

The Crowfield Curse

By Pat Walsh
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In the year 1348, after losing his family in a fire, Will lives in Crowfield Abbey with the monks. He has been taken in basically as free slave labor to work for the abbey, which is made bearable only by Brother Snail, who is kind to him.  Otherwise, Will's existence is not enough food and never being warm enough.  Then one day, Will finds a creature caught in a trap that he has never seen before; it is a hobgoblin.  Will saves the strange creature, amazed that it can speak to him.  The hob becomes his friend and tells Will he has the Sight.  And this is only the beginning of the strange things that happen to Will.  A Jacobus Bone and his odd servant Shadlok come to stay at the abbey and they are looking for...something...that has been rumored to have been buried many years ago nearby.  They wish to find what they are looking for before the Unseelie King does.  Will's newfound ability involves him in their schemes, but what does a simple boy have to do with fey creatures and immortals and angels?  The medieval setting is gritty and bleak and adds a lot to the story.  A great twist on a fantasy.  Fans can follow up with the equally good Crowfield Demon.

February 28, 2012


By Anne Ursu
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

If you love fantasy and fairy tales, you will love this story.  Hazel is adopted and her parents have just split up.  She has always felt like she doesn't quite belong except when she is with her next door neighbor and best friend, Jack.  Jack understands her love of Narnia and Harry Potter and all things fantastical and plays along, although sometimes he does like to spend time with other boys instead of Hazel.  Then one day, out of the blue, Jack is horribly mean to Hazel and disappears.  His parents say he is visiting an elderly aunt, but Hazel knows differently.  When Tyler tells Hazel he saw Jack disappear into the woods with a mysterious white witch, Hazel knows she needs to go and rescue him.  He may not want her to come for him, but Hazel can't leave her best friend.  So she enters a magical wood and has to face not only her own fears, but Jack's, too.  Along the way, Hazel will see fairy tales and stories practically come to life around her--but in the most sinister of ways.  Experienced readers may see how it all might end...or perhaps not.  But all the same, a strong story  that readers will love.

Snow in Summer

By Jane Yolen
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

If you like fairy tale retellings, you'll be interested in this version of Snow White.  Set in West Virginia, Summer lives with her grieving father and is mainly taken care of by her "cousin" Nancy, a close family friend.  Summer's dad is so consumed with his depression he barely notices her, until the day he meets a woman and is so besotted he quickly marries her.  Summer is eager to gain Stepmama's approval, despite her strange ways and potions and dark mirror.  But she also realizes her stepmother is cold and punishing, and that her father seems worse around her.  Stepmama, of course, is a witch, and and has evil plans for the little family she married into.  Summer doesn't know where to turn, until finally the witch makes her move and Summer has to escape her clutches--but how?  This is a very different retelling, featuring nods to religion, small towns and not a princess or prince in sight.  For some other great retellings of fairy tales check out Beauty by Robin McKinley or Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George.

January 23, 2012

My Very Unfairy Tale Life

By Anna Staniszewski
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

Jenny is no ordinary girl.  At the age of 9 she was approached to become an adventurer--someone brought into magical worlds to help save the day.  With Anthony, her gnome-guide, Jenny had been adventuring non-stop for 3 years, so much so, that the rest of her life was barely remembered.  Her old best friends acted like she was a stranger and she couldn't remember the last time a math test wasn't taken by magical means.  Jenny's parents had gone missing years ago, and her aunt was more interested in animals.  But finally, Jenny has had enough.  She quits adventuring...only to be persuaded to go on one last quest.  There she meets the most terrifying of villains--and he defeats her.  Jenny swears to never go back...but when faced with the normal life she's been missing, will she be happy?

January 09, 2012

Mistress of the Storm

By M.L. Welsh
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

Verity Gallant is a plain, unpopular bookworm, resigned to never be as pretty as her younger sister.  But everything changes the day a stranger gives her a red book all about someone called the Keeper of the Wind, a wonderful and awful character.  Verity finally makes a friend in Henry Twogood and he brings her to see something even more wonderful: the return of the ship The Storm to the town of Wellow.  And with the return of the ship comes another stranger; Verity's grandmother who decides to stay with the family and treats Verity with the utmost contempt. Verity begins to learn about the complicated history her family has had with The Storm--one of violence and bad deeds--that her parents have hidden from her.  She also is troubled by the evil force that is her grandmother and the other strange and mysterious dealings that begin happening around town.  Could it be that these things are all connected?  And even worse--could they all be connected to Verity?  Although the story doesn't come together quite as well as it could, readers will enjoy following the threads as they magically spin together.  A solid read.

December 17, 2011

Brotherband Chronicles: The Outcasts

By John Flanagan
Rating: 4 stars

Flanagan spins off of his very successful Ranger's Apprentice series by introducing us more closely to the Skandians, most particularly Hal, who is half-Araluen and always been a bit of an outcast due to his half-breed status.  Hal is a thinker and an inventor and is mentored by Thorn, his dead father's best friend.  However, when Hal begins brotherband training, where all Skandians learn how to work as a team to be recruited into wolfship fighting crews, he still ends up in the small group of other outcast kids.  But as training  begins, the group learns how to use their strengths to outwit the bigger and bolder brotherband teams.  This story is mainly to learn about the 8 members of the brotherband because by the end of the book, this group is faced with an overwhelming challenge that it will take many more books in the series to tackle.  Filled with plenty of action, readers who liked the Ranger's Apprentice series will be more than happy to meet Hal, Stig and all their friends and to set off on new adventures with them.

November 14, 2011

The Silver Bowl

By Diane Stanley
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this fascinating story,  Molly has inherited her mother's gift of seeing visions of the future.  Before she is sent off to work at the castle as a young girl, her mother warns her to never share her gift with anyone else or fear being cast as a witch or worse.  Molly fits in as a kitchen maid over the years, earning a solid place and friends in Tobias and Winifred. Like the others, she laughs off the thought that the royal family is cursed, even if some do die of somewhat unnatural causes. But when she is chosen to polish the silver, she ends up working on an intricate silver hand basin that begins to tell her of visions from the past which show that the bowl is truly full of curses aimed at the royal family.  When the entire family is together for a wedding, Molly is helpless when a pack of wolves burst into the room, intent on destroying the king and all his descendents.  But Molly, with the help of Tobias, manages to save one of the princes.  Now, they are on the run for where can they take the wounded prince?  Where is safe from a killing curse?  Readers will love plucky Molly and also the adventure her life takes her on.  A rollicking fantasy-adventure.

November 08, 2011

The Princess Curse

By Merrie Haskell
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Reveka is working as an apprentice herbalist at the castle and wants nothing more than to have her own herbary at a convent somewhere someday. But to do that she needs money and the best money to be had is if she can figure out a way to break the curse on the 12 princesses.  No one knows how, but every night their shoes are in tatters and anyone who has attempted to spend the night in their room either disappears or falls into a slumber from which they can’t awake.  Then comes the day Reveka is able to create an invisibility cap that truly works, and she finds out the secret of the princesses…but is there an easy way to break the curse after all?  Readers who know The 12 Dancing Princesses will find similar elements but enjoy the twist on the fairy tale and may hope for a sequel.  A very enjoyable fantasy.