Tag Archives: magic

High court drama

28 Nov

Several years ago, I had a 4th grader named Maria, who was obsessed with Imperial Russia. The fiction she wrote was always set there. She was a dramatic student, but I always enjoyed reading what she wrote. I thought about her as I read Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game.

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Publisher’s Summary: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I liked this because of the setting. It was just real enough to feel authentic; just magical enough to feel unique. It includes all the romantic and dramatic things my former student loved about Imperial Russia: high court drama, St. Petersburg at its most glorious, and secret machinations behind the scenes.

The Crown’s Game is a wonderful place to lose yourself for a few hours, or a few days. Maria is a 7th grader now, but I hope she’s picked this one up.

What is seen and unseen

22 Aug

I picked up Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan, based off a recommendation from The Book Smugglers.

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It sat on my shelf for a while before I picked it up to read it and so, forgot what it was about.  For some reason I expected a contemporary mystery. It is nothing of the sort. It is set in an alternative Europe that feels a bit late 19th century. And it is full of magic. Once my head wrapped around this idea I found myself firmly engaged in the story.

Publisher’s Summary:Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

…and wish some more!

15 Jul

Yes, a second book about wishes with a blue cover!

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Wishing Day, by Lauren Myracle, is different from The Seventh Wish because the process of wishing isn’t a secret.

Publisher’s Summary:On the third night of the third month after a girl’s thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes.

The first wish is an impossible wish.

The second is a wish she can make come true herself.

And the third is the deepest wish of her secret heart.

Natasha is the oldest child in a family steeped in magic, though she’s not sure she believes in it. She’s full to bursting with wishes, however. She misses her mother, who disappeared nearly eight long years ago. She has a crush on one of the cutest boys in her class, and she thinks maybe it would be nice if her very first kiss came from him. And amid the chaos of a house full of sisters, aunts, and a father lost in grief, she aches to simply be . . . noticed.

So Natasha goes to the willow tree at the top of the hill on her Wishing Day, and she makes three wishes. What unfolds is beyond anything she could have imagined.

This is the first in a trilogy and I suspect the each of the next two books are about each of Natasha’s younger sisters. Although Myracle captures the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with being a teenager, I found the book a little slow in places and hard to get into. I wonder, if I’d brought this one to jury duty, if I’d be saying the same thing. I certainly would have read it in one sitting. But, reading it at home, I have found myself putting it down frequently to do other things. It might have to do with Natasha’s character. I wonder if the next book, centered, presumably, on more flamboyant Darya, might hold my attention better.

I Wish…

14 Jul

Jury duty day 2 was even less eventful than day 1. The jury coordinator stepped up to the mike 3 times to call the names of people to go up to courtrooms. Mine was not one of them. At 11:00 she came up for a fourth time to tell us that we could go home.

While waiting that second morning, I read  The Seventh Wish  by Kate Messner.

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This one got a bit of buzz in the media because some schools were hesitant about putting it in their library because it talks about the impact of heroin addiction on families. In fact, a school visit by Messner was canceled when an administrator got nervous. You can read Kate’s post about it HERE.

Publisher’s Summary:Charlie feels like she’s always coming in last. From her Mom’s new job to her sister’s life away at college, everything else always seems to be more important than Charlie’s upcoming dance competition or science project. Unsure of how to get her family’s attention, Charlie comes across the surprise of her life one day while ice-fishing . . . in the form of a floppy, scaly fish offering to grant her a wish in exchange for its freedom. Charlie can’t believe her luck until she realizes that this fish has a funny way of granting wishes, despite her best intentions. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they’ve ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish.

With the same warmth and fun that readers loved in All the Answers, Kate Messner weaves fantasy into the ordinary, giving every reader the opportunity to experience a little magic.

Kids should be able to read about hard topics. This can be hard for many adults because it might lead to kids asking questions some adults don’t want to aster. From experience, I can tell you that, if a kid isn’t ready, they will abandon the book, or finish it and say they didn’t like it.

Fortunately, the situation at the school that cancelled Kate’s visit is working towards resolution. From the end of her blog post:

Updated 6/13: On Saturday, I received an email from South Burlington’s Chamberlin School principal Holly Rouelle, who told me that a decision has been made to carry THE SEVENTH WISH in her school library. She also sent home a note letting parents know about an upcoming event at the public library on June 28th.  In addition, I’ve offered to reschedule this free author-visit presentation in the fall and hope Chamberlin will take me up on that offer, once school is back in session and they’ve had a chance to prepare the students.

I think the kids at that school have learned some very important lessons about censorship. Every Fall, ALA celebrates Banned Books Week. I hope this school joins in.

All good cycles must come to an end

10 Jun

There are many literary cycles,  groups of stories focused on common figures, often (though not necessarily) based on mythical figures or loosely on historical ones. You can listen to the four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 15 or 16 hours.

It took 11 hours, 53 minutes, over about a week, for me to listen to The Raven King, the fourth and final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle.

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Goodreads Summary: Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

The book didn’t quite start out as I expected and some new characters were introduced, but I quickly recalled what had gone on before and found myself drawn into the story. The ending was and was not what I predicted, since my predictions changed from chapter to chapter.And when the real solution appeared, it made perfect sense.

I am going to miss Adam, Ronan, Noah, Gansey,  and Blue. Although the ending leaves their futures open, I somehow don’t thing Stiefvater will return to these characters.

You can listen to all four books in The Raven Cycle in about 46 hours.

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All four books are narrated by the actor Will Patton, whose voice is the perfect vehicle for the series, set in rural Virginia. If you are looking for a summer literary adventure, this might be a journey you will enjoy.

Charmed lives

18 Apr

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I don’t read scary books. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a spooky cover and a promise of a haunted castle, so I opened it with great trepidation.

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Fortunately, the cover is the scariest part of the book, which mixes an old Scottish Castle, Nazis, the Enigma machine and magic. Although all of these have been covered in other books, in other ways, this book provides a fresh take on all of them.

Publisher’s Summary: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

A great book for middle readers. You can check out the book trailer:

 

Small Magic

11 Sep

Grandpa Ephraim is dying.

And Micah is about to lose the only family he can remember. So he and Grandpa Ephraim are holding out for a miracle, one that can only come from Circus Mirandus.

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Publisher’s Summary:Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does. Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

What I really love about this book is the way it tells two stories. First, there is the story of the circus itself, all magic and wonders. Then there is the far more serious story of Micah and the loss of his grandfather. This is Cassie Beasely’s first novel but she moves back and forth between these two stories marvelously.

As the book states so simply “just because a magic is small doesn’t mean it is unimportant”. This magical book could be a Newbery contender.

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