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Sleepless: Volume Two

I recently discovered the lush romantic fantasy series Sleepless and quickly read the duology. I just wish it had been a longer series, as I enjoyed the love story between Poppy and Cyrenic and think it could have at least been fleshed out into three volumes.

The second volume opens almost a year after the first, with Cyrenic awakening from his sleep after being released from his magical vow of eternal wakefulness. Poppy is being forced into a marriage of political convenience to Lord Helder, the very man she suspects of trying to kill her, but the king has blinders on and pushes her to go through with the wedding. Surprisingly the marriage ceremony does occur, but Poppy has her own reasons for going along with it. However, the wedding night spins out of control and Poppy and Cyrenic are on the run.

As Cyrenic is the first sleepless knight to be released from his vow, and deals with his recovery afterwards, there were some interesting perspectives from the other knights about if they too would like to be released. There were some thought provoking reasons as to why some of them would prefer to stay sleepless. The last half of the book is a long action sequence, and an additional villain is revealed, but the reasoning behind this second person wanting vengeance against Poppy felt ridiculous. During their escape Poppy and Cyrenic reaffirm their love, but it was rushed and could have been so much more.

The artwork was as lovely as ever, with the wedding scene being especially well done. The patterns and brocades of the clothing worn were exquisite. I felt the illustrations really lent to world building, for the interiors from the throne room to the kitchens combined into a believable kingdom. The coloring also added to the atmosphere with jewel tones for the courtly attire, decorations and poppy motif to earth tones for much of the action. Plus, Bini the fox was as adorbs as ever. An added bonus at the conclusion was alternative covers by other artists and some process pages that showed the evolution of the artwork throughout the story.

I do want to point out two glaring oddities. There was much made that Poppy’s mother is in her home country and can not return due to political issues and many letters are exchanged between the women. Although a wedding gift from her mother helps Poppy during a crisis,  we still do not meet her, even at the end when all has been resolved. And look at the picture above- these two are falling about 50 feet and land on a pile of bones. This would have killed them, instead they act as if it was a cushion, and then there is some throwaway conversation about the caverns and bones needing to be researched.

As a whole, this was an excellent short series. But there was definitely enough plot threads that could have been expanded upon that a third volume would have been very welcome. Author Sarah Vaughn created a beautiful fantasy world that artist Leila del Duca built upon, and I’m glad that I visited their magical realm!

-Nancy

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Above The Timberline

Above The Timberline by Gregory Manchess is a unique book, that isn’t quite a graphic novel, instead it is a highly illustrated book, a so-called “painted novel”. Very reminiscent of the Dinotopia book series (minus the dinosaurs but add polar bears) by James Gurney, this large sized book has 240 pages of lush paintings that transport you to another time and place.

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Set in the year 3518, a cataclysmic event approximately 1500 years ago (that just happens to match our current date!) caused the Earth’s mantle to spin faster than it’s crust, resulting in huge tectonic shifts. Continents broke away and collided with others destroying cities and plunging them underground, with the original equator thrown towards the poles, and the poles at the new equator. Society was disrupted and much technology was lost as a new extreme ice age descended upon everyone. Now the current population seems to be in the early 20th century with British overtones, but bits and pieces of past mechanization such as airships remain so the entire setting has a steam punk vibe.

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Polar bears as pack animals and allies

The premise of this alternate future has the son of a missing famed explorer searching for his father who had been seeking a lost city under the snow. We have past journal entries from the father, Galen, that provide clues for Wes to follow. Soon into his journey through the Phantom Waste he meets up with some nomads and it just so happens that a lovely young woman of the tribe, Linea, helps him escape. Her knowledge of the terrain is invaluable as they work together to find Wes’s father, ahead of a former friend now turned villain who wants the glory for himself.

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Rhinos had to adapt and now have furry coats!

The artwork is exquisite. Manchess is known for his art in Newsweek, Time, Atlantic Monthly, and National Geographic and the beauty of his work can not be understated. He vividly creates a believable tundra landscape, and paints his characters, animals and interior backgrounds with precision. Although Manchess has contributed art to other books, this is the first he has authored, and at times the characterizations were thin. However, the narrative is set up for more adventures so I’ll definitely check out what further exploits await Wes and Linea!

-Nancy

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Tempests and Slaughter

You know Numair Salmalín from the Wild Magic series… but who is he, really? How did the most powerful wizard in the world earn such a title?

Say hello to ten-year-old Aram Draper, a young student at the Imperial University of Carthak. Actually, he’s the youngest in his class. Bored all the time with the beginner magics, he’s moved up to more intermediate magic at a startlingly young age. His abilities have alienated him from the other children his age, and while he loves studying, he does get quite lonely. Two older classmates, Varice Kingsford and Orzorne Tasikhe, take him under their wing. Varice is skilled at kitchen magic, and people often overlook her sharp mind because of it. Orzorne, though a member of the royal family, is so far removed from the throne he is sometimes called “The Leftover Prince.” The three make a fast circle of friends, and it’s clear to everyone their bond is a special one. They will need to lean on each other in their years at school – and beyond.

I’m a huge Tamora Pierce fan, and was super excited for this book. To return to the world of Tortall after so long – I was pumped! But, once I actually got it in my hands… It feels almost blasphemous to say, but I didn’t enjoy Tempests and Slaughter as much as I’d hoped =(

It kind of felt like half a book in some ways. It had a lot of good stuff: well-written characters, a strong core friendship, growing pains, political intrigue, ethics of war and slavery, godly intervention… but not really enough of any of it. The pace is incredibly fast, not really allowing for significant time spent with any of these topics. Just when you think you’re getting to the heart of one theme, it switches tack and goes in a totally different direction. This happens multiple times throughout. I feel like I only got the surface of a book as opposed to the whole picture, which was disappointing. Not to mention there was very little as far as the mechanics of magic, which was strange enough given the setting, but you’d think there would have been much more as this is Numair’s origin story. There could be more in-depth explainations on magic in earlier books that I don’t remember, but it still would have been welcome here.

All that said, I was glued to the book the entire time. Pierce’s writing style is engaging and she really knows how to suck readers in. Middle-grade and young adult readers will enjoy it for the action and quick pace. I wouldn’t say it’s essential to be familiar with Pierce’s past work and characters to fully enjoy the story. I’ve revisited the Song of the Lioness quartet in recent years, but not Wild Magic (where Numair was first introduced), and I was still able to pick things up well enough. For older fans who are familiar with Pierce’s work, however, this may be a bit of a disappointment.

– Kathleen

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles 1). 2018.

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

“YAAAASSSSSSSS!!!!!” – Me when I saw this prompt. I mainly read fantasy outside of comics and GN’s so I was super excited to put this together and share my favorites with you guys!!! =D

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5. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

Meet Rachel Morgan, a witch runner who attracts trouble more than honey attracts a pixy. Together with her roommates and business partners, vampire Ivy Tamwood and pixy Jenks, they solve crimes, butt heads with drug-dealing warlords, and occasionally save the world.

If this prompt had been a month ago, this series might have been higher on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it! The series started off strong, but lost momentum around the middle for me. I just finished the last book and feel like I slogged through it just to get it over with. What made it make the list was the excellent characterization, humorous tone, and interesting world-building. It’s a good alternative to grittier and darker urban fantasies. I have fond memories of reading the first couple books with my friends in college ❤

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4. Trickster’s Choice/Queen by Tamora Pierce

I want to personally thank Tamora Pierce for single-handedly getting me into the fantasy genre. I read the Song of the Lioness series for the first time in middle school, fell in love, and immediately wanted more. I’m 99% sure I read her entire section in my middle school library… and my teachers let me go hang out in the library during homeroom and do it!

My mom got me these two books as a Christmas gift while I was in high school, and I fell back into the world of Tortall – every bit as magical as I remembered, but a bit more grown up and complex for the older reader I was. Aly is a compassionate, plucky, and resourceful heroine, determined to do good in the world but make a name for herself out of her famous mother’s shadow.

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3. Jill Kismet series by Lilith Saintcrow

This is the first urban fantasy series I read… and I absolutely love it. Honestly, nothing else I’ve read even comes close to the standards I’ve set by this series. It’s kind of interesting I like it so much, because it’s much more graphic and violent than what I normally read. But what keeps me coming back is the heart-pounding action, fascinating world (present day at time of publication but basically with demons and Hunters who kill them), and Jill herself. She’s cracked, but doesn’t let herself become broken. She has sharp edges and a bite to match her rather loud bark, but she ultimately cares about people and has a great capacity to love. I cry with her and cheer for her every time I re-read the series. Saintcrow is now one of my all-time favorite authors.

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2. East by Edith Pattou

This book was my first encounter with the fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I can still remember the first time I read it, being absolutely spellbound by this blend of history and fantasy. The POV alternates between Rose, the main character who is taken by the ice bear and who consequently has to travel “east of the sun and west of the moon” to save him, her brother, her father, and at times the ice bear. Rose is tenacious and incredibly intelligent, with a strong sense of justice: a wonderful heroine. If you like Beauty and the Beast but wish it had more adventure, you’ll love this.

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1. The Pellinor series by Alison Croggon

Honestly… this series is just my favorite of all time. It follows a girl named Maerad as she’s rescued from slavery and thrust into the (literally) magical world of the Bards, who weave their spells through song and lore and tending growing things. Maerad knows no one in this world, but they know her, for she has been the one foretold to cast down the Nameless One as he rises again to power.

The writing… is just. Beautiful. It’s lush and lyrical, you really feel like you’re in the world of Pellinor. There’s a very strong sense of place and atmosphere (very much like Lord of the Rings). The plot is revealed slowly, but artfully. Each and every character is well-rounded and feels like a dear friend. I promise you will not regret picking these up.

Honorable mentions include:

  • Lord of the Rings (of course, they’re classics)
  • Harry Potter (IT WAS JUST SO CLOSE GUYS ESPECIALLY WITH THE ILLUSTRATED EDITIONS)
  • Warbreaker and Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (most interesting magical systems out there, but Mistborn series as a whole just can’t hold my attention. Warbreaker is a standalone tho)
  • Anything Donna Jo Napoli has ever written
  • And my current read I am just way too excited about: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (… I may be excited about it partially because it’s not a Hollows novel…).

Any of mine make your list, too? =P

– Kathleen

Edit: Oh my gosh lol I had totally forgotten it was International Women’s Day! And I just happened to write a post of fantasy books all featuring fantastic female leads!!! That’s just too funny X,D Happy happy! ❤

Guest Post on YASF Battle of the Books

As the Teen Services Coordinator at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Battle of the Books for YA novels, and this is my second year participating.

This year I wrote reviews for the second round of the tournament, once many of them had been eliminated. I had to read the fantasy novel The Star Touched Queen and the graphic novel Ghosts and decide which book would move to the next bracket. Who do you think I picked as the winner? Check here to find out, plus you can read a slightly more thorough review on Ghosts here.

-Nancy

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The Autumnlands (Vol. 1): Tooth and Claw

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Busiek, Kurt, and Benjamin Dewey. The Autumnlands (Vol. 1): Tooth and Claw. 2015.

The magic is disappearing from a world which cities float in the sky, populated by anthropomorphic animals. In the city of Keneil, a conclave of wizards gather in a last-ditch attempt to restore their world. They call a Champion from another world, hoping for a savior to restore order. The magic they use to call the Champion is too great, causing the city to fall crashing to the Plains below. The survivors, haunted and hunted by the creatures of the ground, try to salvage what’s left of their homes and families. And their Champion… is not at all what they imagined. Can he really save them?

I. Am in LOVE. With the art of this book. It’s colorful and richly detailed. Each issue starts with a chapter title page, each featuring a two-page spread of a painting opening the chapter, and a few introductory paragraphs. These remind me of old fantasy novels you buy on impulse at the drugstore checkout counter, except not nearly as cheesy. There are multiple animal tribes that are shown and drawn, and they’re all wonderfully expressive and emotive as humans would be. There are a few battle scenes with tons of blood and a few of nudity (not sexual), so I got a little queasy, but not too much. I’m more than interested enough in the world to keep going.

I’m mad there isn’t a second volume yet. Oh well, I suppose I can wait… for now =P

– Kathleen

Dragon Age (Vol. 3): Until We Sleep

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Gaider, David, Alexander Freed, and Chad Hardin. Dragon Age (Vol. 3): Until We Sleep. 2013.

The final installment of the Dragon Age series shows Alistair, Isabela, Varric, and now Sten finally on their way to confront the blood mage Aurelian Titus, who has kidnapped Alistair’s father. Varric sneaks into the fortress as the Qunari forces stage a full-frontal assault. There, he finds Mae, an old friend of his, being held prisoner, as well as King Maric. He is hooked up to some sort of device. Varric shoots it, and… wakes up in bed? Was he dreaming, or is he dreaming now? Can he find his friends in time to stop Titus once and for all? And what will become of King Maric?

This one was told from Varric’s point of view, like the first was from Alistair’s and the second from Isabela’s. That made this one my favorite XD There are a lot more supernatural and magical elements in this one as opposed to the other two, and they are handled well. The end wasn’t exactly satisfying from a reader’s point of view, but everything wrapped up and there were no loose ends. A wonderful fantasy trilogy for those who aren’t familiar with the game series, and a really fun add-on to those who are. These are on my to-buy list for sure =P

– Kathleen

Ready Player One

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Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. 2011.

As an avid reader, I’m always excited when a new book vaults to the top of my favorites list, and this book did so! While not a graphic novel (but, God, it would make a great one!), with all the 80’s pop culture references & geek culture throughout…this book was made for me.

The year is 2044 and the world is in shambles, with society choosing to live their lives online, in a massive multiplayer world called OASIS. The creator of this virtual game, James Halliday, has recently died and has left an “easter egg” hunt for players to compete for his estate worth billions. The gamers have to decipher his many layered riddles, having to study pop culture and Dungeons and Dragons mythology to understand the clues. Years have gone by with no one solving the puzzle, so enter Wade Watts, a young man with no real life who spends all his time trying to find the clues to Halliday’s first riddle. Amazingly he figures it out, which puts him on the scoreboard and brings the world’s attention to the hunt for the egg. Wade’s online friendships are tested, and his real family is threatened as professional gamers go to any lengths to beat Wade to the next level. Quests are mounted, battles are fought, betrayals occur; but also, a real romance is brewing between Wade and Art3mis, a competitor of his. You must read to find out how his online and real world’s collide and how things turn out. While at times the story almost veered into ridiculousness, it stayed the course, and was just so flippin’ awesome!

Wil Wheaton (Star Trek TNG) narrates the audio version of the book, and him reading it was a stroke of genius, for it was so meta-he even mentioned himself…swoon, I just had a nerdgasm. This EPIC book should be on everyone’s to-read lists, and I eagerly look forward to the movie based off the book that is being directed by Steven Spielberg and slated for release in 2018.

-Nancy

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