The Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

The entire Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is just delicious. For anyone new to fantasy it gently eases the reader into the world that author Laini Taylor builds by starting us with our protagonist, Karou who is an art student in Prague with a mysterious past and an unusual upbringing. She has untapped magical powers and only realizes her potential when she is threatened. Once everything about Karou’s ultra-cool life is under attack, she has to make some very difficult decisions about what is important to her. In the truest nature of a modern fantasy, she chooses a forbidden lover, above all else. The differences between good and evil are constantly blurred which I found very satisfying as it adds layers upon layers to the character development and the age-old feud unfolding. As with any trilogy, the action gets much darker before we see light at the end of the tunnel so teachers need to be aware of mild sexuality and violence throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong female characters in this book that value their identities and families as much as the action of fighting for their lives. I just loved this book and the students who are picking it up based on my recommendation are whispering about it everywhere!

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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by S. Niles, D. Wachter, M. Santoro

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the GolemBreath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in World War II, our main character struggles to help his grandparents make ends meet. To keep the village safe, a tiny clay man is given to the grandson and he is told to “Get to know it.” Although it’s purpose is at first confusing, grandfather explains that “…sometimes it takes monsters to stop monsters.” This story was originally released in 3 parts but the beautiful collector’s edition is spectacular to behold printed in high quality, glossy paper. There is even a couple pages at the end from Dave Wachter’s sketchbook. This story is so short that it could easily be categorized as a picture book and often the framing bleeds across the page. Like The Arrival Breath of Bones crosses historical, mythological and fantasy boundaries bringing this powerful legend to a state of modern belief. I would recommend this to anyone who is learning about the horrors of war for the first time or to anyone who can appreciate humanity’s ability to find light even in the darkest of times.

breath-of-bones-a-tale-of-the-golem-end

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen, #1)The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Give me a book about dragons in the White Pine section of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading http://www.accessola.org/web/OLA/Fore… and I am your girl. Now if you set that book in my area of Ontario and revise Canadian history to include all sorts of dragon mishaps, I am hooked. (And you thought the Great Lakes were just a great summertime getaway destination?) I devoured The Story of Owen, like a dragon on a blacksmith shop. Attracted to carbon emissions, dragons are set to be a dangerous nuisance across the globe and Ontario’s Owen is destined to become next in his family line. The narrator is Siobhan, whose academic and musical talents make her the perfect sidekick as Owen’s training accelerates with a sudden increase in local dragon attacks.

This fantasy tale would be a great entry point for any reader who wants to try fantasy as it combines 2015 realism with the dragon slayer’s athleticism. However, fantasy lovers and Canadian history lovers will really appreciate author E.K. Johnston’s revision of familiar events. Personally, I will definitely recommend this book to the readers in my secondary school library and I can’t wait to read her next one in the series.

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Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel Hartman takes us further down the rabbit hole in Shadow Scale as the political game between humans, dragons and the world in between. Our deeply mysterious protagonist, Seraphina, gets caught up in the brewing wars and must learn to master her own telepathic powers in order to travel the kingdom and bring together all the other half-dragons. She begins with our beloved Abdo, whose childish behaviour acts as a foil to Seraphina’s more subdued and refined actions. Hartman’s mythology in the kingdom of Gorred becomes more integral to the plot and the reader has to really keep track of many characters as Seraphina quests for answers. The last third of the book is a deeply personal battle that Seraphina must fight within herself and it was my favourite part of the book. Dragon lovers around the world are calling out for more Rachel Hartman and Shadow Scale trip doesn’t disappoint. As a second novel in the series though, it relies heavily on the more accessible first book Seraphina and will require a patient reader to remember the more complicated aspects of characters and Gorred history. There are students in my secondary school library who were willing to mudwrestle to take this book home for the summer.

I enjoyed the Audible.com version of this book.  It is really important to have the continuity of Mandy Williams’ voice to enhance my experience of Seraphina’s first person narration.  It was just excellent.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it amazing how quickly Brian Vaughan’s characters can be developed in this short graphic novel. As usual, Vaughan’s visual aesthetic does not disappoint. However because there are about 4 pages of nudity and sexuality that are outside the limitations of my secondary school library’s audience, I cannot include it in my collection. Too bad because it’s a really good story and I look forward to reading the next volume.

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I wanted to get into this book about a Cyborg with way more problems than Cinderella (who the book loosely resembles), I had trouble with the world-building and the flow of unfolding the politics of this fantastic setting. I had trouble understanding why she wanted the respect of her really mean stepmother. The unintentional relationship that forms between Cinder and Prince Kai seems too natural given the differences in their statuses. There’s barely enough time to realize that Cinder’s true identity will give her an edge in her battle of wills against the threatening Lunars, before she’s asked to make big life decisions. As the reader, I felt more confused by the local politics. Maybe Meyer has too many subplots or maybe she was asked to cut out 100 vital pages, but I felt leaving dissatisfied. I’m not sure that I will pick up the next one.

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely fabulous. You’ve got to really like dragons (and luckily I do) but Rachel Hartman will have a fan in me forever after this. I hope she’s busy writing a sequel as after I was done I immediately looked for the next one. This is high fantasy, with lots of rich world-building and complicated new concepts and vocabulary for things. Hartman is not only delving into the fantastic with relish, but she is also making a social commentary about the ridiculousness of asking creatures to be what they are not in order to conform with societal norms. The taboos that the dragons break as they attempt to conform to the world of the humans are laughable. I’m also really glad that the ‘freaks’ (no spoilers) also get some superpowers as they develop their fringe community. I would highly recommend this book to any reader, young adult to adult, who enjoys fantasy.

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Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that this is the first Manga I’ve ever read, although I’m an emerging fan of the graphic novel format. The artwork varies with the characters’ emotions from mysterious and flirtatious, to outraged and scary. The colour panels at the outset of Chapter 2 when our main character, the young Weirn and her pet Astral, are introduced are rich and ethereal in their hues of blue. The other section that stands out is the fight sequence when The Hunters take on The Rippers is about 6 pages long and almost completely non-verbal but filled with motion and tension. The thing I appreciate most about Nightschool is the enthusiasm with which Chmakova writes it. She is absolutely enthralled with the diversity of her Nightschool characters and each one of them clearly has an intrinsic purpose to the overarching storyline. This first volume mainly serves as a teaser, beginning every introduction of new plot and character in media res, the reader must take for granted that clues to the nuances of this other world will develop. It requires a leap of faith from the reader that I’m not sure every reader, certainly not struggling readers, would make. Having said that, I can see why these books would be wildly appealing to the right audience, pre-teen to young adult, and I’m proud to call Chmakova Canadian.

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Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s not surprising to me that Vera Brosgol, author/illustrator of Anya’s Ghost, has chosen Neil Gaiman’s critique to highlight on her front cover of this graphic novel. I can make a direct comparison between Gaiman’s character Coraline and Brosgol’s Anya who are both ordinary and unsuspecting in their quiet gothic existence. Both girls are pre-teen in age, excited and curious but not driven by hormones or a desire to rebel. Other than a few key shots of thigh, Anya is seemingly unaware of her blossoming sexuality. Even Anya’s secret cigarette habit seems more driven by anxiety than as a social tool to garner favour with her peers.
I particularly enjoyed the illustration of the ghost’s duplicity as it oscillates between good and evil in order to manipulate Anya. I was surprised by the story arch as the ghost reveals that not only is she using Anya but she has done this before to her own family. I particularly enjoyed how the ghost tries to compare herself to Anya by pointing out her selfish behaviour. I’m convinced that Anya isn’t sure what to do until the ghost tries to push her back into the giant hole. The book was deliciously suspenseful from beginning to end.

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If the ending had found Anya back in the hole, alone and afraid, then I would recommend this to a senior grade student. However, when everything works out alright and Anya grows in her appreciation of her family, friends and school life, I know that this graphic novel would be a good choice for junior students and older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the official book trailer here:

http://www.schooltube.com/video/80480274511b452ca0ff/Anya’s%20Ghost%20by%20Vera%20Brosgol
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A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am at a disadvantage in reading the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time because I don’t remember the original story enough to compare it.  The only thing I do remember is “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  At the same time, I have the advantage of reading the graphic novel fresh for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I found the illustrations in black, white and blue to highlight the surreal and stark settings as well as give a reminiscent feeling to the tale.  My favourite illustration in the book is on page 296 when Meg is entering the dark thing, but her father’s hand is reaching through the frame to pull her back.  The abstract combination of lines meeting Meg’s limbs somehow conveys that her soul in as much jeopardy as her body. I think this drawing of Hope Larson’s would make Picasso proud.

The story itself reminds me of The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.  I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that hinted at the mathematics and physics behind time travel theory as much as A Wrinkle in Time.  I’m also surprised how much spirituality is hinted at through references to the Bible and other philosophical works.  I suppose the spiritual questioning of Meg is why most of all this book reminds me of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  This graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time is already part of my secondary school library collection and now I’m glad that I’ll be able to recommend it.

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City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can totally see why this is a young adult hit….female protagonist who is struggling with identity as she discovers some deep dark family secrets all the while learning that she has some new magical powers. I will definitely put it in my secondary school library collection and will continue buying the series the moment I get a request to do so.

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A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first time ever in the history of me that I’ve said that I’m not letting the BOOK ruin the TV SERIES. So I’m just reading the 3rd installment now because the 3rd season is done. But the book is so much better! At least after the Red Wedding it is completely different than the TV series and it explains a lot.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book doesn’t really fit into a genre … it takes place in present day in America. Our protagonist, Shadow, and the dysfunctional relationship with his wife certainly seem realistic. Enter the gods … and suddenly magic is happening everywhere in subtle ways. American Gods is filled with suspense, hints at history, and very descriptive. Imagine a Quentin Tarantino movie where magic is a part of every day life. There is something for everyone here…adventure, violence, fantasy, and even some heart-warming moments. This book would be a great choice for a senior student who is ready to move on from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but maybe isn’t quite ready for the Dune series. I think any adult who has tried magical realism, or who is interested in the world’s encyclopedia of gods and monsters (like all your D & D friends) would really like this book. I really enjoyed it although it took me a long time to read. Each chapter is like a bite of very rich chocolate cake. Gaiman is a wordmaster.

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Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a solid first novel …. lots of world-building and the dragons are introduced well. Paolini’s writing style is juvenile …. self-indulgent in terms of cryptic vocabulary use, and the plot is predictable. The best part about this book is …the dragon.

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Under My Skin by Charles de Lint

Under My SkinUnder My Skin by Charles de Lint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy begins in Santa Feliz, California in present day. The story unfolds through two voices, Josh and Marina, who are best friends. In this school year, each character has become a Wildling, a shapeshifter from human to animal form. As more and more local teens are becoming Wildlings overnight, government and corporate organizations move in to lock down the situation. Josh’s quest is to make sure any external interest has good intentions, and Marina’s journey is more about acceptance and making sure that Wildlings are treated with respect.

Both Josh and Marina are caught up in the movement as different factions of Wildlings compete for their attention. Some come across as eco-warriors, while others explore the spiritual blessing nature of shapeshifting and other natural gifts. Every single adult and teen group involved in the Wilding phenomenon has a different agenda, and neither Josh nor Marina can identify where they belong. Instead, Josh is singled out as a natural leader, as his animal self, the mountain lion, is one of the oldest animal clans known. Marina’s intentions of aiding the Wildling cause confuse her as she has to choose between the cause and her own dreams.

The alternating voices in each chapter allow the reader to understand the perspectives more deeply. The novel is a familiar story of teens being misunderstood as they go through their quest for identity. The shapeshifter motif allows the author a way to explore questions of identity in sexuality, race and belief. As the shapeshifter story is now a popular culture meme, this puts Under My Skin clearly in a fantasy category for beginners. The novel ends only as Josh and Marina escape their first test of Wildling experimentation leaving room for the proposed sequels to take place. The story hints briefly at stirrings of sexuality and the violence is dramatic but not overdone. This novel’s realistic and modern setting will appeal to most any reader who is ready to dabble in the fantastic. Readers who are more experienced with the genre may find de Lint’s explanations of fantastical elements to be juvenile.

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