The June book for our Enchanted Garden Book Club is Towering by Alex Flinn. This is a Young Adult, modern retelling of Rapunzel. The story is told in two perspectives, both first-person present-tense, of the main characters Rachel and Wyatt.
Rachel, 17 years old, has been kept isolated by her Mama, cut off from the world in an old tower. What she knows of the outside world are old memories of her youth and books. The books are all older, classics, so she has no knowledge of the workings of the modern world.
Wyatt is the same age as Rachel. After a tragedy back home, losing his closest friends, he moves out to the country to live with Mrs. Greenwood, mother of his mom's childhood friend. There he comes across a diary of Danielle, Mrs. Greenwood's daughter, who had disappeared seventeen years ago.
Wyatt is able to hear Rachel's singing and finds a way to track the voice and meet her. The two end up saving each other, and solving a mystery of missing people in town.
This book wasn't a must-read for me. I was hoping to enjoy it more. Despite the first-person perspectives, I didn't feel connected to the characters. Some of the writing, especially in the early chapters, was confusing, with thoughts interrupting actions and conversation in odd places. Rachel is of course very naïve, due to her protected nature. I felt the romance was rushed, very much a fated, love at first sight, with no weight behind it. There were magical aspects to the story that didn't really get explained. I had hoped for possibly a connection to the Fae, but that didn't seem to be the case. There is a prophecy with nothing to support it, and no reasons given for Rachel's magical properties.
I have not read any of Alex Flinn's other titles, so cannot say how it compares. This does not seem to connect to the Kendra Chronicles. This met the basic premise of a Rapunzel retelling, but I'm sure there are better ones out there. Do you have any you would recommend?
Linus Baker is entirely mundane, but far from ordinary. He is a case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, monitoring orphanages of magical children to make sure both the children and staff are safe. His life changes when he gets a classified assignment to evaluate an orphanage of six highly unique and possibly dangerous children.
This book was such a joy to read. Great writing, great dialogue, great characters. We get introduced to the six through Linus's eyes, and fall in love with them as he does. I won't spoil you with their descriptions, as I hope you go meet them for yourself. The big lesson is not to judge by a person's file or first impression.
Linus is the best Linus that he can be, as that's all he knows. He doesn't see anything extraordinary about himself, but those around him can see otherwise. I think we all have blindspots, admirable qualities that we don't recognize in ourselves that others must point out for us. I think that's another lesson this book tells, to be open to praise and acceptance and love from others.
Warning: This book made me cry. Because it made me feel. This book was truly a delight and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be checking out TJ Klune's other books.
"I'm just me...." " I don't know how to be anyone but who I already am. This is how I've always been. It's not much, but I do the best I can with what I have."
This is our December book for The Enchanted Garden Book Club. Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of a Charles Perrault's tale. This is the first novel length version I have read, and I highly enjoyed it. Rather than taking place in a European setting, this book takes place in a fictionalized India. The two religions central to the story are both fictional but still feel authentic. Tomlinson did a wonderful job bringing the cultures and characters to life. I felt like I could step into their world.
Another refreshing change to to the tale is the family relationship. Like the original, there is a step-family. Diribani lives with her step-mother and step-sister, Tana. Unlike most fairy-tales, they all get along and care for each other. There is no wicked step-family here. The other big change that surprised me was the gifts the sisters got. Both went to the well and encountered the goddess, who listened to their hearts desire. One sister came out speaking flowers and gemstones, the other speaking toads and snakes. Yet both here are blessings, and not curses. They may not always see them that way, and of course other characters react in their own manner, but there is no clear "good sister" "bad sister" here.
Both sisters have their unique trials and tribulations as a result of their gifts, and must learn how to make the best of them. Despite the differences in their individual journeys, there are many echoes between the two that I enjoyed noticing.
The only thing I felt lacking was the end. I would have loved a short epilogue showing what came after. It still felt satisfactory, and I highly recommend this book. For a deeper discussion, check back later this month on our Enchanted Garden blog. In the meantime, come join us in our Facebook group to discuss this book and all things fairytale.
I discovered Rachel Caine through the Chicks Kick Butt anthology. It was a short story featuring her Weather Warden main character. There was a car chase, and unique magic. I was hooked. I got the first Weather Warden book, Ill Wind, from the library, and ended up buying the entire nine book series.
It’s urban fantasy, taking place in our world but with elemental magic and djinn. The main character is a Weather Warden, having control over the weather. There is plenty of action, romance, and of course magic.
There is also a spinoff series, Outcast Season, which I own but haven't yet read.
Then you have the Revivalist series, an urban fantasy/thriller/horror. The main character is a funeral director, who becomes a zombie--murdered for finding out her employers are selling a resurrection drug, then resurrected herself--and gets involved in taking down the company responsible for her new condition.
Prince of Shadows
But Rachel Caine also writes for Young Adults. I don't remember who gifted it to me, but I also own Rachel Caine's YA novel Prince of Shadows. This is a stand-alone historical fantasy that retells Romeo and Juliet, but from Benvolio Montague's perspective. Benvolio is a thief, the Prince of Shadows, and has his own romance with a Capulet. It's a unique spin, and very engaging.
The Great Library
Very different still from the other series on this list is The Great Library series. This one is YA alternate history steampunk fantasy. I read these as they came out, and it was so difficult waiting in between books. The premise is that the Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed, and is now the controlling power for books and knowledge. The main character, Jess Brightwell, comes from a family of book smugglers. There are book burners, and automata, and a blend of alchemy and magic.
Despite her illness, Rachel Caine's latest series is the one that is the most potent for me. Stillhouse Lake follows Gwen Proctor, mother of two and former wife of a serial killer. Her (ex) husband may be in jail, but despite the court's acquittal, there are those that do not believe she could have lived with the man and not known of his deeds, and possibly even been an accomplice. Gwen has had to grow tough fast, to survive the hate, protect her children, and try to live a normal life. But the haters keep tracking her down. This suspense thriller is so heartbreaking and emotional. I am always torn between needing to read more and having to put the book down because the feelings are so strong.
I recently finished book three. The fifth book has been finished and is slated for a 2021 release. I already pre-ordered the book, but only wish Rachel Caine could still be around to see it come out.
Rachel Caine is also the author of the Morganville Vampire books (YA Supernatural) which have been adapted as a web series, and coauthored Dead Air, a thriller serial audio story about a true crime podcaster.
I am glad I haven't yet read everything Rachel Caine wrote, as that means I have more to enjoy and discover. She lives on in her writing.
Have you read anything by Rachel Caine? What book/series has been your favorite?
This is a story about bargains and debts. The threaded elements of Rumpelstiltskin are told thrice over. Spinning Silver follows the intertwined stories of three daughters. All flawed, not traditionally beautiful, and each finding their own strengths throughout the tale. Each has their life bargained away, yet they fight for their values and beliefs, don't give in to the patriarchy, and make their new lives better for it.
The main character is Miryem, a Jew in Lithvas, a fictional country in late medieval Europe. Her father is a money-lender, a traditional occupation for Jews, but he's not very good at it. After a hard winter and mother sick, young Miryem takes it upon herself to go out door to door and collect debts. She soon gains a reputation for turning silver into gold. But there is a fae-like race, the Staryk, who come with winter and are always seeking gold. The winter-king hears of her boast and wants her gifts for his own. He gives her Staryk silver to change into gold.
You can see the heart of the tale is definitely Rumpelstiltskin, but Novik truly makes it unique in the telling. I really enjoyed all the different character viewpoints and aspects. There were also some nice twists in the character motivations of the villains. What starts out as a good vs evil isn't so clear in the end.
I loved the magic elements. There is a strong fire vs ice theme throughout. Fire and ice, silver and gold. There is no name guessing like the original fairy tale, but there is an emphasis on the importance of names.
Spinning Silver started out as a short story, included in The Starlit Wood anthology. I re-read the short story before beginning the novel. The short only follows Miryem, and ends when she fulfills her bargain to the winter-king. The novel introduces more viewpoints, and continues the tale much further. I would definitely recommend just going straight for the novel. The text of the short story is included almost word for word as it is woven in, just expanded on in much more depth.
I can't really comment on the accuracy of the Jewish community, as my main knowledge is from Fiddlers on the Roof. The book doesn't go into a lot of depth on their religion/culture.
If you don't like first person point of view, or are easily confused by multiple point of view characters, then this book isn't for you. There are the three main characters, and a couple of side characters, that get viewpoints, and all in first person. It could definitely be disconcerting to some. I did find that I could identify who's head we were in within a few lines. Each character voice was different enough and quite well written.
Though this is marketed for adults, I believe the content is also appropriate for young adults. It is a longer book, 466 pages, so that may turn off some. The plot never dragged, it held my attention the whole way and was hard to put down. I definitely recommend this not just for fans of Rumpelstiltskin, but for any who enjoy a satisfying fantasy with strong female lead characters.
"...magic that came only when you made some larger version of yourself with words and promises, and then stepped inside and somehow grew to fill it."
If you're interested in discussing this or future titles with us, come join the Enchanted Garden Book Club group on Facebook.
Deviating slightly from my all-fantasy book reviews to talk about this light Science Fiction Romance. The Taylorsville Library (where I work) partners with the Taylorsville Senior Center for Senior Book Club. We would meet at the senior center once a month, and I assisted librarian Elizabeth Weaver in running the book club. Our last meeting was in March, right before everything shut down for Covid. April's book was to be Crosstalk by Connie Willis. It was my book pick for the year, and my turn to lead discussion, and we had hoped that we would still be able to discuss the book, if just postponed. At this point in time, however, I do not foresee us getting back to meetings this year. Or at least not to discuss April's book. So, as I still love this book, and took the time to create discussion questions (as none existed), I am sharing my thoughts here instead.
I highly enjoyed Crosstalk. We got it as a summer reading reward from the library. My first time through the story, Jeff (my husband) read it aloud. I was thoroughly engaged by the story and characters. The story takes place in a near alternate future, where there is a medical procedure that opens up the brains pathways to allow two people to feel each other's emotions. Our protagonist, Briddey Flannigan, gets the procedure with her new boyfriend, Trenth Worth. But instead of connecting with Trent, Briddey connects with someone else.
I read through the book a second time in preparation for book club, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first time. I was able to really see all the clues that led up to the twists. Connie Willis does a great job creating characters that feel real, and you really get into Briddey's head. The romance isn't the central plot, but does play a major role. The ending is satisfying. I definitely recommend this for anyone who wants a light science fiction read.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Mirror, Mirror was an interesting take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Gregory Maguire placed the story in a historical setting, Montefiore (in Tuscany, Italy) in the 16th century. It's historical fiction with a dash of magic. Elizabeth will be delving deeper into that historical foundation on our Enchanted Garden blog.
Like the original tale, we still have the elements of a step-mother type figure, a mirror, dwarves, and the attacks of hunter, comb, corset, and apple, and ending with a glass coffin and a kiss. This is definitely a Snow White tale. Where it differs is how it portrays those different elements.
There are a lot of politics in the early part of the book. The step-mother figure is Lucrezia Borgia, a historical figure known for her beauty and vengeance. She and her brother are responsible for sending off Bianca's (Snow White) father on a quest to find a rumored branch of the Tree of Knowledge with its three remaining fruits.
I felt the main themes were innocence versus sin. Even the magic had a religious undertone. You have the innocent Bianca, who goes away just as she is approaching maturity, retaining her innocence, and then sleeping through many of her years of change. She is away from the world and the carnal influences of the Borgias and the commoners of the village. Whereas Lucrezia is enjoying her time lording over the villa while the master is away. She does what she wants, and banishes or punishes anyone who gets in her way.
I had a hard time getting into the book with all the politics and the uncomfortable vulgar talk (and actions) of the commoners and Borgias. I thought the second half was better, once Bianca was with the dwarves, and I could see how other Snow White story elements came into play. But even then, I was analyzing it as the fairy tale, and not able to escape into the story and enjoy it on its own merit.
This was my first introduction to his work. He definitely has a way with description, as I have never seen the same metaphors or similes used. Here is one passage that stuck with me:
"One day the moon had swaggered up to the sun and punched it in the eye, and the world had gone midnight at midday. Birds had lost their bearing and smashed against the walls of the kitchen garden, and Primavera had made a stew of them."
You would probably enjoy this book if you are already a fan of Gregory Maguire's writing. Or if you enjoy books rich with history and politics. It did bring the tale more into this world.
Come back later this week, and join us at the Enchanted Garden to follow our discussion of Mirror, Mirror.
I discovered the Unicorn and Yeti books while shelving at my library. The cute art and fun title immediately caught my eye. I love the unique friendship of a unicorn and a yeti. The first book, Sparkly New Friends, goes over how they meet and how, despite their differences, they can be great friends.
The text is perfect for the advertised reading level. Each book is broken down into three chapters, or mini stories, for easier absorption. Unicorn and Yeti are adorable friends, and I enjoy reading about how they overcome their differences and frustrations, learning to compromise and make their unique friendship work. Even though I don't currently have an early reader in my house, I can say these are enjoyable for all age levels. Both my husband and my 16-year-old son read each book as I bring them home.
These books are part of Scholastics new Acorn line, aimed at readers ages 4-7. There are three books in the series out so far, and two more with publication dates.
Book 1: Sparkly New Friends
Book 2: A Good Team
Book 3: Friends Rock
Book 4: Cheer Up (October 6, 2020)
Book 5: Fair and Square (March 2, 2021)
Uprooted had me hooked from the first page. I loved the voice, all the characters and the plot. The story has fairy tale influences, but is not a retelling. The main character is stuck in a tower like Rapunzel, there is a definite Beauty and the Beast vibe, and I loved the twist on the virgin sacrifice to a dragon. There is even reference to Baba Yaga.
Every ten years, a teenage girl from the village is chosen as tribute to serve the wizard (known as The Dragon) to help protect them from the corrupted woods. Agnieszka, clumsy and unable to keep her clothes clean, is not the expected choice. Usually girls are just servants, doing domestic chores around the tower. But Agnieszka is special, she has a spark of magic, and The Dragon is determined to teach her how to use it.
The two approach use of magic differently. I love how Naomi describes the different types of magic, and how they eventually come together. The Dragon uses very rigid spells, whereas Agnieszka is more nature based and going by instinct.
As much as I loved this novel, it is not for everyone. It has a complex magic system, and there is darkness in the corruption. We read this as my book club pick, and most of the other members don't typically read fantasy. There were times they were confused and I had to explain elements to them. As a regular fantasy reader, however, this immediately went to my favorites list. Though Goodreads reviews seem to be love it or hate it.
This is a must read if you enjoy intricate world-building and magic systems. Recommended if you enjoyed The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert or anything by Juliet Marillier. It was a very enchanting book that captivated me right to the end.
Ten Books to read if you liked Uprooted
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.