The Doorway and the Deep by K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “Travel back to the enchanting and treacherous land of Limn, where Lottie Fiske has escaped the murderous Southerly king for a while—but other perils are hard on her heels. War is coming to the beautiful world of magic that Lottie has come to love. Events are pushing her to the North, where many answers—about her parents, about her abilities, about this world and others—await. But the road to the north is full of dangers, and so are the answers.” (source)

My thoughts: Noooo! Not a cliffhanger?!!

The torture. The agony of waiting for the next book.

Yeah, I love it.

A red apple tree grows in the heart of Wandlebury Wood. It is a burst of color in a land of silver grass and white-barked yew trees, and out from its trunk step two travelers. The girl takes a small bird from her pocket. The boy takes a deep breath.

The Doorway and the Deep picks up pretty much right where The Water and the Wild left off. [spoiler]Lottie heals Eliot; they go off to Limn together. Which is awesome because when Lottie told Eliot’s dad all about her adventure, he believed her! That’s so rare in middle grade/YA — usually the adults never believe the kids.[/spoiler] There is minimal recap of book one aka no info dump. So if it’s been a year or more since you read The Water and the Wild, or if you aren’t that quick at recalling its events, you may want to refresh your memory before diving into book two.

The Doorway and the Deep is all about the quest for answers that will hopefully end the reign of the Southerly king and save Limn from total destruction. Along the way Lottie continues to hone her keen, wrestle her genga Trouble into obedience (or at least his inconsistent cooperation), navigate relationships with friends, allies, and a potential boyfriend (come on, we knew it was bound to happen), and struggle with the uncertainty of who she is and what she’s capable of.

This book is a page-turner; there’s a lot going on and, as my opening remarks all so subtly alluded to, the ending will leave readers wanting the next book immediately.

Highly recommended to young readers ages 8-12 especially if they’re seeking a strong female lead who isn’t perfect but still worthy of respect, if they love the idea of carrying around an adorable magical little bird in their pocket, if they’ve always dreamed of having a special ability. Or, if they’re dealing with a close friend or relative living with a terminal illness. This series has a lot to offer readers of all ages. So why aren’t more people reading these books?!!

Author’s website | Chronicle Books | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received hardcover from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: 4 of 5

9781452113869A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square. Its leaves are a sad emerald and its apples a cheery peridot, and at its roots—starts the story of Lottie Fiske.

My inner 12-year-old self is pouting right now. Why? Because she wants MORE! Like yesterday. In all seriousness, I wasn’t aware that The Water and the Wild was going to have a sequel. However, unlike a lot of the first books in a new series, mostly the YA ones, I’ve read in the last couple years, The Water and the Wild stands well on its own and enticed my natural curiosity about subtle unanswered questions (like where is this other place from whence King Starkling came and what is he exactly?) and what happens next for Lottie, Eliot, Fife, Oliver, Adelaide, and the rest of Limn.

I must read the next book! (Looks like I’ll have to wait about a year for the sequel).

9781452128818The worlds of New Kemble and Limn were vivid, “real” places. Enchanted trees – inside of which were “elevators” used to travel between worlds – keens (individual magical talents), the gengas (magical birds) – loved it all. I also loved that Lottie didn’t have to act like an adult to show bravery, ingenuity and loyalty. She was even a little selfish, at first, in her quest to cure Eliot. She cried openly when any kid would naturally get emotional. But she didn’t whine and she didn’t have a chip on her shoulder. Plus, she’s stubborn and doesn’t back down from bullies.

There were many allusions – Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, the world of Oz, to name but a few – yet Ormsbee’s story felt new with its own unique charm and whimsy.

Author’s website | Chronicle Books

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Green Man by Michael Bedard

Rating: 4 of 5

The Green Man by Michael BedardOver time, a bookshop will take the shape of its owner. Emily had been at the Green Man so long that it had grown around her like a second skin. The books were her flesh; the words that flowed through them were the blood that ran through her veins. The poetry section was the beating heart of the collection.

If the above passage speaks to you, then you’re probably the right reader for this book. It doesn’t matter your age, if you feel more at home in a secondhand bookstore than at your actual house, you’ll settle into this book’s atmosphere like a cat into a pile of freshly laundered clothes. If the idea that poets are all “crazy people” with a special perspective of our world (and maybe even other worlds), add this book pronto.

For me, The Green Man was to poetry as Among Others was to science fiction. Both held their respective forms high on a pedestal and showered the reader in various works and authors’ names – some well-known, others obscure – implanting a subliminal urge to read everything mentioned. Both featured a young adult’s quest to find herself. Both dipped their pinky toes into otherworldly goings on but, for the most part, remained fixed on the surface of our reality.

What I really loved about The Green Man – other than the obvious: books, a cat named Psycho, a bakery across the street from a bookshop, ghosts of poets hanging around the shop – was Emily’s ideas about time. (I love all things timey-wimey.) I wonder if the ghosts were an example of that opened door?

One nitpick, had I realized this was a continuation of the mystery and characters introduced in Bedard’s first novel, A Darker Magic, I most certainly would have obtained a copy to read prior to this book. However, having read The Green Man first, I don’t feel like I missed anything. Quite the opposite, now I absolutely MUST find a copy of A Darker Magic.

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received paperback from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Everyone knows the saying, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” Well, in Conjure Wife, the great woman is a witch, and her great man doesn’t know that. And it’s worldwide: all women are witches, and they either know of or practice witchcraft.

Here’s the gist:

One day, feeling good and taking a moment to reflect on his life, Norman Saylor, a professor of sociology at Hempnell College, begins to ponder his successes, one of which he considers his wife, Tansy. How did I get so lucky? Norman wonders. How did Tansy fare so well as a professor’s wife? Those questions prompt Norman to snoop through his wife’s closet and drawers. And what should he discover? The tell-tale signs of someone dabbling in “conjure magic.” He’s shocked!

If he had ever wondered about Tansy and superstitions at all, it had only been to decide, with a touch of self-congratulation, that for a woman she was almost oddly free from irrationality (p. 22).

A confrontation with Tansy ensues, turns into a nearly four-hour long discussion, at the end of which Norman demands Tansy stop her “neurotic” behavior at once. Tansy reluctantly agrees; after all, she was only ever doing magic to protect Norman.

That’s when the unlucky “coincidences” begin piling up on Norman: threats from an expelled student; charges of a sexual relationship with a female student; scrutiny of his personal life and friends by the college’s trustees, and on and on. The “coincidences” culminate with the disappearance of his wife.

But to rescue Tansy, Norman will have to practice a little conjure magic himself. The problem is, of course, he finds the whole idea ridiculous. Will Norman save Tansy? If he does, what will be the implications? The consequences?

Here are my two cents:

The sexism, oh the sexism. Because Conjure Wife is told in a limited third-person narrative, Norman Saylor could make or break the story. After reading a couple chapters of his thoughts, I feared I may not be able to finish. In fact, I forced myself to remember the setting – 40s/50s – and cut Norman some slack for his stereotypical, insensitive, often laughable assessments of people, especially women. (For example, see the above quote from page 22 in addition to the below.)

…(in a similar situation would he have dared try reasoned argument on any other woman?)(p. 31).

Once I decided to ignore that part of Norman’s personality, I realized he still wasn’t very likeable. But it was interesting to see the world through Norman’s eyes, especially when he filtered everything through the rules of science. Although, I’ll admit, it did get a tad annoying to have him go back and forth, back and forth. And even to go so far as to see if there was a mathematical formula for spells.

I liked Tansy, though, and the premise was an interesting one.

But it’s not really new, is it? Men throughout history have feared “woman.” Suspected her of being connected to some secret force, nature, even the Devil. Possibly in a conspiratorial capacity with other women. Wondered about her intuition. Faulted her for being more emotional than man. It’s inherent for most, fearing what we do not understand.

However, I don’t think fear of witchcraft or even a secret alliance among women was Norman’s deepest fear. I think what he most feared was not really knowing his wife. That he could live with someone for so many years – I believe it was 15 years they’d been together – trust her, think he had her all figured out, only to discover she wasn’t exactly who he imagined. Hell, that’s scary for anyone in a relationship.

He looked at her, trying to comprehend it. It was almost impossible to take at one gulp the realization that in the mind of this trim modern creature he had known in completest intimacy, there was a whole great area he had never dreamed of…

Once I saw that Norman did, in fact, love his wife and respect her, it was easier for me to sit back and enjoy the story. He used science the way many people use religion: a way to make sense of (or cope with) all the craziness, all the chaos, that is life. A constant in the ever shifting variables. And, for most, it’s an unshakeable, unchangeable belief system.

Here’s what you might not like about Conjure Wife:

  • Sexism
  • Racism
  • The protagonist (Norman)
  • Norman’s always-on scientific filter
  • Not “urban fantasy” as boasted on this edition’s cover
  • Falls under psychological or literary horror; there’s nothing overtly scary or gory

Final thoughts

While its horror elements are mild and slow-building, Conjure Wife is most frightening for what’s going on below the surface rather than its stated premise. I recommend it to fans of the slow burn style of supernatural horror, who are willing to overlook the (hopefully) outdated viewpoints and plan to take the time to think about the story once they close the book.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Rating: 5 of 5

An enchanting fairy tale guaranteed to capture the hearts of fantasy readers, especially those who love stories of good versus evil, sibling rivalry, and prison breaks.

A tale of archetypal heroes and sweeping adventures, of dragons ad princes and evil wizards – as only Stephen King can tell it!

The passage through the castle is dim, sensed by few and walked by only one. Flagg knows the way well. In four hundred years, he has walked it many times, in many guises, but now the passage serves its true purpose. Through the spyhole it conceals, the court magician observes King Roland — old, weak, yet still a king. Roland’s time is nearly over, though, and young Prince Peter, tall and handsome, the measure of a king in all ways, stands to inherit the realm.

Yet a tiny mouse is enough to bring him down, a mouse that chances upon a grain of Dragon Sand behind Peter’s shelves and dies crying tears of fire and belching gray smoke, A mouse that dies as King Roland does. Flagg saw it all and smiled, for now Prince Thomas, a young easily swayed to Flagg’s own purposes, would rule the kingdom, But Thomas has a secret that has turned his days into nightmares and his nights into prayed-for oblivion. The last bastion of hope lies at the top of the Needle, the royal prison where Peter plans a daring escape…(Source: book jacket)

Intriguing, right? Though, that synopsis only touches the surface of the story’s themes and characters.

The Eyes of the Dragon is my favorite of Stephen King’s work. When I first read it, almost 20 years ago, I was captivated. (In awe, too, that a “master of horror” could write a true fairy tale!) And every time I read Dragon I’m transported to the kingdom of Delain: I cry when Peter’s locked away; I rage at Flagg’s deceit and trickery; I loathe Thomas for his betrayals.

It’s a short read, around 300 pages. The story flows smoothly at a steady pace, with nary an info dump in sight, and the suspense of whether good will outsmart and overcome evil is present throughout. Prince Peter will charm you with his loving heart and devotion; Flagg will mesmerize you with his black magic and lust for power. And there are a couple surprising twists in the plot.

If you enjoy fairy tales or fantasies, you will most likely enjoy the Eyes of the Dragon.

Do you prefer “good” to always beat “evil”?

Or do you enjoy stories where the bad guy wins?

Note to Self: Homebody by Orson Scott Card

I finished Homebody by Orson Scott Card on February 10, 2010. How I found this book at the library, I couldn’t tell you. It was possibly on a list of must-reads. Or, maybe, it found me.

Insert spooky music here.

The jacket’s summary was slightly misleading, though, as it described events out of order, which I assume was in an effort to make the story appear more suspenseful or certain events more critical. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good story. But I think the blurb could’ve been more concise and less scattered.

Don Lark was easy to empathize with, and his grief and anger were justified. …continue reading

Sunshine – Book Review

I borrowed Sunshine by Robin McKinley from the Logan County Library on 11/6/2009 and I started reading it on 11/13/2009. I finished it on 12/6/2009. Now, let me tell you, I am a fast reader. Normally I finish 250 pages in a few hours max. Sunshine is 389 pages and it took me nearly three weeks to force my way through it. Needless to say, I was disappointed by my first experience with McKinley.

2 1/2 stars out of 5

Robin McKinley’s name came up during my hunt for fairy tale retellings. I actually wanted to read Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of the Beauty and the Beast, but the day I went to the library, there wasn’t a copy available at the library. So I went with Sunshine because it was available, the cover boasted a review from Neil Gaiman that it was “pretty much perfect,” and the story sounded interesting. …continue reading