Fantasy, Fiction, Magical Realism, Women's Fiction

The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden

Oh, those pesky “what-ifs” that we all carry around! “What if I chose that career?” “What if I married that person?” “What if I lived in that place?” “What if I had done/not done that particular thing?”

If only there was a way to know how things would’ve turned out if we’d taken a different path. And if there was a way…would you try it?

Lolly Blanchard is one month away from turning thirty three. She helps her father run their failing family diner in Seattle. It’s been ten years since her mother’s death. Her younger sister, Daphne, is sprouting wings to find her own way. But most of all, Lolly carries the memory of her time with Rory Shaw, the boy who got away. Now, as she reevaluates her life, Lolly comes to the frustrating realization that she has not accomplished anything she wanted to do. So many hopes. So many dreams.

If only.

This is a purposefully short review because I don’t want to get near anything that resembles a spoiler. I will just say that this lovely story touches on regrets and questions which enter every person’s life at some point. No matter how content and grateful we are, we still wonder. Unless…

What a wonderful, unique, redemptive book! I definitely want to read more by this author.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Fantasy, Young Adult

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill

I know a book is excellent if its effects are still lingering days after I’ve finishing it. Few have accomplished this as much as The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill. Is it for kids? Yes. Is it for young adults? Yes. Is it for grownups? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. It’s for everyone. If I could buy up a bunch of copies and pass them out on a street corner without looking like a weirdo, I would.

There is the Ogress. She has no name. She has no family. She has no friends. She cannot read. She has a great desire to belong. She has magical talents that benefit others and, even in her loneliness, she is compassionate and generous.

There are the Orphans. They have names that follow the letters of the alphabet. They are cared for by the Matron and her husband, Myron. They read and research. They closely observe. They are each other’s family.

There is the town, Stone-in-the-Glen. Once a lovely place where neighbor helped neighbor, it is now rundown and full of unhappy, suspicious people. Legend says it all began when a dragon burned down the library. Now the only bright spot is the colorful Mayor. He loves all and all love him.

What makes this book so special? What makes it a treasure for readers of any age? It is so layered with important messages that everyone will glean something from it. The writing is magnificent. The characters will remind you of someone you know.

Read it. Share it. Learn from it. Remember it. It’s marvelous!

10/10 Stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Snape, A Definitive Reading, by Lorrie Kim

snape cover.jpg

Definitive, yes. Interesting, no.

Anyone who has invested time reading and/or watching the entire Harry Potter series knows that there is much more to Severus Snape than meets the eye, and certainly much more than he appears in the very first book. Since the end of the series and as Snape’s true nature and motives have been revealed, the character has become an unlikely hero. It is for this reason that I had such high hopes for this book.

Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, has released several books with backstories of everything from Hogwarts teachers to the inception of Quidditch. They’re fascinating. And it makes sense. The backstories are coming from the same imagination that conceptualized the characters in the first place.

Snape, A Definitive Reading is the opposite of fascinating.

I see this book as one more example of someone riding on the coattails of someone else’s talent and success. There is nothing revelatory here, but merely a chronicling of every single time Snape and Harry Potter interacted with each other through the book series. And that, my friends, is A LOT of interacting. It’s as tedious as it sounds.

At the beginning I read carefully, but as time went on and the book maintained its dry format, I found myself skimming more and more. It’s a few hours I’ll never get back and, as a favor, I recommend you not waste your time with this book. You can do better and Snape deserves more.

6/10 Stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon cover

After some very demanding months in 2019, I can now return to my beloved book review blog! I’ve read and listened to quite a few books over the last few months, but I narrowed them down to a handful of my favorites to include on this site.

A few weeks ago at a “Favorites” party I won the Young Adult book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. The fact that it is a Newbery Award winner gave me hope. And, despite its fantasy genre, I decided to give it a try.

I’m glad I did.

Set in a gloomy, dystopian society, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is full of symbolism that spills over into our modern world. A government who swears it is protecting the people, even though they insist that one child must be sacrificed to the forest’s witch every year. Characters include a child who escapes the sacrifice, the aforementioned witch, a dragon, a swamp monster, a madwoman in a tower, and a young apprentice trying to figure out what is true and what is not.

I devoured the book in two days, then loaned it to a friend who is a high school librarian. She loved it too.

Do not be put off by the genre, as I first was, or by its target audience. Younger people may not understand every layer in this the book, and that’s OK. But they will still enjoy it. As an adult, I found the symbolism very powerful, worthy of a college paper.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is most definitely the best book I’ve read in a quite a while. There are some unexpected surprises, which I found very satisfying. And I’ve done my best not to include any spoilers here so that you can experience them for yourself.

9.5/10 Stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan


Back from a 3 week vacation through Utah, so I’m trying to catch up. I’ll be pasting in my Goodreads reviews on a few books I read while we were away. 🙂

Suicide, depression, grief. These are heavy subjects. Leigh Chen Sanders is trying to cope with all of them. Her mother is gone, depression has clouded their family for years, and now she and her father are trying to pick up the pieces.

And her mother? Her mother is now a bird. A red, fleeting bird who is always just beyond her grasp. Leigh is convinced of it. She is also convinced that the answers she seeks are in Taiwan with the grandparents she’s never met. Her father agrees to take her there.

The rest is a journey of memories and family revelations.

The Astonishing Color of After was my first foray into magical realism. I love the title and the concept of Leigh mentally transferring her mother’s spirit into a bird. But the story fell flat. Leigh is the crankiest, most unlikable character. She is rude to everyone, offended by everything, and acts as if her grief gives her a free pass to treat people horribly. She is at constant odds with her father, who is clearly just trying to keep the family afloat in these challenging circumstances. Yet Leigh never sees beyond her own needs.

The color imagery felt forced. Leigh is an artist and she thinks and feels in colors. But having a character like Leigh create beauty and meaning while being constantly sour does not work. I didn’t care for her, so I couldn’t care about her. Her supposed self-discovery is as ridiculous as her sudden lightheartedness at the story’s conclusion. Everything is tied up in a neat little bow….after all that? My head was spinning.

The reviews I read on the book were overwhelmingly positive, so I dove in with high expectations. Overall I found it to be tedious, very boring, and frustrating. I felt disconnected throughout the entire story and deeply disappointed in the unrealistic ending.

7.5/10 Stars

(My Goodreads Review)

Fantasy, Fiction

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan


Three couples. Three time periods. A handful of colorful supporting characters.

And maybe…a little bit of fantasy.

If this book was a movie on a shelf, I would have a difficult time choosing its genre. Comedy? Drama? Romance? Philosophy? “Yes” to all because it incorporates all of those things. But it is also a quirky, creative tapestry of characters and their individual stories, woven together into a very unusual, but clever, novel.

At its heart, The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan, centers around Anthony Peardew and his lost love, an event which becomes the catalyst for everything that follows. The rest of the characters, even those who occupy more of the plot, orbit this initial story-line. Each is introduced in a methodical and timely way. All are sympathetic, with fully explored personalities.

What impressed me was that, despite the layers of plots and subplots, the novel was not confusing. Ruth Hogan’s writing is not just clever, but beautiful. The reader empathizes with every loss and every victory because, on some level, we’ve all had similar experiences.

Both the “keeper” and the “things” in the title are subject to discussion. While there are certainly actual objects that qualify as “things,” there are also plenty of abstracts. The key is to allow the story to carry you, the reader, through its ebb and flow, allowing all things to be revealed in time.

It is a worthwhile journey.

9.5/10 Stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Every Day, by David Levithan


In 16 years of life, “A,” an entity who is neither male or female, has lived every day in a different body. The name “A” is self given. That, an email address, and a favorite book are the only consistencies A knows. Everything else is a mysterious, Quantum Leap-style existence, with no relationships, no family, no connections.

Enter Rhiannon. On the day A inhabits the body of Justin, Rhiannon’s self-absorbed boyfriend, A connects. The dilemma is clear. How do you maintain a relationship, let alone explain your unique situation, when tomorrow is always uncertain? Uncertainties exist for all of us, but the variety of bodies, lives, families, distances, mental/physical health situations, and transportation options dictate the level of control A has in pursuing this connection.

With no rules and no explanation as to why A is destined to live this way, A has had to create rules. Try not to derail the life of who you are inhabiting too much. Try to be responsible with a body that is not your own. Embrace goodness. If possible, try to leave the person a bit better than when you arrived, even inserting some happy memories once in a while.

Seeing glimpses of so many lives has given A a bit of an advantage in some ways, but has also created some severe deprivations. If there is any positive lesson to be learned from witnessing A’s struggles, it is the importance of stability and loving relationships in a person’s life.

There is no doubt that David Levithan is a creative writer. I was much more absorbed in this story than with Dash & Lily. The author makes some fascinating choices with the bodies A inhabits.  I still think Levithan walks a tightrope in some of his themes and ideas, but I understand that is his prerogative. But as such, it’s my opinion that parents ought to pre-read his books.

As I mentioned in another review, I am not in the author’s target age demographic. I cannot help but look at his YA novels from an adult perspective. And, while Every Day was not peppered throughout with popular profanities (as in Dash & Lily,)  David Levithan’s strong social opinions took their place. It’s clear he has an unapologetic loathing for many things most people would consider traditional.

As far as plot, my main dissatisfaction with Every Day was the ending. It was horrendous because, in order to know what really happens next, the reader is forced to move on to the sequel, Another Day.  I don’t like feeling forced. (Does anyone?)

A half-hearted (and forced) 8/10 stars.



Fantasy, Fiction

The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom

The Time Keeper cover

“There is a reason God limits our days.”


“To make each one precious.”

Once upon a time there was no time. At least, the concept of time was unknown to mankind until a man named Dor began trying to measure it. In doing so, he changed the world. The question is, was it changed for better or worse?

Dor became Father Time, but not by choice. Like “Mother Nature,” Father Time is one of those mythical figures who has no holiday for us to celebrate, except maybe our individual birthdays where we honor the passing of time until we want to forget that it’s happening. However we try to control time, either by cramming as many activities into a minute or an hour; or with healthy habits, medicines, or cosmetic surgery to slow it down, it marches on. With or without us, Time marches on.

In his solitude as Father Time, grieving for his lost love and his mortal life, Dor watches two people on earth. One is Victor Delamonte, a self-made millionaire who has been diagnosed with cancer. The other, a smart but solitary teenage girl named Sarah Lemon, whose high school crush is, well, a lemon. Time, and the ever-futile attempt to control it, is about to play a huge role in both their lives. When these seemingly random lives intersect…I can promise you will never look at a clock the same way again.

Confession: When I “read” The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom, I didn’t actually read it. I did something unusual for me, which was listening to the audio book available through my local digital library. It was read by Dan Stevens, a very capable reader who convincingly acted out the characters’ voices, and who is also playing the Beast in the currently popular Disney movie.

The author uses some beautiful imagery and phrasing, many that I wish I could’ve underlined, so reading the book is certainly not a waste of time. (Pun intended.) Listening to it was simply an experiment of mine in using my library’s audio book feature.

The plot is unique, truly unlike any I’ve read before, and the book would make a terrific book club selection if you happen to be in one. It encourages thought, discussion, and makes one pause at how our own individual lives and time are being used. Without a doubt, the most interesting book I’ve read in quite a while. Highly recommended.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction

The Would-Be Witch, by Ruth Chew

the-would-be-witchBefore there was J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, there was prolific author Ruth Chew (1920-2010.) She was one of my favorite writers when I was a child and The Wishing Tree was a book I reread many times. Recently I came across another book she wrote called The Would-Be Witch and it is delightful.

Her style is much simpler than Rowling’s and her magical worlds are very innocent. Each book she wrote stands alone and offers a fun escape for its reader, showing unique glimpses of what this world would be like if witches and real magic existed.  Her protagonists are always ordinary children who stumble upon an enchanted object or meet an interesting woman who is a little “different.” The charming pencil sketches in her books are also hers. There is nothing dark or graphic about her books.

In The Would-Be Witch, siblings Robin and Andy Gates find a clumsy white cat who belongs to a shop owner named Zelda. While watching Zelda’s shop one afternoon, the children start speculating about the eccentric lady and her odd clothing. Meanwhile, their mother has just purchased some “magic” polish, said to work wonders on any surface from wood to plastic, and the adventure begins.

The time period is general, and could take place anytime from the early 1900’s to present day. The children mind their parents and are responsible young people. It is all told in an uncomplicated narrative with interesting twists and turns and a satisfying ending.

If the fantasy world of magic is something your young child is interested in, and the Harry Potter series is too advanced, I highly recommend The Would-Be Witch, The Wishing Tree, or anything by Ruth Chew. Her official page is HERE, and books that were out of print for years are now becoming available again in libraries and in digital form.

Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry

gathering-blueIn Gathering Blue, a companion book to The Giver, the world is a harsh place.  It begins with a young crippled girl named Kira mourning over the body of her dead mother.  Fatherless before she was born, Kira now has no one and nothing, except for an innate talent with needle and thread.

Lois Lowry has created a dark and primitive setting filled with dense forests and unknown beasts. People are competitive and thuggish, scrounging for Life’s basic necessities. Weakness has no place here and children are taught this at an early age.

Kira, however, was raised differently by a mother who fought to keep her “broken” infant. She knows light and love still exist.  Still, Kira must struggle to survive in a community that does not want her.  One, that with all of its brutality, still has strict traditions.  There are rules to be followed and leaders to be obeyed.

Gathering Blue does not pick up where The Giver left off. No time period is given. I simply told myself that it was another “community,” as described in the first book–but one that functions very differently.

Lois Lowry’s real skill is her storytelling and character development. She is masterful at giving readers just enough information to drive the plot, but allows us to draw our own conclusions before confirming them. I have never seen a writer so gifted at this.

Like in The Giver, “humanity” is the underlying theme of Gathering Blue.  The more you see characters devoid of this trait, the more you are aware of your own.

10/10 stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

giverWhen I was in college and majoring in Humanities, my brother used to tease me by saying that I was studying how to “be human.”  His good-natured mockery annoyed me a little, but after reading The Giver, I now realize that studying how to be human is exactly what I was doing.

When we use the word “humanity,” what does that mean?  Is it a noun?  A verb? An adjective?  Is it spiritual or evolutionary? And can it be taken away?

Even online dictionary definitions are a bit vague.  “Branches of learning.” (Humanities.) “Human attributes or qualities.” (Humanity.)

I pose this question:  Branches of learning according to whom?  Human attributes or qualities according to whom?  All of mankind?  Others in our particular culture?

Which brings me full circle to the question, can it be taken away?

In The Giver, nameless communities who subscribe to the idea of “Sameness,” are doing their very best (with much success) to force the humanity out of humans.  This is done by removing choice and suffering, the very things that aid our individuality, wisdom and personal growth.

Only one person, the Giver, is burdened with the memories of generations before when Sameness didn’t exist.  And his protegee, the Receiver, is training to succeed him.

I will say no more about the plot because the beauty of this story is letting it unfold before you in the timeline the author has created.  Lois Lowry, in a mere 200 pages, produces a world that we all, jokingly, have said would be a better one.  The truth, however, is very different.

Her writing is as efficient and ordered as the community itself.  No words are wasted. No expository paragraph is set to take up space.  She treats her readers as intelligent, feeling, thinking beings–the opposite of the way those in the community are treated.

The only spoiler I will put here–something to expect–there is no ending.  This is the first book in a series of four. Does that lessen its impact?  No.  This is a beautifully written, profound story that makes you question what is and what could be.

The Giver Series:

The Giver Quartet

A quick commentary about the upcoming film being released on Friday.  For lack of a better word, there is a certain “volume” (noise level, not book number) to The Giver.  Lois Lowry’s language is quiet and steady, much like the characters’ surroundings.  The film’s trailer shows that volume turned up and intensified.  The trailer also reveals important plot points, which is disappointing. Some films based on books enhance the story (the Harry Potter films are excellent examples.)  Some do not. I fear that seeing the film first will detract from anyone’s upcoming literary experience.  If you have the patience and desire, do yourself a favor and read the book first. I think you’ll be glad you did. 🙂

10/10 Enthusiastic Stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 3, (The Unseen Guest,) by Maryrose Wood

unseen2In this installation of the Incorrigible Children series, we meet Lord Fredrick’s mother, the Widow Ashton.  She arrives with little notice–sending Lady Constance into a state of frenzy–accompanied by Admiral Faucet (pronounced Faw-say,) her gentleman friend who hopes to marry her.

The 3 Incorrigible Children still maintain some of their wolf-ish qualities, obtained from having been raised by them, but are making great strides in English speech and manners.  Admiral Faucet, however, dwells only on their ability to track things in the forest and, when his imported African ostrich, Bertha, goes missing, he invites the siblings and their governess on a mini safari to find her in the surrounding forest.  When Penelope and the children become separated from the admiral (whose intentions for the ostrich and the Incorrigibles are quite sinister,) they encounter a cave that only deepens the mystery of the children’s upbringing.

As with the first 2 books, this is a unique story with many twists and turns.  Although told in the 3rd person, it is mostly from Penelope’s viewpoint.  The language is charming and conversational with the reader, reminding me more and more of Roald Dahl’s style (my favorite author.)

By the 3rd book, however, I was ready for some of the questions about the children’s and Penelope’s backgrounds to be answered.  Instead of answers, there were only more questions.  Clearly, Penelope and the children are connected in a way more than a governess is to her charges.  And, clearly, Lord Fredrick has a secret that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep.

The story-lines with the supporting characters did wrap up satisfactorily, setting the stage for a new adventure in Book 4, which debuts on December 17th.  Like other readers, I will just have to be patient.

8.5 out of 10 stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2 (The Hidden Gallery,) by Maryrose Wood


“Navigation, you see, is not just a problem for sailors.  Everyone must go adventuring sooner or later, yet finding one’s way home is not easy. Just like the North Star and all it’s whirling, starry brethren, a person’s idea of where “home” is remains in perpetual motion, one’s whole life long.”

–Page 311, The Hidden Gallery

Shall I mention again how much I am enjoying the series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place?

Book 2, The Hidden Gallery, takes young governess Penelope Lumley and her 3 charges to London. She has received a letter from her former headmistress and an invitation to meet in the city. When Lady Ashton of Ashton Place becomes aware of this, she decides to pack up the entire household and rent a home in London so they can all go. While Lady Ashton cares only about nurturing her social connections, Penelope becomes involved in a series of odd coincidences that raise more and more questions about her background and the origin of The Incorrigibles (Lord Ashton’s name for the wolf-raised brood.)

Once again, author Maryrose Wood writes her gothic tale in a way that is both effortless and charming. Even as an adult, I felt like I was sitting at the knee of a great storyteller, completely engrossed in the characters and the action.

Three themes emerge continuously throughout the book: navigation, the moon, and home. Some of the mysteries in Book 1 become a little clearer if you can read between the lines and unravel the clues, but there are plenty of new questions which are not resolved by the end. It doesn’t matter, the ending is satisfying enough to make you let out a temporary sigh before wanting to delve into Book 3. I’m hooked.

9.5 out of 10 stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1 (The Mysterious Howling,) by Maryrose Wood

9780061791055When 15 year old Penelope Lumley stepped off the carriage at Ashton Place to interview for a governess post, she had no idea what awaited her.  After quickly being hired by flighty Lady Ashton, Penelope suddenly found herself in charge of 3 feral children that Lord Ashton had discovered on his property the only week before.  All of Penelope’s hopes of imparting her knowledge of languages, math, and geography were dashed so she could teach the children the most basic skills.  They had no language, no manners, and couldn’t even dress themselves properly.  Meanwhile, Lady Ashton is thinking only of planning her first big party as mistress of the house and Lord Ashton spends all his days at the gentleman’s club.

Written in a charming style that makes Miss Lumley appear both loving and determined, author Maryrose Wood has managed to make this first book in the series akin to children’s books of old, like Mary Poppins or Alice in Wonderland.  The story is nothing if not unique, as well as engaging and well-paced.  I was enraptured and read it in less than a day.

This is a little gem of a book, and I have already begun Book 2 (The Hidden Gallery.)  How wonderful to read a novel that doesn’t talk down to its reader, doesn’t resort to the current trends of zombies and vampires, and even makes an effort to introduce its readers to new words (“irony” and “hyperbole” are cleverly explained in context.)  Penelope Lumley is smart, plucky and likeable, yet rarely discouraged despite her circumstances.  Since leaving the classroom 4 years ago, this is the first series I have encountered that made me wish I had students again with which to share it.

10 out of 10 stars

Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

miss p book cover with borderSomewhere between the X-Men comics and the movie Groundhog Day lies the story of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a debut novel for its author.

Aimed at teens, this book begins by introducing us to Jacob Portman, an introverted young man with no direction who works at a drug store.  The caveat is that his family owns the drug store and hundreds just like it.  Like many teens who come from considerable wealth, Jacob values little and has no direction, secure in the knowledge that his family’s money will always support him.  His circle consists of his heiress mother, frustrated father, condescending psychologist, and a grandfather he adores.

His grandfather, Abe, who was a survivor of the Nazi regime, grew up in a children’s home.  Never knowing which stories to believe, Jacob was entertained by Abe’s collection of freaky vintage photographs.  The photos, taken long before Photoshop existed, contain images that have clearly been manipulated in some way.  Or have they?  A girl who floats in air, another who holds a ball of fire in her hand, these cannot be real, right?

Jacob’s life is suddenly sent into a tailspin when he witnesses his grandfather’s death, which is both horrific and mysterious. Using his grandfather’s last words as his guide, Jacob begins a quest to find out the truth about the man he loved most in the world and where he came from.

It is on this quest that the story and setting changes dramatically, from a posh Florida suburb to a tiny island near Wales.  Everything Jacob knows about home, family and himself is about to change.

I was riveted for the first half of the book. Any story that takes its protagonist on the journey this one does is going to hold your attention. The plot is definitely unique and has the makings for a film, which I read is already being made.  My issue is character development.  Jacob and Emma–a “peculiar” child who takes center stage–are developed well, but don’t make us care about them much. (In reading other reviews I know I’m in the minority when I say that.) The other peculiar children are difficult to keep track of, as in which one has which peculiar ability. (Some “peculiarities” are a bit disturbing.) And one of the most important characters, Miss Peregrine herself, feels like a mystery even at the book’s end.  The person I found myself caring about the most, Jacob’s father, had no ending to his plot line.

Two things are clear by the end. This story is an outline for a film and it is going to have a sequel (available 1/14/14.)  But it could have been so much more.  And, in a shameless comparison with the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling showed us that you can have magnificent writing in modern times without profanity.  Riggs seems to want to make friends with his readers by peppering the book with words you hear kids say today.  If the writing is of high enough quality, you can connect with today’s teens without doing that.

Overall, Miss Peregrine is an interesting story that did not meet its full potential. However, I am curious to see where the sequel takes us.

8 out of 10 stars