Winter Falls, by Jacque Stevens, is a contemporary retelling of The Snow Queen that will appeal to young adult readers. Its protagonist, Katie, is a young woman who has experienced the loss of her mother. She lives with her father in a hotel, and the hotel holds secrets that lead Katie on a fairytale adventure. Similar to The Snow Queen, a boy (Katie’s lifelong friend Shay) is taken to the fairytale world – here called the Four Kingdoms, and Katie must enter the Kingdoms in order to bring him home. A story with both adventure and heart, it is an enjoyable retelling that has a message of perseverance at its core. Katie is a young woman that bravely faces life’s battles, is inquisitive, adventurous and caring. Young adult readers will no doubt find some of themselves in her, and be entertained by the fairytale elements in the story.
Get this fairytale retelling here: Winter Falls
Felicity and the Fire Stoppers, by Loralee Evans, is a sweet, fun & action-packed tale with a brave heroine. In her third adventure, Felicity, a sparrow with uncommon talents – ventures into a forest fire to save her friends.
Like the previous adventures, in Fire Stoppers Felicity meets new challenges, new friends and learns new things about the world and its complexities. My 8 year old daughter and I enjoyed reading this together while also appreciating the delightful illustrations throughout the book. As a parent, I was happy to experience a children’s book with my daughter that both delights and offers encouragement, as well as lessons about kindness, bravery & perseverance.
The Felicity series will appeal to young readers as well as adults; each book in the series celebrates our connection with nature and shines a bright light on the importance of friendship. With the third installment, Ms. Evans has continued a story that will no doubt delight many readers both young and old.
Get the book here: Felicity and the Firestoppers
Felicity and the Featherless Two-Foot by Loralee Evans, is an illustrated children’s fantasy novella. It is the second adventure for Felicity the sparrow. Its beginning reminds readers of her first adventure, when Felicity met the prince of the fairies, Colin, and together they saved Queen Lilia from Grak, the wicked hawk-sorcerer. This time, the danger Felicity and the fairies face is not from another woodland creature – but from, as the title says – featherless two foots: People!
When prince Colin’s spear and helmet get taken by a boy who has ventured into the woods with a group of Scouts, Felicity vows to get them back for her friend. Off she flies into this new, possibly more dangerous adventure, which promises to bring us endearing characters and new challenges to face. Themes of friendship, kindness, & respect for the environment and all forms of of life within it make this story a rich experience for children and families to read together.
With charming characters that readers will want to root for, magical elements of fantasy, and adventures abound – Felicity and the Featherless Two-Foot will appeal to many young readers. The addition of a few whimsical illustrations compliment the story nicely, and also increase the appeal to young readers like my own daughter (age 8) – who enthusiastically asked if the author could include more of them. Her enjoyment of the story itself was evident, as will be any child who loves both animals, fairies and nature. A lovely choice for children and families alike, both my daughter and I will recommend this delightful novella to our friends.
Get this novella here: Felicity and The Featherless Two-Foot
Sing to me of words, by Kimberly DuBoise, is an inspirational collection of free-verse poems. Weaving beautiful images through seemingly simple words, each poem speaks of complex emotions, desires & dreams. An overarching theme of the book is a spiritual journey that results in a greater sense of self, an appreciation for nature, music, and gratefulness for life experiences. Perhaps inspired by a zest for life as much as a passion for writing, this poetry collection is sure to inspire the hearts and uplift the souls of readers.
Get this poetry collection here: Sing to me of words
Ross Poldark, by Winston Graham, is the first novel in a series of twelve that tells the the story of the Poldark family in 18th century Cornwall, England. Having become a fan of Poldark via the 2015-16 BBC television series now airing on PBS, I was hesitant to read the novels. I simply didn’t think my love of the characters and their stories, or Cornwall itself could grow any more than it already had by watching the beautifully filmed series.
How very wrong I was. And how very lucky that I made the last minute decision to take the book along on a long trip over holiday break! Graham’s writing not only transported me back into Cornwall, but offered descriptive prose that made it feel more alive & real. Graham’s sense of showing the reader what it felt like to live in Cornwall during a specific time of such social, economic & political change is evident, as is his knowledge of historical details that any filmed version simply wouldn’t have time or perhaps the means to give. Another benefit of reading the book was insight into character relationships, particularly the deep lifelong bond between Ross & Verity, as well as the new friendship between Demelza & Verity. Since Verity is one of my favorite characters in the series, an un-sung hero of sorts who plays a secondary role, I was quite happy to read her moments in the novel.
Poldark is an epic family drama – a saga that follows the Poldarks & all their trials during periods of war & immense societal change. It is also a story of romance, and though romantic love is not the focus of this first novel, the last quarter of the book has some beautifully written moments for Ross & Demelza. Perhaps the most poetic prose comes when they set out in a boat to watch pilchards (a type of fish) being caught – which again tells me that Graham knew Cornwall, its history & its people very well. He also seems to have known about love, about human relationships and how they would flex & grow during times of war, famine and change. Written in the 1940s while Graham worked in a lighthouse on the the Cornish coast (notably, during another wartime) – I imagine the writer sitting with his pen poised, his characters and their stories lighting fires within him, keeping him warm at his cold post – his eyes watching the tide come in.
Get the book here: Ross Poldark
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, is a memoir written in verse. We meet Jackie, born in Ohio, and travel with her through moves to Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. It is the true story of her life, family, and her dream of being a writer. Of her experiences as a young girl in the 1960’s and 70s, a time of tumult and revolutionary change for black Americans. Of the love that bound her family together despite miles of separation. It’s the story of how a particular time in history and the places she lived shaped and defined a girl, eventually – a woman.
Both moving and light, heartbreaking and hopeful – Woodson weaves her memoir in beautiful, spare lines. Through this narrative of poems she is able to pick us up, setting us down in each place to tell her memories – of Jackie the daughter, sister, brown girl, dreamer – and Jacqueline, the writer. The real story of a uniquely American life, told through the eyes and pen of a child who saw the details of life and wrote them down, preserving her own history so that we might have the chance to experience it along with her — and we are the richer for it.
Get the book here: Brown Girl Dreaming
Within the collection are poems of home, motherhood & marriage, of nature, birds & animals, of soldiers & war, of song & dance, the arts. Another theme running through them is the passage of time: experiences in history, a sense of the present and a glimpse of the future. Among my favorite poems in this vast collection are: Waking: 2 poems (43), Cactus Wren (75), Invocation (85), Dance Song (86), Futurology (92), Lieder Singer (112) and Writers (113).With a collection as wide and fruitful as this, readers will undoubtedly need ample time to let both the beauty & wisdom of these poems seep into their souls. Le Guin may be most well-known for her science fiction & fantasy novels, but it is clearly poetry that keeps her heart.
The play is set 19 years from when we last saw Harry at the end of Deathly Hallows (Book #7) — Harry now works within the Ministry of Magic, is married to Ginny and has 3 children. The story focuses on Harry’s second son, Albus Severus, (namesake of both Dumbledore and Snape). In his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, Albus makes an unlikely best friend – Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son. Albus also gets sorted into an unlikely house — the house of Slytherin.Albus and Scorpius soon find themselves on an adventure through time, back to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which took place in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book #4) over 20 years in the past. Not surprisingly, they find out that changing events in time is a dangerous & tricky ordeal with dire consequences. They will need the help of their family and friends (including Harry, Ron, Hermione and other well loved characters from the series) to right their wrongs and return to the present time.
The play primarily explores themes of father/son relationships and friendship – the strengths and weakness of both. It is a quick, fast-paced read; I received my copy in the mail on Monday and had it read by Wednesday evening. It is a must-read for any Harry Potter fan, although as a play it lacks the descriptions a novel would have had time to flesh out. As a play, however, it includes stage directions that allow readers to imagine beyond the text — and it is packed with both action and heart. After a successful run on London’s West End, perhaps it will come across the pond, giving American Harry Potter fans equal chance to relive the magic, seeing “The Boy Who Lived” once again.
Settling in to read the poems, having purchased it — I found the poems didn’t meet my expectations, instead focusing on a relationship, love and the loss of love. Written in the first person and often speaking directly to his lover, Gregson reminisces on time spent with her and yearns for her when he is alone. It felt as if I were reading the diary of a young man experiencing the highs & lows of love, an all-consuming first love that must be written on every spare scrap of paper he finds for the typewriter.Readers looking for love poems will likely enjoy this, and the use of a typewriter gives it a unique look from other collections available. It’s clear that Gregson uses multiple artistic mediums to express his love, and the use of a typewriter seems a bit of marketing genius that evokes nostalgia, invites questions into the writing process — and will continue to intrigue readers to pick up a copy of this collection. I would have enjoyed the poems more had I felt the same attention to describing the world around him (that he captures in his photos) as Gregson gave to his lady love.
Get this poetry collection here: Chasers of the Light
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling, is a collection of stories from the world of Harry Potter. The stories, fairy tales for witches and wizards, have been translated from the ancient runes by Rowling’s character Hermione Granger, and include illustrations by Rowling as well as commentary by none other than Hogwarts famous headmaster & wizard — Albus Dumbledore. While the tales have many similarities to the fairy tales that Muggles (non magical people) know, they feature heroes and heroines who use magic. Their magic may or may not help them achieve a happy end, and as Rowling states in the introduction – “Beedle’s stories have helped generations of wizarding parents to explain this painful fact of life to their young children: that magic causes as much trouble as it cures” (VIII). Rowling also points out here that these tales show heroines that are actively seeking their fortunes, rather than sleeping or waiting for their ends.
Among the tales are: The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, the story of a young wizard who inherits his father’s pot and must choose what way he will use his magic in it — suffering the consequences. The Fountain of Fair Fortune, a tale of three witches and a knight, who set out on an adventure together to reach the fabled fountain, said to bring everlasting good fortune to a single person once a year. The Warlocks Hairy Heart, a dark tale of a young warlock who did not want to fall prey to love, and so locked up his heart. Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump, the story of a foolish King who wanted to magic at any cost – and a witch who outsmarted an entire kingdom with both her magic and wit. Last, The Tale of Three Brothers who met Death and chose three different paths that would define their lives and ultimately – their ends.
As enchanting as each of the tales are, perhaps the best part of this collection lies in Dumbledore’s commentary – which give readers plenty of laughs and insight to how witches and wizards in Harry Potter’s world reacted to the tales, how they both loved and hated them, what connections they had to real characters Potter fans have known and loved for years. Having read the 7 books in the Potter series years ago, I took some time getting to this collection of tales, which was published in 2008. I recently picked it up to bring myself back into Harry’s world, and found the spell that Rowling has woven endures even in this slim volume of short stories. A week away from the release of Rowling’s newest Potter book – the much awaited play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – this was the perfect antidote for having been away from the magical Hogwarts castle for so long.
Get the book here: Inside Out & Back Again
The Magician’s Elephant is a story that is bleak yet hopeful, of magic and reality, dark and light. Of loss and finding, it shows how lonely one is without family, without love. And how we can change the world – or at least, our own lives – by asking questions and believing in the impossible. Believing in magic.
It is the story of an elephant, a boy, a magician, a soldier, a policeman, a noblewoman, a beggar and his blind dog – and a town, that needed hope, love, and a story of magic. Its short prose is beautiful, like poetry. Although it is a children’s book, it is also for adults. When I was finished, I gave it 4 stars – but in my heart, perhaps, the place where my belief in magic lies – – it earned 5.
Get the book here: The Magician’s Elephant
I shared Mortimer with my 6 year old son and 8 year old daughter, reading aloud as they followed along. The story follows Mortimer the mole on his journeys below and above ground. He isn’t happy digging and wants to find out about the sounds he hears above, the sounds of a baseball game. He follows his curiosity, challenging his Dad mole to believe there can be good things above, and meeting a new friend along the way. My son gave the story a thumbs up because he likes both moles and baseball. My daughter, a little more discerning, told me she would’ve liked the pencil drawn illustrations to have more detail and be in color. Regarding the story, she said “I’d make it exciting, with more adventures. Maybe have the mole play baseball himself!” As a parent, I appreciate the story’s theme of trying new, unexpected things. We agreed together to give Mortimer 3 stars.
Get the book here: Mortimer
Blue Waters is a YA novella in which we meet Whitney, a headstrong 17 year old girl who likes to live dangerously. While her upper-class lifestyle and enrollment at a private arts high school may seem like many teen’s dream life, Whit’s family life is dysfunctional and she has suffered loss in her young life, the death of her brother. The strongest relationship and the most compelling in this story is between Whit and her best friend Link. The first chapters set up their playful friendship as well as serve to establish their history as confidants and each others champions. When Crash, a mysterious and also appealing “bad boy” enters the scene, the plot turns into a modern day Romeo & Juliet as the characters learn that their families pasts connect them in dangerous ways. Ultimately, it is Link who helps this story come to a hopeful end.
While this story will appeal to teen readers, I found that the way Ms. Adams has written Crash was a bit troubling for me – the writing makes the act of stalking or having a stalker seem almost appealing, because of the way Whit’s character was so drawn to him despite this behavior. It also has themes of drug dealing, mafia/gangs that doesn’t come to a positive conclusion, and Whit’s relationship with her parents is left unresolved. Blue Waters brings up many questions – not only about stalking, violence & drugs, but also sex/relationships, suicide and death. Because of this, I feel that the book should include thoughts for discussion and resources afterward, that would help point young readers towards ways to deal with the heavy subjects they’ve just read about.
Get the book here: Blue Waters
Set in France, The Little Paris Bookshop is the story of Jean Perdu, a “literary apothecary” who sells his books from a barge in the Seine river to help others heal from emotional scars. Jean himself carries his own scars of heartbreak, anger, sorrow, and loneliness – and readers are taken on a journey through the Seine, through the stories of people he meets, and through his endless collection of books. Along the way, we feel a myriad of emotions and are healed by the beauty and truth of what this novel is so eloquently telling us: that to live, we must feel, and to heal, we must first come through our pain – embracing the joy that awaits on the other side. The fact that Jean does so through his books, and uses his literary prescriptions to deal with the many facets of life, will wrap hungry book fans up and hold them fast as they ride the tumultuous river along with him. *Originally written in German, this review is based off of the English language edition.
Get the book here: The Little Paris Bookshop
Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery is a light summer read/chick lit. Set on the island of Mount Polbearne in England, it is the story of Polly, a 30 something single who runs a bakery, lives in a lighthouse and keeps a pet puffin. Quirky and unique, with plenty of charm and strong characters, readers will settle in with this book like an old friend. Polly’s challenges with friendship, romance and the plight of her baking dreams will appeal to readers, as well as the details of life lived on a small island. Take this book on a summer vacation and read it on the beach while you dream of savory olive loaf and drink in the sun’s rays. You’ll root for Polly, laugh along with her adventures, and be glad that you did.
Get the book here: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery
Tales from the Tavern is a collection of 5 short fantasy stories from new authors. The first story, Bear-Trap Grave, by Brent A. Harris, is the tale of Fowler, a “Skinner” who goes on a journey looking for an angry bear — and finding a new friend along the way. The second, True Story by Alei Kotdaishura, is an adventure story told to a boy through the voices of his mother, a witch, and his father, a wizard. Next, Battle at Veldhaven by Matthew Harvey recounts a fantasy story comparative to Lord of the Rings – starring a group of adventurers that includes warriors, a sorceress, and a dwarf battling together against orcs to save a city and its people. Silver Horn by Ricardo Victoria is the funny tale of Froag, an orphan boy sent on a journey to carry the Silver Horn to That Place in the Humbagoos rainforest. Froag is an unlikely hero, and the story finds him travelling with a troll, fighting a warlock and zombies together to complete Froag’s mission. The final story, A Taste for Battle by Stephen M. Hunt, tells the adventures of Weasel and Rasten, two men who fight a band of Reavers (this one I recommend for fans of the cult sci-fi/fantasy TV series Firefly). All these tales were unique in their quirkiness, unexpected endings, strong sense of characters and ability to tell exciting stories of adventure and friendship. This collection is a treat for any fantasy fan to read.
Get this short story collection here: Tales from the Tavern
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a charming story about small town American life and the impact stories have on the people living there — it’s a story about stories. Set in the town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, the novel begins with Sara, a young woman from Sweden, travelling to spend a summer vacationing with her American pen-pal Amy. When Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, she finds out that Amy is dead and the town is in dis-repair, struggling to survive. Determined to stay, Sara opens up a bookshop – at first with little intentions other than a way to pass the time and pay back her “debts” she felt owed to Broken Wheel’s citizens. Instead, the bookshop becomes a place where the people of the little town can heal, begin to re-build and create their own new stories together. Though the book felt slow at its start, after Sara opens her bookshop the characters and their relationships became more engaging. A lighter read with plenty of heart, the literary references in the novel will appeal to many readers across genres. It’s the kind of book that will make you want to visit a bookshop, have a cup of coffee and stay a while – lingering over both the books and conversation among the people that you find there.
Get the book here: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Love & Other Things, a collection of lyrics and poetry, has a steady rhythm throughout, mixing one writer’s life experiences with his sense of musicality. Readers will have a sense of flowing from one rhyming phrase to the next as in the continuous looping of a song: “Something like diamonds in the dark, your beauty is resilient-To the Gods up high, your spirit is brilliant” (from About Her). The first section of the book, Love, is where Tavon’s writing shines, particularly in his song lyrics. My favorite in the collection was the song Angel – “He’s humble to speak-Of the dream of he and she-He can’t believe-He can fly without her wings-The wind is her voice-And he loves to hear her sings-The joy that she’s rings.” There is a beauty to both the sound Tavon has created and the way he has fashioned the lyrics visually on the page – many poems being concrete or acrostic in nature.
The second half of the book, Other Things, deals with heavier themes: heartbreak, death, pain and loss, racism. Perhaps it is because they were harder to read that they should be read even closer, because with love must indeed come other things too. Tavon ends the collection with the biggest questions in life: “Why am I here-What’s my purpose”, and will cause readers to close the collection with the realization that, “Life is fragile, time is sensitive-And often unappreciated” (from Life is Precious). I appreciated the experience of reading this collection, and hope that Tavon records his lyrics so that readers can not only see his poems, but also hear them sung out loud.
You can get the poetry collection here: Love and Other Things
Star Sand, told mostly in the voice of a teenage Japanese American girl, Umeno Hiromi, and is set on the island of Hatoma, Japan in 1945. It is the story of her survival through war and an unlikely friendship between two men – a Japanese army deserter and an American infantryman. Pulvers spends lots of time describing Hiromi’s daily life, with detailed descriptions of the island and fishing, developing the plot slowly. Of particular significance and intrigue is Hiromi’s collection of star sand, for which the novel is named. The twist ending, which involves a time and voice (POV) shift, seems rushed — but despite this the novel comes full circle to an end that is both satisfying and hopeful.
*Originally written in Japanese, this review is based on the English language Kindle edition.
You can purchase the book here: Star Sand
Jennifer Fay’s Poetry is a collection of free verse that focuses on the everyday life of a writer. The poems read like a conversation about the people and details of her life: her children, her home, her cat, knitting, an ending relationship. She spends a lot of time musing on what love and romance are, and examines writing, poetry and words. I appreciated her poems that focused on the beauty and simplicity of nature, (ex: “Purple Crocus”) and contained strong imagery & a comforting love (ex: “Love Glides”, “Inspiration”, “Intuition’). Readers will enjoy a birds-eye view into the details of one writer’s life through her poetry.
You can purchase the Kindle edition here: Poetry by Jennifer Fay
Set in 19th century Britain, The Governess’s setting, characters (especially that of protagonist Jane Adams) and the circumstances surrounding them are reminiscent of literary classic Jane Eyre. Noorilhuda’s Jane, upon receiving appointment as a governess, has the challenge of overcoming her meager station in life as well as a past that may affect her future social standing. She is also plagued by “The Voice” in her own head, which often berates her and reminds her of her past, troubled relationship with her father. Employed by Lady Cavendish, Jane sets out to accomplish this task, along the way thrown in the midst of mystery, more family troubles, and romance. This story will likely appeal to fans of other historical fiction novels, particularly those that enjoy a romantic end.
Get the Kindle edition here: The Governess
Felicity: A Sparrow’s Tale is the charming story of a sparrow who goes on a thrilling adventure after a fairy who needs help shows up at her doorstep. Felicity, a bird who spends most of her time at home curled in her nest reading, is an unlikely hero. She must test her bravery against bigger creatures and unfamiliar territory, and her intellect to solve riddles, in order to help her fairy friend. I couldn’t help but smile at the image of a bird surrounded by books, reading Peter Rabbit and solving riddles like Alice. Any parent who has enjoyed reading these classic stories will enjoy sharing Felicity with their own children. It is a story that celebrates nature, friendship and kindness, for it is Felicity’s spirit, heart and selflessness that makes her special. Appropriate for middle-grade readers to read on their own or for parents to read to younger children, Felicity is a delightful tale.
Get the Kindle Edition here: Felicity: A Sparrow’s Tale
As the subtitle states, this book features short stories juxtaposed with short poems – and interestingly, typographical art, on the subject of writing. The book begins with a short story that reads like a one-sided conversation from a forgotten character to his writer. The experience of feeling a character, knowing a character and making memories with him is explored throughout the book. There are musings on writers block, the blank page (ex: “White Space”) – and a letter that speaks directly to writer’s block (ex: “With Love”). Poignant lines include “the heart never stops writing” and descriptions of writer’s block as “severing the connection between heart and fingers” (quoted from “Blank”). I laughed along with the story “Figuratively Dead,” which describes an author’s experience with trying to write a novel in a month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo). The work of revising is explored in “Pushing the Glass”, where Ashford sagely says: “Sometimes creating beautiful art requires making a mess.” Perhaps that is just what Ashford is doing with this book – writing down the bones of a short story or a poem, getting over his fear of sharing it with us and throwing away the need for perfection. In doing so, he has crafted a book that will no doubt speak to the hearts of writers, gaining him new readers in the process.
Get the Kindle edition here: When the Ink Runs Dry
Karin Cox’s Growth is a contemporary, eclectic collection of 30 poems that range in theme from scenes of everyday life, work, and England to Italian market shopping, childhood and memories of lovers. Cox is able to paint colourful images using descriptive language and plays on sound. Her short, powerful stanzas on nature and remembered love were among the most poignant: “Adriatic” and “Summer Picnic” were among my favorites of the collection. The sensuality in “Carnivorous” also made it a standout. The poem that will speak most directly to the experience readers will have with Cox’s writing, and worth quoting, is this one:
You read my tale, your eyes relate
to heaven’s hand of hieroglyphic stars.
Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light we Cannot See is a novel rich with history and science, but written with the poetic language and style of a prose poem. Set in World War 2 Europe, It is the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl growing up in Paris with her father, the chief locksmith at the Paris Natural Museum of Science — and Werner, an orphan boy in Germany whose future looks bleak until his ability to fix radios and build engines changes his fate. Doerr weaves their two stories separately in short but powerful chapters, painting delicately intricate pictures of their very different lives. Eventually, Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories collide, creating a new one that is made up of both light and dark, love and sadness. The themes of light and dark — what they create, represent, and may or may not be are present throughout the novel, startling readers into opening their brains and hearts as they widen their eyes. A beautiful, haunting and deeply moving novel, it holds you transfixed to the page and will keep your eyes open through the dark night until the sun rises.