BOOK REVIEW: Grayling’s Song, by Karen Cushman

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Grayling’s Song, by Karen CushmanTitle: Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman
Published by Clarion Books
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

It's time for Grayling to be a hero. Her mother, a wise woman has been turned into a tree by evil forces. Tangles and toadstools! Lacking confidence after years of being called "Feeble Wits" by her mother, Grayling heads off dubiously into the world in search of help, where she finds a weather witch, an aromatic enchantress, a cheese soothsayer, a slyly foolish apprentice, and a shape-shifting mouse named Pook! A fast-paced and funny coming-of-age odyssey from a Newbery medalist.

Grayling’s Song is a cute, light fantasy novel for middle grade readers. It reads like something you’d find in the children’s section years ago. The language is a little stiff sometimes and sounds old-fashioned, but I think it adds to the world Cushman creates. This book might not appeal to all readers because younger ones might not like or understand the phrasing and sentence structure, but it will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy. It’s a great introduction to that high fantasy as it has a wide range of odd characters with magic and strange personalities.

Grayling doesn’t have very high self-esteem thanks to her mother constantly calling her “Feeble Wits.” When she goes on a quest to find her mother’s grimoire to free her from the curse of turning into a tree, Grayling doesn’t have much confidence in herself at all. As her journey progresses, she worries about being in charge, making mistakes, and taking responsibility for her actions and the fates of others because of her actions. As the days pass and she faces more and more of her fears, Grayling becomes stronger, both physically and emotionally.

This is a spoiler free review, so I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s clear by the end that this a story of learning to value your own strengths, learning to value the people with whom you surround yourself, and learning to accept when it is time to move on with your life, away from your parents and away from the people with whom you’ve grown, and embark on your own adventure.

I loved the cast of characters, especially Pook, the shapeshifting mouse. There is a lot of humor in this book that will appeal to younger readers, and there is a lot of insight into what a young person faces when growing up and leaving the nest. I also learned that cheese divination is called tyromancy!

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra BrackenTitle: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Published: January 5th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 486
Format: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Netgalley, Library
Goodreads

Passage, n.i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.ii. A journey by water; a voyage.iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever.

We protect ourselves by playing the roles fit for the year we’re in.

Let’s just get this out of the way: I love time travel novels. I’m a huge sucker for them, and I always have been. Had this been released when about ten or fifteen years ago when I was at the age to which this is marketed (god, I’M SO OLD), I would have been all over this and would have given it a thousand and one stars. It still gets a solid rating from me, which comes as a positive thing after reading so many disappointing novels lately.

Etta, on the night of her big violin performance, is transported back in time onto a ship captained by Nicholas, a black pirate of sorts. Obviously there’s a romance brewing between the two, and even though it felt a little forced sometimes, I’m hoping it develops more in the next novel. It wasn’t necessarily an instant romance sort of thing, but the relationship seemed to progress quickly over a span of pages (even if those pages spanned several days). The romance progression felt typical for a YA novel, and that’s completely all right by me!

What I enjoyed most was the commentary on society then and now. Sophia, the other female time traveler whose original time is in the 1920s, says this really amazing thing to Etta about a hundred pages in:

So cling to your rights, your beliefs, your future – but know that none of them will help you here. You haven’t been forced to survive in the same way as the centuries of women who came before you. You know nothing of the impossibly small weapons we must use to carve out knowledge and power.

If I had read that ages ago, I think I would have shifted my thinking much earlier than it did, so I’m really pleased that Bracken is bringing to light the difficulties women have been facing for centuries to a young, modern audience. Not that her audience isn’t aware of it, but I’ve noticed lately in the classes I teach that some of the young women believe that they’ve always had the rights and advantages they have now, and I have to explain to them that within the last thirty or forty years we’ve progressed so much and that we still have so much to work for.

This is a super enjoyable romance-y time travel (with some logic!) novel that’s sure to appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, and Marissa Meyer.

I received a copy from Netgalley for my honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: After Alice, by Gregory MaguireTitle: After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Published by William Morrow
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Retellings
Pages: 288
Format: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Edelweiss, Library
Goodreads

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis's Carroll's beloved classic. When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice's disappearance?

In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings — and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll's enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice's mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late — and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself. Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Euridyce can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice.

Our private lives are like a colony of worlds expanding, contracting, breathing universal air into separate knowledges. Or like several packs of cards shuffled together by an expert anonymous hand, and dealt out in a random, amused or even hostile way.

In his previous retellings of famous fairy tales and stories, Gregory Maguire has a tell-tale style that draws you in, hooks you, and doesn’t let you go until he’s finished telling his story. I found After Alice to be lacking this particularly in Ada’s story. I think had it been more focused on Lydia’s becoming the woman of the house and the struggles she finds with that at the tender age of fifteen, or of Siam’s story as a former slave from Georgia, or of Darwin’s particular visit to the house that day I would have liked it more, but Ada’s part of the story (which should have been the most interesting) fell flat. I did particularly like Maguire’s take on the Jabberwocky, the bits and people about Oxford that were to come (which bordered on metafiction), and there were some lines that resonated with me. Otherwise, I felt that this was a draft of some kind with no real cohesion.

Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy!