After setting out on our own magical, mythical journeys, yesterday the book discussion group was reunited in the safety of the Community Room and we shared the information we had gathered from reading fantasy stories… Yes, that’s right. We read fantasy books featuring magic or myth, with plots emphasizing journeys of mind or body, and stress the virtues of courage, sacrifice and kindness. Fantasy books can be set in this world, with understandable and magical differences, or they may take place in a fully created, imaginary world, but they will always be aimed at a reader’s heart, not their head. Are you ready to take a journey of your own? Maybe you’d like to start with one of these titles:
Julie: Ysabel is a Guy Gavriel Kay novel from 2007 and the first one I’ve enjoyed as much as his Fionavar Tapestry series. Ned Marriner is on a trip with his father in France when very unusual things start happening. When things go from strange to worse, writing essays for school quickly becomes the least of his worries. The author blends coming of age, myth and history into an enjoyable read.
Chris: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak tells the story of Max, a little boy who after behaving badly is called a “wild thing” by his mother and sent to his room without dinner. Rather than continuing his naughtiness, he lets his imagination take over and fantasizes taking a boat trip to the land of wild things. When he arrives, he takes control of the wild things; they like him well enough to make him their king. After awhile he starts feeling lonely, returns home, and is welcomed by the smell of dinner. Max knows he is loved. Written in 1963, the book is a Caldecott Medal Winner and beautifully illustrated by the author. A children’s classic and ageless in appeal.
Janet: Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks is the story of the United States five- hundred-years after a devastating war. The book focuses on the people whose ancestors established a new community in a valley. The borders of the valley have been protected all these years by powerful magic. In this first of a two book set the magic mysteriously disappears which endangers the residents of the valley as well as nearby elves and mutants. Led by the Bearer of the Black Staff, leaders of the threatened communities race to prepare a defense when they learn that a large troll army wants to take the valley for themselves.
Carol: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien is considered a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. In this story, a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, is asked/volunteered by Gandalf the Wizard to accompany a group of 12 dwarves, along with their leader Thorin, to reclaim the dwarves’ treasure. Along the way, the group is met with adventure and danger in the form of goblins (Orcs), trolls, and giant spiders. Upon finally getting to the Lonely Mountain, they must defeat the mighty dragon Smaug who guards the treasure. I (re)read an especially beautiful edition, illustrated by Michael Hague, in honor of the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s film version of The Hobbit.
Evelyn: In Dying Bites: Book One of The Bloodhound Files, the debut fantasy-thriller by D.D. Barant, FBI profiler Jace is pulled into an alternate reality universe by a vampire working for the NSA. In this world, populated by vampires, lycanthropes (aka werewolves) and demons, Jace is part of the one percent human minority. Her skills are needed though, because there is a serial killer who is actually able to make vampires and werewolves stay dead–an he’s a human, too! I really wanted to like this book, and the story line isn’t bad. I think it was just the many abbreviations the author used, like pires for vampires, thropes for lycanthropes, and vics for victims that prevented this from being a great read for me.
Emma: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray begins in India on Gemma’s 16th birthday in 1895 when she witnesses her mother’s death. Gemma is sent to the Spence School, a finishing school in London, where she begins to understand the joys and dangers in her visions and in her ability to go back and forth to another realm. Gemma and three classmates share an old diary where they learn of an Order of sorceresses and join in the adventures back and forth. The first entry in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy is full of action with hints of things to come.
Megan: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan is the first of eleven books in the Rangers Apprentice series. Orphaned as an infant, Will is a ward on the Baron’s estate. At the age of fifteen he and the other wards are presented to the fief’s crafts masters to be selected as apprentices. It has been Will’s dream to be selected for the Battleschool where he can train to be a knight like his father. Unfortunately he is not chosen by the battle master because of his small stature. Instead, the mysterious and elusive Halt of the Rangers chooses Will to be his apprentice. Will’s months of training comes in handy when the king’s sworn enemy unleashes two deadly creatures sent to destroy the Rangers and start a war. This first book sets the stage for what is sure to be a fantasy adventure of epic proportion.
Ann: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is an inventive and light-hearted follow up to American Gods. Fat Charlie Nancy leads a hum-drum life in London, but when he travels to Florida for his father’s funeral he learns that he has a brother he’s never known about. After he returns to London and meets his brother Spider, Charlie’s life changes in a big way. A comical fantasy about brothers, relationships, and finding your way.
Rosemary: Stork is a compelling and very entertaining teen fantasy by first-time novelist Wendy Delsol. Katla moves from LA to Norse Falls, Minnesota after her parents’ divorce. She encounters mean girls and not so nice boys at her new high school. There is one young man, Jack, to whom she is unusually attracted. Katla finds out that she is a member of the Stork Society, an ancient order of women who determine which woman will give birth to a certain baby. Once she is part of the Storks, many uncanny events begin to occur, some are exciting and some are dangerous. Through it all, Katla comes across as a very real sixteen year old, which makes her all the more appealing to readers.
Dori: The Act of Will by A.J. Hartley is a historical fantasy set in a world resembling Elizabethan England. Growing up in the theater, feisty and funny 18-year-old orphan Will Hawthorne prides himself on surviving by his wits and storytelling skills. When authorities raid the theater, he narrowly escapes and falls in with a band of heroic rebels who take him on a quest to a distant city. With the aid of magical weapons, they must fight a mysterious group of red cloaked men who have been on a pillaging and murdering spree. Will Will decide that honor and loyalty trump survival? Fast-paced and with a sequel to boot, this is a clever, page-turning adventure.
Stacey: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan is the start of a new series -and also a sequel to the Percy Jackson adventures with cross-over characters and settings. This time around the stories are focused on Jason, a boy who wakes up on a school bus with no memory of who he is but what his friends are telling him about his past doesn’t sound quite right. When it’s discovered that Jason is actually from the Roman version of Camp Half-Blood, all the dangerous situations are raised to epic-level proportions. If readers are ready for more adventure, plus a chance to learn about Roman mythology, this is a book for you!
Our next journey will not have one mythical beast or an epic quest full of magic! How do I know that? Well, we’ll be reading narrative nonfiction, or books about real people, places, and events in an easy to read prose style.