Fantastical!

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.

—Stacey

Get your Daily Prophet here!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened in Universal Studios Orlando!! It looks like it an amazing experience for fans of the books (which would seem to include a great proportion of the world’s population). An interesting note is that althougth there are no doubt numerous opportunities to shop in the park, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods is the only place to buy Rowling’s books. Fun, no?

I need to start planning my trip to Florida – do you think the Floo Network operates between Cleveland and Orlando?

— Julie

Outta This World

You know what’s fun? Books full of fantastic beings and imaginative storylines. Fantasy books can be a total release from our everday world or they can be giving us a new viewpoint on what we see out our window, like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury or Animal Farmby George Orwell. We had a fairly wide range of books and this is what my friends are saying about their books:

Rosemary:
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick is the first book in a new fantasy series. Pazel, a 15-year-old boy left homeless by war, and Thasha, a rebellious bride-to-be in an arranged marriage, are fellow travelers on the Chathrand, a legendary 600-year-old ship. There are other less innocent passengers on board as well. Pazel and Thasha will find themselves challenged by an evil mage and violent conspirators before their journey’s end.

Evelyn:
Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk
Allie Beckstrom hunts down people who hurt others by using magic. Unfortunately, every time Allie, herself, uses magic, she loses little bits of her memory. When Allie is called to track a magic user, she tracks the bad magic to her father. Then, her father is murdered, and Allie becomes the main suspect. On the run from the police, Allie needs to clear her name and find her father’s murderer.

Carol:
For our fantasy meeting, I read Dragonlance Chronicles, Volume 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

This is the very first of the Dragonlance novels, a series based on a Dungeons & Dragons game session. This one begins with the return of a group of six friends consisting of Tanis Half-Elven (a half-elf), Sturm Brightblade (a knight of an ancient order), Caramon (a warrior), Raistlin (Caramon’s twin who is a powerful magician), Flint Fireforge (a dwarf), and the pixie-like Tasselhoff Burrfoot (a kender). They reunite in their world, called Krynn, amidst rumors of war and growing evil. It’s not until they meet a beautiful barbarian princess, the plainswoman Goldmoon and her protector Riverwind, and see that the two carry a legendary, magical healing Blue Crystal Staff, that the group realizes that they have been chosen to assist these plainspeople take their staff to fight against an evil goddess who has amassed an army of evil-doing goblins. Their great adventure begins and the group travels many treacherous roads and are assisted by magical creatures along the way, including unicorns, Pegasus (flying horses), & dragons. They also face great dangers that will either destroy them or forge them into the greatest heroes that the world of Krynn has ever known. This traditional epic fantasy novel includes many battle scenes but is not just swords and dragons. Instead, this novel is filled with a bit of everything: mystery, suspense, thrills, romance, & poetry & there’s quite a lot to like here. And, as the beginning of a series of over 80 books, a fan could find she spending time in the imaginary world of Krynn for the foreseeable future.

Janet:
The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce.
Set in Coventry, England, just after World War II, matriarch Martha Vine oversees the lives of her 7 grown daughters. Like Martha, the youngest daughter, Cassie, has inherited some of her mother’s otherworldly gifts such as being able to talk and listen to ghosts. When Cassie has a baby boy, the result of a wartime tryst with an American GI, the family decides to raise the boy because Cassie is considered unstable. Her young son, Frank Vine, lives with his aunts and uncles, who are all eccentric in their own way. By the age of ten it is clear that Frank also has the “gift”. This rich family saga ends on a happy note for one and all.

Ann:
The Wild Road by Gabriele King
The story of Tag, a cat who’s been chosen by the mystical one-eyed cat Majicou to be the one to find the King and Queen of cats and lead them to Tintagel before the summer equinox (all the while avoiding some evil humans the complexities of the world). Tag learns from Majicou the mysteries of the “wild road,” a magical highway known only to animals as a way to travel through time and space. Reviews compare the appeal to Tolkien’s works in the good vs. evil fight and also find this a suitable title for teens.

Stacey:
The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
This is the second book in a proposed trilogy and happily it’s as engaging as The Summoning. Chloe’s just learning to deal with the supernatural power she didn’t even know she had, while trying to escape becoming an “experiment” for The Edison Group. Derek, Simon, Rae and Tori are the other supernaturally gifted teens who are on the run with Chloe and the question quickly becomes who to trust, in their group and in the outside world.

Emma:
Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace
As a traveling salesman, Edward Bloom wasn’t home much during the growing up years of son William, and now Edward is on his death bed. William wants to know who his father really is before it is too late. He wants to hear the true stories behind the tall tales, but it doesn’t happen. William reconstructs his father’s life through a series of stories, and in doing so finds a way to say goodbye.

Dori:
The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, is the first of a teen fantasy trilogy. Set in contemporary Ohio, the story revolves around Jackson Swift, a young man whose only difference is a scar on his chest and his required daily dose of medicine. When his aunt takes him on a trip to explore their family’s geneaology, he discovers a magical sword that only he can use because he is actually a warrior who is part of the Weir people, a magical family going back hundreds of years.

Good stuff, right? Next up is Adventure… are you man or woman enough to join us on this one? You’ll be looking for a book with a fast-moving plot, an exotic setting, and a larger-than-life hero. What do you think, are you ready for the ride?

— Stacey