Category Archives: Fantasy/Paranormal

12) The Girl Who Drank the Moon

By: Kelly Barnhill

Date Finished: 03.17.17

15. The Girl Who Drank the Moon

A story can tell the truth, she knew, but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed.

This is, perhaps, the greatest love story I’ve ever read.

There is hardly any romance — what little there is happens mostly offstage — but love oozes from every page like a bog. (That may seem like an odd simile; I will make you read the book to find out why it’s perfect.)

This is a story about family. About the family you choose and the family you don’t. About the family you desperately want but they’re lost to you. About the family you think you can’t have until all at once you can.

This is the story of a compassionate witch, an inquisitive boy, a quixotic dragon, a poetic swamp monster, a grieving madwoman, and, of course, an enmagicked girl who drank deeply from the boundless well of moonlight.

This is the story of hope and resilience which are bound together like the two sides of a coin. This is the story of the full range of human emotions especially the burden of sorrow. This is the story of the consequences of disengaging and the strength of community. This is the story of stories and memory and the way time re-sculpts both. This is the story of power that destroys and power that heals and controlling power and the power of control. This is the story of magic – the kind that exists only in fantasies and the kind that is accessible in the real world.

This story broke my heart, not for a lack of love but for an abundance of it. Thankfully, “there is no limit to what the heart can carry” and so I know the cracks will mend.

Apparently, this is also a story that inspires creativity. My sister and I read this at about the same time, and she made this masterpiece:

15. Lizaleegrace

The paper birds are an important symbol/feature in the book and each of these represent a specific character. As for the moss, well, I did say there was a reason for the bog simile. Check out @lizareadsbooks on Instagram for more.

My sister’s project inspired me to do one of my own. The idea planted itself in my head and I couldn’t rest until I went on a late-night run to Home Depot and made this guy:

15. Me

I’m quite fond of my little crow but I will make you read the book to understand the quotes.

It feels a bit unnecessary at this point to do an “end of the day” conclusion because I think my feelings are pretty obvious but it’s tradition so…

At the end of the day: Completely for me

10) A Conjuring of Light

By: V. E. Schwab

Date Finished: 03.09.17

13. A Conjuring of Light

A myth without a voice is like a dandelion without a breath of wind. No way to spread the seeds.

NOTE: Since I’m going to discuss the whole series, I will use the following abbreviations for the titles
A Darker Shade of Magic = ADSOM
A Gathering of Shadows = AGOS
A Conjuring of Light = ACOL

ACOL is the final book of the Shades of London series by V. E. Schwab (not to be confused with the Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson which is also amazing). And what a satisfying ending it was. Schwab has so much respect for her readers, and while she is unapologetic about doing what’s best for the story, she doesn’t break your heart without a reason. Granted, I might have said something very different a year ago when I finished AGOS. To say that book ended abruptly is to say Antarctica is a bit on the cold side.

ACOL picks up immediately after the mania that concludes AGOS and it’s frantic until the first episode ends and at least one thing has been resolved. It’s gentler from there – in comparison – as it becomes the story of a group of messy, complicated people trying to solve an impossible and potentially world-ending problem. As you do. There are some rough seas within the book but it was not as gutting as I expected.

This series is fantasy at its best. The rules of magic are clear and the costs are high. The worldbuilding is thorough and well-articulated. By the end of ACOL you know the people, the customs, the mythology, and even bits of the language for each of the Londons (there are four total — Gray London is ours and Black London is inhabitable). It’s enough that you could navigate Red London reasonably well as a tourist. You could navigate White London, too, if you’ve had extensive self-defense training.

Just like the Londons, the characters and their relationships are rich and dynamic and deeply flawed. Every one of the main characters is heroic. Every one of the main characters is heroic in a different, very unconventional way. Every one of the main characters is plagued by demons that they don’t always defeat. ADSOM and AGOS are largely about forming friendships and strengthening loyalties. ACOL forces the cast to form alliances with the people they’d much rather murder. It also forces the reader to weep for the last person they expected to care about (or that could just be me).

I’m prone to mix up the titles of the first two books (A Darker Shade of Magic indicates that there was something less dark before) but the sequence is meaningful. Even though it throws me off, “darker” tells you exactly what to expect from the magic of this world — there’s nothing cute or charming about it. A Gathering of Shadows is a set up for the last book, yes, but it also pushes all the characters to the edge of their strength and their faith. It’s hard to see any hope at the end which is why it’s so significant that the last book is A Conjuring of Light. You know where it’s headed. You know how they’ll battle the darkness. But there is no indication that it will be easy. Schwab is the perfect guide — adept at plunging you into the deepest darkness and then leading you through to the light.

In a case of fortuitous timing, my sister posted her reactions to the series on Instagram tonight — @lizaleegrace, or, more bookishly, @lizareadsbooks. And so, with her permission, today I leave you with my sister’s thoughts.

13. Conjuring Rachel

At the end of the day: Totally for me

06 & 07) Mind Games & Perfect Lies

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 02.06.17


The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him. This, of course, ruins my entire day. -Mind Games

How many lies can a brain tell itself before they become truths? -Perfect Lies

God bless the depravity of Kiersten White’s brain.

These books are BRUTAL but also completely brilliant. Fia has perfect instincts and her sister, Annie, is physically blind but can see the future. The sisters are brought to a school that trains girls with superpowers like theirs and then exploits the ones who excel.

Both books are fast-paced, action-packed, what-the-what?!-inducing, and also deeply heartfelt. The bond between the sisters is powerful and beautiful and pushed past the breaking point. Annie and Fia have vastly different ways of seeing the world (not just on the physical level) and yet their protectiveness of each other is absolutely compelling. They are the centerpiece of this tornado of a story in a way that makes you feel what’s happening more intently.

The writing style is very much an extension of the character. Each chapter is told from either Fia’s or Annie’s perspective, and the voices couldn’t be more different. Every word and punctuation echoes their mental state in ways that are super cool — but I won’t share details because, spoilers! The unusual sentence structure is part of the puzzle and it was so gratifying to solve it.

I have a tendency to become deeply invested in books I like and I may yell out loud once or twice if something big happens. Never has one complete book made me scream as much as the last twelve pages of Perfect Lies alone. I. Was. Living. It.

At the end of the day: FOR ME!!

5) Liar

By: Justine Larbalestier

Date Finished: 01.26.17

by Justine Larbalestier

Full disclosure: I listened to the audio book of this one and it may have altered my perception of the story. The performer did a great job but it was a difficult story to track. For one thing, it’s first person and I had a hard time distinguishing dialogue from inner monologue. For another, it frequently jumps in time. Each chapter is marked by “Before,” “After,” or “History of _______.” There were generally enough context clues to point to where it fell in the timeline but I did get lost on occasion.

The biggest struggle was keeping up with the unreliable narrator. It’s not a complaint exactly — the book is called Liar for goodness sake so there’s no use pretending that the main character is trustworthy. Still, it’s hard to keep up when you can’t flip back through the pages to see exactly what she said the first time. That’s where listening the audio book did me a disservice.

That being said, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this book even in print. I found it excessively repetitive. I suspect that I would have skimmed or skipped over large chunks if I had the option. Also, I never quite liked the main character enough to worry about her or cheer for her. I nearly abandoned ship a couple of times but that is where the audio book was actually helpful; I didn’t have to expend any extra time or effort to see it through to the end.

At the end of the day: Not for me

(Oh, I never summarized the story. Here goes: Micah is a liar partially because she’s hiding a big family secret and partially because she likes seeing how long she can get away with it. When her boyfriend turns up dead, lots of people think she killed him. Her lies start to get her into real trouble so she swears to start telling only the truth…and doesn’t succeed.)

03) The Cure for Dreaming

By: Cat Winters

Date Finished: 01.12.17

by Cat Winters

As I walked into my local bookstore to buy a calendar and absolutely nothing else, my eye drifted to a towering bookcase I had never before seen. It was pressed against the front window and flanked one side of the only entrance, and yet it was a surprise to me. My feet immediately abandoned their mission to investigate. This mysterious case housed shelf after shelf of used YA books. Some titles were familiar and/or interesting but this one hooked me. I left with a shiny copy of this novel and no calendar.

Take a look at that cover again, friends; savor that title. How could I resist?

I didn’t buy it entirely on impulse; I read about half of the first chapter and a few random paragraphs in the middle to make sure it was more than just a pretty face. The writing isn’t terribly complex but it is readable. The plot seemed interesting enough to make up for any lackluster writing, and it was…almost.

The book is set in Oregon and centers around the suffragist movement. Olivia is just independent enough to horrify her traditional father. He hires a hypnotist to cure Olivia of her wayward thoughts which results in her seeing the world as it really is — controlling men become monsters while compliant women fade into transparency. The book is unapologetically feminist which works within the setting. What doesn’t work so well are the characters.

Even our girl Olivia — the feisty, irrepressible heroine! — falls a little flat. Winters did provide a varied cast of minor characters; together they make a good ensemble but their personal quirks come across as inconsistent rather than complex. One of the big draws of the book was the concept of Olivia seeing people’s true selves in a physical way. However, this only worsened the problem, reducing everyone to a melodramatic caricature. It also made Olivia look stupid for needing supernatural intervention to realize certain people are shady.

And yet… I’ve seen worse. MUCH worse. The book held my interest enough that I finished it in just a few sittings and would consistently read past the “one more chapter” mark. The plot takes a few tangents but overall it was pretty tidy. Despite the stock characters, you do like who you’re supposed to like and dislike who you’re supposed to dislike. Even if you question Olivia’s choices, you always want her to succeed. And while the writing won’t knock you head-over-heels, it is respectable.

This is the kind of book that will ring the doorbell rather than honk from the end of the driveway, and the conversation will be pleasant enough. You won’t think the evening was a waste but there probably won’t be a second date.

At the end of the day: Sure, yeah, okay

4) The Shadow Cabinet

Book Three of The Shades of London

By: Maureen Johnson

Date Finished: 02.22.15

by Maureen Johnson

 Busted by a girl and her trusty bicycle. Well played, MI-5.

Rory’s world is crumbling fast, and the only protection she has is in lying low. She is whisked away to a safe house and allowed no contact with her family and friends who think she’s a missing person. But Rory isn’t the sort to sit still for, well, any length of time when people she cares about are in danger. She will take on secret societies, death cults, and covert government agencies to get back the people she’s lost.

My love for this series has been proclaimed twice on this blog and does not falter with this latest installment. The Name of the Star remains my favorite while The Madness Underneath is a fascinating look at the aftermath of a trauma… all leading to even greater trauma in The Shadow Cabinet. This one is by far the grittiest of the three, but doesn’t neglect Rory’s Southern sass (or the wonderfully entertaining tales of her crazy Louisiana relatives). Which is important. The book is well-balanced with new characters to fall in love with or to fear, old characters to have feelings about on a deeper level, and another blasted cliffhanger. Something big is coming. And I hate waiting.

But ultimately, I prefer to have these books in my life than wait for the complete set. This way I get to remember the many great moments as I wallow in impatience.

This series is brilliant. All three books are masterpieces of pace, wit, danger, and surprises. They’ve made me scream at the printed page, laugh out loud (in embarrassingly public places), and cry. And I am devastated that I can’t have it all right now. I would totally read an 800 page Shadow Cabinet if it wrapped everything up.

If you start this series (and you really should), let me draw your attention to an additional Shades of London story called The Boy in the Smoke which gives an account of how Stephen gained his ability and started working in London. Stephen is one of my Favorite Fictional Dudes of All Time, and The Boy in the Smoke is a beautiful read. I suggest reading it either before or after The Madness Underneath (it would spoil part of The Name of the Star and part of The Shadow Cabinet wouldn’t make as much sense without it). It’s available for free here.

P.S. I pre-ordered this book, so it came with these awesome stickers. All of which apply.

Shadow Cabinet stickers

At the end of the day: Really, really for me

1) House of Ivy and Sorrow

By: Natalie Whipple

Date Finished: 01.13.15

by Natalie Whipple

Josephine Hemlock lost her mother when she was young to a curse that had followed their family for generations. Several witching families suffered from the same threat, but with her mother’s death, Josephine and her Nana are all that remains of the Hemlock bloodline. They live a pretty quiet and normal existence, all things considered, until a man shows up at their door — a door that he shouldn’t even be able to find. Although he means them no harm, he carries with him the darkness that they have been running from for decades. It’s the end of the line for Josephine: either fight or succumb to the curse. There’s nowhere left to run.

This was my first Natalie Whipple book, and even though it technically falls in my preferred genre, it’s a slightly different flavor of YA fantasy than I’m used to. The witches in this world are your traditional Halloween fare — potion-brewing, black-cat-owning, and loudly-cackling. But their type of magic doesn’t come cheaply. The bigger the magic, the bigger the cost (the more serious the magic, the more seriously disgusting the cost — like, cover-your-eyes-so-you-can’t-see-what’s-happening-but-it-doesn’t-work-because-it’s-a-book-and-not-TV-cost). (Okay, so yes, one of the scenes included a personal horror, and yes, it was completely scarring, but I liked the rest of the book. And it only made me squirm because it was so realistic, so at least that’s good writing, right? Right?) The point is, this magic isn’t a simple superpower; this magic requires intelligence, precision, and personal sacrifice. I respect that.

It has a great mixture of characters, from Josephine who is a worthy leading lady and pretty great at thinking on her feet to her eccentric and protective Nana. Her friends are a great match, funny and passionate and every much as protective of Josephine as she is of them. The relationships feel very natural and they all play a role in the final showdown. It even had one of those characters that could be either a devious villain or a surly anti-hero. Granted, Josephine was pretty hard on him, so I saw more of the ambiguity than she did. I don’t blame her for thinking the worst of him though when he was remarkably gifted at being creepy and saying the exact wrong thing. Better safe than coughing up black blood.

There’s not a lot of glitz in the storytelling — it’s a book that knows what it wants to say, and just says it. I don’t mean that the writing is bland; on the contrary, the writing has momentum. Even in the quiet moments, the story is always going somewhere. It’s a promising start to a new year of reading, that’s for sure.

At the end of the day: For me

30) Illusions of Fate

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 12.27.14

by Kiersten White

“I saved my own life. You are simply keeping me company on this leg of my escape.”

Jessamin left her home in search of a better education. As a dark-skinned islander, Jessa is hated by her professors and her peers, but she overrides their derision with hard work. A chance encounter a young lord sends Jessa headlong into a dangerous world of politics and magic. She doesn’t have the resources compete on their level, but she has her wit and she’s never been one to resign herself to fate.

Can I just say this was the perfect book to wrap up the year? I read it in a single day because it was just so delectable. When I finished, I very nearly started it over. This is not a common impulse — I understood why my sister read Dangerous twice in a row and would have been happy to do so as well, but the feeling was much stronger with this one. Many of the early scenes will have a very different color on the next read, and I can hardly contain myself until I see just how significant those seemingly benign encounters are.

There is so much to love about the characters. Jessa is at every disadvantage — she’s a young woman, a despised foreigner, nearly impoverished, and cannot perform magic no matter how much she studies it — and yet she insists on holding her own against those far more powerful than her. Despite being fiercely independent, Jessa cares deeply about her friends and will do anything to protect them. She is complex, delightful, and definitely someone you want to root for. The wealthy Finn certainly redeems the corruption within the upper classes with his pure goodness. He has his moments of arrogance (although many of these are good intentions misinterpreted by our dear narrator, Jessa) but he unequivocally uses his power for good and not evil. He’s smart, kind, awkward, and a little bit cheeky. So basically, he complements Jessa perfectly.

And then there’s Eleanor. Truly, she is one of the most enjoyable characters to grace the printed page. She’s a shameless gossip, apparent airhead, and absolute mastermind. I liked her instantly (I briefly worried that she would play just a passing role in the story; White did not disappoint, thankfully) but even I didn’t realize how brilliant she was until late in the book. Every sentence pertaining to Eleanor made me love her more. Now for the bad guy: he is utterly vicious. White doesn’t shy away from putting her lead in mortal peril, and it pays off so well. The stakes are high from the beginning, and while Jessa’s victory is relatively simple, it is hard-earned.

Much of this book is reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle  — sometimes in very obvious ways — but White works her own magic using these familiar elements. While this story is distinct in many ways, like Howl’s Moving Castle I can recommend it as representative of my tastes. I can recommend it as nothing short of sheer brilliance. The only thing I don’t suggest is reading this book right before you visit a place heavily populated with ravens. Freaky.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me

28) The Hero and the Crown

By: Robin McKinley

Re-read Finished: 12.02.14

by Robin McKinley

She was wry and funny even when she could barely speak,
and loved best 
to find things to be enthusiastic about.

Aerin is the daughter of the king, yet she feels like an outsider in the land she loves. Her isolation is perpetuated by the rumor that her mother was a witchwoman from the land of demons, and Aerin’s own insufficiency in wielding the magic all royals possess. When Aerin discovers a recipe for a fire-repelling salve called kenet, she decides to take her future into her own hands by fighting dragons. This is not an honorable occupation for the daughter of a king — even a daughter of dubious origins — but with demon-induced trouble stirring, Aerin is exactly the hero her country needs.

I’ve mentioned this book several times, and now it finally gets a post of its own. This time through, I read it slowly and analytically, looking for just why I love it so much.

Here is my conclusion: this book is magic.

I can’t quite put it into words, but I do understand why it resonated with me when I first read it in eighth grade. I understand why it keeps drawing me back. I understand some of the ways it has influenced me, as a human and in my writing. And it has been very influential in ways both conscious and unconscious.

My devotion for this book is unwavering, but I struggle to put it into words. I’m reminded of a passage in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favorite of the Narnia series) where Lucy is sent to find a particular spell in the book of a feared magician. Among the many interesting things Lucy finds in the book, the most delightful is a story that quickly fades from her memory. Even though Lucy cannot remember the details of the story, she remembers the impression it made. The narrator concludes, “Ever since that day, what Lucy means by a good story is a story that reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.” The Hero and the Crown is what I would read in the Magician’s Book. It is, to me, the quintessential Robin McKinley with its non-traditional heroine, its exquisite language, and its captivating story. Aerin is the gold standard of leading ladies, and I must see something of Aerin in a female character if I am to support her (and I prefer to see something of Tor in the males). Everything I hope to see in a story — be it the most respected literary fiction or a baby’s board book — can be traced back to this book in some form.

26) Afterworlds

By: Scott Westerfeld

Date Finished: 10.7.14

by Scott Westerfeld

Darcy Patel is graduating high school with much more than a diploma — she has just signed the contract for her $300,000 two-book deal.  In lieu of attending college, Darcy decides to move to New York City and try to become a part of the writing scene.  There, she meets her heroes, falls in love, and generally ignores her budget all while editing (oftentimes procrastinating at editing) her novel.  The book she wrote tells the story of Lizzie, a young girl who survives a terrorist attack by crossing into an afterworld.  When Lizzie wakes up, she finds she has the ability to see ghosts in the real world and to cross between the two planes of existence.  For her, the afterworld is a magical place to explore and home to the most marvelous boy she’s ever met, but it also houses a dark man with an insatiable appetite.

Afterworlds — the one written by Scott Westerfeld, not Darcy Patel — tells both stories.  The odd numbered chapters explore Darcy’s journey of moving to New York and going through the publishing process while the even numbered chapters tell Lizzie’s story exactly as Darcy (via Westerfeld) wrote it.  Meta much?  What I have gathered from internet rumblings and my friends is that everyone develops a clear preference for either the Darcy chapters or the Lizzie chapters.  I’m Team Lizzie all the way.  Lizzie’s story would make a wicked cool book on its own, but I would have found a Darcy-only story a bit tedious.

To be fair, there are some great things in Darcy’s storyline.  I enjoyed reading about the publishing process in a narrative sense.  I suspect that reality is heightened in some situations, but I would bet that some of it is muted (weird things happen in the arts).  Westerfeld did a fine job of crafting those publishing-heavy vignettes into the arc of a young girl navigating a new lifestyle, her first romantic relationship, and figuring out how to relate with her family post-high school.  The problem is Darcy herself.  I’m comfortable with heroines who suffer doubts, have weaknesses, and maybe even make bad decisions, but Darcy’s insecurities should have been completely debilitating.  Her success feels like sheer dumb luck without much growth to capture my interest.  But, even though Darcy isn’t on the list of my favorite YA heroines, Westerfeld’s story design is impeccable.

Lizze is more my kind of protagonist.  She’s bold and independent and often dead wrong — everything you want in a YA lead.  This section is a paranormal romance (an acutal Barnes & Noble category for some reason) which means it’s a little sappy at times, but the fascinating paranormal elements more than make up for minor cheesiness.  This story has an interesting variation of ghost-lore, and the afterworlds are truly captivating.  There’s a sense that the book gives just a glimpse of what could exist in the afterworlds and the rest is an infinite blank canvas for the reader.  Like its leading lady, the story is daring, unapologetically exploring some very dark ideas.  And yet, it was refreshing to see a unique YA heroine in Lizzie.

On the whole, I’m glad that both stories were told together.  Alternating between Darcy and Lizzie maintained a nice rhythm, and, even with the space in between plots, I never got lost.  It is a long book, naturally, but it reads quickly and smoothly.

At the end of the day: For me

P.S. The tagline pictured here is 100% cooler than the one on the copy I bought.  The line on my copy is: “Darcy writes the words.  Lizzie lives them.”  LAME.  “You thought your way here,” is far more epic.