Book Review Club: Magical Books for Kids & Adults #reviews

For the October meeting of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club I decided to review two juvenile books I read this summer. Both feature magic which seems appropriate for Halloween month.

Girl Who Drank the Moon cover

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
2017 Newbery Winner
Fantasy / Fairy Tales
Audio book narrated by Christina Moore

This middle grade fantasy book reads like a fairy tale. Once a year in a land called The Protectorate, the youngest child in the village is sacrificied to an evil witch who lives in the forest. What the inhabitants don’t know is that there is no evil witch. What the Elders who rule the Protectorate don’t know is that there is a good witch named Xan who shows up every year to rescue the baby and take it to the Free Cities on the other side of the forest to be adopted by a loving family. Along the way Xan feeds the baby on starlight.

One year things don’t go as planned. Xan is so enamored of this baby that she accidentally feeds her moonlight which enmagicks her. Xan decides to keep this special child whom she names Luna. Xan is 500 years old. She lives in the middle of the forest with a tiny dragon named Fyrian and a large swamp monster who quotes poetry and is older than magic named Glerk. Xan, Glerk and Fyrian raise Luna, who is so full of magic she can’t control that Xan has to cast a spell to contain her magic.

Meanwhile, back in the Protectorate, a young man named Antain, nephew of the High Elder, watches what is going on with horror. He is present when Luna is torn from her mother’s arms. Her mother subsequently goes mad and is locked up in the tower of the Sisters of the Stars, a paramilitary order of nuns led by the evil Sister Ignatia.

When Luna draws close to her 13th birthday, at which time the spell containing her powers will be released, everything comes to a head in the forest during a volcanic eruption.

The review in the New York Times said the book “educates about oppression, blind allegiance and challenging the status quo while immersing the reader in an exhilarating story full of magical creatures and derring-do.”

The whole book is absolutely delightful, and I can see why it’s the 2017 Newbery winner. I loved the characters, esp. Fyrian, who is actually 500 years old but acts like a child. I loved the voice the narrator used for him. He’s such a cute, endearing character. Highly recommended for both children and adults.

Splendors and Glooms cover

Splendors and Glooms cover

Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Juvenile Literature

Schlitz is also a Newbery winner but not for this book. It’s a Victorian Gothic fantasy and rather dark in the later Harry Potter tradition. There are three children in the book: Clara Wintermute, the only living child of parents who lost the other four to cholera. Clara escaped because she refused to eat her watercress. The family is still mourning four years later. Clara sees Gaspare Grisini and the two children who work for him, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, do a play with marionettes in the park and loves it. She begs her father to hire Grisini to perform at her birthday party with disastrous results. The next morning Clara is missing and Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find a new marionette who looks just like her. They all end up in the Lake Country at the home of a dying witch who needs the children to release her from a curse.

I found the book very interesting and some of the characters, esp. Lizzie Rose and Clara, endearing. Parsefall, a workhouse kid, provides some comic release. Grisini is the real villain of the book, though the witch is a mixed blessing to the children. Well written and engrossing.

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Dear FCC: I bought the Audible copy of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and I borrowed Splendors and Glooms from the public library.

Book Review Club: Lady Darby #Mystery Series by @AnnaLeeHuber

For this month’s Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club, I’m doing short reviews of a mystery series I’ve been enjoying this year featuring a female sleuths: Lady Darby.

The Anatomists's Wife coverThe Anatomist’s Wife
by Anna Lee Huber
Lady Darby Mystery Series, Book 1
Historical Mystery
Scotland, 1830

Keira, Lady Darby, is the widow of a notorious anatomist who married her because of her artistic talent and then forced her to illustrate his anatomy book by observing autopsies. There was a scandal after his death and her part became public knowledge. She has been hiding out at her sister and brother-in-law’s estate in Scotland, until her sister decides to throw a house party and all the old pain comes back. The other guests treat her with disdain and mutter about her behind her back. Then one of the female guests is murdered in a brutal fashion, and Keira is asked to help Sebastian Gage, who has some experience as an inquiry agent. Her anatomy training comes in handy, but she has a hard time dealing emotionally. Very engaging main character and excellent mystery.
Mortal Arts cover
Mortal Arts

by Anna Lee Huber
Lady Darby Mystery Series, Book 2
Historical Mystery
Scotland, 1830
Audiobook narrated by Heather Wilds

Mortal Arts is one of the most emotional mysteries I’ve ever read. In this book, Keira (Lady Darby) learns that a childhood friend who she thought had died was instead committed to an insane asylum nine years ago. Now he is out, but kept locked up at the family castle. Will may be Lord Dalmay, but is he stable enough to be around people? After serving in the military during the Napoleonic Wars, he came home with a severe case of PTSD, which was not understood at the time. Like Keira, he’s an artist who acted as her drawing master when she was a teen. She saw his troubled drawings then and sympathizes, esp. since her evil former husband had threatened her with a similar fate if she didn’t do what he wanted. Her protectiveness of Will interferes with her burgeoning relationship with Sebastian Gage, who shows up at Dalmay House also. Then a young local woman disappears. The specter of the asylum hangs over everything in this terrific mystery.

Heather Wilds’s narration is stellar. I especially love listening to the Scottish accents.

A Grave MatterA Grave Matter
by Anna Lee Huber
Lady Darby Mystery Series, Book 3
Historical Mystery
Scotland, 1831
Audiobook narrated by Heather Wilds

The story opens on New Year’s Eve, 1830, at a Hogmanay ball in the Scottish border country. Keira, Lady Darby, and her brother Trevor are in attendance at the home of their aunt and uncle. All is in preparation for the First Footing, in which a carefully chosen member of the household (a dark-haired man) is set to be the first person to cross the threshold after Midnight. (In Scottish tradition, the hair color of the first footer indicates whether good or bad luck will prevail in the coming year. A fair-haired man, or heaven forfend, a woman arriving first is Bad Luck.) Things go awry when a young red-headed man rushes into the hall to report a murder at nearby Dryburgh Abbey. A caretaker was shot to death when he disturbed grave robbers digging up the bones of the late Lord Buchan.

At her uncle’s bequest, Keira reluctantly writes to Sebastian Gage to ask him to investigate. Once again, they are thrown together and stumble into a puzzling conspiracy to steal and then ransom the bones of prominent Scotsmen. Grave robbing was fairly common in this era, though typically only recently buried graves were exhumed so the corpses could be sold to anatomists. Why someone would be stealing skeletons is a real puzzlement.

Keira and Gage’s romance heats up again, and his presence helps her to find her muse and start painting again, after weeks of struggling to put paint to canvas. Another good read/listen, though not as engrossing as the first two books.

(Dear FCC, I purchased all three of these books with my own money.)

Note: Trip to Harry Potter World was postponed, so I’ll be here to blog hop after all.


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