The Lunar Chronicles: More Than Fairy Tales

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Five years ago, the first book in a promising new series appeared on the scene. As a librarian always on the lookout for eye-catching reads to share with my young patrons, I ordered the available titles. Since “reworked” fairy tales are popular with kids from beginning readers to teens, it was with anticipation that I began the first volume.

I was hooked. Even though Marissa Meyers is not the only author–or the first–to write a classic fairy tale with a twist, her series is something special. (An aside: In a post I wrote after reading the first three novels, I dubbed the series a mix between Star Wars and classic fairy tales.)

From the moment we meet Cinder (no surprise as to the identity of the original character), we know we are in for a treat. The traditional elements are there–a handsome prince, an evil stepmother, a ball–but the story takes off in a whole new direction. For Cinder is harboring a secret, and others are privy to important information of which our heroine is unaware. By the time I completed her story, I was more than ready to continue the saga.

Scarlet is a worthy successor to Cinder. We meet another fairy-tale character and follow her on a journey to rescue a beloved family member. While characters and events from the classic story are present, Scarlet and her friends (and enemies, and someone who might be both) are unique to this telling. In a stroke of literary genius, Cinder reappears, and her story intertwines with those of her new acquaintances.

And then comes Cress. The heroine, a teen who has spent her entire life in isolation while performing a service for the powers that be, finds a new purpose. When a daring rescue does not go as planned, Cress finds herself in the midst of an adventure beyond anything she could have imagined. When I reluctantly turned the last page, I knew that there would be a wait before the next installment arrived on store and library shelves–and turned my attention to other books to fill in the gaps.

This winter, after delighting in blockbusters like The Orphan Queen and its worthy sequel, I remembered Cinder and company. There were two new novels in the saga: the background story Fairest and Winter, the grand finale of the series.

Like her new friends, Winter is an easily recognized fairy-tale personality–yet there is a depth to the young woman not found in the original character. (And she makes her way in the world without the assistance of seven little men.) As the heroes and heroines endeavor to realize their goal against all odds, we thrill to their triumphs and feel their frustration when things go awry.

Marissa Meyer’s series deserves a place alongside the tales of Gail Carson Levine, Robin McKinley, and other authors who have so successfully adapted traditional fantasies. Don’t take my word for it: if you or a teen in your life have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Cinder and friends, you’re in for a treat.


Back to Trelian


When we left Meglynne at the conclusion of The Dragon of Trelian, she was accepting her dual roles: as a companion to the dragon Jakl, with whom she shares a strengthening bond, and her future as the princess heir of Trelian. However, as the continuation of Meg’s story commences, the young royal is learning that the transition is not an easy one. For Meg is experiencing nightmares and sudden angry outbursts; and, since she and Jakl are connected, the dragon feels the temper flares as well. On top of her unease about these unwelcome intrusions, the princess fears (with some justification) that Trelians will not be comfortable with the “dragon princess” as their future queen. There is one person in whom she can confide her concerns, but he is not available.

Calen, the apprentice to king’s mage Serek, has reached a milestone. He and his master have traveled to the Magistratum, where the teen will receive his first true mage’s mark. Once the painful ordeal of obtaining the facial tattoo is over, Calen attends the ceremony in his honor. However, a devastating surprise attack by sinister creatures (who only Calen, with a gift unique to him, can perceive) throws the Magistratum into chaos. The suspicion the apprentice’s ability arouses–made stronger by a prophecy that he is connected to the return of a ruthless, power-hungry mage–leads to the trip becoming an ordeal rather than a celebration. Serek, with the help of his eccentric friend Anders, spirit Calen away from the intolerable situation.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, there is unwelcome news. A neighboring kingdom suspects that Jakl is behind attacks the nation is experiencing, and its monarch is threatening a military invasion. Meg knows her dragon is not involved but is unable to convince her royal parents. In an impulsive move, the princess undertakes to prove that Jakl is being unfairly blamed–and finds herself in danger. As things go from bad to worse, Calen makes a heart-wrenching decision in the hopes of not only protecting Meg and her family but ending the evil that threatens the world.

The continuation of Meg and Calen’s story does not disappoint. As both teens grow into their roles and attempt to prove themselves capable and worthy of the trust of those around them, we simultaneously cheer their efforts and groan at decisions more impulsive than wise. It remains for the concluding volume in the trilogy to hopefully bring their story to a satisfying conclusion.

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I had planned to write a comprehensive review of The Mage of Trelian, the blockbuster final volume in this series. However, any discussion of the plot would result in spoilers–not a good idea since there are readers out there who have not yet read the first two books.

There are a few things that I can say which will not give away any plot details. It is gratifying to see Meg and Calen grow into their roles as royal and mage while remaining true to themselves and those around them. Readers are given a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the people in their world. As the friends forge their own paths and face seemingly insurmountable odds, we cannot help but cheer them on. The immensely satisfying conclusion is a fitting finale to a marvelous series.

Michelle Knudsen: More Than Picture Books

When I think of author Michelle Knudsen, I associate her with the beyond phenomenal Library Lion. This picture book tells the story of a lion who visits a library and stays for story time. When the last story is read, the big cat expresses his sadness by roaring. The remorseful lion soon understands that he may stay only if he is quiet. So, with the approval of the kind-hearted librarian (and over the objections of her straight-laced assistant), the feline comes every day and makes himself useful until story time. He becomes a common sight as he dusts shelves with his tail, licks stamps, and lets children stand on his back to reach books on high shelves. The climax and conclusion of this story are heartwarming and appeal to book and library lovers of all ages.

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Now, ten years after the publication of Michelle Knudsen’s classic, I discovered this author’s talent for telling an unforgettable story to an older group of readers. The Dragon of Trelian (published in 2009, making me wonder why the novel escaped my radar until now) has all the elements that make a story great. As the tale opens, we meet Calen, an apprentice to the king’s mage. His apparently limited magical abilities mean that his master assigns him endless learning and memorizing tasks. Calen has sneaked into an unused room in the palace to watch the approach of Prince Ryant of Kragnir, the betrothed of Princess Maerlie of Trelian. The royal marriage is taking place to end a war between the two kingdoms that has lasted a hundred years.

It is here that he meets Princess Meglynne, who decides that she can share a secret with Calen. And what a secret it is: a young dragon she keeps hidden. The fourteen-year-old royal’s relationship with the creature she calls Jakl is developing into a strong bond. Calen, touched that the princess has confided in him, begins frequenting Serek’s off-limits library to learn all he can about dragons–and shares his knowledge with Meg.

However, there is trouble brewing. Calen, under Serek’s direction, conducts a ritual that portends dark days coming to Trelian. When the apprentice and his new friend stumble upon a scheme that threatens not only the life of Princess Maerlie but the future of both kingdoms, they realize it is up to them to thwart the plans of those behind the sinister plot. With more than a little help from Jakl and Calen’s blossoming magical abilities, the teens come up with a plan to put an end to the danger facing them all. The satisfying yet incomplete conclusion to the story points to a sequel. I now await the opportunity to read The Princess of Trelian and the newly-published The Mage of Trelian.














Thanksgiving Musings

Two days ago, on Thanksgiving afternoon, my husband decided to go through a buildup of mail and other papers. As we decided which were worth keeping and which no longer had value, several sheets came to our attention. What should they be but some notes and quotes I put together for a freelance article I was writing? The topic gave me pause: Thanksgiving and the Jewish tradition.

We are believers that nothing is by chance; this find proves it. Not only did my husband discover them on Thanksgiving, it is not usually my practice to print out an article in progress. Whatever my reason for doing so, the tidbits offer timely and timeless insights into this holiday. Here are a few choice gems.

The Creator gives us many precious gifts, among them life, health, and happiness. In return for the wonders He bestows, it is only right that we should respond with thankfulness and praise. He does not need our words of blessing; we feel the necessity of recognizing His loving and unending presence.

The early settlers had much to be thankful for: liberation from the oppression they suffered in Europe, the Creator’s involvement in every part of life (the holy and the mundane), and for displaying His love and care. These three areas hearken a much older holiday: the festival of Chanukah. G-d freed the Jews from a power more powerful than they and, once the enemy was routed, cared enough to perform another open miracle: a small vessel of undefiled oil burned in the Temple menorah eight days until more could be prepared. These thoughts are worthwhile ones now (Chanukah is right around the corner) and when we next see a public menorah.

Expressing appreciation is not something we do one day, or one week, a year. Human parents, unlike many in the animal kingdom, do not produce offspring and leave the youngsters to fend for themselves. Rather, they devote years to caring and providing for their children. Similarly, the Creator does not leave us to our own devices; He is involved in all aspects of our lives. This constant care is worthy of taking time every day to praise Him for this beautiful world and everything in it.

Observant Jews offer thanks to G-d from the moment of awakening, before beginning their daily activities, when eating and drinking, seeing and hearing impressive sights and sounds like lightning, thunder, and the ocean, and more. A few seconds or moments pausing to praise Him for His many kindnesses, large and small, can really set the tone for the day.

Happy Thanksgiving days.

Farewell to Artimé (for Now)


As Island of Dragons, the long-awaited seventh and final novel in Lisa McMann’s masterpiece series, opens, the land of Quill is in flames. Alex, the young head mage of Artimé, begins resettling the now-homeless Quillens in his domain. It’s no easy task; many of its residents mistrust anyone or anything magical.

As Alex and his fellow Artiméans, with more than a little help from the head mage’s once evil twin Aaron, come up with solutions on the home front, danger is lurking just beyond their shores. Two enemies of the magical land, seeking revenge for past defeats, have formed an alliance with one goal in mind: destroy Artimé. With a formidable army of humans, animals, and magic at their disposal, the foes approach the island. Despite intense preparations, once the battle begins, the magical land is in great danger of falling to the invaders. Alex finds his military and leadership skills put to the test as never before–and the stakes are higher than any he has known until now.

I must stop here for fear of giving away the plot. The seven-month wait between finishing the sixth volume and the local library finally making the final book available was more than worth it. Devotees of this series will find the conclusion as marvelous and magical as the land of Artimé.

One more word: those who have a hard time bidding farewell to Alex and his compatriots will only have a little time to miss them. As balmy weather returns to the Northern Hemisphere at winter’s end, the first book in the Unwanteds Quests series will arrive in the spring.


It Was Worth the Wait

They don’t get better than this. Jodi Meadows’ Orphan Queen duology has to be the most phenomenal fiction I’ve read in quite some time. As readers of my blog may remember, the first book came to my attention during a browsing session at the nearest public library branch. When I finished this novel, I wondered how the author could end her story on the proverbial edge of a cliff–until I discovered a sequel was awaiting publication. With relief and not a little anticipation, this bibliophile began looking forward to the day the second book would be in my hands.

Three months turned into seven before the public library system obtained the novel–in e-book format. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I decided that reading the continuation of the tale outweighed my old-fashioned preference for the traditional book. The virtual pages could not be turned fast enough, and last night I reluctantly turned the last one. So, as promised, here is my review of the incomparable The Mirror King.

Things could not possibly be worse. Prince Tobiah, the heir to the throne of the Indigo Kingdom, has been mortally wounded. It is barely a week after his father, the king, was murdered. Wilhelmina, the princess from Aecor whose own parents were killed ten years before in what came to be known as the One-Night War (and who awaits the day when she can reclaim the throne) shares the kingdom’s distress. For she knows who performed both dastardly deeds: Patrick, an Aecorian who supports her cause–and will stop at nothing, even murder, to achieve his aim. Before the attack, Tobiah revealed Wilhelmina’s identity to his subjects–and the princess learned that the young monarch is Black Knife, a vigilante she joins night after night do battle against the kingdom’s dangers.

Even though Wilhelmina’s feelings for Tobiah are mixed, she knows she cannot allow him to die. Despite the fact that the magical abilities she possesses are forbidden (making use of them increases wraith, a sinister substance that is overtaking the landscape and destroying kingdoms and their people), the young woman acts. When the combined efforts of Wilhelmina and Connor, one of the last remaining Aecorian noblemen, bear fruit and Tobiah recovers, the kingdom is relieved.

However, this relief is short-lived. Wraith continues its menacing march and threatens Tobiah’s kingdom with increasing speed. Against this backdrop, the prince, putting duty ahead of his personal wishes, determines to officially take the crown and marry Lady Meredith, the young woman favored by the late king. Yet, following the coronation, the new monarch’s plans for his future, and that of his people, are foiled by adversaries both human and magical. When tragedy strikes, and Tobiah understandably blames Wilhelmina, the princess decides the time has come to return to her homeland. With James, the king’s cousin, closest friend, and guard joining her entourage at Tobiah’s request, Wilhelmina begins the journey to the kingdom she has not seen in ten years to take her rightful place as its queen. As the young woman enters Aecor and takes steps to ascend the throne, devastating news arrives from the Indigo Kingdom. Fearing that all hope is lost, Wilhelmina questions whether she has the ability to rule–or even if there will a kingdom left for her to govern.

Under the capable pen of Jodi Miller, The Mirror King picks up where The Orphan Queen ends and takes off running. This continuation of Wilhelmina’s story lacks none of the excitement, surprises, and suspense of the first novel. The journey of discovery that our heroine, Tobiah, James, the queen-wannabe’s best friend Melanie, and the rest of the people in their world undertake is the stuff of great fiction. By the time readers reluctantly turn the last page, they will know they have read something remarkable. I know I am not the only one who will want to check out the author’s earlier works and look forward to what she will do next. (In the meantime, there are four Orphan Queen novellas to enjoy!)




More Gems for the Picture-Book Set

A children’s book publisher from time to time sends me new and upcoming titles to review. I make an effort to complete these reviews and send them off to the publishing company–and share them on my blog.

However, two reviews did not yet make it to this venue. (Perhaps I was waiting for the books mentioned in my previous post to become available, and other book-related thoughts went out the window.) Since it is never too late, I am rectifying the oversight. Check out these picture books and share them with the little ones in your world.

Animals Babies series by Julia Groves

Did you know that hare babies are called leverets and young orangutans are infants? In these simple yet informative board books, readers and listeners are introduced to critters who make their homes in different habitats. On each full-page spread we meet a grownup animal and its offspring. Colorful backgrounds provide an attractive highlight for both parents and their youngsters. Julia Groves’ books are a nice introduction for babies and toddlers beginning to use language and learning the names of things in their world.

And Then… by Alborozo

A young girl is not happy, and for good reason: “Oh, Brother…As in MY brother. He gets all the attention! Even though it’s MY birthday!” So the disgruntled big sister begins to tell a story about a little girl with a baby brother who cries all the time, is smelly, and, like all infants, “gets slimy stuff all over their big sister’s toys like a squid and nobody seems to mind because they can’t help it.” The big sister, since it’s her birthday, makes a wish—and her parents become so tiny they need to hide from a bee under a cupboard. AND THEN…the baby brother squid is hungry but his miniscule mother cannot feed him. The resourceful little girl knows who to turn to for help and, at the end, makes another birthday wish to set everything right again. The wiser big sister realizes the new family member is not “that bad I suppose as long as he left her toys alone.”

Alborozo, the author-illustrator of The Acrobat, has written another sensitive story about interpersonal relationships and finding happiness. Readers and listeners (especially if there is a baby brother or sister in their lives) will empathize with the young heroine and wonder what is going to happen next. Kids will enthusiastically join in when the storyteller repeats her refrain “AND THEN…” The author’s bright, imaginative illustrations add the right touch of humor. The big sister’s plight and way she solves her dilemma are sure to spark children’s imaginations. Little details like the protagonist’s knowing to ask for a visitor’s identification and awareness that salty foods are not good choices present these important facts in a non-frightening, kid-friendly way. By the tale’s end, older siblings might just take another look at the attention-grabbing new baby—and decide he or she is not so bad after all.

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