May Bird is adjusting to life in the land of the living just fine. Her particular brand of fame means that she’s part of the popular crowd in her middle school, and she works hard to stay there. But sometimes she misses exploring her imagination, wandering around the woods of Briery Swamp, and she especially misses her friends from the after-life. But ever since the lake dried up, she hasn’t been able to find a way back. Just when she’s ready to give up hope of ever being able to save her friends, Briery Swamp gets its first snow storm in history and May is swept off on another adventure into The Ever After – only this time, it’s the fate of the universe on the line, not just the land of the dead.
I really enjoyed how this story was told. At the end of book two, May had the choice to return home or stay and fight… and she chose to return home. But now that’s she’s back, she’s ready to take Bo Cheevil head on. Everything is on the line, and May refuses to fail this time. The three year gap between the second and third books allowed May to mature as a human and also weigh all of her options. Her interactions with her classmates and family helped the reader see her as a regular person, and her actions in The Ever After showed her to be a true hero, full of heart, and ready and willing to put the safety of others before her own. This series ended up being 100% delightful, one I got used to the creepy ghouls, zombies, and vampires. There is always something new to discover in The Ever After, and that is always one of my favorite parts of books – especially in middle grade books.
May Bird is stuck in the land of the dead, but for the first time in her young life she doesn’t feel alone. She has Fabbio, and Bea, and Pumpkin, and Somber Kitty. They survived the bogey’s wild chase, and have made it to the train to North Farm, where a letter claims a lady can help them. The road to the north is strewn with the downtrodden, the fearsome, and downright petrifying, but May is determined to get home to her mother in Briery Swamp, West Virginia.
This second book in the May Bird trilogy, rather than being struck down by the sophomore slump, used its time to build up May’s character. Leaping off of May Bird And The Ever After‘s set-up of the world of the dead and May’s presumed destiny, as well as some of the obstacles she will face, May Bird Among The Stars helps May along the path to growing up and becoming who she was meant to be, willing or not. As she pushes to get home, May is unable to put on blinders that would prevent her from being influenced by the world around her. Deserted towns, refugee encampments, souls kept live slaves… It all has nothing, and everything, to do with May Ellen Bird. Word has spread quickly about her entry in The Book of The Dead – That she will vanquish the evil Bo Cheevil and safe The Ever After from certain disaster – but May would rather blend in and stay hidden until she can get home. As she approaches her destination, May must come to terms with what it means to be “The Chosen One”, and how she can only blend in for so long, when she was born to stand out.
Princess Cimorene of Linderwall has very proper parents. She is nothing like her six elder sisters. Her hair is black and unruly. She avoids her dancing classes to fence with the castle armsmaster, learn magic with the court magician, practice economics with the court treasurer, or bake in the castle kitchens. Bored out of her mind, she summons her fairy godmother, who is no help whatsoever. So she runs away. Cimorene takes up the perfectly acceptable life of being a dragon’s princess, but she is nothing like the other captive princesses. She finds a place where her abilities (math, declining latin, cooking, baking, cleaning, magic) are welcomed and even useful. Now if only the knights and princes would stop showing up trying to fight Kazul and carry Cimorene off to live happily ever after.
Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, I think of Cimorene. Wrede didn’t write her as a feminist. Equality is something that Cimorene takes as a given, not something she has to fight for. Anything that isn’t based in equality is just absurd, regardless of what is deemed ‘proper’ by the governing bodies. Cimorene is strong, smart, curious, and stubborn. She is, in short, my favorite literary character ever created and I hope I can write characters half as cool as her someday. I read this book at least once a year, usually more, and it is one of the biggest inspirations in my writing, equal to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I bring a copy with me any time I babysit and read it to my charges regardless of age and gender because it never fails. This book is pure magic.
Dealing With Dragons is not a romance. It is about Cimorene finding her place in the world and turning it into her best life. When life gives you lemons, make fresh-scented soapy water. Trust me, it can solve most of your problems.
As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings based on my reaction to Uprooted last year, let this be a testament. In this version of the classic Russian tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, Katherine Arden reimagines Vasya as the youngest child of a wealthy trader and his late wife, who herself was the daughter of the late ruler.
Vasya is indeed beautiful, but with a wild streak. As her elder sister begins preparing to marry, Vasya’s father Pyotr realizes that there will be no women to run Vasya’s life and makes the decision to remarry himself. At his brother-in-law’s insistence, he marries a woman whose faith dictates her life, and who is nearly as young as his sons.
About this time a young priest is rising to prominence in Moscow, threatening the power of the grand duke and the tentative peace across Russia. The grand duke decrees that the priest will travel with Pyotr when he returns to the north and to serve as the regional priest.
Vasya’s new stepmother and the new priest begin implementing Christian values in place of the old traditions, threatening the ancient spirits that protect Vasya’s homeland. As the townsfolks’ faith in the old ways waivers so do the life forces of their protectors. Vasya can see and communicate with the mysterious creatures, and soon finds herself the protector of the protectors. But a greater evil lurks in the forest, and it is only a matter of time – as the old ones weaken – until it wakes and comes for it’s due.
Much like Uprooted did last year, The Bear and the Nightingale transported me to another realm, another time. The twists and turns! The intricacy of the plot! The landscape itself was so beautifully depicted that it took my breath away. Arden has succeeded in creating a future classic with a permanent place on my shelf. And it’s a series! The second book, The Girl in the Tower, was released last year and the final book in the trilogy has been announced for release sometime early next year. I cannot wait to dive back into Vasya’s world: magical, dangerous, and filled with religion and court intrigue.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars.
Other books in this series:
Book #2 – The Girl in the Tower
Book #3 – The Winter of the Witch
Lucy Savage dreams of having her little house all to herself, hanging out with her dogs after she’s done teaching physics for the day at the local high school. There’s just one problem: Bradley. When her cheating husband stands her up in divorce court, she’s beyond getting over him, she just wants to get rid of him.
Enter Officer Zack Warren, who is investigating Bradley for embezzlement. When someone shoots at Lucy and blows up her car, he assigns himself to be her 24-hour security team and moves into her quiet, peaceful house (minus the three dogs and attack cat). Unsure about whether or not to trust the long-haired, leather-jacket-wearing, supposed good-guy in her kitchen, Lucy is only sure of two things. Her life is not safe outside the house, and her heart may not be safe inside it.
This book really made the rounds this summer. My sister’s friend brought it to read while we were all on vacation together in June. She finished it quickly and then my sister picked it up. I got it from my sister, and after reading it in a day I immediately passed it on to our mother. Needless to say, we all loved it. Originally published in 1994, the mostly pre-cell-phone era allowed for even greater shenanigans than would be possible today. Crusie’s characters (including the animals!) are full and interesting, quirky in their own ways. The plot is woven thickly, and I could never quite figure out what would happen next.
I can’t explain much more about the plot without going into spoilers, but Getting Rid of Bradley is part mystery, part romance, and all fun. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to wrap up their summer reading with a danger and romance filled feel-good story.