Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

A fantasy quest: Grayling’s Song

graylingGrayling’s Song, by Karen Cushman (June 2016, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544301801

Recommended for ages 9-12

Grayling’s mother – a local “wise woman” whose remedies and healing songs are popular in their village – is in trouble, and only Grayling can help her. Their home has been upended, her potions and herbs scattered, her grimoire (spell book) stolen… and she’s turning into a tree. Teaching Grayling a song to sing that the grimoire will respond to, she sends Grayling off in search of other wise women to bring help. As Grayling sets out, she’s accompanied by a mouse who’s eaten some of her mother’s potions and discovers he can talk and shape-shift! She names the mouse Pook and goes on her way. Grayling meets other witches in what becomes a coming-of-age quest, including a weather witch and her surly apprentice, an enchantress, and a soothsayer who uses cheese to perform his magic.

Grayling’s song was a little lukewarm, as middle grade fantasy goes. It didn’t have the “bigness” of a quest novel, and it was missing the introspection of a coming-of-age novel. More often than not, the adventure consisted of Grayling being annoyed at the company she kept, and the entire company dissolving into bickering and wandering around, hoping to find the grimoire. There are some humorous moments and the book’s pace moves along nicely, but overall, this wasn’t my book.

Karen Cushman received a Newbery Medal for The Midwife’s Apprentice and Newbery Honors for Catherine, Called Birdy. Her author website offers a full bibliography, an author biography, FAQ, and “odd facts”.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

Not Your Ordinary Circus: Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers

9781634502016_a39a9The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand (Sept. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634502016

Recommended for ages 12+

Sixteen year-old Flo lives with a traveling circus group. She’s getting ready for her first performance- a performance she’s a little nervous about – when she realizes she’s being watched. Her circus is being watched, and she’s terrified The Hunters have caught up with them at last.

You see, this is no ordinary circus, and Flo’s no ordinary girl. This is a circus of shape-shifters, and The Hunters are tracking them, and anyone like them. When The Hunters finally make their move, Flo and a small group of friends find themselves on the run, relying on contacts their elders have made over the years. They’ll learn about the  secrets and lies they’ve been raised to believe, and worse, they’ll learn that they may have had a traitor among them all along.

When I first started The Wanderers, I wasn’t really sure where this was going to go. I thought I was going to get a shape-shifting teen angsty romance with some conflict from supporting characters, which isn’t really my wheelhouse. I’m very happy to say that wasn’t the case. The overall story is established fairly quickly, and when the action hits, there’s no slowing down. I was trying to figure things out, but Ms. Ormand is three steps ahead – let the story take you there. There’s a morality play deftly woven into the storyline that will break your heart as you strip away the layers of deceit, with a strong pathos for this ragtag group of refugees that can’t seem to find sanctuary. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open – I’m interested to see if we’ll meet these characters, or their shadowy nemeses, again. Teens and tweens interested in speculative fiction, adventure, and romance will enjoy this one.