Saturday Shorts #2: Beautifully Illustrated Winter YA

It's been too long since I've updated this blog series, but hopefully today's post will be worth the wait! I know the books certainly are. 

This series is about showcasing shorter works. I love a good epic fantasy, but sometimes I think the novella is a seriously underappreciated form! 

In my last post, I talked about YA Fantasy Novellas. In this edition, I want to talk about fable-classical-style upper MG and YA books with spectacular illustrations. It's coming up to Christmas, and I know lots of my reader friends are looking for books that make good gifts. Look no further!

You'll also have your chance to win a beautiful hardback copy of Jackie Morris' The Wild Swans. And don't forget to check out my Top 2016 Spring/Summer Picks to win an ARC of TRUTHWITCH.

 

GoodReads Summary:

This very beautiful and lyrical extended version of the fairy tale 'The Wild Swans' by Hans Christian Andersen is the much anticipated companion to East of the Sun, West of the Moon. With strong characterization of the heroine and also with more rounded characterisation of the wicked stepmother than in the original version, and with delicate watercolor paintings throughout, this is both a wonderful story and delightful gift. Beautifully presented in a jacketed edition with foiled title.

My Review: 

Jackie Morris is my all-time favourite illustrator. High praise, because I'm very picky about my art! I own all of her picture books for younger children, as well as her illustrated poetry editons and I am CONSTANTLY encouraging my clients to buy them. When I came across this little gem in the publisher's catalogue, I knew I had to have it. But, I was worried. The other books I owed by Jackie were all for very young children with limited amounts of text. 

This little book totally blew my expectations out of the water. Jackie Morris is as talented a storyteller as she is writer. This book is a perfect winter fairytale – a skilfully executed retelling complimented by STUNNING illustrations. Perfect for children over 10 as well as Young Adults and Adults. 

Interior Illustrations: 

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Book Details: 

Author/Illustrator: Jackie Morris

(www.jackiemorris.co.uk / JackieMorrisArt)

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's

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GoodReads Summary: 

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara's home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

My Review:

I was enchanted by this book from the moment I flipped open the cover. Luis Royo's blue and yellow tone illustrations are stunning and give the book instant ambiance. The writing doesn't have the same biting snark as Game of Thrones, but there is a kind of classic-Martian bittersweet quality to the narrative. The world is really vividly depicted and I loved the creatures he introduced — especially the ice lizards! All of Royo's illustratons perfectly compliment the story. Definitely recomend this as a gift for Children or Adults from age 10+. 

Interior Illustration Examples: 

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Book Details:

Author: George R.R. Martin 

(www.georgerrmartin.com / GRRMspeaking)

Illustrator: Luis Royo 

(www.luisroyo.com)

Publisher: Tor Teen

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Saturday Shorts #1 – YA Fantasy

I’m starting another new blog series! While I love a good epic fantasy novel as much as the next geek, sometimes I feel that shorter fiction is getting overlooked. The novella is a fabulous form. I love the mystery it creates and precision it takes from the writer to convey a whole world in such a tiny, perfect package.

This series will focus on Short Reads – Novellas of 35,000 words or less. Although I will be incorporating some series novellas, my main criterion is that the books must be able to standalone. If a reader couldn’t pick up the novella and understand it, without reading the rest of the series, then it will not be featured in these blog posts. Each post will feature three short reads, a collection that can easily be read all together on a lazy Saturday morning!

I am an avid supporter of the We Need Diverse Books campaign and promotor of more diverse reads in general. If the book has the “We Need Diverse Books” button next to it, with a link, then it features diverse protagonists. 

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This month’s category is (unsurprisingly!): Young Adult Fantasy

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Opal

Author: Kristina Wojtasek

Publisher: World Weaver Press

Length: 112pgs

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Summary (from GoodReads):

In this retwisting of the classic Snow White tale, the daughter of an owl is forced into human shape by a wizard who’s come to guide her from her wintry tundra home down to the colorful world of men and Fae, and the father she’s never known. She struggles with her human shape and grieves for her dead mother—a mother whose past she must unravel if men and Fae are to live peacefully together.

Trapped in a Fae-made spell, Androw waits for the one who can free him. A boy raised to be king, he sought refuge from his abusive father in the Fae tales his mother spun. And when it was too much to bear, he ran away, dragging his anger and guilt with him, pursuing shadowy trails deep within the Dark Woods of the Fae, seeking the truth in tales, and salvation in the eyes of a snowy hare. But many years have passed since the snowy hare turned to woman and the woman winged away on the winds of a winter storm leaving Androw prisoner behind walls of his own making—a prison that will hold him forever unless the daughter of an owl can save him.

My Review:

A new imagining of the classic Snow White tale! I absolutely loved that fact that the main character was born an owl and turned human, rather than the more typical reverse. The opening of the book really shows the transition and the character’s confusion.

The author’s style is really lyrical, bordering on prose poem. Fresh and refreshing to see writing this literary in YA fantasy. I thought the style contributed to the ethereal tone of the book.

I initially read this book during the winter, which really is the perfect time for it. It was one of the stories that got me hooked on the novella format because I felt the length and style so perfectly suited the story.

4.5 / 5 stars

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A Recipe For Magic

Author: Aggy Bird

Publisher: Harmony Ink Press

Length: 64pgs

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Summary (Goodreads):

Connor Roth is a fire mage who’s going places. He’s powerful, popular, and he has a plan. But his plan for fame and glory is disrupted when the Oracle sticks him with Landyn Glendower for Senior Trial. This is an act unprecedented in their school’s history. Landyn is a water mage, and everyone knows mages with opposing elements can’t work magic together.

Connor is left with a choice: work alone and fail or swallow his pride and work with Landyn to find a way to combine their magic in a display the Archmages will never forget—if they don’t get kicked out of school in the process.

 

My Review:

Elemental magic? Dragons? Sweet M/M Romance? I went into this book wanting to love it. I loved the developing relationship between Landyn and Connor — Agatha Bird really teased out their time together and everything about the relationship progression felt natural. I also loved how the boys’ personalities matched their powers. I thought Connor’s need to prove himself was also compelling. And I liked that the coming out wasn’t a shock. In the world of this novella, the focus was on the romance itself, not on being gay. The boys have plenty of awkward, loveable moments.

However, without giving it away completely, I have to say that the ending really didn’t work for me. I WANTED THE BIG DISPLAY! It would have been satisfying and for me and would have rounded the story out beautifully.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Heir Apparent

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Length: 17pgs

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Summary (GoodReads):

 Rise back up to the floating city of Internment in this original enovella, a dark look at life in the royal family after the events of Perfect Ruin.

When King Furlow begins to treat Prince Azure as the heir apparent that he is, he takes him to see the “re-education camps” for wrong-thinkers. But as he enters the camps ,Azure discovers the dark underbelly of the kingdom—and the king himself. His view of his father can never be the same, but what about his view of himself?

My Review:

I really enjoyed this, but I did feel it was much more of a short story than a novella. The plot was very simple, almost single-episode and I thought there were a lot of suggested nuances that the author didn’t have the chance to fully explore.

That being said, this little story does pack a punch. Although I would say it’s aimed at the younger end of the YA-spectrum, with a twelve-year-old protagonist, this story is dark and psychological. I found the writing fluid and compelling – we just needed more of it!

Part of a series, but I read this without having read the other books and did not feel I was missing too much information.

Rating 3.5/5 stars.

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Writer Resources (1): Bestiaries and Compendiums for Fantasy Writers

Writer Resources Series #1

Bestiaries and Compendiums for Fantasy Writers

Once a month, I will be posting a new entry in a ‘Resources for Writers’ series on my blog.  Most of these entries will be about books for writers, but, some of them will be writing tips from established authors, information about upcoming conferences, etc.

For my first post, I’m talking about Bestiaries and Compendiums of Mythical Creatures! For fantasy writers looking to branch out beyond dwarves and dragons, or situate magical creatures within specific cultural contexts, these guides can be an excellent resource. Paging through them can also provide a source of inspiration when you’re feeling a little bit stuck. Plus many feature TERRIFIC illustrations and vivid depictions, so they are worth looking at for a unique reading experience in themselves. When I was working on Unicorn Tracks, I had to use many resources like these in order to research all the mythical creatures Mnemba encounters while leading her tour groups on safari.  I definitely feel that at least one physical guide to mythical creatures and the fantastic is a must for any fantasy writer’s shelf!

While there are dozens of titles, many are not easily available or prohibitively expensive. Of those works easily acquired at a reasonable price, here are a few of my top picks:

(1)    The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black, E.B. Hudspeth: Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2013.  

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 Top Pick for: Anatomical Drawings, Readability.

 Highlights:

(1) Beautiful, anatomical drawings of hominid creatures, produced by a 19th century doctor. The drawings have all the detail you’d expect of a medical study, accompanied by Dr. Spencer’s theories on the genetic mutations and anomalies that led to the individual’s condition.

(2) E.B. Hudspeth has written this book as a biography. It’s easy to read, fluid, and gives a lot of information about Dr. Spencer’s life and the cultural reaction to his studies, publications and later carnival exhibitions. The book does a fantastic job of capturing conflicting Victorian sensibilities – on the one hand, a lust for scientific understanding, on the other, a perverse fascination with unexplainable curiosities and monstrosities. Dr. Spencer Black has many characteristics of a historical Dr. Frankenstein and a wild imagination.  As a result, I think it’s a great resource for anyone trying to write a steampunk fantasy, a paranormal Victorian novel or looking to create hominoid creatures that are not vampires, werewolves or angels. This book is intended to be read like a story, rather than consulted only as a reference.

(3) After the biographical section, E.B Hudspeth has reproduced some of Spencer’s lexicon in an encyclopaedic format. As you’d expect from a scientist, he uses a very scientific classification system, and really seeks to explain the biological origins of the creatures he details. His drawings show the muscle structure, skeleton and ligaments, and how they build on each other.  It’s clear that not only was Dr. Spencer intimately familiar with the workings of a human body, but that he knew about animal structure as well. His drawings almost make you believe such creatures could exist.

 

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(4) His illustrations of Harpies, demonstrating the increased capacity of their lungs relative to normal humans are especially impressive!

 

(2)    The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Hendersen: Granta Publications, London, 2012.  

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Top Pick for: History Buffs and Nerds, Writing Style.

Highlights:

(1) Caspar Hendersen follows in the tradition of Medieval bestiaries and the work of Luis Borges, to create an original historical compendium.

(2) Each of his articles feature extensive historical, as well as scientific, research – he tells you which cultural traditions feature each creature, where they are represented in historical sources and how they were culturally received. He also provides analogues from biology, examining real creatures that share some of the fantastical traits of the beast, in order to explain the basis for imagining the creatures.

(3) Illustrations are quite basic, but have leave the fascinating impression of being based simultaneously on medieval manuscript illuminations and on scientific drawings (see above). Really capture the style of the book – a collision of history, philosophy and modern biology to reconcile the fantastic.

(4) I think that as a resource, this book is for writers looking to achieve that mashup effect of history/biology/fantasy .. .the style of it is helpful in itself. If you’re trying to write a book in the style of Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, this is probably for you. However, I think that as far as getting an overview of mythical creatures, it’s perhaps too dense to be used as a quick resource or encyclopaedia. The history provided is very extensive and each entry is several thousand words long – chapter length.

 

(3)    The Book of Beasties: A Scottish Bestiary of Old, Belle Robertson/Larry McDougall: Mirror and Comb Publishing, Edinburgh, 2015.

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        Top Pick for: Spectacular Illustrations, Accessibility.

Highlights:

(1) This book is BRAND NEW and it is beautiful. I got a copy through work and it’s quickly become one of my all-time favourites in the genre. The illustrations are spectacular and were done by the artist who illustrated many of The Lord of the Rings film guides.   Think gruesome charcoal renders, presented in the style of an artist’s sketchbook. The book features stunning tartan interior covers, fake newspaper snippets, poems and historical trivia, as well as brief but poignant descriptions of each creature listed.

 

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(2) A quick read and much shorter than the other guides. Also region specific to Scotland, but would be accurate for other Gaelic traditions – such as Ireland. In addition to creature descriptions, the book also describes their habitats and the Scottish landscapes that gave birth to the mythology.

(3) A must for writers working on manuscripts featuring Medieval Scotland, also a great book for anyone writing a Medieval European based fantasy wanting more of a Celtic/Gaelic twist on the creatures rather than Norman or Norse tradition.  

(4) Would also make a terrific gift because of the way it’s been laid out/styled. Definitely a more accessible book all around than the other guides, reading level appropriate for older children/teens as well as adults and short enough to keep their interest.

 

(4)    Breverton’s Phantasmagoria, Terry Breverton: Quercus, 2014.

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Top Pick for: Fantasy Writers!, Encyclopaedia Resource.

Highlights:

(1)    Overall, this book is my top pick for fantasy writers looking for a catch-all resource to keep handy on their desks. This book is a truly fantastic little resource, featuring encyclopaedia style entries on more than three hundred creatures, mythic gods and magical places. The entries are short and to the point, featuring a plethora of historical drawings, pictures and factual snippets. You could literally page through this book and develop an entire plot: location, creatures, mythic characters … all jumping out of this pristine little volume and into your imagination.

(2)    Every ten pages or so, there is an inset with very detailed drawings of particular creatures in black and white. These are beautiful and inspiring.

(3)     Could accompany a more detailed resource like Caspar Henderson’s, because the entries are so short that if you did decide on a particular mythic tradition or group of creatures, this book probably wouldn’t give you enough information to be your only source.

(4) Part of a series: Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities just came out a few weeks ago, focusing on sea creatures and maritime myth.

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I have a hardback copy of the amazing Book of Beasties to Giveaway! Shipping to UK, Ireland, Continental Europe, US only.

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