Wintersong by S Jae-Jones


3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

This novel is a European style fairy tale. Elizabeth’s family are impoverished inn-keepers. Her parents were once famous performers, but they have fallen on hard times. All of their hopes lie on the shoulders of their son who is a virtuoso on the violin. Elizabeth and her sister are put on the sideline as all of their parents’ energies are directed towards their son. Elizabeth pour herself into her musical composition while Cathe becomes a die-hard flirt. Cathe soon attracts the eye of the Goblin King, a magical figure who needs a human bride. Elizabeth trades herself for her sister’s freedom, but being the Goblin Queen drains the life out of humans, so Elizabeth has only a limited time to escape before the role completely consumes her.

I took this to be a very teen novel from the description, but there are enough explicit sex scenes that I would more hand it to 20-somethings. Teen novels usually cut to black or use more euphemisms. Some older teens might like this, but maybe don’t give this to grade 6 and 7 kids unless you know their tastes.

Woven throughout this novel are many musical references. Elizabeth’s music is the only thing that keeps her sane as she tries to hold her family together and then navigate the underground Goblin Kingdom. The prose reflects this preoccupation with the art, with the writing style being very artistic.

I enjoyed the first part of the story, with Elizabeth trying to rescue her sister and keep her family together, but as soon as she marries the Goblin King, most of the story is just their relationship. Elizabeth is trying to discover the King’s personality but he seems to have 3 or 4 of them. She is kind of attracted to him, kind of repulsed, and most of the story turns into a will-she won’t she style dilemma, which I found pretty dull.

Despite it being fairly explicit, I just did not buy the romance angle, and that was a large part of the book. Elizabeth had a pre-existing relationship with the Goblin King as a child, forgot that he really existed, and now is head over heels in love with him. He is demanding complete surrender of every part of her before he is willing to sleep with her (a move I found super creepy and Elizabeth takes to mean she has to give him her music). Parts of their relationship seem abusive and this character that I had come to admire just started seeming rather stupid. Trade your life for your sister’s if you must, but throwing yourself at the guy who seduced her with magic is maybe not the best move.


The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg.


4 out of 5 stars.

As a tiny break, this is not a book I received an ARC of, and it is actually a slightly older one from 2014, but I love it so much I have to blog about it.

Candice is a junior high student with autism. She is functional, but understanding some human behaviour is difficult. Her parents are pretty good at explaining things but she could definitely use a friend her own age. Enter Douglas. He is convinced he is from another universe (he has an explanation that uses the word “quantum” a lot) but he is willing to be friends until he can get back to his own dimension. He makes daily attempts by jumping out of the tree in his backyard every day at noon. Besides this he is a pretty good friend. Candice also has a fish called Earth Pig Fish. She is worried that her fish thinks she is God and is trying to make him an atheist.

That last sentence pretty much gives you the tone of the book. It is completely and absolutely hilarious. The narrative voice is spot on and really conveys the confusion and bluntness of the character. She tries to jump off of a dock in order to repair her family (they would save her from drowning and celebrate by all being friends again) but she flails around and is eventually saved by the inflatable breasts that Douglas gave her for her birthday.  This book is so full of character and humour.

Candice is so realistic and relatable and this book is a huge amount of fun. I love the tangles and misunderstandings that come from her unique perspective on the human condition and I am going out to read something else from this author.

Gilded Cages by Vic James


4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book.

This was an absolutely wonderful read that I did not anticipate liking nearly this much, but I did! And it was awesome!

Britain is ruled by the small, elite group of people who have fairly generic, not really well defined magic powers. They used to do cool, awesome things like build magnificent buildings and heal people, but now they seem to just spend a lot of time sitting on their asses and playing politics. This would not be completely terrible but they have decided that any unSkilled person (most of the population) have to spend a decade of their lives as slaves to the state. By slave we mean the full-on, no rights whatsoever legal nonentity. Given the relative power of the Skilled, most people have been somewhat loathe to bring up the unfairness of this arrangement, but things are coming to a boil. The Chancellor has been blackmailed into bringing up the possibility of abolishing slavery before the government and this might be just the opportunity a small group of rebels could use to overthrow the system.

This is one of the most multiple POV novels I have ever read. It does not switch between 2-3 different voices, but 5+. This could be either very thoughtful and helpful to the flow of the story, or end up annoying as hell. Here it turns out to be the former (thank goodness). The story unfold over two geographically separate areas (a slave camp and a manor), so we need at least that many POVs. The author has added in viewpoints from most of the major characters, and instead of getting confusing, it really makes this progress nicely. You can see everyone’s internal logic for their actions and get to know all of the characters very intimately.

The world is an uncanny mix of severe dystopian for most of the book, contrasted with a  VERY normal looking home life for everyone before their slavedays. The first couple of chapters with Luke, Abi and the rest of their family before they decide to get their slavery out of the way read a lot like contemporary fiction with a slight twist. Once they are in the system, the tone of the world switches very quickly and severely. This really brought the reality of people working in those types of conditions across our world into focus for me. This type of slavery does not just happen in books, but there are real humans in this sort of situation right now.

I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would for not having heard of the author before. I cannot wait for more from Vic James.

If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid


I received an ARC of this work

4 out of 5 stars.

This is a bit younger than this blog normally covers, but I was given this ARC by a librarian friend and I think some of my grade 6 students might go for it.

Darling is a lowly pot scrubber in the magical palace that is also home to the lovely Princess Mariposa. The whole kingdom is anxiously awaiting the day when a suitable husband will be found for their darling princess. Several suitors have already been found and rejected when one arrives who seems to share Mariposa’s love of butterflies and may be able to win her heart. Such excitement! A royal wedding may be on the horizon!

None of this would normally impact Darling in her day-to-day pot scrubbing duties, but a crisis in the castle prompts her immediate promotion into Mariposa’s retinue as a wielder of one of the royal irons (not for anything as precious as the princess’ clothes, but she does get to handle the bedsheets and handkerchiefs). Her new role leads her to discover an entire closet full of dresses worn by the kingdom’s past queens, all of which are curiously partially sapient. Darling eventually discovers that wearing the dresses allows her to magically disguise herself as some of the castle’s inhabitants. This will certainly come in handy as the beloved suitor might not be everything he seems, and there are rumours that some of the stone dragons on the castle’s rooftops are getting restless…

This books is adorable and joyful. Each chapter starts with a little doodle of a dress (one of the best parts of this book) and the general atmosphere of the book is unique and happy. There is no romance but definitely a strong message of friendship.

The interior organization of the castle was what first caught me off guard. Every job function has a rigid hierarchy, so that there are many dishwashers in the castle, but the more important you are, the more important things you get to wash. Darling starts off as a pot-scrubber, one of the lowest positions. I guess the mental image of some dishwashers lording it over other dishwashers really caught my imagination.

I work in a junior high, so I think this book reads a bit too young for most of my kids, but would be perfect for grades 3-4, especially fans of Jessica Day George. An fun, innocent read.