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Talking Animals and Sad Humans and, like, Magic ~ Summer Reads Pt. 1

It’s been so long since I did mini-reviews of my recent reads (look at all that unintentional alliteration heh heh), in fact far too long to fit into all one post. This one shall therefore be the first of three, and shall focus on fantasy. And I shall not have any consistent format for each review, I shall just write stuff, according to ancient Sixty-Something Trees custom.

[I’m calling this “Summer Reads” because even though it goes through October…October was basically summer this year, let’s be real, it was like 85 degrees every day till the last week (what did I even leave the South for), and the trees didn’t all turn at once, and today when I left work it was snowing. So…fall? Fall? Who? Haven’t seen him.]

// Dragonwitch //

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

My very informative summary:

In a sort of loose sequel to Starflower, Eanrin and Imraldera are unfortunately not the main characters but are at least major players. Some aristocrat kid has horrible dreams of how he’ll die. Some kid shows up from a distant land looking for…something. A forbidden romance blossoms between a scholar and a young noblewoman who just wants to be seen for who she is. Goblins invade the human world and I’m not sure what Etanun is doing, is he helping? or just making it worse?

I wouldn’t have read this book based on a summary of it, but it was actually pretty good.

I am here for:

-Eanrin. Eanrin the insufferable yet sometimes useful cat-poet-fairy-man is what I’m really here for. Especially Eanrin after the character development in the previous book but still being Eanrin and having his own…unique…foibles.

-Also Imraldera though. She’s the best and I love her library!

-Flipping the oppression system from the last book on its head! Smart and thematically meaty and yes.

-Alistair’s character arc

-The ending with Hri Sora and Etanun. That is just so sad. Part of it is awful-sad, part of it is beautiful-sad, all of it is SAD.

-THE ENDING WITH STARFLOWER AND HER SISTER. I was so happy. That was what I read the book in hope of, basically.

-Anne Elisabeth Stengle’s prose is, like, good?

Not so here for:

-The romance between the aforementioned scholar and young woman was b o r i n g. It was nice, I guess, but I was so bored. I think it’s because, although I liked the young noblewoman, I found the entire character of the scholar boring. And his growth/arc too obvious. Not badly written, just…something I’m tired of and that you have to write in a special way for me to be interested.

-I don’t know why, but Mouse got on my nerves.

-It wasn’t as good as Starflower. Which is the most ridiculous complaint ever, because how could you expect that? But I did expect that, my friends, and so I was (alas and alack) disappointed.

// Spindle //

by W. R. Gingell

This and the next four entries are a series (although each book can also stand alone, which is my favorite thing) of delightfully zany character-driven fantasy that I read within a very short span of time because it was honestly hard to stop. I love W. R. Gingell’s prose, I love her originality, and I LOVE her characters.

Love them. Cherish them. Adore them. Would die for them.

This one is a Sleeping Beauty retelling in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle, wherein a motherly not-princess, the absent-minded wizard who halfway rescued her from a sleeping spell, the dog they rescue, a sardonic fellow named Melchior (who isn’t in it nearly enough), and Poly’s hair all team up to keep everyone safe from dastardly wizards, dastardly politicians, assassination attempts, and curses that stubbornly refuse to be broken. It’s so good, and I love Poly – she’s the motherly not-princess – and I love how she thinks. And I love how Gingell handles the complexities and nuances of different relationships. She writes people and their relationships with other people like real life, instead of like the simplified versions you normally find in fiction. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but it is delightful.

And the banter is just…A+. It’s exactly what I want out of banter – a veritable flood of wit, just enough pettiness but not too much, and plenty of depth (whether in terms of character or plot) under the wordplay.

Gingell’s writing is so deft. She touches character development, worldbuilding, humor, emotional beats, and magic all so very lightly. But she writes in such a way that you find yourself listening for each of them – and treasuring them when they come, like the softer notes of a Beethoven piece.

That metaphor quite possibly made no sense. I just adore how she writes, is all.

// Blackfoot //

This one was my favorite one. Crazy, cuz it’s a sequel and stuff. Please read it so we can gush over it together, won’t you? Maybe it won’t hit you like it hit me (I…may have teared up at one point) (which, rude, LOTR took a lot of rereads to earn the ole misty-eyes routine, darn you Gandalf with your perfectly placed “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil”) (and maybe Johnny Tremain made me tear up the first time through, but at least there’s the excuse that death was involved), but even so it’s a fun time of a story: with a magic castle, an unusual pencil, and at least two sketchy wizards serving as the background material for a story about a girl and her talking cat.

I too have a story about a man and his talking cat, so I really appreciated that detail on a personal level.

Anyway, Annabel is an absolutely incredible character. Gingell can write female characters and she can write child characters and she can do it brilliantly.

Her relationship with Blackfoot is my favorite thing of possibly ever.

Also, a character from the first book got so much more page time in this book, and I for one was so happy because I loved this character so much. And there was a thing about this character’s mouth (not as weird as it sounds – although yes these books are odd, but that part really isn’t) in both books and I liked it so much.

And have I mentioned how good Gingell is at flawed, loveable characters and their interactions?

And have I mentioned that I almost cried?

// Staff & Crown //

WE STAN ISABELLA FARRAH IN THIS HOUSEHOLD. The character who runs rings around her enemies and practices benevolent deception by telling the exact truth (“How marvellous a thing is the exact truth, properly manipulated!” as a certain unfortunately-fictional English gentleman once put it while en route to renew his proposals to a certain remarkable American lady) has always been one of my favorite types, and Isabella is just exquisite. Charming, devious, elegant, fashionable, and loyal. She’s even at a disadvantage, having very little magic in a world of magic-users, which means she has to be very resourceful, which is also wonderful.

It’s just FUN, full of politics and spying at boarding school, and the friendship between Isabella and Annabel (which is the main focus of the book, though there’s also a romance) is my favorite thing.

// Masque //

Isabella is the protagonist of this one, which makes up for the rough start and the slightly gruesome murders. It is a funny, exciting Beauty and the Beast retelling (I love how that was worked in, just as I loved the Sleeping Beauty element in Spindle – Gingell does it so cleverly yet organically) with a villain reveal to the murder mystery that gave me shivers even though I saw it coming. That particular type of thing will just…never not give me shivers. Oh man.

// Clockwork Magician //

It’s probably good if you don’t hate time travel. And if you didn’t find Peter too awful of a kid in Blackfoot that you can’t stomach him as a main character. There’s at least one thing that still doesn’t make sense to me about my favorite character (Melchior; my favorite character is Melchior; I realize I haven’t mentioned that), but I’m not even going to try to think about it. I hate time travel.

// By These Ten Bones //

by Clare B. Dunkle

My very informative summary:

A girl named Maddie, who lives in a remote Scottish village in like…medieval times, I think, makes friends with a mysterious woodcarver boy. Also she has to save her village from a werewolf.

I am here for:

-The characters. They are just…sweet and simple and real. Maddie, Paul, and the priest in particular I adored.

-The setting! I would like to know if it was historically accurate, but I certainly bought it. Misty and sunny by turns, the slow warmth of harvest days and the biting chill of autumn evenings – I’d live in their village. I also loved how content Maddie was in her home.

-Oh hey, YA with good, alive parents

-The theology of some stuff

-The curse and how awful it was and how it was broken. The climax was GOOD.

-How the prose was simple, but a good simple, and worked well for the story

-I don’t actually know what, but something about this book was so lovely to me. I gave it to my little sister and she’s currently in the middle of it and loving it.

Not so here for:

-I mean…it had a slow start?

-I would normally say the werewolf element, because I can’t stand werewolves (don’t ask why, I don’t know), but that was actually one of the things I loved about it, so.

// Starsight //

by Brandon Sanderson

Okay, so the first book, Skyward, was basically Star Wars: A New Hope, and I didn’t realize just how many parallels there were until I started thinking about it recently. I won’t go into them (spoilers and all), but it’s not just a generally similar vibe; there are specific plot similarities and there are even exact counterparts to C3PO and R2D2 and I am not kidding. Which was all fine by me! I love Star Wars, Sanderson is an excellent writer, and Spensa and her pals were great fun to hang out with.

Well, so in this sequel we’ve moved to the next ultra-famous sci-fi story. Where Skyward was Star Wars, Starsight is Ender’s Game.

Which certainly explains why I liked it a lot less.

Despite it being…still really good. And expanding the universe in dizzying ways. Sanderson truly is an EXCELLENT writer.

// Return of the Thief //

by Megan Whalen Turner

I loved it. I must reread the whole series now. Bless Phresine and her stories. Gen is my son, Pheris is my son, Eddis is my role model, my heart is broken, how does Megan Whalen Turner WRITE tho

“Nahuseresh tells me I am not king. We’ll see if he really prefers the Thief.”

“That is it, Sophos. You have hit upon my greatest fear. Someone who named himself Bunny is going to outshine me on the battlefield.”

“It is like being a sheepdog who turns suddenly on the sheep,” [Eugenides] said. “It feels utterly right in the moment, never afterward. That’s why I wouldn’t let someone else send me into battle. I never wanted to fight until I believed it was necessary.”

People are no less mysterious than the gods.

// Boys of Blur //

by N. D. Wilson

The Mother laughed. “You would kill an old woman while her sons are away?”

Charlie nodded. “Seems like the best time.”

You ever go to the library and say to yourself, “What I need right now is a good book about zombies and envy and sugarcane and fatherhood and Grendel’s mother (like from Beowulf) and small-town football and courage?”

Me either, but N. D. Wilson delivered anyway. I really love that guy’s writing.

As the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, two half brothers, one half sister, one step-second cousin, three moms, one former foster mother, and two stepdads raised glasses of wine and water and milk and cran-apple juice and root beer to the memory of a man who had hurt most of them.

But even out of him, good had come.


Well, as of me finishing this post, fall has stopped in for a brief visit. We had a lovely chat, and he hopes to be able to stay longer next time. Stay warm, you guys, enjoy the final flourishes of fall (such a drama queen), and read

good books!!!!

Author: sarahseele

A Christian, cat owner, college kid, and writer. Fond of stories. Fond of rain.

17 thoughts on “Talking Animals and Sad Humans and, like, Magic ~ Summer Reads Pt. 1”

  1. Dragonwitch was very significant to me back in 2014. But I can’t remember when I last read it.
    I haven’t read the other books (yet), but I would like to read Boys of Blur. Very interested in seeing N.D. Wilson’s take on Beowulf.
    85/29 degrees? In October? Whew!


    1. 2014 is somehow a really long time ago now. *blinks fuzzily at a calendar* I am curious what about it was so significant. There were several things that stood out to me, honestly – the way Hri Sora refused redemption most of all, probably. Quite soberingly written.

      I thought it was a very cool take on Beowulf!

      YES. It has cooled off to like 60 now which is still RIDICULOUSLY WARM for December. I don’t know what’s going on with the weather. XD


  2. (The titles of these posts are always amazing and make me HAVE to read them, Sarah. :D)

    OOH, the Two Monarchies series is SO high on my TBR! Indeed, W.R. Gingell’s work is just…so inspiring and incredible.
    So many of these books are on my TBR! (I just started The Queen of Attolia, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I like The Thief a lot more now than I did initially. ) Most of Brandon Sanderson’s books are also on my list, as well as the Tales of Goldstone Wood.

    Boys of Blur! I wholeheartedly agree with you: N.D. Wilson can WRITE and write AMAZINGLY. And By These Ten Bones sounds fascinating.

    Loved this so much! So many wonderful books featured, and I’m glad to hear positive reviews for many of the books on my TBR!


    1. (That makes me happy to hear!)

      I can’t wait to hear what you think of them!! And meanwhile I can’t wait to read her City Between books myself…

      (That’s interesting! The Thief is definitely a book that has more layers the more of the sequels you read. Which I love. I hope you end up loving the whole series!!)

      Yes. May I please have his writing abilities for myself, please and thank you. (And his UNIQUE ideas that he comes up with!)

      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ack how lovely. Just. How lovely.

    You make me want to read fantasy (like, regularly) again, you know that?

    I’ve not read any of these but I kind of want to read all of them now. (Well probably not Starsight.) If nothing else I MUST continue Megan Whalen Turner’s series. Also By These Ten Bones sounds super good? And The Blur Boys. And W. R. Gingell sounds incredibly promising.


    1. Aw, I love that! Fantasy is…it can do things no other genre can. And I rather think people just have to find /their kind/ of fantasy to love it.

      Hehe. Yes, I recommend you read all of them. How about next semester, instead of the books your English professors assign.

      So, I’m DELIGHTED you like the sound of W. R. Gingell. Shortly after I read the Two Monarchies books, I was craving more of the same, and nothing could satisfy me, and then you started posting season 3 of CSO and THAT was exactly what I wanted. There are obvious differences – she writes in limited third person POV and there’s less nonsense, but the banter and the sense of fun (and, especially with Sofi’s Boys, that wonderful thing which is a slightly-serious story wrapped attractively in not-so-serious packaging) in your writing and in hers are SO SIMILAR to each other, and I just love it. So yeah. You might well be a W R Gingell fan.


  4. Ahhh I love By These Ten Bones! Maddie and Paul are AMAZING, I love their relationship so much.

    I’ve been wanting to read some of W.R. Gingell’s stuff, it sounds so interesting! I really need to read Brandon Sanderson eventually. I’ve heard really good stuff about his books but I just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet?


    1. YES their relationship is so…I don’t know, I love it. So does my sister. We absolutely love your book recs XD

      Oh, W R Gingell is a LOT of fun!! I feel like she’d be up your alley.
      Brandon Sanderson interests me so much because although his characters are good, it’s his plots that have made me love all his books I’ve read. They’re just…I have read very few books with as good of plots and climaxes as all of his (that I’ve read, which is only like four, but still) have, and I’ve never had that experience (a plot being the biggest reason I love a book) with any other author.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your mini reviews! I am so glad this came back. 🙂

    ISN’T SPINDLE SO GOOD???? It’s been too long since I read it, but I still remember the feeling of delighted and bemused confusion. 🙂 And the banter was AMAZING. Blackfoot and Masque were also SO good! (For some reason, I think I skipped Staff & Crown? Weird.) I’m glad I didn’t move on to Clockwork Magician, though, because I hate time travel as well.

    I am SO excited to read By These Ten Bones! Especially since you liked the priest! 😉

    I’M STILL GLAD YOU FINALLY GOT RETURN OF THE THIEF! Every time I read one of those books, I briefly decide that since I cannot write like that, I will not write at all. That doesn’t usually last long, but it is the effect her amazingness has on me. XD (And those quotes you picked! *swoons*)
    If you’re going to reread, though, you know what we should do? Host a joint read-along for the whole series! That would be brilliant!


    1. IT IS SO SO GOOD. And I’m glad you reviewed Blackfoot because I think that’s the whole reason I ever heard of them or read them?? So thank you!! “Delighted and bemused confusion” was exactly my state of mind all through Spindle. I love how puzzly those three books are.
      Also, you HAVE to read Staff & Crown!! I didn’t love it as DEEPLY as Spindle or Blackfoot, but I loved it just as MUCH, and it features the bestest female friendship front and center!!

      Okay, I know what you mean about briefly deciding you will not write at all. Not with MWT (her writing actually inspires me hugely to write, I think it’s because there’s a lot of similarity in my style and stuff, so it’s something to aim for rather than something that I can’t even wrap my head around), but I’ve had that with a few writers before. It is simultaneously a great feeling and an awful one. XD
      That is the BEST idea, and you are hereby given warning that I’m going to email you about that. Maybe not soon. But it will happen. (Maybe over the summer?)


  6. Sarah, you’ve successfully made by TBR list longer by a couple books. 😉 Not that I need anymore on that never ending list. I’ve never heard of any of these books, but I’m adding “By These Ten Bones” and “Return of the Thief”. The only fantasy I’m a huge fan of is the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. I’m more of a historical fiction fan, but maybe these books will change my opinion on fantasy.

    Also, your statement on fall is so accurate, XD! Minnesota brought a few snowfalls (just flurries) in October and then became gorgeously warm. In fact, it was 50 degrees and sunny on December 1st!! Where’s the below zero and snow? Actually, I shouldn’t complain because it will be here soon enough. 🙂


    1. Hurrah! Or should I say sorry? XD I hope you like the ones you try! I’m a historical fiction fan too, and some of my favorite fantasy is the kind that feels like historical fiction, either because it is but there’s an added fantastical element (By These Ten Bones would fall into this category), or because there’s so much world building and culture that it feels like historical fiction of a place you’ve just never heard of (like Lord of the Rings, and I would also place the Queen’s Thief books – of which Return of the Thief is the sixth in the series – in that admirable category). But I also just love fantasy, so…I will be very happy if you begin to get into the genre a bit more!

      Yes!! We’ve been having the same weather and it’s crazy!! It’s hard not to long for the snow and cold, even though it’ll feel SO interminable once it gets here – but December should be cold and snowy and frosty. It just should. XD


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