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A Magical Autumn: Five Amazing Books Featuring Magic

Almost as if on queue, the weather has turned cool and breezy with a touch of rain and the trees that were green just last week have begun to change into beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow. Portland is quickly becoming a fall fairyland. I can smell the crispness of the breeze and almost taste the creamy deliciousness of pumpkin and other winter squashes. The transition from summer into fall has always been a magical time for me. It is a time of stunning transformation. A time of harvest and bounty. A time to enjoy, because it is fleeting, like the days of spring.

To celebrate this time and get you in a magical frame of mind, I have pulled together a list of magical titles for you to enjoy.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

This charming story was written by Salman Rushdie for his son while he was in exile. The story takes you on an adventure in the war torn world where all stories come from as the protagonist and his father try to get his father’s stories back.

The Diviners (The Diviners Book 1) by Libba Bray

Flappers, murder, and supernatural powers. You really can’t beat that combination. On top of that, Libba Bray writes in a way that makes the 1920’s come to life. Themes of friendship, duty, and acceptance are woven throughout this fun murder mystery.

Among Others by Jo Walton 

“Among Others” is a Hugo Award winning masterpiece that follows the life of a young Welsh girl who has suffered a great deal of tragedy in her young life and now finds herself in an English boarding school. She seeks solace in the pages of classic science fiction novels (which aren’t so classic at the time the story is set) and the magic in the world around her. Magic no one else can see. Jo Walton has a lyrical, character focused, style that drew me in right away.

The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi

Don’t confuse this novella with the famous novel by Paulo Coelho of the same name (is that confusing or what?). I love Bacigalupi’s post-apocalyptic fiction, so I thought I would give his co-written fantasy novella a go. I was definitely not disappointed. In a world where magic has a price that the entire society must pay, what would happen if someone could create a machine that would save them all? This is a short read, but worth the time.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I could go on and on about the “All Souls Trilogy” of which this is the first book, but I won’t. Soon I will have a review up with my thoughts on the final installment, and you can read a bit about the time I met the author here: Deborah Harkness at Powell’s Books. “A Discovery of Witches” is the first in a series of books set in a world like our own where vampires, witches, and daemons exist right alongside normal human beings. When witch Diana Bishop comes across a mysterious manuscript in the Bodelain Library, her entire life changes, for it is quite possible that she in her hands is a lost book that holds secrets every supernatural creature would like to know. The “All Souls Trilogy” has one of the most unique and intelligent takes on the supernatural that I have ever read.

Please note that I am a Powell’s Partner and All Night Reading will receive a small percentage of every purchase from the link above.

Book Review: The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. That has not in any way influenced my opinion.

I was asked to review “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” by a good friend of mine, and son of the author. We were sharing a meal of homemade and thoroughly Americanized bibimbap and chatting the night away while my son played around us when he asked, sheepishly, if I reviewed children’s books. I happily said yes and a couple of weeks later had my copy in hand, knowing how incredibly awkward things could get should I not enjoy the book. Thankfully, we were spared the discomfort because I found everything about “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” to be utterly charming from the author’s authentic voice to the brilliantly detailed illustrations that graced the pages. “The Mystery of Dragon” bridge is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to write and illustrate a children’s book and Ann Howard’s passion and dedication shows through on every page.

Illustrations are the heart of a good children’s book. Kids are visual creatures and fickle beasts. They lack the vocabulary and attention spans needed to digest massive blocks of text until they are well into their school years. The first thing I noticed about “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” were the striking paintings within, sometimes taking up an entire two page spread. The illustrations, reminiscent of old Chinese paintings, are colorful and imaginative, setting a perfect stage for the story.

The prose flow over the pages in a style that reminds me of oral storytelling. I can imagine myself hearing the tale from an elder in front of the fire, surrounded by eagerly listening children. It has the quality of a story passed down through generation after generation.

The entire story is steeped in the richness of Chinese culture. With simplified Chinese text right alongside the English text, it is a perfect fit for bilingual families and classrooms. It also invites a conversation about cultural diversity and identification in a classroom of students who do not speak Chinese. “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” touches on and opens up the discussion to issues of environmental responsibility, community, and the importance of keeping promises and traditions. It is a great story to practice reading with, and would be a good addition to both classrooms and home libraries.

I would recommend this book for older readers if they are reading solo, perhaps second grade and above as there are several pages that only have text. I tried to read it to my three-year-old nephew and my one-year old son. The former was not very interested, and the latter attempted to eat the book when we reached a page with no pictures. My five-year-old nephew would definitely have been interested as he could interact with the mystery and take guesses as to where the bridge had gone.

My friend tells me that his mother will eventually tour in our neck of the woods (Powell’s Books). I have not met her yet, but I am eager to. It is wonderful to know that a mother has followed her dreams and created something so stunning. I look forward to collecting future books for my son to read.

The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

Books in Transit Tuesday: Week 4

Last week I found it nearly impossible to spot the titles on book covers. This week more than made up for it. Unfortunately, I think I neglected to note a few, but there is quite a variety below. It was a good week for Jim Butcher with two ‘Dresden Files’ books popping up. I also spotting some pretty popular movie/book titles.

Here is what Portland commuters are reading this week:

 

 

Interested in one of these titles? You can find them at Powell’s.

Please note that the above link is an affiliated link.

Book Review: The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

This book was received free from NetGalley in Exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I had what many would consider a turbulent childhood. In the darkest times I turned to books as a way to escape the very real stresses of my life. I often wondered, as it is evident in our literature many have, what it would be like to be pulled from my world into another. There is an entire sub-genre of fantasy books that involve such an idea, and it goes back decades. Faced with what must have felt like a lifetime more of abuse and neglect at the hands of his aunt and uncle, Harry Potter receives a letter from Hogwarts inviting him to the secret life of witches and wizards. In the heart of World War II, three children are ripped from their homes and forced to stay with their mysterious uncle. Tucked away in his house is a wardrobe that holds within a portal to the magical world of Narnia. Adventuresome Alice is being forced into a life on conformity she doesn’t want, and finds herself falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. During times of emotional or physical trial, whether it be large or small, these children are taken into another world where they learn about themselves, grow in maturity, and return to the real world more able to face life’s challenges than before. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is one such book. It is not spectacularly well written, nor is it groundbreaking, or even original, but I enjoyed it. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is an entertaining bit of escapism with some decent lessons for middle grade and young adult readers.

I think it is important to note here than I don’t feel that every book needs to be a show stopper. There are some amazingly well reviewed classics that I cannot stand, and there are some generic genre pieces that I sped through from start to finish and found myself wishing for more. This was one of those. What made me like it so much? I honestly could not tell you. I had a difficult time starting this review, because I could not figure out why I had rated this a four when other, more original stories, ranked a three. Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of factors, but mostly characters, setting, and message.

In ‘The Stone of Valhalla’, you find a veritable smorgasbord of fantasy classics. There is a young boy named Aaron who is slightly nerdy, and desperate to find out where he fits into this world. He is willing to do almost anything to fit into a group. He will undoubtedly appeal to the nerdy young folks out there who long to feel like they belong somewhere besides the pages of a book. Accompanying him on his adventures is a life loving orphan boy, a wise and grumpy old wizard with a chip on his shoulder, a sharp tongued old witch, and a gorgeous, kind hearted young witch in training. Each character is well developed and grows along with the story, with a few twists and turns along the way. Their interactions, for the most part, are beautiful from stories of ancient dragons being told around the fire, to dealing with broken hearts, to forgiveness for wrongs small and large. I was connected to them and found myself cheering them on as they moved through their adventure, and mourning with them when, inevitably, they were caused pain. Through their eyes, a young reader can learn lessons about love, loss, forgiveness, and the slippery nature of good and evil.

Aaron in particular goes through some amazing character development. If we think about the sub genre, one of the defining characteristics of it is that the protagonists learns about his/herself as he/she makes way from the beginning to, the end. At first I was confused because Aaron’s actions and thoughts seemed to be those of a younger character than 13. It is hard to say if it was intentional because I do not have a window into the author’s thought process, but intentional or not, it was artful. By the end of the book, he has matured quite a bit in a believable way.

The setting is equally classic and just as fun. Aaron is transported to a medieval fantasy world complete with competing factions, magic, witch burning, imps, goblin kings, and more. The reader gets to see much of this world as the characters travel through it adventurer style. D&D players and other gamers will recognize the setup, like I did, as the party faces random encounters along the way that ultimately lead them to a boss battle. There are some twists and turns in the road, some predictable, and others utterly surprising.

This story sang to the game loving, fantasy reading, nerd girl inside of me. It was a quick read, being targeted at middle grade readers. There were, alas, some elements I could have lived without. First, in the beginning of the story, the female characters are downright rude to the male characters. There is a bit of background story that explains why the witch and wizard have their magic knickers in a twist while dealing with each other, but I am growing tired of seeing so many sniping women and girls in middle grade and young adult fiction. Female characters can be strong without being abrasive or rude. It sends the wrong message. It is not all right for men to treat women that way, but it is all right for women to treat men terribly. I would love to see writers of fiction for young people change it up a bit.  In the same vein of broken records, I could have done without the love triangle. I feel like the story had enough conflict and emotion already without adding a triangle to the mix. It added nothing. How many must we suffer through before this fad finally dies out?

Problems aside, I think Stone of Valhalla will appeal to the demographic it was written for. It is a fun story with great character development. I look forward to checking out more of Mikey Brooks’ writing.

the_stone_of_valhalla_by_mikey_brooks

Weekly Reading and Review Update- September 10th, 2014

Wow! It has been a few days since I last posted. A posting schedule like that just won’t do. Since I currently have several irons in the fire and none of them are quite ready to be pulled out, I figured why not let everyone know what is coming up?

Currently Reading During Commute

nest_esther_ehrlichNest by Esther Ehrlich

(Middle Grade)

I was invited to review this by the publisher through Netgalley. It is a beautiful story that I am savoring slowly because so much about the narrator’s life reminds me of the pains and triumphs of my transition into teenager from child.

Currently Reading Before Bed

the_book_of_life_deborah_harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy Book 3) by Deborah Harkness

(Adult Fiction)

I could wax poetic about my love for this series and the author, Deborah Harkness. She is intelligent, funny, and has a way of telling a story that makes it come to life. The final book in the All Souls Trilogy series is not a disappointment. It is hard to put this one down when it is time to sleep.

Currently Listening To

off_to_be_the_wizard_scott_meyer

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

(Adult Fiction)

I must admit, the 8-Bit cover drew me to this book. I haven’t had a lot of time to listen at work since things have been kind of crazy, but when I do have time, I drop into this one. It is a tongue in cheek play on the traditional “thrown into a fantasy world” idea. I find it thoroughly entertaining.

Upcoming Reviews

the_stone_of_valhalla_by_mikey_brooks

The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

(Middle Grade)

4 Out of 5 Stars

the_mystery_of_dragon_bridge_ann_howard

The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

(Young Readers)

5 Out of 5 Stars

Book Review – Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

 

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissette

Edited and virtually rewritten after I read what I’d posted at 11 last night. I should sleep on posts I write that late.

My son is not very ticklish, but he loves to be tickled. When our searching fingers find just the right spot his eyes light up and he rewards us with a big belly laugh and little snorting giggles. If it even looks like you are about to play tickle monster with him, your arm held high and your hand in the shape of a claw, he gives a big, squinty-eyed, toothy grin. As you can imagine, a book with the very title “Tickle Monster” was a very welcome sight to a couple of tired, bedraggled, and loving parents.

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

We found our copy at the local Goodwill outlet after the family in front of us in line abandoned it at the register. My husband swore he had seen it somewhere before. Likely at one of our many outings to Powell’s. I was surprised after inspecting the cover and pages that it was in such amazing condition. Sadly, most children’s books in the Bins (a friendly neighborhood name for Goodwill Outlets) are chewed up, stained, and torn. My husband, a big kid himself in many ways, wanted it. I was not going to argue.

“Tickle Monster” is an endearing children’s science fiction picture book with whimsical art by Kevan J. Atteberry and zany typography. Tickle Monster from the planet Tickle could not be any cuter with his big eyes and colorful striped tail and horns. His only mission in life is to bring the precious sound of children’s laughter to the universe.

Tickle Monster Inside Peak

This is not a book you can simply read to your child. To get the full effect, you must tickle as well. If you are unpracticed in the art of tickling (gasp), don’t worry! Tickle Monster will guide your fingers. Though the story has some rhyming quirks that break the sing song quality of the prose, the rhyme scheme, however flawed, is not the point of the story. The glory of this picture book is that it sets the perfect stage for quality bonding time. It encourages parents, older siblings, and other loving adults to participate in interactive and imaginative play with the backdrop of a fun science fiction setting.

If the little one in your life runs screaming and bursts into tears at the thought of being tickled, you might want to leave this one on the shelf. It would not be my first choice as a book to teach reading since the author makes up many words to bolster the silliness of the story. I would not choose it for teaching rhymes either, unless I want to compare instances where the rhyming works against instances where it does not. If you are a lower grades teacher, it could be a fun and playful way to work on body parts like tummy, neck, feet, and toes. The interactive elements would just need to be modified to remove physical contact. “Tickle Monster”, at its core, is best suited for parents and other caretakers with their little charges as a way to play together and bond. Word on the street has it that you can buy Tickle Monster gloves to enhance your story time, too. How fun!
Tickle Monster Inside Peak 2

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