The Wolf Wilder

24885821by Katherine Rundell
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This is the perfect winter fairy tale! I loved every page of this story. Set in the heavy Russian winter a hundred years ago, we spend a week with Feo, the wolf wilder’s daughter.

Russian nobility started a trend of keeping beautiful wolves as pets—or as much of a pet as a wild wolf can really be. But when the wolf attacks a friend or the aristocrat tires of it, what happens to the wolf? It’s bad luck to kill one. So they make their way to Feo’s door for her mother to teach the wolf to be wild again, able to survive on its own after years of pampering.

But when General Rakov decides the half-wild wolves are pests, he will stop at nothing to kill them and everyone Feo loves if they don’t stop looking after the pack and keep the wolves away. When he imprisons her mother, Feo knows she and her half-wild wolves must save her.

Feo must traverse the wilderness outside St. Petersburg and find a way into the prison in only a week—but she and her wolves find surprising allies on her journey, and Feo realizes that sometimes people can provide comfort and help instead of just interrupting her solitude.

Full of charming and surprising side characters, true moments of darkness, and insightful comments on humans and the nature of community, this short story captivated me from start to finish! It’s the perfect blend of adventure and tension while keeping the mood of a legend told by the fire.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Wolf Wilder is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Another wintry story, this time in Vermont. Two sisters cope with their mother’s death in different ways, but when Sylvi disappears, Jules must figure out how to go on alone—until a fox kit finds her. See my review here.
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker – A boy and his fox part ways when his father enlists in the army. But Peter soon realizes he shouldn’t have left Pax in the forest, and begins the journey back to find him. Meanwhile, Pax waits for his boy, learning all he can to survive until they are reunited. See my review here.
  • Risuko by David Kudler – Another girl accustomed to isolation is taken in by a noblewoman who runs a secret organization that might turn the tide in Japan’s war. Risuko just wants to climb, but she must also see if her fate has other plans. See my review here.
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin – Much darker and not about actual wolves. In alternate 1956, the Axis Powers won WWII and a desperate underground rebellion plans to assassinate Hitler at the Victor’s Ball for a grueling cross-continent motorcycle race. Yael is impersonating the only female racer, and she must win if she wants to take the shot that will avenge her family and friends. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – This may seem too dark to compare, but aspects of Feo’s character strongly reminded me of Alex Craft. This story is about her, and her attempt to fit in and be normal in a small town after her sister’s murder—and her own secret vengeance. See my review here.

Ice Whale

18554571by Jean Craighead George
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

I picked up this slim novel at a used bookstore in Glenwood Springs this summer (incidentally there is also a delightful shop there called Kaleidoscoops where yes, you can get any flavor or color of ice cream you can imagine). This is an interesting read for a number of reasons!

The author is known for writing children’s books that highlight the delicate and symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, and this, her last book, is no exception. Set in the northern reaches of Alaska, this is the Moby Dick of children’s books. There’s all kinds of information about Alaska’s climate, the wildlife, two hundred years of whaling, and the indigenous people that possess a wealth of knowledge on how to survive in the harsh conditions. Yet the simplistic language and voice don’t detract from the vivid setting and the cast of characters around the bowhead whale, Siku.

Told through multiple characters over the 200-year lifetime of Siku (including Siku’s POV), we see how drastically the ocean changes and what it means both for the people and the animals living there. When Toozak witnesses the birth of the ice whale he knows they will have a special relationship. But when he accidentally gives away the whales’ location to hunters, he must atone for this betrayal by protecting Siku until the whale’s death. For generations, Toozak’s family tracks Siku’s migration and livelihood, attempting to lift the curse on their family.

Just as interesting as the changing landscape for Siku is the Toozak family’s evolution. As time passes the new generations must face changing beliefs and priorities as Siku becomes more legend than sworn duty.

It’s not often I read a kid’s book (I’d say this is barely middle-grade) and feel like I learned so much! Although the author’s stance is clear, she does a good job of presenting everyone’s point of view, including those of the whale hunters, to study how and why things changed over time. A good read for winter!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ice Whale is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Pax by Sarah Pennypacker – A story about the special relationship between a boy and his fox. When his father enlists in the war, Peter must give up his pet fox and go to live with his grandfather. But no sooner does he arrive than he realizes he must go back for Pax. Meanwhile, the little fox who knows nothing about the wild must learn to survive while he waits for his boy to return. This has beautiful writing, told from Peter and Pax’s POVs. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Carolina’s family goes to her grandfather Serge’s remote desert ranch to ready it for sale. Serge’s mind is not what it used to be, so at first Carolina merely humors his story about bees bringing the rain and a village of people in the past. Until bees begin following her around and she thinks the story might be true. A gorgeous story about being yourself and staying true to your family’s roots. See my review here.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – A story about two sisters in Vermont and the winter one of them disappears. A fox kit sees the grieving sister left behind and knows she is meant to help the girl somehow. See my review here.
  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – Saki doesn’t want to spend the summer at her grandmother’s remote and antiquated village. When she disrespects her family’s shrine on a dare, she invokes a death curse she must undo in three days! See my review here.
  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shephard – Only Emmaline can see the winged horses in the mirrors of the children’s mansion-turned-hospital. When the Horse Lord writes a letter asking her to protect one of them on her side of the mirror, Emmaline rises to the challenge. See my review here.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – When her family moves to a new flat, Coraline’s exploration leads her to discover a portal to an alternate world where her parents are better in every way–except for their creepy button eyes. Soon Coraline realizes she must defeat the evil lurking in that world to save her family and other children who were trapped there.

Frost Like Night

28512486by Sara Raasch
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This series had so many ups and downs for me–the first book intrigued me, the second bored me, and this one brought everything together in a satisfying conclusion!

Meira receives a guide to ending Angra’s decay when Rares appears and offers to impart all the knowledge of the Order of the Lustrate. Mather wants to protect Meira at all costs–which is difficult when he realizes she’s gone to Paisley without him. And Ceridwen has no time to heal her broken heart–someone has to organize an army to help Meira and that’s her. All of them have only days to defeat Angra before the Decay claims all the kingdoms and binds them into an empire of fear and darkness.

Meira’s journey is emotional and struck the same chords as other fantasy trilogies I read this year–I love reading about these young women finding confidence in themselves despite terrible hardships and overwhelming responsibilities.

Mather and Ceridwen have equally powerful character arcs which is such a refreshing thing. Sometimes side characters don’t have the same vibrancy but in this book I was never inclined to skip ahead to Meira’s chapters. Mather must come to terms with what protecting Meira truly means, and Ceridwen has to decide if the deep scars on her heart will ever let her live and love again.

There is a lot of plot to cover in this finale but battle plans and information are deftly handled for the most part. (There’s a bit of a rush to explain how all the magic works and what Meira needs to do but after that it’s smooth sailing). It’s not a perfect happily ever after but it’s an ending worthy of the characters. Definitely my favorite book of the trilogy!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Frost Like Night is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – This is another immensely satisfying end to a trilogy. Kestrel and Arin have never been further apart, but both of them are working to end the war between their kingdoms. Kestrel must survive and escape a work camp, and Arin must decide if he can forgive the girl he loves–especially now that their relationship hangs by a thread. See my review here.
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – An incredible end to an incredible trilogy! Karou and Akiva strive to bring peace between seraphs and chimaera with the added complication of seraphs invading present-day Earth. This book astounded me with the complexity of its plot and characters! See my review here.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – This is a fast-paced story with multiple kingdoms all fighting to capture Safi, a rare Truthwitch than can always tell truth from lies. The pacing and multitude of complicate character relationships remind me a lot of the Snow Like Ashes trilogy. See my review here.
  • Abhorsen by Garth Nix – The end of the first three books finds Lirael and Sabriel fighting to destroy Orannis before the dark power destroys the world. It’s an epic end to the story of two women discovering their powers and their destinies to step in when no one else can.

What to read again:

Reading the previous books in a series a second time lets you soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—I find it makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman


Pirates are gaining traction in YA and I couldn’t be happier about it! This explores Edward “Teach” Drummond’s past before he became known as Blackbeard. What led the son of a wealthy merchant to piracy? And who was the Anne behind his ship’s name? The rich historical aspects add to the chance meeting between penniless Anne and wealthy Teach as they both struggle for freedom in their lives. Don’t miss this background to the sequel coming out next month!


The Winter of Enchantment

2986057by Victoria Walker
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: 1969

I suspect many people like me found this because Garth Nix references it as one of his favorite novels and an inspiration behind Sabriel (though having read it that seems comical, given how much darker Sabriel is). This short book was written and published without much of the traditional process in place today, but it was easy for me to see why its enduring charm has kept it in print for decades.

A portal fantasy set in Victorian London, this follows young Sebastian as he waits for his father to return from India with his new stepmother. While he waits, he stumbles upon a magical Mirror that shows him a girl imprisoned in an evil Enchanter’s Treasure House. Sebastian resolves to save her with the help of a magical Teapot and a cat named Mantari.

This story is full of tropes, yet the earnest language precludes boredom with succinct diction and a sort of on-the-nose acknowledgment of the stories that came before it. Sebastian does set out to save the girl, but Melissa proves to be clever and capable too, and causes him to realize girls are more than pretty objects sitting around to be rescued. It’s cute in its approach.

What surprised me most was the deft description of the utterly strange world Melissa inhabits—dreamlike qualities and magic with unknown rules that reminded me of Lewis Carroll. In every chapter there’s something strange and surprising, with beautiful imagery and youthful creativity.  A lot of my enjoyment came from seeing accepted “rules” of stories broken—there’s a raw enthusiasm for the story here that is contagious.

Pick this up for a fun little quest to defeat evil and set things to rights! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winter of Enchantment is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline is the only child able to see the winged horses in the mirrors of the mansion-turned-hospital. When one of them turns up on her side of the mirrors, she promises the Horse Lord that she will protect Foxfire from the Black Horse that hunts her. A story of hope and magical realism during WWII in England. See my review here.
  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – Saki doesn’t want to go to her grandmother’s house in the country, but when she messes around with some local kids she unleashes a death curse on her family.  With the help of three different spirit guides, she absolutely must set things right during the Night Parade! See my review here.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – So many of the descriptions in The Winter of Enchantment reminded me of this book. Jeweled trees, a huge mansion, a girl unsure of her identity and if she’s a prisoner or a queen. This YA fantasy inspired by Indian mythology is a delicious read of dreams and destiny. See my review here.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – The ultimate portal fantasy of our generation. See where Harry’s journey begins as he attends Hogwarts to become a wizard. (Having just read this again, it’s probably even more adorable than you remember). See my review here.

Writing Update: Revision Plan of Attack

After a lovely, refreshing holiday break I was absolutely itching to get back to my Fox Story! I missed the characters and the world and as fun as it was to catch up on reading and thinking up some new ideas, I’m ready to dive back in and make my rough draft into an actual book.

The best part about a critique group is getting so many perspectives not just on drafting or books but on the craft and process. I polled my writing buddies for their revision processes and cobbled together some good advice for tackling my own project!

So this is my plan to carve Fox Story into the book I imagined so many months ago:

First, I always need to read through my rough draft, noting plot, world, character, pacing issues, and what needs more research. I draft quickly and don’t spend much time going over what I previously wrote, so more than anything I need the entire story fresh in my mind so that I don’t confuse what I *think* is in the manuscript with what I actually wrote.

From these notes, I make a list of action items to smooth out the plot and decide what scenes should be added, cut, or changed. I can’t focus on character until the events make sense to me, so I have to make sure my timeline and actions happen in the right order and aren’t confusing. “Making a list” sounds simple, but what this really means is that I will make a BUNCH of lists with things to do. For instance, “Add this character’s backstory” becomes “Create backstory, what are motivations, what is the timeline, what is the best way to reveal this information, does this change anything in my plot and if so how…” The second draft is basically pulling even more threads into the tapestry and then weaving them together properly.

I also want to wrap up any additional research needed! No sense in revising and then having to change things again based on something I could have looked into before (what immediately comes to mind as an example are my sword fighting scenes).

When the plot is smoothed out, I ensure character beats are placed correctly for maximum impact. Character and plot are always entwined, but if I know what needs to happen I can adjust these moments to best toy with and push my characters along their own path. This is the part where “make things worse” comes into play!

After all this, I will develop any other material needed (world, setting, character) and include all that. My draft is already about 10K longer than I anticipated so we’ll see how much it balloons!

Finally, I’ll polish it before I send it to my first round of critique partners for notes, which basically means make it as book-shaped and typo-free as possible.

Based on their notes, I’ll begin the cycle of revising and getting more notes until I feel like Fox Story is ready for the final and most agonizing step: querying!


A Gathering of Shadows

20764879by V.E. Schwab
5 of 5 stars

I loved the first book in this series from the first line (magic coats? Yes, there are never enough). In keeping with this fantastic year for sequels, this one completely lived up to my hopes! I put off reading it for a few months because of sequel fear, and now I’m glad I did that because the cliff-hanger ending is terrible and I have to wait months for the last book!

Set in Red London four months after the magic and mayhem in the previous book, we find Delilah Bard adrift at sea while Kell and Rhy deal with their newfound bond in the castle. A magical contest is scheduled to begin soon to unite the three empires in a traditional, peace-keeping event. Will this bring together our heroes in dangerous, unexpected, often hilarious and sexually charged ways? You know the answer to that!

Lila’s new temporary home aboard the Night Spire with Captain Alucard Emery highlights her acute confusion about her future as she achieves most everything she ever wanted yet still wants to run. Kell chafes at the new restrictions placed on him after the disaster months ago and tries to hide it from Rhy, which doesn’t work because Rhy now feels everything Kell feels.

Although the setup for the magical contest takes up most of the pages, if you love these characters you won’t mind the gradual buildup and relational drama as they reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves. Especially since relational drama was in very short supply in the first book. If you view the trilogy with each book taking Act 1, 2 or 3, it is flowing along perfectly in that respect. Welcome to Act 2 – dealing with the inciting incidents and how they want to handle future incidents. Enjoy some familiar tropes (magical contests) with addictive secrets and biting remarks.

My favorite thing about exploring any fantasy world is delving into the inner workings. Any book introduces the rudimentary aspects, but in a series you can go beyond the surface level and find surprising new things about how the magic works, or what the characters are responsible for, or new locations and favorite haunts. And in this case, tons of amazing coats as well. (Diana Wynne Jones ruined me, don’t judge me!)

If the most important thing for your enjoyment of a series is consistency, you will find that here! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Gathering of Shadows is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – If you just love mythical forms of London, soak up this vision of a futuristic underworld ruled by clairvoyants fighting against a regime that seeks to destroy them. Paige returns to her old haunts hoping to win her old boss Jaxon Hall to her cause—and when he seems hesitant she decides to fight on without him. See my review here.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – If you can’t get enough of angsty wizards in magical coats, enjoy some time with Wizard Howl as he avoids all responsibilities to multiple kingdoms and deals with Sophie, an infuriating girl under a spell who insists on seeing the best in him. See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Another version of London with strange magic and stranger inhabitants. Richard stops to help a strange girl on the streets and is pulled in to a battle for the city and for himself.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A village thinks their local sorcerer is the most dangerous thing they face, but the reality is much worse. Agnieszka becomes his unwilling apprentice and finds that she has unusual magic that might defeat the evil looming at the kingdom’s borders. See my review here.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – A magical competition between three sisters for the crown. A Poisoner, a Naturalist, and an Elemental must see who is strongest by killing their sisters before they kill her. See my review here.

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