I have pretty much all of David Day’s Tolkien guide books, and The Hobbits of Tolkien is the newest addition to my very extensive Tolkien collection. In this illustrated guide, Day gives us the history of Hobbits from their creation by Tolkien, to their own fictional history, all the way up to the Lord of the Rings. It was fascinating to read about the ancient Hobbit races and founders of the Shire and their connections to ancient English peoples, folklore, and cultures, as well as why Bilbo Baggins was THE choice for the role of burglar in The Hobbit.
I expected an extensive and in-depth discussion of Hobbits by Day, and I was not disappointed. What did surprise me, in the best possible of ways, was that most of this book is filled with linguistics and etymology. Day explains how all words stemming from “hob-” (including the word “hob” and its many meanings) play some intricate role in the description and role that Hobbits play in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In addition, Day teaches readers how various words in ancient and modern Germanic, Norse, Celtic, and English languages all contributed to the naming of characters, places, and races. My absolute favorite linguistic connection that Day makes is the connection between the names Smaug and Smeagol, both coming from ancient Germanic words that have to do with burrowing or twisting or squeezing into holes.
The illustrations are also absolutely gorgeous. My favorite is one of the watercolor paintings of The Shire.
I recommend this to every Tolkien fan, and to all linguists and etymologists, and even to those who just want to learn a bit more about Hobbits.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch named Kiki who, at the age of thirteen, leaves home for a year to train and come of age. She leaves home with her black cat Jiji and finds a town by the sea, where, after some trials and tribulations, makes friends, starts a business, and leads a happy life.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and it was only last year that I discovered it was based on this book! So of course I immediately bought it, but took my time in reading it. While the film will always be closer to my heart, this book was a cozy and wholesome read.
Some key differences between the book and the film:
The book talks more about the culture of the witches and Kiki’s family, explaining more why the witches have to live away from home after a year.
The book is much more episodic, with each chapter acting as a different sketch during each season Kiki lived in her seaside town. She makes many more friends than are shown in the film, including a girl just her age. I think that was important to include, especially after Tombo tells Kiki, basically, that she isn’t like other girls (and she finds it really weird to say). The other characters are very quirky and fun and give the reader a greater sense of the town’s character.
I am happy to say that Jiji is just as snarky as in the film, and as all black cats should be.
While this book is targeted towards a younger audience, I recommend it to readers of all ages. It is the perfect, wholesome coming-of-age story, filled with magic and learning how to be a person.
The Daughters of Ys is based on a Breton tale, and includes (at least what I think is) Celtic folklore. In this story, two young women are the princesses of the mythical kingdom of Ys, the daughters of a king and a sorceress. Rozenn, the older daughter, loves solitude and a more wild life. Dahut, the younger, gains the abilities of her mother and craves the power and rule of the kingdom. Both sisters must reconcile not only their differences, but their own lives in order to save their kingdom and their people.
I am a huge fan of Celtic and folklore retellings, and this one was superbly done. Rozenn is not from the original story, rather from the opera by Lalo, but I can see why the authors chose to include her. In the original story, Dahut is lost to the sea, seemingly without redemption for her deeds. Here, at least one daughter gets to live and prosper, though Dahut does get a chance at an afterlife of her own. I love how different the sisters are and why they are made to decide what they decide. Ultimately, they must reckon with powers beyond their control – powers that include references to Faerie, Celtic deities and monsters, and others. I also liked the portrayal of the liminality between Celtic and Christian mythology, as at the time that this story would take place, Christianity was just peeking its head into a larger world.
I absolutely have to talk about the art. Jo Rioux has a gorgeous art style that reminds me a lot of the art style from the Cartoon Saloon films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, very much in tune with the Celtic and mythological themes, as well as the liminality between the human and the spiritual world. A lot of this graphic novel has to do with the sea, and Rioux presents even things that aren’t the sea – the shadows and plants and architecture – as a flowing substance that envelops the surroundings and its characters.
I recommend this amazing graphic novel to those who love mythological retellings, and those who like films like The Secret of Kells.
Those Who Run in the Sky is a middle grade, fantasy novel about a young Inuk man, Pitu, who learns that not only is he to be the next leader of his igluit, his village, but also is to become a powerful shaman. But when he is swept into the spirit world, he has to struggle with more than he bargained for.
This novel is, to my unlearned mind, a great first representation of Inuit culture and mythology, told by an author who is herself Inuk. She also uses this story to teach Inuk words, which is part of the reason I enjoyed and plan on keeping this book. The other reason is that the story, while not so plot-oriented, is full of imagery, culture, and tons of character development, making this the ideal coming-of-age story. I could see the Northern Lights in the sky, and imagine the harsh cold of the arctic winter. I could feel the emotion as Pitu becomes lost in many ways.
I have only a few criticisms of this book. The main one is that the writing and language tend to be a bit juvenile, but that is expected in many middle grade books. The other, less prominent criticism is that there are no real turns or climaxes to the plot, making the story feel more like a journey than a singular, linear tale. Which is not a bad thing, just different from what I am used to.
I recommend this book to everyone, even if it’s only to learn some Inuk words.
And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a retelling of Moby Dick, though the hunters we see are both humans and whales. Whales hunt humans to protect themselves, and humans hunt whales for the same reason. Bathsheba is an apprentice of a ship of whales, whose captain is obsessed with hunting down the almost mythical whale and human-hunting man, Toby Wick. But when Bathsheba has the chance to speak with a human herself, she realizes that the hunts and destinies of whales and men always prophesied to her may not be as fixed in fate as she thought.
First I want to talk about the illustrations by Rovina Cai. They are simply beautiful. Cai uses a palette of greys, blacks, and reds to make the images of the hunts and depths of the sea starkly stand out and draw the eye to the brutality of the story. Her style reminds me very much of the art by Emily Carroll in her book Through The Woods, which I also love.
For those who loved The Deep by Rivers Solomon, this is a logical choice for your next read. Patrick Ness also writes about humanity through the perspective of an endangered sea, and writes about characters going against the destinies that have been thrust upon their unwilling selves. It is interesting that both of these authors chose the sea as the perspective of their respective books. Is it because things are darker in the sea and contrast with the brightness of the air and land in which humanity lives? Is it because the vast sea allows for more room to grow? There are so many possibilities that I cannot answer or choose – only the author can do that – but the setting of the deep see keeps drawing me in, and is why I loved And The Ocean Was Our Sky so much.
After reading and loving Every Heart A Doorway, I was eager to read more of Seanan McGuire’s other works. So when I saw she had written prequels to that first book, I jumped right in. This prequel is about Jack and Jill, who went through a chest into another world. The former became a scientist’s apprentice, the latter the adopted daughter of a vampire as mysterious and powerful as the legendary Count himself.
I won’t say too much about the plot of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, as a lot of it is explained in Every Heart A Doorway. The reason for this is also because I wasn’t too keen on the story. It explained the background of why Jack and Jill were the way they were in the first book, but other than that it was nothing special. What really had me hooked to this book, though, was McGuire’s writing, which continues to be amazing. It is poetic, full of wonderful imagery, and her characters seem almost alive.
I listened to this book on Scribd for day 3 of this year’s Reading Rush.
The Changeling Sea is about Peri, a girl who hates and fears the sea, and yet finds herself entwined in its movements and intentions. She meets a prince who longs for the sea, a sea-dragon that longs for the land, and a wizard that, along with Peri, knows more secrets than they care to tell.
McKillip was inspired by classic changeling stories to write this tale, and she does it magnificently. In this case we meet two changelings, one trapped on land that belongs in the sea, and one trapped in the sea that belongs on land. Peri acts as the liaison between the land and sea, herself almost a changeling, though enchantress is more like it, especially since she follows patterns of enchantresses that McKillip often engages, like Sybel from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
What I love as well as the changeling themes and the poetic descriptions of the sea, are the fairytale references. Images of Swan Lake and the Seven (sometimes Six) Swans come to mind when looking at the changeling princes, and Peri fits the well-known trope of hermit witch who guides heroes on their journeys. Peri does find love in the end though, through romance, friendship, and the love between a mother and a daughter.
McKillip once again did not disappoint, and I may like this book even better than the last one I read. I recommend to all who love and fear the sea with all its mystery, depth, and magic.
Every Heart a Doorway is about a girl named Nancy who gets sent to a boarding school for youths who have been to different worlds and come back. Like all those at this school, Nancy cannot get back through the door that led to her particular world, in this case the underworld, and so must learn to cope and live in the ‘real’ world. She makes friends, and bonds with others like her when a number of grisly murders happen at the school. Together, Nancy and her friends must find out who would commit such crimes.
I had no idea what to expect when I first started listening to this book on audio, but I absolutely fell in love. The way Seanan McGuire writes her characters is so detailed and wonderful, I wanted to know and be friends with all of these people. In addition, McGuire has created characters who represent those who do not receive much attention – Nancy herself is asexual, and there are nonbinary and gay characters as well.
This book made me feel like I did when I was a child, perhaps even how I feel now. I believed I could enter secret worlds that were entirely made for me, and like the young people at Miss Eleanor’s School, I find myself looking back to those days of whimsy and adventure, even if they were only in my head. And, much like the doors of those worlds, Every Heart a Doorway is itself like a door into a world where people can understand you. There’s so much folklore and fairytale in it as well that I now know that it is no wonder I was so enthralled with the story.
This is probably my favorite book this year, and I have read some amazing books. I recommend to anyone who wants a door back to whimsy.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon is absolutely a five-star read. The premise is that the African slaves who were dumped off the side of slave ships gave birth to water-breathing children who then became mermaid-like creatures called the wajinru. In this group of people there is what is called the Historian, who holds all of the memories and, of course, history of the wajinru as a whole. Only the Historian remembers. The Deep is about one such Historian, Yetu, who breaks from tradition to find herself, and ultimately reconnect with the history of her people.
This book is about memory and who holds memories, whose job it is to remember. It is also about how remembering keeps a people and a culture alive, something I have personal experience with. I am not only a classicist, someone who keeps alive literature from the ancient world, but I am also Jewish. The latter causes me to relate to this book the most, as the wajinru, and ultimately those of African descent, try to keep memories and histories alive, so have the Jewish people after their own demise – and like Yetu, this is what I feel has been handed down to me in certain ways. Rivers Solomon does a fantastic job depicting what they call “Rememberings”, not only represented by the Historian, but also by the ocean that keeps the wajinru safe and their memories secure. The depth of the ocean parallels just how deeply their memories go, and us readers see how much of it gets lost when Yetu abandons the deep for a fresh start.
I recommend this book to those who keep memories alive, especially in times of turmoil like these. Black Lives Matter, and so do their experiences and memories.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a high fantasy tale that I am so fortunate to have found. A wizard woman who commands animals and learns, along with others she loves and who love her, to be a real and genuine person. Sybel the wizard woman is the link between the hidden world of magic and that of men, two of which are fortunate to be able to enter into her world.
McKillip has written a deep and real character that is Sybel, a complicated woman who learns about herself, even in the midst of the worst experiences a woman could have. She writes a mythology that I want to delve deeper into, and I hope that it exists further in her other novels. The writing is slow and contemplative, and, while the lack of action may deter some readers, I found the story to be wonderfully meditative and atmospheric.
McKillip has turned the Arthurian legends upside down, and made women and the legends of nature those that change not only the fate of the world, but also how the world chooses to live. The Arthurian king to Sybel’s Merlin-like character has yet to grow into a fine man, but he has grown with love, and that is what Sybel has had to learn to give and receive.
I’ve felt I can relate very strongly with Sybel, in terms of strength, both in possession and in wanting; of wanting to love and be loved; of wanting to know who I am and why; of learning that being is complicated and yet the most wonderful thing to be.
Readers who loved books like The Chronicles of Prydain and A Wizard in Earthsea will absolutely love The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.