Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis has a new book in the Harwood Spellbook out on February 25!  Thank you so much to the author for the review copy!

Thornbound by Stephanie BurgisThornbound. The Harwood Spellbook II by Stephanie Burgis. Five Fathoms Press, 2019.
Cassandra Harwood overcame a host of difficulties – literally – to marry her love, Rajaram Wrexham, as told in Snowspelled.  Her dream of starting her own college for female magicians is about to come true – she and her sister-in-law Amy have converted the disused male dowager house on her family’s property, Thornfell, to be used as a school, and have a good starting class with talented and dedicated girls and young women from different walks of life.  This is supposed to be her happily ever after.

Except… both the Boudiccate and the College of Magicians seem to have decided that they don’t really like the idea of Thornfell College.  The Boudiccate has been giving Wrexham so many long-distance work assignments that he and Cassandra haven’t been able to celebrate their wedding night, months after the wedding.  The most annoying, conceited, and condescending weather mage Cassandra has ever met, Luton, turns out to be the one Wrexham hired to teach weather magic. And Cassandra gets word that representatives from the Boudiccate are going to be conducting an inspection, watching all her classes from the very first day.

Things are falling apart even before they start, and Cassandra (and Amy) have to deal with all of it on next to no sleep.  Amy isn’t sleeping because of nursing her infant daughter, while Cassandra keeps being woken with nightmares of being wrapped in thorny vines.  If only she still had her magic and could do a simple sleep protection spell!

One of the underlying themes of this series has been challenging established gender roles.  The Boudiccate is truly worried that letting women learn magic will be just the first step towards establishing a patriarchy in Angland, when they have seen first-hand how damaging that can be for women in other countries. (Amy’s nursing her own daughter, as an upper class woman with plenty of responsibilities, goes counter to tradition in both their world and ours of a similar time.) 

Thornbound adds a new theme, as well.  We’ve already seen multiple romantic relationships that we’d consider interracial in our world not being a big deal.  For our lesbian couple, first introduced in the last book, magically talented Miss Banks and budding politician Miss Fennell, the big barrier was more that a woman in politics is expected to be married to a man who’s studied magic (then either giving up other ties or maintaining a mistress in secret, I suppose), so that Cassandra’s school will hopefully allow them to uphold that part of the tradition.  

But there is also deep prejudice against humans having romantic relationships with the fey whose land runs parallel within Angland. The dangers of both the prejudice and the forbidden relationships that spring up anyway results in much of the real danger in the book, though there is still plenty of time for Cassandra to do some growing of her own. Stephanie Burgis manages somehow to cover some dark and relevant themes in a short, satisfying story that still has the sparkle of a light-hearted fantasy romance.  I hear the next planned book in the series will be starring Miss Fennell and Miss Banks, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Spellswept by Stephanie BurgisIn case you missed it, you can read about Amy and Jonathan’s courtship in Spellswept, available either on its own or as part of the Underwater Ballroom Society collection.  I seem not to do as well with writing full reviews of shorter fiction, but if you want short tastes of Burgis’s romantic fiction, I heartily recommend the novelette The Disastrous Début of Agatha Tremain and the short story The Wrong Foot, a twist on Cinderella, both available just for Kindle.  

More Stephanie Burgis books I’ve enjoyed:

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2018 Diversity Challenge Final Tally

In 2018, I did the diversity challenge from Pam at an Unconventional Librarian.  Although she’s a children’s and YA book blogger, I’ve included some of my diverse adult reading as well – I’ll note if that’s the case.  I realized I didn’t post my updates the whole second half of 2018 – bolded titles are the ones I read since that update.  Though the original challenge was just to read one book in each category, I found the categories a helpful way to make sure that I was diversifying my diversity, if that makes sense.

[2/23/19 edit] I forgot that when I started this challenge, I was only including #OwnVoices authors.  Going back now to star those here that I know to be #OwnVoices in the category listed.

  1.  Written by or about a person of Hispanic origin:

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Cybils Middle Grade Graphic Novel Finalists

The Cybils Award winners were announced yesterday!  So many good books – some I’ve read already and some to add to the TBR!  I’m so happy that Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow won in my Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category!  And also very excited that the Middle Grade Realistic Fiction book that I nominated, The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, won in that category!  Covers of the 2018 Cybils Award winners

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading some finalists in other categories since they were announced.  I’d already read several of the finalists in the Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novel category:

  • The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag (the final winner! and it looks like I never reviewed it, though I liked it a lot.)
  • Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
  • The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

Here are the remaining finalists: Continue reading

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Books I Missed in 2018 for Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a blog event hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Top Ten Tuesday from

This is not the official topic for this week’s Top 10 Tuesday.  I have, however, been working on it, slowly, with many interruptions for the past month or so since it was the official topic.  Sometimes things are like that, even in Australia.

I also realized that I have a whole separate list of a dozen books that came out last year that I’m on hold for on Overdrive, and over a dozen that I’d missed and already read last month.  It never ends, so this is, as always, just a sample of the many, many books I’m interested in.  Let me know what’s on your list, too!

  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (teen)
  • Beyond the Dreams We Know by Rachel Neumeier (teen? Adult?)
  • Black Dog Short Stories III by Rachel Neumeier (teen)
  • The Collectors by Jacqueline West (middle grade)
  • The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Lee (teen)
  • The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (adult)
  • Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (teen)
  • Housegirl by Michael Donkor (adult)
  • I’m OK by Patti Kim (middle grade)
  • Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (middle grade)
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (adult)
  • You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (middle grade)
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Nightbooks by J.A. White

Here’s a brief take on another one of the books I read for the Cybils.  

Nightbooks by J.A. WhiteNightbooks by J.A. White. Harper Collins Childrens, 2018.

Alex is tired of being made fun of for being different. He’s on his way to burning the notebooks that set him apart as different, when his apartment elevator stops on the wrong floor.  Instead of the furnace, he hears the sound of his favorite movie, Night of the Living Dead, coming from an open apartment door.  He follows the sound – only to discover that he’s been trapped by a wicked witch.  Once she discovers his secret, he’s set to writing horror stories to tell to the apartment.  There’s another captive child as well, Yasmin, that Alex tries to convince to work with to make an escape plan – but she knows more than he does about the dark past and the many children no longer there.  And their every step is watched by a nasty cat… This is a dark (but not too dark) Hansel and Gretel variant, set in a modern-day New York City that somehow manages to be very creepy and still have an affirming ending.  

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A Sprinkle of Spirits: Love Sugar Magic Book 2

I really enjoyed Anna Meriano’s first book in the Love Sugar Magic series, A Dash of Trouble, so I jumped at the chance to be part of the blog tour for the second book, which just came out February 5. Keep reading for a giveaway for this book!


A Sprinkle of Spirits: Love Sugar Magic Book 2 by Anna MerianoA Sprinkle of Spirits: Love Sugar Magic Book 2 by Anna Meriano. Walden Pond Press, 2019.
Leonora “Leo” Logroño was thrilled when her mother agreed to teach her bruja skills at the end of the last book. Now, though, some of the shine is starting to wear off.  Her family wants her to learn things so slowly, it feels like she doesn’t get to do any real magic. She hasn’t figured out what her special knack is – especially since those gifts usually go in strict birth order, one to three, and she’s child number four.  

When her best friend Caroline comes back from a visit to her mother’s family in Costa Rica, she and Leo want to talk, but Leo’s sisters are convinced that between the secret magic and the rush in the bakery for Día de los Reyes, Caroline should stay away.  Should Leo make up with her friend? Or does she need to put her family first? Meanwhile, Tía Paloma decides the girls are all ready to learn candle magic, in addition to the baking magic that comes naturally to their family.

All of this would be plenty for Leo to deal with. Then she wakes up in the middle of the night to find that her grandmother is standing next to her bed – in the flesh, not as a ghost, though shedding marigold petals.  Is this Leo’s talent? But how could she have pulled her grandmother over from el otro lado without even knowing it? When even more spirits turn up – including the grandmother of one of Leo’s friend, a former mayor, and the old school piano teacher – the adventure levels also go up.  All of them have missions they want to accomplish while they’re back in the land of the living, and staying hidden isn’t on the agenda for most of them. Leo and her family won’t be enough to handle the ensuing mayhem.

There are still plenty of delicious baked goods here, with the addition of the candles. Even though the running around after the spirits takes center stage here, there’s still time to think about the difficulty of balancing family and friends – we get to know several of Leo’s friends better, as well as learning about the challenges Leo’s older sisters have had balancing their bruja world with outside friendships.  And with the spirits crossing over, there are also meditations on appropriate boundaries between the living and the dead and the importance of moving on for both sides. I appreciated the diversity within Leo’s friend group as well, including multiple Latinx cultures and a Vietnamese-American friend, among others. This continues to be a very enjoyable series, with sweetness and depth, like a favorite family recipe.


ANNA MERIANOAnna Meriano is the author of the “Love Sugar Magic” series, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness. A Houston native, she graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and earned her MFA in writing for children from the New School. Anna works as a tutor and part time teacher with Writers in the Schools, a Houston nonprofit that brings creative writing instruction into public schools. In her free time, she likes to knit, study American Sign Language, and play full-contact quidditch.


Enter for a chance to win a copy of A Sprinkle of Spirits, courtesy of Walden Pond Press.  Just leave a comment on this post with something you’re excited for about this book and a way to contact you (email address, Twitter handle, etc.) by midnight on Monday, February 18.  I’ll notify the randomly chosen winner on February 19.

Check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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2018 in Review – the Books

Once again, icy weather and real life are making it hard to find time to look back at my book life.  But, here’s a look at the best of the books I read last year – so many happy book memories!

Here is my standard disclaimer about rating books:

“I have never liked doing a public scale rating of books – the librarian in me would rather describe what’s in the book and let you decide if it sounds good for you. But I do give books number ratings on my own private spreadsheet. I shamelessly borrowed the Book Smugglers’ 10-point rating system for this, where 0 is “I want my time and my money back”, 5 is “meh” and so on. For my purposes, 7 is a book I enjoyed, 8 is one I loved and 9 is one I really, really loved. 10 only gets given out retrospectively to books I find myself re-reading and thinking about a lot – a true personal classic.”

Let me know in the comments what books you loved last year!

Picture Books

Middle Grade




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2018 in Review: the Numbers

This is the time of year when I look back at my reading and how well I did with my goals, with some pretty graphs. (Yes, I am that kind of geek.)

2018 Overview


I logged 254 books this year, finished 244, reviewed 81, and rated 58 9 or above. I was up a little from last year both in books read and reviewed, even if I still can’t write reviews as fast as I read the books.

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Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Hears It All for MCBD 2019

It’s time for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!!!  This is a longer post – keep reading for information on giveaways, the twitter party, and my review of the book I was sent by author sponsor Jacqueline Jules.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

new logo

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board!

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The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

Continuing on with reviewing our 2018 Cybils finalists.

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstThe Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst. Clarion Books, 2018.
The stone girl Mayka is the oldest of the stone creatures carved by the Stonemason she called Father, who knew the secret of carving marks into the stone to bring them to life and give them personalities.  Mayka can’t remember exactly how long he’s been gone, with all the stone creatures taking care of his little farm on a remote mountain.  When Turtle’s marks fade so that he can no longer move or talk, Mayka leaves the mountain sanctuary to find a stone mason who can refresh them.  Two rowdy stone birds, Jaklo and Risa, sneak along with her.  On their way to the city, they also meet a translucent red stone dragon, Siannasi Yondolada Quilasa, or Si-Si for short.  She wants to come along because she’s quite upset that her marks limit her to being beautiful, with no other set purpose in life.

Mayka may be centuries old, but her life has been quite sheltered.  Even though carved stone beasts of burden or guard dogs are common, fully intelligent, free-willed – and flying in the case of the birds – stone creatures or people are not.  A friendly apprentice, Garit, takes them to a master carver who doesn’t see them as people – just interesting experiments, ready to be taken under his control.  Mayka will have to learn, and quickly, before she and her friends are made captive forever.

This starts off a little on the slow side, with descriptions of the beautifully carved stone creatures and buildings, and of the countryside.  But it picks up once they’re in the city, with the danger of captivity and a rampaging stone monster.  There are deep themes here about slavery and the ability to write one’s own story that are beautifully handled.  The topic of artificial intelligence or AI is one that’s more often handled in adult science fiction books like Ancillary Justice or the Murderbot Diaries. Illuminae is a teen book that deals with the question of whether or not AIs can be considered real people.  It was a delightful surprise to see the same issue dealt with in a fantasy setting, and for middle grade, even if the creatures here are clearly sentient and need to be treated as such. I was not sure we needed the human romance that came at the very end of the story, but the ending before the end – Mayka’s own story – was beautiful.

I also enjoyed some of Sarah Beth Durst’s other work, including Journey across the Hidden Islands and Queen of Blood (this one is for adults and is indeed quite bloody.)

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