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Thursday, February 16, 2017

New Year, New Series-Adult Fantasy

So, this week I am sharing a few of my favorite fantasy series for adults that are perhaps not as well known as The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
You do not have to be a fantasy geek to get sucked into the mesmerizing world of The Kingkiller Chronicle. According to The Onion: The Name of the Wind is quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years, although attaching a genre qualification threatens to damn it with faint praise. Say instead that The Name of the Wind is one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade.

 Over the course of three days (each book in the planned trilogy is one day) a mysterious innkeeper named Kvothe shares his remarkable life story with a traveling scribe.  What follows is a first person narrative fraught with joy, tragedy, intrigue, magic, and music.  I have read the first two books twice and now I am desperately waiting for the publication of The Doors of Stone, which according to this May 2016 interview Patrick Rothfuss is in the process of editing so hopefully it will be coming out soon!

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Yes, the Hamilton guy!) must be a kindred spirit because he has said that "Pat Rothfuss' 'Kingkiller' books are among the most read and re-read in our home".  Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Rothfuss uber fan has signed on with Lionsgate to compose original music and produce the film and television adaptations of the Kingkiller Chronicle (Woot Woot!!!).  Ok, you may be wondering "Why original music?". Well, Kvothe is a gifted musician and since music is a recurring theme throughout the Kingkiller Chronicle it is hard to imagine a movie or tv series that did not highlight music.

As you know I am a children's librarian so I have to share this video of Patrick Rothfuss at the San Diego ComiCon last year leading a little story time of his own. I love it when an author turns out to be just as awesome as his books!

2. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
The Night Angel Trilogy is a grittier, more realistic fantasy but not quite as soul-sucking as Game of Thrones. So, what do I mean by that? Well, nothing against Game of Thrones. It is a superbly written, enthralling fantasy, but George R. R. Martin does seem to relish in killing off every character a reader can become emotionally invested in. Not that I need sunshine, rainbows, and happy endings in every book that I read, but I do like a hero or heroine that I can root for (especially in a fantasy).

The appealing, albeit flawed, characters are what make The Night Angel Trilogy a truly spectacular read. The story is primarily set in the dark, criminal underbelly of Cenaria in the mythical world of Midcryu.  Azoth is an orphan trying to survive by any means possible, when he witnesses the legendary wetboy, Durzo Blint in action. Seeing an escape from his impoverished existence, Azoth begs Durzo to train him in the magical and deadly arts of the wetboy, which "are to assassins like a tiger is to a kitten".

Yes, The Night Angel Trilogy is grim and many of the characters are thieves, assassins, prostitutes, and worse. However, Weeks makes you care and interjects themes of friendship, loyalty, and hope into an intricate and fascinating magical universe.

If you read the novels and love them as much as I did, check out the graphic novel adaptations of The Night Angel Trilogy. You have Weeks' amazing story accompanied by stellar artwork by Andy McDonald.

 3. The Belgariad by David Eddings
So now we have the opposite of gritty, realistic fantasy. I fell in love with David Eddings (and Leigh Eddings, his wife and frequent coauthor) when I was in middle school and first started obsessively reading a lot of high fantasy fiction.  In The Belgariad young farm boy, Garion, discovers that he is the subject of a centuries' old prophesy. Now Garion and a loyal group of companions are on an epic journey to find a magical orb and destroy the evil Kal Torak.

I would classify The Belgariad and the sequel series, The Mallorean, as fantasy light. If you want to read a series that is just escapist fun and a little more humorous Eddings is a great option. In fact, I find myself rereading the The Belgariad every few years because it is so entertaining. For parents out there that have tweens or teens that are interested in reading high fantasy Eddings' books are a little bit easier to read and do not include graphic violence or sex.

4.  The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
When I think of epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is the first one that comes to mind. Fans of fantasy will happily lose themselves amidst the massive cast of characters in Jordan's expansive and detailed magical universe.

Rand, Matt, and Perrin  are best friends living in the isolated mountain village of Emond's Field. Their simple, yet happy lives are turned upside down after the arrival of Moiraine, a powerful sorceress (Aes Sedai), and her warder, Lan. For one of the three young men is the Dragon Reborn, destined to save the universe by returning Shai'tan, the Dark One, to his prison.

Jordan died in 2007 while writing the 12th book. Brandon Sanderson, who is an amazing fantasy writer in his own right (check out his Mistborn series which I probably should have included in this blog), was chosen by Jordan's family to finish the series. Books 12-14 were written using extensive notes and audiotapes left by Jordan and, in my opinion, Sanderson did an excellent job in concluding the The Wheel of Time.

If you do not want to read all 14 books of The Wheel of Time series the audiobook versions are amazing . The male characters are read by veteran narrator, Michael Kramer, and the female point of view is read by Kramer's real life spouse, Jennifer Mendenhall (aka Kate Reading). Listen to a sample in the youtube video below. 

5. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind
If you read both The Sword of Truth and The Wheel of Time you will probably notice more than a few similarities. The protagonist of both series is a brawny, country bumpkin who discovers latent magical abilities and becomes a master swordsman before going on a harrowing quest to save the world. The Wheel of Time has the Aes Sedai, a powerful group of women who wield the one power and rule from the White Tower. Whereas, The Sword of Truth has the Sisters of the Light, sorceresses who have mastered the gift and reside in the Palace of Prophets. Despite the obvious parallels to The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth is an exciting and inventive fantasy with a memorable cast of characters.

The Sword of Truth series, was adapted for television by Terry Goodkind and Sam Raimi in 2008. Legend of the Seeker, which loosely follows Wizard's First Rule, only lasted two seasons but it was entertaining and featured gorgeous New Zealand scenery. If you're a fan of shows like Merlin, Xena, or Hercules and you enjoyed Goodkind's books Legend of the Seeker is definitely worth streaming on Hulu.

6. Shannara by Terry Brooks

Shannara may sound familiar since MTV launched a television series based on the books in 2016. I have not watched it so I do not know how faithful it is to Brooks' novels, but it looks intriguing. Also, it is exciting that John Rhys-Davies stars as Eventine Elessedil, king of the elves. I wonder if the makeup job to play an elf was easier than that required for Rhys-Davies to play Gimli the Dwarf in The Lord of the Rings. It looks like all he needed to play an elf were the ears.

John Rhys-Davies as Eventine Elessedil
Okay, back to the actual book series which is vast, complex, and completely unique. Whereas the majority of fantasy series take place in alternate worlds created in the authors' imagination, Shanarra is actually set  in a post-apocalyptic earth. The original Shanarra Trilogy (Sword of Shanarra, The Elfstones of Shanarra, and The Wishsong of Shanarra) is set two thousand years after a nuclear holocaust known as the Great Wars wipes out most of earth. The majority of technology is lost but magic and elves have been rediscovered and mankind has mutated into distinct races of men, dwarves, trolls, and gnomes.

Of the fantasy series that I have highlighted in this post, Shanarra requires the most commitment. There are already nearly 30 books that take take place in the Shanarra universe. I am not going to go into all of their plot lines because I would be typing for days and I have found that it is really difficult to summarize a fantasy series without sounding cheesy and/or confusing. Check out Terry Brooks' website for descriptions of all of the books as well as suggested reading orders of the books for new and old fans of Shanarra.

I know that thirty books seems excessive, but Brooks' brilliant story telling is worth the time and effort. The good news is The Black Elfstone, the first book in the The Fall of Shanarra, which is a four book conclusion to the Shanarra series is due out this June.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Year, New Series-Juvenile Fantasy

Earlier this month I created a "New Year, New Series" display in the children's area of our library. All of the books gathered for the display are the first in a series.This is my attempt to get young readers breaking out of their comfort zones and reading something other than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Magic Tree House, The Lightning Thief, Harry Potter, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with reading an uber popular series but, hey, other books deserve love too.

For my next few blog posts I thought that I would share a few of my favorite series for different age levels and in a variety of genres. As you have probably surmised this first post is all about juvenile fantasy. I have tried to include some older series and those that may not be as well known. Hopefully you will find something exciting and new to you.

1. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

You may recognize this classic, high fantasy series if I tell you that the title of the second book is The Black Cauldron (you know, that Disney movie from 1985).

Do not judge The Chronicles of Prydain by the movie because, of course, the books are far superior. In fact, the second book, The Black Cauldron, earned a Newbery Honor in 1966 and the fifth and final book, The High King, won the Newbery Medal in 1969. The books follow the adventures of Taran, assistant pig-keeper, and his companions as they battle Arawn Death-Lord and his evil minions in the magical land of Prydain. Wow, fantasy books really do sound ridiculous when you try to summarize the plot.  However, The Chronicles of Prydain is captivating and perfect for advanced readers not quite ready to tackle The Lord of the Rings.

2. Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan
I don't think that there are enough adjectives to express how much I love the Ranger's Apprentice. The series was originally twenty short stories that Australian author, John Flanagan, wrote to interest his son who was a reluctant reader.

 In the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, we are introduced to fifteen year old Will, a young orphan who is chosen to be an apprentice to the rangers, a secretive contingent of the military that spy and gather information for the kingdom of Araluen. Under the tutelage of the illustrious ranger, Halt, Will becomes an expert archer and knife thrower who is skilled in stealth, tracking, and camouflage. Fantasy and adventure fans of all ages will devour the Ranger's Apprentice series. Due to the emphasis on the rangers' adeptness in the wilderness I also like to recommend  Flanagan's books to readers (especially boys) that are interested in outdoorsy adventure books like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. My own son begged for a bow and arrow after reading the Ranger's Apprentice.

In addition to the Ranger's Apprentice books Flanagan has written two spinoff series. The Brotherband Chronicles focuses on the Skandians, a nation of people that bear a striking resemblance to the Vikings and hail from Skandia (Scandinavia?) far to the north of Araluen. Flanagan's latest books are the beginning of a prequel series about Halt's early years in the rangers.

3. Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimno

When ten year old Charlie Bone develops unusual powers he is sent to the Bloor Academy, a special school for children with magical talents. I know the plot sounds eerily like another well-known fantasy series, but I promise that even though Nimno's Charlie Bone series will appeal to Harry Potter fans it is completely unique. 

 In addition to the eight books that make up the initial Charlie Bone series, there is a three volume prequel series, The Chronicles of the Red King
4. The Thickety by J.A. White
It isn't often that I read a book (especially a children's one) that truly surprises me. I can honestly say that all of the books that currently make up The Thickety series shocked me. And I mean that in an totally awesome, I never saw that coming, double wow, I am still thinking about it way.

You can watch the trailer for the first Thickety book, A Path Begins, below. I hate giving away too much information about a book when I review it, because I feel like if you want a summary you can read the description on the Barnes and Noble website. Suffice it to say, A Path Begins features a strong, likable  heroine, a menacing forest inhabited by a demonic sorcerer, and a plot twist that will hit you like a punch in the gut. I couldn't imagine that J.A. White would be able to match the suspense and thrills of  A Path Begins in the The Whispering Trees and Well of Witches, but he does just that. I must confess that I was really hoping that The Thickety was going to be a trilogy because I wanted to know the ending, but Well of Witches is another hair-raising cliffhanger that will leave you desperate to read the fourth book. Unfortunately, The Last Spell, which will be the conclusion to The Thickety story will not be published until this coming April!

5. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
If you are a hardcore fantasy fan you have probably heard of Earthsea and Ursula K. LeGuin. Each of the five primary books in the series (Tales from Earthsea are short stories) has received multiple awards:
A Wizard of Earthsea- Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Lewis Carroll Shelf Award
The Tombs of Atuan-Newbery Honor
The Farthest Shore-National Book Award
Tehanu-Nebula Award for Best Novel, Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel
The Other Wind-World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
I decided to include it because Earthsea is an older series and, therefore, probably not familiar to young readers.

As the name suggests the fictional world created by LeGuin is one of sea and hundreds of islands. Magic is an integral part of life on the majority of the islands and the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, is a coming of age story about a young wizard name Ged.  Many people consider the first three books of the series to be a trilogy since they were published in 1968, 1971, and 1972. Tehanu and The Other Wind were not published until 1990 and 2001.

I keep trying to think of ways to describe the plot of Earthsea but like many high fantasy series, it is complicated and highly detailed. If I start getting into characters and story lines for each of the books I would be writing for days and you would probably still be confused. I will just close with saying that if you enjoy fantasy books and are looking for a new series you should check out Earthsea. Or if you, like me, read the original Earthsea trilogy when you were younger you should definitely look for Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind which are exciting additions to the Earthsea universe.
6. The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
This may come as a shock, but Suzanne Collins has written something other than the bestselling  Hunger Games trilogy! The Underland Chronicles follows a young boy named Gregor on his adventures throughout a fantastical world located far below New York City. Although geared towards a slightly younger audience, The Underland Chronicles explores many of the same themes as The Hunger Games, such as war, politics, revolution, and subjugation.  The series is exciting and enormously creative but if you are at all squeamish you may want to pass on The Underland Chronicles. The subterranean world created by Collins is teeming with human-sized rats, cockroaches, bats, and mice that are certain to give readers afraid of creepy crawlies more than a few shudders.

7. Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
As the seventh son of a seventh son, Septimus Heap is destined to be a powerful wizard. Angie Sage's marvelous fantasy series follows the exploits of young Septimus from the night of his birth when he is pronounced dead and stolen from his family through his training to become an ExtraOrdinary Wizard. The Septimus Heap series is packed with thrilling magic and quirky characters that are sure to please fantasy aficionados. I will warn you, though, that the thickness of these books will intimidate some young readers. Despite their daunting appearance, the Septimus Heap books are fast-paced and fun and I encourage readers to give them a try. If you really do not want to read them, the audiobook versions read by Allan Corduner are excellent. You can listen to a sample here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Portland Creates! 2017

We are just one month away from our second year of Portland Creates! It's hard to believe it has been a year already. So much work goes into this large event and we couldn't be happier with all of our talented participants. We've already had several artists coming in to get entry packets. This year is bound to be even bigger and better than last year. I'm excited to say that I've already been in contact with some of the school art teachers and will be dropping off packets at St. Pats and the High School this week. The Portland Federal Credit Union has already graciously donated funds for us to purchase prizes and they are hoping to host some art once again this year. A lot goes on behind the scenes and this event is coming up fast. 

In response to some of the feedback we received at the end of Portland Creates! last year we have decided to make some slight changes. 

1. The children's age group has been further divided into two age groups 6-9 years old and 10-12 years old. There will be 3 winners selected from each children's group

2. We have added judges! Instead of basing the winners on all popular vote we have decided to also add judges selections. This year each age group will have a Judges 1st and 2nd place and a peoples choice winner. The people's choice winner is selected by open public voting throughout the month of March.

3. Adult Participants will have the option to sell their submitted artwork. Those artists who are interested in selling will have a note next to their submission stating it is for sale. If anyone is interested in purchasing their submission we will provide them with the Artist's contact information.  The Portland District Library will take no part in the selling of any artwork. All sales are purely between the buyer and seller.

To help inspire our local artists for Portland Creates! this year, we have set up  a visiting artist workshop with Betsy ONeill!

The Library is offering this free workshop at 12pm on Saturday, January 21st. Betsy plans to bring some of her original artwork and talk about what inspires her paintings. She will be focusing on how to choose colors and setting up a composition. She will also give hands-on drawing tips and share various techniques.

Be sure to sign up in advance, as space is limited. Registered attendees are asked to bring a sketchbook and pencils.

Betsy is a self-taught artist who has been working with oil and acrylic paints for more than 16 years in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is currently working on a collection of colorful paintings inspired by Michigan towns and destinations based on fond memories and emotions. Betsy was recently awarded an honorable mention in the Grand Rapids Regional Art Competition. You may have also seen her work in Artprize 2016. 

Click here to visit her Etsy shop and explore more of Betsy's art or purchase prints 

Be sure to share this event with any artsy friends or family members, the more the merrier!

Happy Creating!