Book Review: The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

I fell in love with Gen the Thief nearly twenty years ago. I was a volunteer shelving in the Young Adult area of our local library, my favorite section, and was looking over The Queen of Attolia; the cover and title intrigued me. A young woman, not much older than a young adult herself, said, “That’s a great series! But don’t start with that book. You need to start with The Thief. In fact, try to forget what you read on that cover.” I had a fun conversation with her. And it turned out she was right in every way. I managed to forget most of what I read on The Queen of Attolia’s cover, and as soon as I started The Thief, I was captivated.

Gen, who is hardly more than a boy, brags he can steal anything. An audacious theft lands him chained in the king’s prison. Matters are rather grim. But the king’s scholarly advisor, the magus, has plans to use Gen as a tool for the king’s advantage. Thus begins a twisting adventure, told in Gen’s wry, wily, cranky voice.

And that is only the beginning! There are six books, a grand series told over twenty years in our time, but only a few years (I think) in the world of the book.

These stories at first feel less like high fantasy and more like, as Laini Taylor says, “a secret, discovered history of real but forgotten lands.” There are resemblances to the landscape and culture of Ancient Greece, “if a civilization like theirs had developed another thousand years without the rise of monotheism,” as Megan Whalen Turner wrote in her note at the end of The Thief. Several echoes of Ancient Greece appear over the course of the series. The mythology, largely Turner’s own, is rich and real – more real to some of the people in the books than others. There are myths recounted by characters throughout the books, and they are some of my favorite parts.

Barnes & Noble’s website says that the novels can be read in any order – but good heavens, DON’T do that. It’s true that each book is a complete story in itself – no cliff-hangers sent me rushing to the next book. But there is a larger story told over the course of all the novels. Story threads weave through, intertwine and form greater threads. People in the books grow and evolve and change over time, some of them in remarkable ways. A book will mean so much more if you’ve read all the books that came before it.

So start with The Thief – read the back description if you like, and if it intrigues you, dive in.

I started the final book, The Return of the Thief, with some trepidation and even dread – fearing that some character I’d grown to love would die. And I deeply loved so many of these people. This last book brought tears to my eyes more than once. But the ending was deeply satisfying.

A number of the novels have short stories at the end. I’ve read and treasured them all as little gems, and ways to linger in Gen’s world. The short story at the end of the final book is my favorite of them all.

November 1st of this year, Moira’s Pen came out. For those who have read the series, it is a coffer of small treasures: short stories old and new, “vignettes and excerpts, poetry and rhymes… and a very special recipe for almond cake,” as the author’s website says.* There are the author’s reflections and memories of places, sculptures, and objects that inspired her. And there are beautiful illustrations and decorations by Deena So’Oteh, including of some of those artworks and objects (if you’ve ever wondered what a fibula pin looks like, now you can see!) Also included is a map. I love a good map in a novel. There have been three maps shown in different books of this series; two of them have small mysteries. One mystery came clear in the last book; the other remained a puzzle, until Moira’s Pen.

The entire series is one of my favorites of all time and I give it 5 stars. Moira’s Pen is a beautiful capstone to the series, for those wanting to spend a bit more time in Gen’s world and to learn more about it.

*Barnes & Noble’s website says Moira’s Pen “is ideal for longtime fans, as well as readers discovering Megan Whalen Turner’s epic and unforgettable world for the first time.” The former I certainly agree with, but new readers should only read it AFTER reading the previous six books. Otherwise you risk spoiling important parts of the whole series. Also: if you want to avoid spoilers, be careful what you read on the author’s own website. It’s a fun place to explore after reading the series, though.

Frama-12 Release and Review!

Frama-12 by Aud Supplee steps out into the world today!

I was delighted to be given an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review. Full disclosure: anyone who’s read my recent posts will know I can’t claim to be objective in this review – I’ve known this book since it was a kid! But I will do my utmost to be honest.

So, here’s my honest opinion: I just finished Frama-12, and I enjoyed the heck out of it!

Here is a quick summary (from the book cover and the author’s website):

Winnie Harris, following a warrior code in honor of her mother’s fighting spirit, will do whatever it takes to protect her little stepbrother, Mikey. Kip Skyler, charming to everyone but Winnie, impresses her stepbrother with his sleight of hand. Now Mikey wants them to pass through a time tear into Frama-12 and save the inhabitants from an invasion. She’ll be the general and Kip the wizard.

Winnie sees two problems with the mission. Frama-12 is just a fantasy game, right? And Kip is majorly annoying. But she’s only half right. If the incompatible teens can’t work together, an enemy could march through a very real time tear and attack Earth.

To really enjoy a book, I have to like the main characters – mostly, at least. Winnie and Kip are like most teenagers, and most people in general: at times they can be exasperating, and at other times, deeply sympathetic. I came to care about both of them early on. As for Mikey, he’s an adorable little kid who tugged at my heart strings and made me laugh – and sometimes he’s unnervingly mature. But, unlike some other precocious kid characters, Mikey has a very good reason for this. He tells Winnie about it early in the story, but she doesn’t really believe him at first. He’s just her little stepbrother, right…? (Well, yes and no.)

As Winnie soon finds out, Frama-12 is home to a host of new, strange creatures and peoples. Some are alarming, some benign, some funny – and some of them a mix of all of the above. Winnie has to learn which can be trusted and which to beware of. Meanwhile, she’s confronted with a myriad of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. She gets help in navigating all this from some unexpected sources—if only she can ease up and listen to them.

In trying to live up to her mom’s spiritual courage and determination, sometimes Winnie feels she has to be too independent, too strong. And that can make her downright stubborn at times. But over the course of the book, she learns more about what true courage looks like.

By the end of the book, there are some mysteries and unanswered questions – but I have it on good authority that there will be another book of adventures with Winnie, Kip, and Mikey. Hurrah!

This book is light and a lot of fun, but it also deals with some serious issues, like loss, separation from loved ones, and the challenges of stepfamilies. The story deals with these issues with warmth and heart. I highly recommend it for Young Adults and the Young at Heart looking for a fun contemporary adventure into a rather wacky world. It’s a great summer read.

So if you’re ready for adventure, Frama-12 is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and independent bookstores.

And if you happen to be in southeastern Pennsylvania, you can meet the author and get your book at a signing with her on Saturday, August 6th!

If you’d like to read my interviews with Aud, you can read them here, where we interview each other about anthologies we’re in and other fun stuff, here, where we talk especially about conferences we went to, and here, where Aud talks about earlier publications and her general writing process.

Congratulations, Aud! I’m so pleased Frama-12 is out in the world where readers can enjoy it!

Celebrating Juneteenth

In honor of today, here is a small handful of great books by African-American authors that I recommend.

The links will take you to my blogs with more about the books and why I recommend them, with multiple ways to obtain them.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: powerful contemporary fiction for YA and older.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi: excellent and engaging nonfiction on the title subject written for young people.

The Lost Tribes by Christine Taylor-Butler: fun adventure fiction for middle schoolers.

For All Time by Shanna Miles: captivating time-travel love story for YA and older.

Many of these are outside my usual genres of fantasy and historical fiction, but I’m so glad I gave them a try, and hope you will take a look, too. (They’re listed in the order I read them.)

Book Review: For All Time by Shanna Miles

As soon as I read the blurb on For All Time by Shanna Miles, I was sure I would like it: a “romance that follows two lovers fated to repeat their story across hundreds of lifetimes, who hope to break the cycle once and for all.” I was still wowed by just how riveted I was. I cared about Tamar and Fayard from the very first page. Which is all the more remarkable since modern urban fantasy isn’t my usual inclination.

Then Shanna Miles braids in more of their stories, from the wealthy West African empire of Mali in the 1300s, to 1920s Philadelphia. Tamar and Fayard have their own souls in each time, but their lives vary drastically from period to period, which makes each of them very different people depending on when we find them. I quickly came to care about their fates in each era. Every time they are drawn together by love, and every time they are torn apart.

Their story has some excellent twists – some quite shocking. The best is at the end. I deeply dislike spoilers, so I will try to give nothing away. I’ll only say I’m very glad to have read For All Time, and I recommend it to readers who love well-written love stories that span time and space. You can get the hardback and audio book right now through all the regular channels, and pre-order the paperback for September 6th. When I checked today, I was very pleased to see that it was among’s Romance Picks by POC Authors, and it’s also Amazon’s Editors’ Pick for Best Young Adult.

Thank you, Shanna Miles! I’m so grateful to have gotten your book via your raffle, though I would have been very glad to have bought it!

Book Review: From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck

From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck is a gentle, yearning love story about a young composer, Pietro, who loses what he loves most in Italy, and comes to America for a new start. On the voyage over, he meets Assunta, whose warm heart and beautiful voice touch him, though she is married to another man. Never letting his feelings show, from a chaste distance Pietro is inspired by Assunta, even as he works in the depths of the Pennsylvania coal mines.

Pietro and Assunta both endure grievous losses, but these losses are told gently, subtly, and nonetheless poignantly. What was most vivid to me in this story is how Pietro finds music in everything: in the grapevines of his old-world home, in the voice of Assunta, in the ring of hammers and picks in the darkness of the mines. That music blossoms even amidst the coal dust of the mining towns, just as Pietro and Assunta’s love blossoms and comes to bear fruit in the fullness of time.

Hilary Hauck’s writing is delicate and elegantly understated; she brings the true story that inspired her novel to life. On her website, I was quite happy to find photos of the actual people who inspired her characters; it was very gratifying to see their faces, and they look a lot like I imagined them. You can also read the story about the beautiful cover art.

I recommend From Ashes to Song, especially for readers who enjoy literary fiction, particularly with a taste of history, and for musicians and other lovers of music.

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