Reviews

A refreshing blend of classic narrative poetry and modern style and creativity, Xianna Michaels’s The Sorcerer Queen is a versatile gem.

Foreward Clarion Reviews

The lilting tale of a kingdom haunted by an ancient curse, Xianna Michaels’s The Sorcerer Queen is a captivating volume of narrative poetry, recounted in the spirit of traveling minstrels and wandering troubadours singing legends of old.

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The aging King of Caravaille is determined to name an heir from among his three nephews in hopes of sparing his subjects from the curse of Oriana, long the cause of chaos and bloodshed surrounding each succession. With the aid of his trusted adviser, Lord Shin, he realizes that he will need to seek out the mysterious Sorcerer Queen and elusive Goldspun Weaver to unravel the secrets of the tragic prophecy and ensure peace for Caravaille.

The stage is set with five acts and multiple scenes, creating ambience with descriptions ranging from moonlit gardens to the king’s privy chambers and royal throne room. A cast of players is listed prior to the entrance of “The Bard,” very much akin to a theatrical production.

The entire epyllion is done in creatively positioned and oriented quatrains, with each double-page spread functioning to form visually fluid shapes, patterns, and designs. Pen-and-ink drawings by Michaels are scattered throughout, adding a touch of whimsical detail with depictions of crowns, knights, and courtyards.

The curse itself doubles as a riddle with clues for its reversal. King Sagan ruminates extensively with his royal advisor, Lord Shin; they humorously attempt to decipher the imagery and proclamations. Complete in eight stanzas, the curse is periodically quoted in a chorus-like manner—though Sagan, much to Shin’s consternation, often passes out before the recitation has been completed:

Shin slowly closed the ancient book,
So moved that he could weep,
But when he turned to look at Sagan––
The king was fast asleep!

Individual stanzas utilize alternating rhymes and maintain an upbeat, rolling cadence that builds suspense and urgency while retaining a sense of fun and excitement. There is a smooth, lyrical rhythm to the quatrains; each functions either as a complete thought or is linked to others with natural pauses. This rhythm is occasionally interrupted by midline breaks.

Sagan is a well-meaning ruler, but he is quick to make up his mind and slow to change it; he is unintentionally comical, if sincere, in his efforts. His nephews are likewise pleasantly agreeable; it is not immediately clear which will break the curse or why the Sorcerer Queen is determined that it must be one over another. As the story is consistently fast paced throughout, answers and resolutions are quickly realized.

A refreshing blend of classic narrative poetry and modern style and creativity, Xianna Michaels’s The Sorcerer Queen is a versatile gem—perfect for reciting, reading in tandem, performing with a group, or simply enjoying as a fantasy adventure.

Reviewed by Pallas Gates McCorquodale

This YA fairy tale describes in verse the story of an old curse that must be undone by righting wrongs.

Kirkus

In a fictional world similar to medieval Europe, Caravaille’s monarch rules so wisely that he’s known as King Sagan “the Fair,” but all is not well in his realm.

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Ninety-two years ago, Merk the Fierce, Sagan’s ancestor, stole the throne by
killing King Daemon. Daemon’s dying wife, Queen Oriana, cursed Merk’s line for “three score years and more” with
succession problems that would always lead to war and chaos. The aging Sagan, who has no son, wants to choose an heir
among his three nephews, hoping the curse will have expired by now. Javan is the bravest warrior; Cadmon is kind and
just; Sky is wise. Sagan’s adviser Lord Shin recommends careful study of Oriana’s entire curse, as does Zagir, an ancient
sorcerer queen and the oldest person in Caravaille. Sagan earnestly tries to follow this advice, but each attempt to name
an heir results in interference by mysterious animals (kestrel, cat, and wolf), who wreck the kingdom’s ancient symbols
of royal rule. These can be repaired only by goldspun weaving, an art lost with Oriana’s death. The sorcerer queen holds
the key to restoring this practice and the kingdom’s unity, if the right person can divine the truth. Michaels (The Alchemy
of Illuminated Poetry, 2017, etc.) uses quatrains rhyming ABCB, which gallop along at an effective pace. The rhymes
work well, and can sometimes be quite clever: Sagan “found himself bemused, befuddled / By the utter lack of
deference, / The experience being quite outside / His lifelong frame of reference.” Also striking are the characters’
struggles to interpret the curse—is it a metaphor or what? Fairy-tale elements like a three-part structure and animal
helpers provide appeal, while the story also benefits from an original take on the who-will-inherit question. The book is
handsome, with appealing typography and illustrations by the author that enhance the tale’s medieval/Elizabethan flavor.

Bringing love and unity to a broken land finds beautiful expression in this engaging fable.

Foreword Reviews calls The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry® a “master class experience”

This is a master class experience on the art and science of illustrated poetry.

Xianna Michaels’s The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry® is a surprising and successful hybrid of poetry and prose that serves as a meditative experience. A deeply personal yet universal outline, the book is unconventional in the best sense of the word.

As explained here, illuminated poetry is the term for illustrated poetry, and alchemy “simply means the art of transformation.” Through seven different steps, Michaels presents a guide to what she calls “poem-mandalas,” drawings and poetry that she makes with her left, non-dominant hand. The process is like “spiritual alchemy,” which she says “is above all about inner transformation.”

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The lessons begin with the presentation of “Prima Materia,” or a personal moment or concept that has meaning to the practitioner and also serves as the foundational core of the work. Michaels suggests writing down a prima materia each day and working to simply observe as the poetry “spills out of you.”

Michaels jumps into the process by instructing with the universal “we” and “us,” bridging the gap between teacher and students. This creates seasoned, easy-to-understand language to help guide newcomers through the complex topics covered in the book.

Throughout the seven steps, amid a game plan for transcendent and visionary poetry, Michaels shares a series of “Facets.” The facets are small historical or logistical anecdotes that provide the collection of lessons with a loose narrative presence.

Whether through a mini-biography of Maria Prophetissa or a brief contemplation of the limitations of time, the facets are another testament to the book’s intention to educate and enlighten, more than anything else.

Michaels provides samples of personal poems and mandalas and even builds up to an innovative verse of her own creation, “Xoem.” This blend between the personal and professional provides the ultimate teaching experience and helps connect each step that is needed to create illuminated poetry.

In the seventh and final step, “Personal Gold,” Michaels draws on a popular alchemy ideal: “The alchemists’ quest to turn lead into gold, though certainly pursued by many, was also a metaphor for refinement of the self to attain one’s Personal Gold.”

As the book constantly reinforces, this lead-to-gold transformation is the product of continuous practice and an eternal curiosity.

With The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry®, Xianna Michaels has created a master class experience on the art and science of illustrated poetry. The intricate brown-and-gold packaging is reason enough to pick up the book, but the written and illustrated artwork within is what makes this such an intriguing read.

Foreword Clarion Reviews

Kirkus hails The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry® “A Message of Self Discovery”

A handbook that aims to help readers discover spiritual truth through unconventional poetry composition.

This beautifully produced work from Michaels (Lily of the Valley, 2016, etc.) encourages one to embark on a modern-day, metaphorical version of the medieval alchemists’ quest to turn base metals into gold. One may refine oneself, the author says, to “attain one’s Personal Gold.” She breaks down the mechanics of this “mystical, magical, meditative process” into seven steps, which she says that a reader may unlock with an unexpected method: writing poetry with his or her nondominant hand.

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Michaels claims that such untutored writing forces one to draw on the intuitive, emotional right side of the brain, using what she refers to as the “Prima Materia” of one’s creativity. In this way, she says, one may achieve a deeper understanding of self and, ultimately, a closer connection to God. In brisk, evocative prose, Michaels systematically lays out the details of each of the steps, such as “Self-Purification,” “Preparation,” and “Distillation,” even down to specifics of location and time of day. She knows that readers will be initially skeptical, especially considering how little success most people have in doing finely controlled work with their non-dominant hand: “how can anything of value come from what must surely be indecipherable squiggles?” she imagines such readers asking, but she assures them to trust in the process. Whether or not readers achieve any success with its method, the book’s romantically charged language about poetry and personal investment is extremely contagious and oddly encouraging. Overall, it’s an effective invitation to write and explore one’s creativity: “You are the alchemist of your life,” she writes in a typically upbeat passage, “and your laboratory awaits.” The consistent messages of self-discovery and patience will appeal to many readers, regardless of their alchemical disposition.

A colorfully written guide to entering the “Inner Sanctum” of one’s creativity.

Foreword/Clarion gives “Lily of the Valley” a five star review

Lily of the Valley is an elegantly bound poetic volume that celebrates the varied inheritances of Jewish American women with poignancy.

Lily of the Valley is Xianna Michaels’s graceful and affecting poetic saga, the story of five generations of Jewish American women navigating the promises of the New World.

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The volume opens on a pogrom that rips through a shtetl, rending families irrevocably. Young Laili is sent with her her sister Basya to New York, with the hope that they’ll be able to enjoy more freedoms there. Laili’s name is anglicized by Ellis Island officials; now known as “Lily,” she finds work in a sweatshop sewing clothing. As she sews, she dreams of an easier life for her children, preferably in the golden valleys of the West.

Though tragedies continue to fall upon her family—a shop fire kills one matriarch; a son abandons his tradition and family to pursue life on his own; a daughter returns to Europe, too near to the Holocaust for safety—so, too, do the generations that follow Lily find their fortunes in America increasing. They become business owners, college graduates, parents, and the pursuers of old family dreams. Their Judaism ebbs and flows in proportion to the challenges they face—work on Shabbat gives way to the avoidance of the mikveh, compromises are made with the observance of mitzvot, especially around kashrut. Yet through it all, they maintain a sense of connection to their tradition, and to the family members who sacrificed so much to provide them with opportunities.

Lily of the Valley is written in English sestet form, a rhyme scheme that initially requires some getting used to; the violence of the opening pogrom fits uneasily with the apparent jauntiness of the poetic formula. Conjunctions are employed a bit too freely, and not every end rhyme is a comfortable fit. Related misgivings give way beneath the charm of Michaels’s verses, though. These lines breathe life into the women they focus on: the first Lily is a determined dreamer, her daughter Molly a believer, her daughter Lily a stylish girl who dusts off family aspirations. Each woman, in the limited lines allotted to her, is fleshed out well, particularly in relation to the decisions she makes around religious observance.

The intrafamily loyalty and support conveyed throughout Lily of the Valley is inspirational without being cloying, and the book moves from generation to generation with significant emotional prowess. This book is impressive for the balances it strikes: managing to be feminist, even as Lily’s great-granddaughter moves back toward observance, to the surprised delight of her nonobservant family; achieving a well-rounded picture of Jewish American history, though in the span of a few stanzas each on just fifty pages. The end result is a project certain to woo readers with its loveliness. Its beautiful, classic packaging, paired with the delicate, scene-setting illustrations that run throughout, make the project an all the more likely candidate for family treasure status.

Lily of the Valley is an elegantly bound poetic volume that celebrates the varied inheritances of Jewish American women with poignancy.

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

“Mindel and The Misfit Dragons” – “Clever and Provocative” Proclaims The Jewish Book Council

Dragons are usually a source of fear. How-ever, not in this book! Here dragons and people live side-by-side helping one another. Mindel, the young daughter of the castle owner, goes on a mission. Her family is in danger of losing their home and she must achieve all three parts of her quest if she wishes to save the castle. First, since the knights who guard the castle sleep through Shabbos because of the wine they imbibe and the traditional stew that causes them to drowse, she must find somebody to guard the castle who will stay awake. Second, the castle is drafty and the Shabbos candles blow out. Mindel must discover a way to keep them lit. And third, the Torah scrolls are being destroyed. Who or what is damaging them must be discovered and a permanent presence to see that the scrolls are protected must be found.

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At the same time that the castle is in disarray, a family of dragons is faced with raising three untraditional children. In fact, the parents are concerned that their progeny will never find a way to adapt to the world in which they live. Amazingly, each of these children supply exactly what the castle needs—a dragon who can’t go to sleep, a dragon whose small but accurate flames can keep the candles lit, and a dragon who loves books and wants to protect them.

The story is filled with many themes that can be explored and discussed including: Is persistence rewarded? Is being different a cause for parental concern? Can being differ-ent be positive?

Written in rhyme, this would make a good read aloud. The calligraphic lettering adds to the atmosphere but might be off-putting to some children unused to the style. How-ever, the book is clever and provocative and provides much material for substantive discussion. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Review by Marci Lavine Bloch

Young Reader Reviews: “Such a cool book!”

I liked how there are dragons and castles and a really cool imaginary storyline and that little kids and big kids both enjoy reading it but I also love that the story is Jewish and I can relate to it.

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I also like how the dragons are misfits and my favorite misfit dragon is the last one because he taught himself to read and I admire him for that.

One last thing is that I enjoyed the long chapters and the illustrations that were drawn by hand.Thanks so much for writing such a cool book!

Menachem, age 8

Young Reader Reviews: “I love it!”

 

I like how that the guards of the palace of Draconmere like to eat cholent and take naps on Shabbos afternoon

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I love how Pointilla is different from all other dragons and I love how she wants to be herself and she likes that she has her own tiny sparks of fire. I love pretty pictures that are drawn by hand on every page.

Thank you Xianna for writing this book I love it!

Kressa, age 6

Young Reader Reviews: Mindel and The Misfit Dragons – an amazing book

Mindel and The Misfit Dragons was an amazing book. I love how she was so persistent and how even though the dragons looked to be misfits, they had a place where they belonged. I think that the moral is no matter how much it may seem that you’re a misfit, G-d puts you in this world for a reason and every person and thing has its place.

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My favorite character is Pointilla, and not just because I’m a girl. She knows that even though her flames are small she could still light up the world, and I admire that.

Sarina, age 11

Forward/Clarion gives “Mindel and The Misfit Dragons” a four star review

A young girl joins forces with a group of misfit dragons to save her home in this exciting adventure told in beautiful verse.

Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, a lushly illustrated rhyming fairy tale, assures tweens in those awkward middle years that it’s okay to be different because they will eventually find a place where they belong. With writing, illustrations, and calligraphy all done by Xianna Michaels, this story clearly represents a labor of love, and the author’s enthusiasm spills over.

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Eight-year-old Mindel inhabits a castle called Draconmere with her parents, Sir Benjamin and Lady Leah. The inhospitable living conditions pose a problem for this devout Jewish family because the wind keeps blowing out the sacred Sabbath candles and the dampness destroys the Torah scrolls. Faced with the possibility of having to leave her home, Mindel sets out on a journey to rectify the situation, Along the way, she befriends some dragons who, because of their differences from their brethren, have not been hired by the humans to perform jobs.

Michaels describes the duties of “kindly dragons” this way: “They breathed their fire to serve as warning / So enemies took flight.” This concept of benevolent dragons who peacefully coexist with people is a welcome change from dragons who are either dangerous to people or are pets to be trained.

In skillful alternate rhyme, Michaels develops personalities for both the humans and the dragons in the story while simultaneously creating an exciting adventure. Because the story is told in the third person, people and dragons alike become well-rounded as the audience learns the viewpoints of all the key players. Resourceful Mindel always remains a believable child because she still has moments of fear, despite her overall bravery. The parent dragons fret over their offspring’s differences, yet they ultimately love their children. While his younger brother and sister cherish their odd appearances, the eldest laments, “I have these fins; I long to swim. / Mama wasn’t wrong. / A misfit’s life is very grim. / There’s nowhere I belong.”

A glossary in front defines terms like “falcon” and “moat,” the origin of character names, and key Jewish terms like “cholent” and “mitzvah.” Some familiarity with the Sabbath laws is advisable in order for non-Jewish readers to truly understand why the candles cannot be relit. Indeed, it sometimes seems unclear what age Michaels writes for, because she defines “falcon” and then frequently uses words more readily understood by high-schoolers, such as “wreaks” and “wanton.” This diction will not prohibit younger readers from understanding the gist of the story, although it may cause them to stumble over the rhymes.

The use of calligraphy also distracts. Although it is beautiful, the serifs on the hand-lettered pages make it difficult to read some words. That every page is bordered with an outline of a scroll combined with the calligraphy threatens to draw eyes away from the expert verse. Thankfully, though, the author’s rich black ink drawings pull readers back in by giving Mindel’s world a depth that augments the verses. The golden calligraphy set against a dark green background makes the back matter hard to read. The addition of gold lines to represent grass halfway down the back cover only intensifies the difficulty.

While young adults and adults may find the book’s treatment of belonging simplistic, older readers are in a better position to appreciate Michaels’ vocabulary and superb poetry.

Reviewed by Jill Allen

Kirkus Reviews calls “Mindel and The Misfit Dragons” “a captivating fairy tale”

A rambunctious little girl recruits three misfit dragons to solve the problems a castle faces each Jewish Sabbath in this children’s fantasy in verse.

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An evil dragon once terrorized Castle Draconmere. The beast’s destruction was so unstoppable that the king asked Sir Benjamin to kill it, promising to give the castle to him in return. Sir Benjamin tricked the dragon with a sleep-inducing stew and slew it easily, and he, his wife, and their young daughter, Mindel, moved into the castle. But Castle Draconmere wasn’t ideal; every Sabbath, the family had to decide whether to leave the gate open or shut. Moving the gate would break the laws of the Sabbath itself. Leaving it open left them vulnerable to villains, because no guards could stay awake the duration of the night. Keeping it shut meant barring themselves from visitors. On top of this, the drafty castle blew out the candles early each Sabbath—and it’s forbidden to relight them. Finally, the pages of the sacred scrolls and books suddenly began to turn up wet and ruined with no clear culprit. Sir Benjamin warns Mindel that if they can’t find solutions to these problems, they must abandon Castle Draconmere. But Mindel desperately wants to stay. She stumbles upon three misfit dragons, each with traits that make them unsuitable for protecting anywhere but Castle Draconmere. Serpenfin was born with only fins and has trouble sleeping, making him the perfect guard for the moat. Pointilla is small, possessing the ability to shoot tiny, precise flames. She’s just the one to light the Sabbath candles. And Bibinfor yearns to watch over books, not jewels, creating the ultimate protector of the sacred tomes. Soon everyone has found a place and all is well—until the nasty dragon eels arrive. Debut author Michaels weaves an enchanting story that will enthrall young readers. Parents will delight in reading it aloud, finding an easy rhythm in the verse. Charming illustrations and carefully penned calligraphy add a visual element perfect for story time.

This captivating fairy tale melds whimsy and faith; children will clamor to hear it read aloud.

The Midwest Book Review – “Mindel and The Misfit Dragons”, an enduringly popular addition to your Fantasy/Fiction Collection

Mindel and The Misfit Dragons: A Magical Tale by An Ancient Hand is a magical, medieval verse fairy tale imaginatively told by Xianna Michaels. This is the story of a brave Jewish girl living in a castle where it is very hard to keep the Sabbath and where unknown villians are defacing sacred scrolls.

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In her quest to keep her family home, Mindel meets three dragons who are considered misfits by all, but whose very oddidites may save Castle Draconmere. Hand-lettered and lushly illustrated, this original, lyrical, entertaining tale will delight readers is specifically written for young readers age 8 to 12. Mindel and The Misfit Dragons will inspire readers of all ages all to ask whether misfits even exist, or if everyone has a special, much-needed place in the world. A solid entertainment with a meaningful social message deftly woven into a truly engaging story that is enhanced with the inclusion of 194 illustrated pages, Mindel and The Misfit Dragons is scheduled to be released in November 2014 and would prove to be an enduringly popular addition to both school and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.

BookReview.com Rates “Mindel and The Misfit Dragons” – “Excellent!”

Mindel and The Misfit Dragons” by Xianna Michaels is a beautiful fairy tale told in verse about a little girl of eight who has a serious problem to deal with and manages to solve it beautifully with the aid of three rather unorthodox dragons. To begin with, the book is printed in black and white in the manner of a medieval illustrated manuscript, with each page displaying decorated capital letters, the text inscribed in Carolingian minuscule (as best I can tell) and with miniatures or full illustrations on every page throughout.

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Mindel and her parents live in a drafty castle called Draconmere and although they love their home dearly, it presents a number of problems that may require their leaving it. Sir Benjamin, Lady Leah and Mindel wish very much to keep the Laws of the Sabbath in proper Jewish fashion but there is the problem of the castle gate which relies on the grinding wheel for its power and alas, that is not allowed on the Sabbath. Further, Lady Leah’s cholent stew puts the guards to sleep and the drafty castle keeps blowing the Friday night candles out. Such unusual problems call for unusual solutions and this is where the three dragons—each unique in his or her own way—come to the rescue.

There are also some dastardly dragon eels, but you will get to them in good time and, as the book is in verse, you will get there all too swiftly as the story sings itself along before you can give each beautiful page the admiration it deserves.

Xianna Michaels has given us an unforgettable book perfect not only for her Jewish grandchildren to whom it is dedicated, but for all children who love castles and dragons and who, given pen and paper, could probably make some very wonderful decorated capital letters of their own. Bookreview.com suggests that, with a few simple art supplies tossed in, “Mindel and the Misfit Dragons” would make the perfect gift for the eight-twelve year olds on your list.

Rating: Excellent!

Reviewed by M.K.Turner

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