Honoring the life of Jacob Aaron Snow with books

In September, Amanda, at A Patchwork of Books, lost her little baby Jacob after a four month fight for his life. To honor Jacob's life, his mother's love of books, and the precious times when she and her husband read to him, the children's book blogging community has come together to give books away to places where they will bring happiness to other children and their parents.

The wonderfully talented writer and illustrator Katie Davis has designed a book plate just for Jacob, which can be downloaded from a pdf here. Please help us remember Jacob by printing book plates out on Avery full sized labels, putting them in books you know kids will love, and donating them wherever you think the need is greatest (such as a Ronald MacDonald House, which you can locate through this link, a Head Start Program, or a neighborhood center or church that serves needy kids).

If you need a suggestion for a book to donate, here's a list of favorites Amanda sent me:

Peg Leg Peke by Brie Spangler (this was Daddy's absolute favorite to read)
I Like Black and White by Barbara Jean Hicks (Jacob's favorite to look at, he could stare at the pictures all day)
On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman (Mommy's favorite to read)
Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton (our "good morning" book)

And let me know, please, either by email (see below) or in the comments, what you've donated--I'd like to keep a list going at this post for Amanda and her husband to see (as much detail as you feel like giving--it would be great to know the number of books, or their titles, and where they've gone).

If you have any questions, please let me know at charlotteslibrary@gmail.com

Books Donated:

You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, to Willbern Elementary School.

Three copies of Hop! Plop! in honor of Jacob to Head Start in Plainfield, NJ


The Girl Who Could Fly

Imagine a cross between Savvy and The Mysterious Benedict Society, but with (I think) more heart than either of them, and you will maybe get an idea of The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester (Feiwel and Friends, 2008, 329 pp).

Piper McCloud is the only person in Lowland county, perhaps the whole country, or the whole world, who can fly. Appalled by her little girl's talent, Piper's mother has determinedly kept her away other children, and on the ground.

"Piper, my mind's made up and there ain't no changing it or arguing around it. There ain't no earthly cause for a youngen to be meddling about up in the sky."

But at last, when Piper is nine, her mother agrees to let her go to the town's 4th of July fair, and there Piper's resolve not to fly fails, and she soars up into the sky to catch a baseball.

All heck breaks loose, and the McCloud farm becomes a media circus. Then mysterious special forces arrive, secure the farm (very dramatically), and make Piper an offer she can't refuse--the chance to go to a government school, for special children like herself. With a wooden bird carved by her father clasped tightly (the bird is important), Piper enters the Institute. It seems at first a utopia--a chance to make friends with a truly extraordinary group of kids, more physical comfort than she's ever dreamed of, delicious food. But this utopia for the specially gifted comes with a hefty price, one that Piper can never pay...

A lovely story! Piper might not be the smartest girl around, and she sure talks a lot, but she has a great heart.

The Girl Who Could Fly has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Sci Fi/Fantasy category, and I could easily write more about its message, the interesting talents of the other children, what Piper ends up doing while at the Institute, what the real purpose of the Institute is, etc, but I would probably end up being too spoilerish, and I have to go read more of the 161 books now...


Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural

Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural
by Eileen Kernaghan (Thistledown, 2008, 257 pages)

In Scotland in the 1880s, Jeannie Guthrie, a sixteen-year-old girl raised by her school teacher father to love books, dreamt of being a famous author. This dream died with her father's untimely passing, and she was hired out as a farm girl. That life too came to an abrupt end, when, cornered in the barn by her lecherous cousin, Jeannie stabbed him with a pitchfork. Without picking it up.

"He clutched his shoulder and stared at the blood welling up between his fingers. "You've killed me," he said, and there was a kind of puzzlement as well as anguish in his look.
"I haven't," I cried. "I didn't." Something had happened, sure enough, and George without question was wounded; yet I felt it had naught to do with me.
"You're a witch," he said, and what I saw in his face now was hatred, and bewilderment, and fear."

Terrified that she has killed her cousin, and fearing that she will be accused of witchcraft, Jeannie flees to London. The fortuitous friendship with a free-spirited French girl, Alexandra David, leads Jeannie to a job as assistant/dogsbody to the formidable Madame Helena Blavatsky, a mystic seeker for spiritual truth, keeper of a salon frequented by the likes of Yeats, and a medium. Recognizing Jeannie's wild talent, Madame draws on her power to convince her audiences of her own spiritual abilities. And Jeannie meets Tom, a young, handsome, and skeptical student of zoology....

But when Madame's health fails, there is no longer a place for Jeannie in her menage. Jeannie's new position, assisting a charlatan in deceiving gullible audiences, is depressing, and, she fears, has alienated Tom. She flees to join Alexandra, who is now living a wild bohemian life in Paris, frantically seeking her own path to what lies beyond. When Alexandra goes too far, and actually enters the realm of spirits, it become clear that Madame's earlier warnings are true--that land is not inhabited by the the dear departed, but by much more sinister forces. Jeannie must follow Alexandra, or leave her trapped in a horrible otherworld.

In a book called "Wild Talent," I expected a lot more about Jeannie learning to live with her gifts, exploring their power, struggling with the how, the what, and the why of it all. There is a little bit of this, but the focus of the book is more on the historical fiction side of things--painting a detailed picture of life among the mystics of late Victorian London, and the artists and poets of Paris. The actual journey into the spirit world takes place late in the book, and only lasts 28 pages.

So if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, with particular reference to spiritualism, this is a book for you. Alexandra David and Madame Blavatsky were actual people, who led fascinating lives. Jeannie herself is a believable character within this historical context. On the other hand, if you are looking for wild magic, this might not be quite what you're looking for.

Wild Talent has been nominated for the Cybils Awards, in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.


Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season, by Marissa Doyle (2008) is the sort of book I would imagine Georgette Heyer thinking up if she had wanted to add Magic to her trademark regency/early 19th century) romances. Like many a Heyer romance, Bewitching Season features a smart heroine and a handsome and sympathetic male lead, and the setting is the London Season, when young girls of good families came out into society.

Persephone and and her twin sister Penelope are about to begin their season. Pen, the more vivacious of the girls, is eager; Persy, the more studious, feels sick to her stomach. She would far rather continue at home with their governess, learning not just the elements of a classical education, but magic as well.

For unlike the other young ladies, these twins come from a line of female magic users. And Persy will have to use both her magic and brains, and considerable help from her little brother this coming season, when her governess becomes ensnared in a plot to wrest power from the young not-yet-queen Victoria....Unfortunately for Persy, magic and brains are not much use in sorting out the tangles of young love, as she learns when her path keeps crossing that of handsome young Lochinvar.

In short, a pleasant read.

Poor Pen, who gets nothing to do in this book, is apparently going to have a much more interesting time in the sequel, Betraying Season, is coming May 2009.

Here's a rave review at The Book Muncher, and another review at Everyone has a Blue Castle.

And for more nineteenth-century fun, visit Marissa Doyle's blog, Nineteen Teen.
Bewitching Season has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy Catagory--the complete list is here.

When picture books make life harder, part II

I wrote, in an earlier post, about my vegetable scrubbing brush's transmogrification into a Brave Little Pet, thanks to Traction Man (by Mini Grey) .

Yesterday I was told it was Scrubbing Brush's birthday.

Scrubbing Brush didn't like the present I found for him and cried.


I bet Scrubbing Brush is going to want his own Christmas stocking. Anyone with any gift ideas for a Scrubbing Brush is welcome to contact me.

2 Robie Harris books to give away...

And the winners are Laura and Shelburns!

The folks at Little Brown sent me two books by Robie H. Harris to give away. One is Mail Harry to the Moon, which I love --my review is here.

The other is The Day Leo Said I Hate You, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Mollie Bang, which is good also, but not quite as gripping, mainly because its MESSAGE dominates the book. Leo is having a tricky kind of day--all he's heard from his mother is no, no, No! And things get worse and worse until he says those mean, mean words to his Mama-- "I hate you!" Gah! he thinks, as soon as the words are out of his mouth (at least, Harris doesn't have him say "gah", but that's what he looks like he's thinking) ---and he is sorry sorry sorry.... Mama then models an idealized parenting strategy in her measured, instructive response, and all is well.

So, I'm giving these two away, separately so as to spread the wealth. Leave me a comment by 11:59 pm Thursday October 23rd, and I'll announce the winners Friday!


Of particular interest to Noel Streatfeild and Josephine Elder fans

A Scottish publishing company, called Greyladies, is bringing out adult books published by Noel Streatfeild under the pseudonym Susan Scarlett. Here's the blurb for the first, Poppies for England, lifted from their temporary website:

A warm-hearted story with a theatrical background. Set in 1946 against the
aftershock of war, with rationing still in place and prisoners of war returning
home only to find their families almost strangers. Two such families join forces
to provide the summer concert party at a seaside holiday camp. Hidden talents
emerge, romances struggle and blossom and jealousies and artistic temperament
are overcome as the families find happiness once more. "Peace was creeping back
into the world, and into the heart."

It sounds rather nice.

They are also republishing the adult book Lady of Letters, by Josephine Elder, who is one of my favorite authors of English school stories for girls. I've read this one, and it's interesting, although not as good as her children's books!

There is ordering info. on the webpage.


Mail Harry to the Moon

Mail Harry to the Moon! by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, 2008).

This is not a science fiction/fantasy nominee (one of the 163 (or whatever) books I'm supposed to be, like, reading for the Cybils). It is, instead, a really great and funny picture book, that arrived recently at my work address (because I don't want to risk boxes of books being left outside in the rain at home). I read it during break, laughed, and shared it with co-workers--more laughter. I took it home, shared it with children--more amusement. And when I asked my oldest if there was a picture book that had really stuck in his mind, that he might want to nominate for the Cybils, this is what he suggested.

The narrator, a boy who looks to be about 5ish, is not best pleased with his little brother, Harry. The trials of being the older sibling are many and various, and such constant vexations call for drastic measures. For example:

"Before Harry, nobody took a bite of my banana. Yesterday, Harry did. So I said, THROW HARRY IN THE TRASH!"

One evening the narrator, provoked beyond bearing by the nightly screaming, screams back "MAIL HARRY TO THE MOON!" And the next morning, there is not a peep from Harry. Harry is not in the trash, or down the toilet, back inside Mommy, or in the zoo....Could he be ON THE MOON???

And all the latent protectiveness that many of us older siblings have deep inside us comes to the fore, and a rescue mission to the moon is launched!

I love this book.

Here's an interview with Robie Harris over at Mother Reader's place, where she talks about her inspiration for the book (funny!). And here's another review, at Books For Kids Blog.

Amanda at A Patchwork of Books is giving away this book, and another by Harris, over at her blog. If you enter, but don't win, come back on here on Tuesday, and you might learn something to your advantage...


The Empty Kingdom, by Elizabeth Wein

The Empty Kingdom, by Elizabeth Wein (Viking, 2008), continues the story of young Telemakos, the half British, half-Aksumite (Ethiopian) grandson of King Arthur. This is the second book of the Mark of Solomon duology, set in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula during the 6th century. In the first book, The Lion Hunter, Telemakos, wounded in body and spirit by months of torture (a story told in an earlier book, The Sunbird), was further wounded when he lost his left arm to blood poisoning after a lion attack. Sent with his baby sister to Abreha, ruler of Hymar, ostensibly to keep them safe, he began to learn the secrets of his own emperor's erstwhile enemy. But Abreha caught him in an act of apparent treachery, and threatened him with a death warrant.

When The Empty Kingdom opens, Telemakos is serving the final span of his immediate punishment, a period of disgraceful isolation, whose worst pain was his separation from his beloved sister. The valuable information he has learned must somehow be sent home, but how can he do this when his every move is watched by Abreha, who reads his every letter, and whose acts of kindness and respect seem at odds the the death threat hanging over Telemakos' head:

"You sign yourself Meder, lord of the land, and you boast of your disgrace. Do you count yourself so far above other mortals, my shining one, that you make a jest of the order I carry in my sash, and of the iron nails balanced ready to pierce fast your feet and your single wrist?"

The tangled threads of intrigue, politics, and trust are skillfully woven together here, but I would strongly recommend reading The Lion Hunter first if you want to try to untangle them. I read it last year, when it was a 2007 Cybils nominee, and I still had to focus while reading The Empty Kingdom to try to keep things straight. And these two books are themselves a continuation Telemakos' story, so ideally one should read The Sunbird first (although I have yet to read it--it sounds like it might be too distressing for me...). And that in turn is one of a series stretching back to Arthur's Britain, which even more ideally should be read beforehand (see below for complete sequence).

This is a book that I would like to come back to, having read all the earlier ones--I'm sure I would find things I missed in reading The Empty Kingdom this time around (which is a compliment, not a criticism!). For instance, I am still brooding over the title--The Empty Kingdom--which I am sure must be a metaphor that I don't quite get, as yet (the kingdom of Telemakos' lonely spirit??? General emptiness of kingdoms when there is no trust???). Likewise, the world building, in the geographic and cultural sense, is superb in its detailed and nuanced complexity, but carries with it a concomitant possibility that the new reader will be confused.

Telemakos is great hero, not so much in his deeds of action, although those are present, but as a character. In Telemakos, Wein has carefully created a thoughtful, lonely, and intelligent boy, trapped in complex circumstances that seem beyond his control. The pacing of the writing is unhurried, allowing characterization and relationships to take center stage. I imagine that there will be many who love this book for that reason, and others who may become irritated--I fall into the former category.

Amazon has this book listed as appropriate for ages 9-12. It is true that there is no sex or bad language, or actual acts of violence. But I think that (in general) a kid that age might end up confused, and an older kid might get more out of it. Another categorical trickiness is that although this is "fantasy" in the alternate history sense, there is no magic, no supernatural elements--in short, nothing explicitly fantastic at all, so don't expect to find that here!

Here's a review (by another Charlotte), at Blogging for a Good Book.

And here's the sequence: The Winter King, A Coalition of Lions, The Sunbird, The Lion Hunter, and The Empty Kingdom.

The Empty Kingdom has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category (link to complete list at top right)- BUT was also nominated in YA and Middle Grade, and has ended up in YA.

BREAKING NEWS: There's a great (and I mean great) interview with Elizabeth Wein at Finding Wonderland.


"Just a Little White Whale on the Go"

My five-year old (the one with the Brave Little Pet/scrubbing brush) has this book displayed prominently in the "sea creatures" section of his room (he likes to create tableaux). We've also been reading/singing it a lot, although both of us find the nuances of Raffi's tune tricky.

So it made me sad to read this:

WASHINGTON – The federal government has declared that the beluga whale in Alaska's Cook Inlet is endangered and will require additional protection to survive.
The findings by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conflict with claims by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has questioned scientific evidence that the beluga whale population in the waters near Anchorage is still declining, despite a decade-long recovery effort.
But NOAA, in putting the whale under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, said Friday the whale population declined by 50 percent between 1994 and 1998 and "is still not recovering."

Cybils--the best of last year's Science Fiction and Fantasy

The lists of nominations for the Cybils are being pulled into their final form, and us panelists are busy reading away….but before I get too involved in talking about the 2008 books that have been nominated, I thought it would be nice to take a look back to 2007, and the science fiction/fantasy books that made the shortlist that year.

This is a great list of great books that embody the qualities my fellow panelists and I are going to be looking for in this year’s crop—outstanding world building, vivid characterization, and the sort of all-engrossing appeal that makes a book one that you find yourself pressing in the hands of strangers in book stores and libraries….(well, I have found myself doing this. Sometimes it’s even appreciated). And although several of these books needed no help from the Cybils in finding readers, others were books that before their Cybilian honors had lingered more under the radar. I hope the mix of books we offer at the end of our reviewing period also has on it wonderful books that haven’t yet gotten the buzz they deserve (this is one of the points of the Cybils, after all).

The Science Fiction and Fantasy category, incidentally, is divided into two groups-- older and younger readers (my 2008 list isn’t split yet; the final one will be). I have lifted the following blurbs off of the Cybils site, where you can go to see the other shortlists of 2006 and 2007, so if anyone ever lifts these descriptions from here in turn, please do credit the original authors!

Cybils 2007 short list in Science Fiction/Fantasy

Teen/Young Adult:

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
On her first day as a Lady’s maid, Dashti finds herself sealed in a tower for seven years with her Lady, who is being punished for refusing to marry the Lord of a neighboring land. Tight plotting, beautiful use of language and metaphor, and an engaging main character make this book a standout.
--Sheila, Wands and Worlds

by Catherine Fisher
Hodder Children’s Books (UK)
No one has been in or out of Incarceron for over 150 years. Now, a young man on the
Inside thinks he’s found the way Out--and a young woman on the Outside thinks she may
have found the way In. Success will require going up against the Warden--and Incarceron
itself. The strong writing and characterization, suspenseful narrative, and creative world
building brought this book to the top of the pack.
--Leila, Bookshelves of Doom

Northlander (Tales of the Borderlands)
by Meg Burden
Brown Barn Books
Northlander is an engaging tale which shows how hatred is only ignorance of the unknown.
Though Ellin’s gift of healing saves the Northlander king, she is feared and imprisoned. This gripping tale is both emotionally moving and thought-provoking.
--Kim Baccellia, Earrings of Ixtumea

by A. M. Jenkins
Fast-paced and sharply funny, A.M. Jenkins’ story of Kiriel--the fallen angel whose name
means “mirror of souls”--takes readers on a week-long ride in the body of an ordinary
human boy. Philosophical in a religious sense, yet untethered from any churchy elements,
this novel’s quirky appreciation of the mundane combines with a wisecracking,
personable narrative voice to create a funny yet thought-provoking novel. (For mature
--Tadmack, ReadingYA: Readers’ Rants

Skin Hunger
by Kathleen Duey
Simon & Schuster/Atheneum
Take two divergent story threads and weave them into one of the year’s darkest novels.
Add vivid characterization, a quest for knowledge beyond any cost, and magic that is
repulsive but intriguing and you have Skin Hunger.
--Tasha, Kids Lit

Elementary/Middle Grade:

The Chaos King
by Laura Ruby
The Richest Girl in the World and the son of gangster Sweetcheeks Grabowski have to find
their way back to friendship, as compelling weirdness enters their lives again in the form
of a giant squid, a super-annoying hotel heiress, an animated stone lion, and The
Chaos King--a “Sid” punk with a serious art fetish. This fast-paced, stand-alone sequel is
accessible to both middle grade and teen readers and is both funny and endearing.
--Tadmack, ReadingYA: Readers’ Rants

Into the Wild
by Sarah Beth Durst
A long time ago, all fairy-tale characters fled from their stories seeking refuge from “The
Wild,” a tangled, evil forest. Since then, Rapunzel has kept the forest under control with the help of her daughter Julie, but when it gets too powerful she is forced to depend on Julie to set aside her fears and doubts and defeat The Wild. Julie’s strong character is an inspiring example of duty, survival, and love.
--Traci, Fields of Gold

The Land of the Silver Apples
by Nancy Farmer
Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Richard Jackson
Land of the Silver Apples has it all--adventure, fairies, old world gods, and an ancient world that is caught between belief in the Old Gods and Christianity. This standalone sequel will appeal to not only fans of Nancy Farmer but those who enjoy adventurous tales.
--Kim Baccellia, Earrings of Ixtumea

Skulduggery Pleasant
by Derek Landy
When twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgley’s mysterious uncle dies, he not only bequeaths her his house, but a sticky supernatural situation and a rather dashing skeleton detective named Skulduggery Pleasant. This smart novel is full of humor, action, and a real sense of danger--and has a sly wit that would appeal to a wide age range.
--a. fortis, ReadingYA: Readers’ Rants

The True Meaning of Smekday
by Adam Rex
Nothing has been the same since the Boov invaded Earth and re-christened it Smekland. But things get even weirder when twelve year-old Gratuity Tucci embarks on a journey to find her missing mother--accompanied by her cat (named Pig), a fugitive Boov (named J.Lo) and a slightly illegal hovercar—and realizes that there’s more at stake than just her mother’s whereabouts. A hilarious satire with a touching ending and spot-on illustrations by
the author.
--a. fortis, ReadingYA: Readers’ Rants

Three sequels to books on this list have been nominated this year—Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire, Out of the Wild, by Sarah Beth Durst, and Sapphique, sequel to Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher (I’m looking forward to reading these!)

And speaking of sequels, the wait for the sequel to Skin Hunger is almost over (well, kind of). Sacred Scars will be out in paperback in the UK next June, and here in the US in hardback in August (which seems strange, but that's what fanfiction says). Anyway, here’s the cover:


When picture books make life harder...

My husband went to Japan and bought a vegetable scrubbing brush, that for several months hung on a handy hook near the sink.

No longer. Now it is a Brave Little Pet, and has to be kissed good night.

Thank you, Traction Man.




The Science Fiction/Fantasy list dosen't actually need any more books on it, but here are a few deserving orphans that haven't made it yet, if you need a suggestion:

Gone, by Michael Grant
Cybele's Secret, by Juliet Marillier
The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1), by Rick Riordan,
The Quest Begins (Seekers, Book 1), by Erin Hunter
Charlie Bone and the Shadow by Jenny Nimmo
Dragon Flight, by Jessica Day George.

Here's where you go to leave your nomiation...but check this list first, to make sure you won't be wasting your vote on something that's already there.

And if you go to this post at the Cybils, you'll find links to suggestions in other catagories!


Angel, by Cliff McNish

Angel, by Cliff McNish (2008 Carolrhoda Books, 311pp)

Freya is only eight years old when she meets her first angel--tall, shining, and beautifully winged. But after that one appearance, it never returns, leaving Freya in a state of angel obsession that becomes madness.

Six years later, she is home from the mental hospital, and has carefully built a "normal" identity--she's become "friends" with the beautiful alpha female of her class and her henchwomen. Keeping that place means being unable to be kind to the new girl in class. Stephanie is the archetypal total looser--wrong parents, wrong uniform, no social skills, and an obsession with angels that she unwisely shares with her class. But this obsession creates a bond with Freya, despite Freya's fear of falling back into her madness, and it is to Stephanie that Freya turns when she sees her second angel, dark and terrifying...Until she knows who the angels are, and why she sees them, Freya will never find peace. And until she accepts her own destiny, Freya will not help Stephanie, or her own troubled family.

Spoilerishness--I thought at first this was more young adult than fantasy--part of the plot is the ya standard of nice girl with bitchy friends who must befriend outcast girl. As I read on, and the angels become increasingly real, and increasingly implicated in the action of the mortals, the story became more clearly fantasy. These angels are living beings (although inhuman), and their role on earth is not specifically as a conduit to the divine.

McNish doesn't go much for subtlety in his characterizations--Stephanie, in particular, is so awfully a looser that she seems overdone (was it really necessary, for instance, for her clothes to be quite so horribly wrong?) Plot-wise, however, the interesting intersections of angels and humans make this a page turner, and I found Freya's personal angelic journey fascinating (although I would have liked a bit more explanation).

This book came out in the UK last year--here's its cover over there.
I prefer the US one, because the book really is about Freya, not about angels in general.

And here's what seems to be the paperback cover, making it look like a gothic thriller, which it isn't.

Angel has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.


The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas (2008, Harper Collins, 411 pages, but in a large font with very generous spacing).

The Magic Thief has been on my "list of books to seek out list" for ages, so it was with happy anticipation that I opened it, and began to read....and read...and then the children wanted me, so I had to put it down (grrrr), but then I read some more...

Conn has survived on the streets of Wellmet alone, thanks to his quick hands and quick wits. But when he picks the pocket of the wizard Nevery, and pulls out the stone that is the locus of Nevery's magic, his life changes. But life as Nevery's apprentice isn't all fun and games--Conn has only thirty days to find his own locus magicalus, or lose his new status. Much worse is the fact that someone, or something, is sucking the magic out of Wellmet, and Conn has to use every bit of his quickness, and every bit of his new found magic, to defeat the Magic Thief.

I am very glad that this is Book 1--even though this particular plot came to a nicely wrapped-up conclusion, I want more of Conn, and Nevery, and Rowan (the distinguished girl who teaches Conn to read), and I want to find out the backstory (back story?) of Bennet, the knitting tough guy, and I want to spend more time exploring Nevery's giant, ruinous house (he blew it up 20 years before this story in a magical experiment), and I want to learn more about the magic of Wellmet...

Conn is a very engaging narrator, reminiscent of Gen in The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (if you like that book, you'll probably enjoy this one). Interspersed with Conn's story are entries from Nevery's diary, which make for an amusing contrast.

A great book for kids 9-12ish, or anyone that loves a brisk, crisp, magical story. This has been nominated for the Cybils Awards (with good reason!), and here's another review from Nettle, my Cybilian collegue. I have a list of all the books nominated for the Science Fiction/Fantasy here; nominations close on the 15th of October.


Found, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Found, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon and Schuster, 314pp, middle grade and up), is the first book in her new series, The Missing. The next book comes out in the spring of 2009.

In the night a plane appears out of nowhere, and sits on a dark airport runway. There's no pilot on board, only thirty six crying babies....The plane disappeared back into the night, its story was buried in the FBI files, and the children were parceled out for adoption. 13 years pass. Then the anonymous letters begin to arrive, and thirteen year old Jonah, whose always known he was adopted, has his world shaken to the core. He, his sister Katherine, and Chip (also thirteen, also adopted), are flung into a frightening mystery.
"Beware," [Jonah] quoted. "They're coming back to get you. That's what the letter said. That's who they were warning us about!"

He looked around fanatically. What if the man tried again, sometime when no one was around to protect them?

Katherine shook her head, her ponytail flipping back and forth.

"Really," she said disgustedly,"if the cute janitor wanted to warn you, he should have provided a few more details. Names, dates-something you could go to the police with."

"The police would never believe this," Chip groaned. "I don't even believe it!"

I enjoyed the first 250 pages very much. But then Haddix throws all heck at the reader, with a maelstrom of bad/good ? guys and overwhelming explanations of what's happened. Exciting, sure, but not so graceful. Haddix has a lot to pack in, so as to prepare the reader for the next book, and it felt a bit forced and rushed to me, especially compared to the preceding pages.

Now that I'm prepared, though, I'll definitely be looking for the next book!

Here are some other reviews, at The Reading Zone (check out the comments, which clearly show its appeal to young readers), at Becky's Book Reviews, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, and Fuse Number 8, but be careful! There are spoilers! (it's from a few weeks ago, so it includes even more links to other reviews)

The Found has been nominated for the Cybils. Here's my list of the other books nominated in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Congratulations Carrie Jones!

Not only did Carrie have three books published this year, but ALL of them were nominated for the Cybils Awards! This might be a first.

Love (And Other Uses for Duct Tape) and Girl Hero have both been nominated in the YA Category; Need (fantasy) was also nominated, but isn't eligible until next year because of its late 2008 publication date.

I have a soft spot for Carrie's oeuvre because Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend was the first book I read last year for the Cybils when I was on the YA panel, and I fell hard for Tom.

So congratulations Carrie!

If you haven't nominated your own YA favorite, Becky has posted a handy list of really good 2008 books that haven't made it yet...


Lament, by Maggie Stiefvater

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux 2008, 336pp) is a great addition to the sub-genre of fantasy in which human girls find their destinies entwined with non-human types (faeries, vampires, and such like).

Deirdre had no idea, when she met Luke, and began to play music with him, that she was at the beginning of a perilous encounter with the hosts of faerie...Her love for Luke, strange and beautiful (and dangerous?), her growing awareness of her own fey powers, and her realization that she has become involved in a life or death struggle against inhuman beings make for a gripping read.

Just a quick warning--things are not wrapped up neatly at the end (although the worst of the danger seems to be over). So you'll have to wait until the sequel, Ballad, comes out next fall to see what happens to Luke and Deirdre...

Here's another, more detailed, review at The Story Siren.

Lament has been nominated for the Cybils in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.


The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French

The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French, illustrated by Ross Collins (2008, Candlewick, 200pp, for ages 8-11)

When a wicked witch realizes to her horror that she doesn't have the gold on hand with which to pay for her new gown (the titular robe of skulls), what else can she do but come up with an evil magical plot? In this case, she hatches a scheme to turn all the princes of the neighboring realms into frogs, and ransom them back to their grief-stricken parents in return for cash. But pitted against her are a spunky girl, escaping a miserable family situation, a prince who would rather run off and explore than mingle pleasantly with other royal children, and the most charming bats I've ever met in a work of fiction. Plus the Ancient Crones!

This is a funny and fast-paced book, and the black and white illustrations are an amusing and engaging addition to the text. Next year, when my oldest is a more confident, nine-year-old reader, I'm absolutely certain that I am going to pressing this, and other books by Vivian French, into his hands. And I have no qualms at all in urging those who already have such a child to seek out this book.

Here are two other reviews, at Kiss the Book and Adventures in Reading.

The Robe of Skulls has been nominated for the Cybils in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. There's still time to nominate your own favorite books of 2008, so head on over!


Saving Juliet for Timeslip Tuesday

Saving Juliet, by Suzanne Selfors (Walker and Company, 2008, 242pp, ages 10 (-ish) and up).

Ever since she was old enough to be trusted not to run off the stage screaming (that is, at three years old), Mimi has been thrust into the Shakespearean plays put on at her family's famous theater. No one ever asked if she wants to act--her mother, struggling to keep the theatre going after her father's death, assumes that the theater is Mimi's destiny. And her mother needs the money from Mimi's trust fund to keep things afloat.

So now Mimi is Juliet, playing opposite teen music star Troy Summer, and feeling so sick with stage fright that she pukes on stage. Escaping into the snowy night of Manhattan, she wishes she were somewhere else, perhaps Verona, and as a small vial of the ashes from one of Shakespeare's quills breaks, and the ash flies into her face, that's where she finds herself. And once there, meeting the real Juliet, a fun and freckle-faced girl, she vows to save her from the trap that Shakespeare wrote her into, a trap that mirrors her own circumstances. Juliet is about to be married off to an old and repellent man in order to bring money into the family. She hasn't met Romeo, yet...

Thrust willy-nilly into a world of feuding Capulets and Montagues, Mimi struggles with the harsh realities of Renaissance Italy, falls hard for Benvolio (so did I, when I watched the Zephirelli movie when I was 13), and scrambles to keep herself safe (and, of course, to save Juliet). Things become more complicated when Mimi finds Troy, wounded by the Capulet bad boy Tybalt, struggling to keep Friar Laurence from applying leaches to his leg.

Will Mimi be able to change Shakespeare's story, and the story of her own life? Is Benvolio the boy of her dreams, or is there more to Troy than meets the eye? And what of Juliet and her Romeo?

All right, maybe this isn't exactly a genuine time travel book. Mimi herself says, at one point, "I had already established that this was not insanity or a dream. Clearly I was not the victim of time travel. Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters." But I'm just going to gloss over that little detail. There's enough here about the Verona of four hundred-ish years ago for this book to count, in my opinion. Even though Mimi is rather relieved that the fictional folk of Verona are comfortable with modern American English...

In short, a fun and clever book!

There's another review at Rightbook, or you can watch a book trailer here at YA Books and More!

This is my first Official Review of a book nominated for the Cybils. If you haven't yet nominated your own favorites, head over and do so before Oct. 15. I have a list here of what's been nominated in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.


Hamlet--the In thing

I just learned that Australian writer John Marsden, perhaps most famous for his "Tomorrow" series, has a new book that is a retelling of Hamlet. Here's a quote from a recent interview with him at The Book Show:

"Australian author John Marsden has created his own version of Hamlet, the ultimate story of revenge and betrayal. But his version is for teenagers. John Marsden's Hamlet is frustrated by sexual desire, the tyranny of the adult world and his own brand of teen angst. He wears black jeans and t-shirts and plays footy with his mates, but it's still set in Denmark and the ghost of his father still haunts him. The cast of characters is the same too; there's his friend Horatio, his love interest Ophelia and her father Polonius. John Marsden's Hamlet starts with his friends asking him whether he believes in ghosts. His response is, 'My bum's getting sore, let's play football.'"

Last year saw Something Rotten, by Alan M. Gratz (and here's an interview with him, at Cynsations)--Hamlet, the heir of an industrial empire, whose father dies in strange circumstances. And this year Oprah has given her nod to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, which takes the Hamlet story to 20th century Wisconsin.

The Science Fiction/Fantasy titles nominated for the Cybils Award, with links to reviews

There are 162 nominees in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category, which has been split into books for young and older readers.

Here are the panelists who will be reading them all, and making a short list of fivish books in each category:

Laini Taylor Grow Wings
Charlotte Taylor Charlotte's Library
Alyssa Feller The Shady Glade
Em Em's Bookshelf
Nettle The Puck in the Midden
Tirzah Price The Compulsive Reader
Amanda Blau Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

An alphabetical list of all the books follows, with links to both my reviews and reviews and recommendations by my fellow panelists (a work in progress). If it's in bold that means I've read it (124 --my final tally).

There are 64 books that fall in the Middle Grade Category:

The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riorden (Amanda)
A Best Friend For Claudia by Bebe Weinberg Katz
Boots and Pieces by Emily Ecton (Nettle)
Boy of All Time by Che Dee
The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski (Nettle, Laini)
The Curse of Cuddles McGee, by Emily Ecton
The Dark Legacy by K.G. McAbee
Dark Whispers (Unicorn Chronicles) by Bruce Coville
The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau
Dinosaur Blackout by Judith Silverthorne
Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George (Nettle)
Eclipse Warriors Power of III By Erin Hunter
Escape the Mask, by David Ward
Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull
The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton
Family Matters Partners in Time #4 by Kristen Sheley
Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage
Fish and Sphinx by Rae Bridgman
Flora's Dare by Ysabeau Wilce
The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester (me, Amanda)
Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Em)
Grim Hill: The Secret Deepens by Linda DeMeulemeester
The Gypsy Crown, by Kate Forsyth (Laini)
Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, by Dale Basye
The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
Kaimira: The Sky Village, by Monk Ashland and Nigel Ashland
Lamplighter, by D.M. Cornish
The Land Beyond the Clouds by Valerie Bishop
Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley
The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas (me, Nettle, Laini)
Mary Lamb Enters the World of Maze by F. T. Botham
Masterpiece by Elise Broach (Em)
Misty Forest Fables by Acrid Hermit
Monks in Space, by David Jones
Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy (Laini)
The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman (Laini)
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell (Amanda, me)
Out of the Wild, by Sarah Beth Durst (Nettle)
Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godsister by Liz Kessler
Portal by Jaqlyn Von Eger
Queste by Angie Sage
The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap by H.M. Bouwman (me)
Ring Dragonz Mister Rengerz
The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French (me, Nettle)
Runemarks, by Joanne Harris
Savvy by Ingrid Law (Amanda)
The Seer of Shadows by Avi (Amanda)
The Shadow Diamond by S. Brooke
Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow (Amanda)
Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with fire by Derek Landy
The Softwire: The Betrayal on Orbis 2 by PJ Haarsma
Things That Are by Andrew Clements
Thornspell by Helen Lowe (Nettle)
Travelers Market by Maureen McQuerry
The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles
Unnamables Ellen Booraem (Nettle)
Well Witched by Francis Hardinge
Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill
Winter Wood, by Steve Augarde

And here are the Young Adult nominees:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson (Nettle, Laini, Tirzah)
Airman by Eoin Colfer

Angel by Cliff McNish (me)
Aurelie: A Faerie Tale by Heather Tomlinson
Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle (me, Tirzah)
Bite Me, by Parker Blue (Em)
Bliss Lauren Myracle (Nettle)
The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Em, Tirzah)
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini (Amanda, Tirzah)
Chalice by Robin McKinley
A Charm for a Unicorn by Jennifer Macaire
Cherry Heaven by L. J. Adlington (Tirzah)
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier (Nettle, me)
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (Amanda, Tirzah)
The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn (Em)
A Curse Dark as Gold
, by Elizabeth Bunce (Em, Tirzah , Nettle)
Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier (Tirzah )
Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin (Em)
Damosel by Stephanie Spinner (Nettle)
The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Dead Girl Walking by Linda Singleton
Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez
The Devouring, by Simon Holt (Nettle, Tirzah)
Dingo by Charles de Lint
The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling (Nettle)
Ever by Gail Carson Levine (Tirzah)
Evernight by Claudia Gray
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson (Laini, me)
First Duty by Marva Dasef
Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix (me)
Frostbite by Richelle Mead (Tirzah)
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (Nettle, Amanda, Tirzah)
The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Nettle)
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (Tirzah, me)
The Humming of Numbers, by Joni Sensel
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Amanda, Tirzah, Laini)
Impossible by Nancy Werlin (Nettle, Tirzah)
In The Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein (me)
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (Em)
Invisible Touch by Kelly Para
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Lament, by Maggie Stiefvater (me, Tirzah)
The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson
Lifeblood, by Tom Becker
Little Brother, by Cory Doctrow (Nettle)
Lonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar (Amanda)
The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
Masks: Rise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce
Moonstone, by Marilee Brothers
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi
Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer (me)
Nation by Terry Pratchett (Nation)
Night Road by AM Jenkins
Nightworld No 1: Secret Vampire et al. by L.J. Smith (Tirzah)
Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner
Noman, William Nicholson
Oh.My.Gods by Tera Lynn Childs (Tirzah, Nettle)
The Other Book by Philip Womack
Pillage by Obert Skye
Poison Ink by Christopher Golden (Nettle)
A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (Tirzah)
Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilburt Murdock (Em)
Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan
Ratha's Courage, Clare Bell (me)
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
The Resistance - Gemma Malley
Revealers by Amanda MarronBolde (Nettle, Tirzah)
Sapphique (Incarceron Book 2) Catherine Fisher
Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors (me)
Sea of Wind - by Fuyumi Ono
The Secret of Bailey's Chase, by Marlis Day
Secrets of the Survivors,by Mark L. Eastburn
The Sky Inside by Clare Dunkle
Spellspam by Alma Alexander
Starclimber, by Kenneth Oppel
The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker
The Stowaway by R.A. and Geno Salvatore
A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith
Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley (Em, Tirzah)
The Summoning, by Kelly Armstrong (Tirzah, Em)
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George (me, Nettle)
The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Mariot
Switch by Carol Snow (Em)
Tender Morsels Margo Lanagan
Tim, Defender of the Earth by Sam Enthoven
The Time Paradox by Eion Colfer
Treason in Eswy by K.V. Johansen
Two Pearls of Wisdom (aka Eon Dragoneye Reborn), by Alison Goodman
Untamed by P.C. + Kristin Cast
Wake, by Lisa McMann (Tirzah)
Wild Talent by Eileen Kernaghan (me)
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi.
Zombie Blondes by Brian James

So there you have it--the most beloved books in this genre for 2008! Which will make the shorelists? (coming in January) Which will win the highest honors? (coming in February). How many can you read by December 31st? (more to the point, how many can my brave fellow panelists and I read...) So exciting!

If you might like to buy one of these books in a way that supports the Cybils Awards, here at the Cybils website are clickable links.


Step Fourth, Mallory!

It makes a nice change for me to curl up with a book for girls, having, as I do, boys, so it was a pleasure to read Step Fourth, Mallory, by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Jennifer Kalis (Carolrhoda Books, 2008, 175 pp of large type and generous margins). One of the book things that I feel vaguely embarrassed about is that I've never read many of the standard books for young girls--no Ramona, no Amber Brown, and until now, no Mallory. I'm pleased to have met her!

Step Fourth, Mallory takes the title character off to fourth grade. She's anxious to please her teacher, Mr. Knight, but things go wrong, and wronger, and wronger still on that front. And both Mallory and her bestest friend like, as in LIKE, the cute new guy in class, and he seems to like her more. When you start the school year so happy because your best friend is at school with you, and five minutes later you're so happy to have met guy you like, it stinks to find that both are in jeopardy.

This is a great book for (surprise!) the girl starting fourth grade, but I think third graders of both genders, and maybe even fourth grade boys, will enjoy it. But not much older--there's a bit of easy reader feel to it.

Here's Mallory's website, if you want to learn more about her and her books!

Sci Fi Fantasy Cybils fun

I am going over to the Cybils site many times a day, to excitedly read the nominations for the category I'm involved in--Sci. Fi./ Fantasy.

I realized during the summer, as Cybils season approached, that this was the category I wanted to be part of, and (perhaps foolishly) decided not to focus my reading efforts fantasy-ward (although I cracked on a few, such as The Hunger Games, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Chalice, and a few others). Result: there are lots of books I'm looking forward to reading in the coming months! (but a few that I want to read haven't been nominated yet...so if you haven't nominated one in this category yet, ask yourself--"What would Charlotte like?" (tongue in cheek here, in case that's not obvious).

One thing I that is dawning on me (joke, keep reading) is that I have a lot of reading of non-nominated books to do. For instance, Breaking Dawn is nominated, but I (gulp) haven't read any of the earlier books. I feel as though I have, but it's just not true. There are several others like that--second, third, or even higher in a series. So I have come up with a Plan to help me clearheadedly and calmly navigate the reading waters of the coming fall.

Happily, I am home sick with a cold today. This will help me implement today's part of the Plan:

1. finish reading and writing reviews of all the books that need to be read and have reviews written of them (to do today). Write to all the publishers who sent me books giving them links to all my reviews.

2. check Twilight out of the library (today), read Twilight (today?).

3. clean and remodel house, split and stack 3 cords of wood, go to grocery store, trying not to be a Vector of Disease (my children scold me all the time for not coughing into my armpit, the way they are taught to in school these days. But it's hard to learn new tricks), prepare cheap but nourishing food for my young (and my husband too, unless he's doing the cooking), explain (again) to my 8 year old why I got so cross with him yesterday when he very meanly told my 5 year old that Santa didn't exist (today).

4. check Cybils website again. Re-read list of nominations in sci. fi. fantasy. Read YA nominations, noting which ones we will probably get in our category. Muse about the fact that they had something like 93 nominations in sci.fi/fantasy last year. Decide to make tidy list of our books to post here when the dust clears. Wonder if we will get more nominations than YA gets this year (to do repeatedly).

5. rest.


Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell

Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell (Bloomsbury, 2008, 272 pp, coming this November).

When this book opens, there is nothing beautiful about the life of Riley Rose. Since the death of her mother, two years before, Riley has become a bad girl--eating, drinking, smoking, cursing, and getting laid. Her father's relationship with Norma, isn't helping her much either--Norma is Christian, and critical, and raises Riley's hackles in just about every other way possible. Because of Norma's machinations, Riley finds herself an apparent prisoner at Spirit Ranch, a Christian Camp. There she is--a fat, smoking, angry atheist being encouraged to sing happy religious songs. Only she has a bus ticket home hidden away, if she chooses to escape.

At first this seems like the only sane thing to do, but her desire to escape wanes as she gets to know Dylan, returning to camp after an accident that has left him in a wheelchair. His dedication to Badness matches her own, culminating in a wild ride together into the Australian Outback in a stolen car. This passionate act of defiance ends up leading Riley back to a belief that love exists, to the acknowledgement of beauty, and to cathartic tears for her mother's death.

It does not, incidentally, end with Riley either embracing or outright rejecting Christianity, something I was worried about (as a reader, not as a person)--the ambiguity of her state of mind is a much more satisfactory ending. I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy spending a week at a fictional Christian camp as seen through the eyes of a hostile narrator, and I was not sure at all I was going to like Riley enough to want to keep going with her story. But although at first the camp Christians seemed like caricatures, and not very nice ones, they become (generally) more three-dimensional; some are even likable. And it turns out that the camp and its strange denizens were exactly the catalyst that Riley needed in order to slough off the bad-girl shell she had adopted. I ended up liking her, and wishing her well.

This is definitely one for the tougher reader--strong language, sex, drinking, drugs, etc.

Here's another review, at Becky's Book Reviews.

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