1/31/09

Is your blog an extrovert?

I am an INFP, and proud of it (as Myers and Briggs said of me, "Metaphors come easily, but may be forced). But my blog, I just learned through a link at Librarilly Blond, is an ESFP.

I guess we are two different people, my blog and I. It leaps to answer the phone when it rings, and seeks out parties, where it stays late with increasing energy...

The Glass Maker's Daughter

The Glass Maker's Daughter, by V. Briceland (Flux, April 2009)

In a city much like medieval Venice stand seven great houses, each with its own enchanted craft, each bound to the magic of Cassaforte and its king. Sixteen year-old Risa is the daughter of one of the seven--the house where glass makers create windows that do not break, vases that keep flowers fresh, and glasses that do not shatter. Every night she has thrilled to the sound of her father blowing the great horn of her family, answering the note blown from the king's own horn in an ancient rite of fealty. And she has always known that she will follow in the family tradition, attending one of the two schools for her caste, and learning the magic of glass working for herself.

The gods who govern the schools, however, don't need her. Angry and ashamed, she no longer knows what her future holds. Her own unenchanted glass works, beautiful though they are, are unwanted.

But Risa has only a few days to brood before her parents, along with the heads of all the other great houses, disappear into the king's palace, and the enchantments that hold her city together begin to unravel. With the help of two young guards, brother and sister, Risa must keep her family's house from shattering (literally), and unravel the plot that threatens all who keep faith with the covenants of the past. Her journey through the canals and twisted streets of her city takes her far from the sheltered daughter of privilege she had been, and leads her to the heart of the old magic, woven into the king's own crown, that only she has the power to understand.

Those who like heroines who have to figure things out--with regard to the entanglements of plot, with regard to their own abilities, and with regard to human relationships (in this case, a very engaging guard), should like Risa very much. The plot itself might not be wildly original, but I loved the magic of the city, especially the integration of enchantment into everyday things- I do so enjoy books that describe craftsmen at work. Briceland is himself a glass artist, and his knowledge comes through clearly. I would have liked even more about the glass making, but you can't have everything....

The book suffers a bit from a slow start. There's rather more telling than showing, and there are a few awkward transitions. But about midway, the pace picks up and moves briskly toward an exciting ending.

(I received an ARC of this book from the publisher--it will be released in April).

1/30/09

This is really taking zombies too too far

Some of you may have seen this already, through the link at Bookshelves of Doom a few days ago, which I had noticed but not clicked through, since zombies aren't really my thing. Today, though, via the Guardian Book Blog (link below) I ended up face to face with this new book coming in April:



From the Chronicle Books Website:

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy."

You can read more about it here at the Guardian Book Blog. As a proud member of Team Unicorn, I shudder.

Come to think of it, this could spawn a whole series. How about a Pride and Prejudice in which Whickham and Darcy are fairy kings? Or one in which Lydia and Whickham are vampires? I can't think of any character, however, who would make a good werewolf.

Promoting reading out loud by promoting our libraries

Jen has issued a call to arms over at her blog--she writes "What do you all say to the idea of some sort of international campaign to encourage reading aloud to kids? A campaign for literacy, if you will, but one focused specifically on the benefits of parents and teachers reading aloud to kids."

Many folks who commented mentioned the important role libraries can play in helping parents read aloud to their children. This ties in to something I've been brooding about for a while--how to raise awareness of our public libraries. Our children's librarian is on the board of our local head start, and was dismayed that about half the parents on the board with her (and these would be involved, caring parents) weren't aware that there was a library just a mile up the street and around the corner.

(Hmm. My children are demanding/asking sweetly that I read to them, and their father is out. In view of this post's topic, it would be a tad hypocritical not to agree, so I'll be back).

Back again the next morning.

So anyway. My question is--how do we make sure that more people in our communities know that our libraries exist, and that you can get books, dvds, cds, computer use for free? Not to mention the story times, book groups, and the arts, crafts, and nature programs?

One thing that I am going to be working on, in my role as president of the friends group, is to make sure that our community food bank has on hand a large assortment of children's books to give away along with the baked beans. And each book will come with a book mark, on which will be a map showing the location of my town's two libraries. I also want to make sure we have some sort of information at the local head start, and possibly more books to give away there. Our children's librarian is doing a great job of outreach at the local schools already.

Does anyone have any other ideas? I would really really love to see our library crowded with children, especially during these difficult times when budgets for small local libraries are not exactly secure.

1/28/09

The Humming of Numbers, plus Waiting on Wednesday--The Farwalker's Quest


When I saw The Humming of Numbers, by Joni Sensel (Henry Holt, 2008), on the list of books nominated for the Cybils in Sci Fi/Fantasy, I had the impression that it was going to be about large computers loudly crunching large amounts of data. I was wrong, wrong, wrong!

Instead, it is a magical story set in early Medieval Ireland.

It begins thus:

"Lana Nicarbith hummed of the number eleven. The sound caught Aidan's attention as he swept the path near the abbey's front gate. He stared, open-mouthed, while Lord Donagh dragged the girl through the entry, past Aidan's poised broom, and inside. Plenty of people filled Aidn's ears with the chiming of four or seven or nine, and many of his brothers in the order pured softly of six. Never in his seventeen years, though, had Aidan O'Kirin met anyone endowed with the energy of a number higher than ten."

Lana, with her radiant humming eleven, her bright blue eyes, and her questioning mind, is truly like no-one Aidan has ever met, and he doesn't know at all what to make of her. The disruption Lana's arrival brings to the calm life of Aidan's monastery is soon overshadowed by a more terrible turmoil. This is the time of the Viking raids on Ireland, and no monastery or village is safe from the death and enslavement they bring. By chance, Lana and Aidan are outside in the relative safety of the woods, when the raiders arrive and the bloodbath begins.

But Lana has her own gifts, gifts Aidan struggles to trust. They must work together to put the raiders to flight, using trickery and an old magic rooted deeply in the land...

Nice writing, nice historical background, nice characters, and nice romance! (With apologies to my fourth grade teacher, who claimed that using nice was the sign of a weak mind). But it is nice, although perhaps not earthshakingly so. I would have liked it to explore some aspects of plot and relationship in greater depth. Still, this is a book that I am keeping to savour again in the future (and happily, my public library already has a copy).

There's more information about the book, and links where you can find more about the historical setting, here at Jodi Sensel's site.

And for my first official "Waiting on Wednesday" post--Jodi Sensel has a new fantasy coming on February 17th, called The Farwalker's Quest. Here's the blurb from Amazon:

"Ariel has always been curious, but when she and her best friend Zeke stumble upon a mysterious old telling dart she feels an unexplained need to figure out what it means. Magically flying great distances and only revealing their messages to the intended recipient, telling darts haven’t been used for years, and no one knows how they work. So when two strangers show up looking for the dart, Ariel and Zeke realize that their discovery is not only interesting, but very dangerous. The telling dart and the strangers lead them on a journey more perilous and encompassing than either can imagine, and in the process both Zeke and Ariel find their true calling."

Science Fiction--hiding in the mainstream shelves

From today's Guardian Book Blog comes an interesting little article--"Science Fiction--the genre that dare[s] not speak its name." The author addresses the fact that "Mainstream authors and publishers seem happy to appropriate the tropes of science fiction but not the label itself." Here's the link. Shades of the ongoing vague rumbling about YA science fiction and fantasy, lurking unlabeled in that section...

1/27/09

The House of Arden for Timeslip Tuesday


Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit (1908).

"Imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of high treason, and having confessed to a too intimate knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot, Elfrida could not help feeling that it would be nice to be back in her own time..."

Time travel, as 12 year-old Elfrida and her 10 year-old brother Edred have found, is not always a walk in the park. Even if you have as a guide a magical, ancient mole who is the heraldic crest of your House. But as the heirs to a half ruined castle, that comes complete with a story of hidden treasure, lost long ago, how could they not take the magical chance the mole offers to travel back in the pasts of their Arden ancestors to search for it? Meeting highwaymen, smugglers, witches, kings, and queens is thrilling, but the true treasure is not exactly what they were searching for...

Re-reading this today, I was struck anew by Nesbit's uncanny ability, or so it seems to me, to capture the mindset of children, and to see things from a child's point of view. She wrote about Elfrida and Edred over 100 years ago, but they come vividly alive to a modern reader. I kept telling myself to pay attention to the language, to see if if sounded dated and archaic, and I kept forgetting to as I fell back into the story. My excuse is that it is a thrilling story, with almost non-stop action and adventure. Once or twice, Nesbit gets a bit preachy about Social Justice and the Inequities of her own time period, and she's not subtle about it, but these bits are easily skimmed by the fast reader who does not feel the need to have her own consciousness raised.

As is the case with many of Nesbit's books, it is the sister who is the central character, the sympathetic, thoughtful one, whose point of view is most often given. So although I'd hesitate to say that boys wouldn't enjoy it, I'd be most eager to put this book into the hands of a middle grade, fantasy loving girl. Fans of The Time Garden, by Edward Eager, who was a great admirer of Nesbit, will recognize that book as a homage to this.

The thought of a magical mole guiding children back to various time periods might seem a bit off-putting. Do not let it be. This isn't The Story of Amulet (my favorite Nesbit), but it's a very good read.

The House of Arden was recently (2006) republished in the New York Review Children's Collection- this is their cover. I had never before come across these reprints, and I am rather dismayed to find that there is much, lots of much, to want therein. For what it's worth, they got J.K. Rowling to write a blurb for House of Arden. Here is what she says: "I love E. Nesbit—I think she is great and I identify with the way that she writes. Her children are very real children and she was quite a ground breaker in her day."

As opposed to all those post facto ground breakers among us.

1/26/09

Hooray for The Graveyard Book, and the Fantasy Genre!


It has made me so happy that The Graveyard Book got the Newbery! It was one of the books I helped shortlist for the Cybils Awards, which was very easy to do, as it met most beautifully our two criteria of fine writing and lots of appeal for a young audience. It's a lovely book, and it is hard to imagine it being a very contentious choice. However, doubtless someone will find something at which to be offended (I am now running through the book in my mind, trying to take offense. Perhaps child welfare issues, or general issues with Dead People hanging around a graveyard. But nothing easy, as far as I can recall, like a dog's Private Parts). My only quibble is that a Silver Medal would have looked better on the cover than a Gold. Maybe they can add a few gold highlights to the cover of the paperback...

Two other books on our short list were also recognized--Savvy got a Newbery Honor, and Curse Dark as Gold won the Morris Award, for best YA debut.

There were many great books that we just didn't have room for on our lists, and it was rather nice to see a couple of these get some attention as well. Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan, won a Prinz Honor (her second), as did Nation, by Terry Pratchett, and Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi, won the Batchelder for best book first published in another country.

It's gratifying to see fantasy as a genre well represented in the awards. From a selfish point of view, the more recognition fantasy gets, the more likely the publishers are to keep bringing the books on out.

1/25/09

Pretty Monsters

The stories in Kelly Link's latest anthology, Pretty Monsters (Viking, 2008), are brilliantly written, with turns of phrase that delighted me. They have great, memorable characters. Many are examples of fabulous, intricate, world-building. Several were creepy. Several I loved. And the book itself is a thing of beauty, with each story introduced by a black and white illustration by Shaun Tan.

So why did I find reading this anthology a little vexing?

Because I fell really hard for the second story, "The Wizards of Perfil," and even though it was long for a story (50 pages), I wanted so badly for it to be 300 or so, and every other story that followed wasn't those missing 250 pages.

Although it helped that the one that came next, "Magic for Beginners," is an utter joy.

1/23/09

Catching Fire

Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, is coming closer--here's a snippet in Publisher's Weekly with a picture of the cover. The part I liked best, thought, was the mention of a third book, coming in 2010...

1/21/09

Thoughts on Hearing Leonard Marcus

I just got home from hearing Leonard Marcus, author of Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature, and other books, give a talk on the history of children's book publishing in America. A theme of his talk was the tension throughout the twentieth century between books eagerly consumed by children, and produced to be sold in large and inexpensive quantities to them, and books that are held dear and promoted because of more lofty sentiments about quality literature. He concluded his talk with a brief discussion of Harry Potter, an outstanding exemplar of the former tradition.

Is it coincidence, I wonder, that the latest round of Newbery Award kerfuffle coincides with the dawn of the post Harry era?

An audience member asked whether English books were being brought here to the US in large quantities anymore. He thought not so much--that the traffic these days, especially in picture books, is in the other direction. I am now wondering about this myself. Any thoughts?

I asked my own rather brazen question, as a postscript to a more thoughtful comment--who did he think would win the Newbery this year? His favorite contender--Masterpiece
by Elise Broach.

1/20/09

Rose Casson has a blog!

I am rather fond of Hilary McKay's books about the Casson family, and so it made me happy just now to discover that Rose has her own blog, here.

Timeslip Tuesday--The Driftway, by Penelope Lively

The Driftway(1972) was English author Penelope Lively's third book. Her earlier books concerned the intersection of past and present, but this was her first "timeslip."

Paul and his little sister are on the run across the English Midlands. They are escaping from the police, who caught them in what looked like shoplifting, but Paul is also trying to escape from his father's new wife. They get a ride in the horse-drawn cart of Old Bill, which carries them along the old driftway, a road older than England. And as the cart makes its slow way into the foggy night, Paul's eyes open to the experiences of those who travelled the road before him--travellers from all the hundreds of years past. They tell him their stories--sad, angry, and despairing, stories of civil war, and chance encounters with strangers, highwaymen and poachers. As Paul travels the driftway, listening to other people whose lives he would find unimaginable in real life, he also travels into a better understanding of what he is really running from.

Ok. So it's a tad didactic. And the meetings with the people from the past are not integrated at all with what is happening in modern times--Paul simply experiences their stories. But at the heart of the Driftway is Lively's love for the land, and the stories it holds. This sense of past places and people makes it a book worth reading.
Paul looked out into the darkness. The silence concealed the landscape he knew: the neat, orderly landscape of hedgerows, shapely trees, hills lifted to meet sky and cloud, fields, streams, squat cottages, a landscape that seemed set and unchanging in all but the variety of season, the variety of colour and of light. But it was not. Beneath it lay all those other things: People working, fighting, dying....he imagined other eyes in other times looking at the same things, feeling the same feelings, thinking...No not thinking the same things. That would be the difference.

'You can't know how they thought,' he said. 'Not really.'

'I s'pose not, son. But we should try. We should do that.' (p 80, 1985 edition).
Lively went on to write other timeslips --The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1974), The House in Norham Gardens (1976), and A Stitch in Time (1976)--which are rather more successful at gracefully meshing different times than is the case in The Driftway. Those who love old roads, however, will find much to like here.

1/19/09

Nonfiction Monday--The Search for Antarctic Dinosaurs

When I was a child, there weren't any dinosaurs from Antarctica (there were brontosauri back then too, but that's another story). It is, I think, important to try to keep up with your children while you still can. Although I have on occasion exposed depths of ignorance that dismayed my children ("Don't you know anything about g force, Mama?" Short answer-"No."*) I still know as much as they do about dinosaurs. Maybe.

I'm a heck of a lot more interested in dinosaurs than I am in physics. And so I was more than happy to read The Search for Antarctic Dinosaurs, by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by John Bindon (2008, 48 pp with many color illustrations, Lerner). Before the expedition told of in this book, no dinosaurs had ever been found in Antarctica. One day, rocks are discovered that look promising, and a paleontologist sets of with a handful of graduate students to see them for himself.

It is a cold and hazardous search, the author tells us. The protective layers of clothing that each member of the expedition must wear are detailed in a series of sequential illustrations, the rigorous training described, and the hazards (death by crevasse) lightly touched on. What the author does not say is that these paleontologists are nuts. They are also incredibly lucky, and hit pay dirt the first time out--a new species of dinosaur, which they named Cryolophosaurus, or "frozen crested lizard."

This is just one book of many in the "On My Own Science" series--early independent reading of non-fiction. As such, it is a tad stilted stylistically, and not so good for reading out loud (after all, it wasn't meant to be a read aloud book). So although my five year old was interested, I found myself adding commas to make it flow better... I also think that any early independent reader who would want to read this book would already know what a fossil is, and so it felt a bit patronizing to be told, again. The subject matter, though, is really really neat (these people are insane), and my five year old and I both enjoyed the Cryolophosaurus death scene.

He, of course, had already heard of Cryolophosaurs. Unlike me. The moment I read the name, he said, "Oh. Like Allosaurus." Yep, on the next page, that's what it said. Sigh.

Another title in the "On My Own Science" series--Shipwreck Search: Discovery of the H.L. Hunley-- is reviewed here, at Books for Kids Blog.

*They watch Mythbusters. I don't.

The Non-fiction Monday round-up for today is at Simply Science.

1/18/09

EBook Giveaway--The Ruins of Gorlath

Among the 124 science fiction/fantasy books I read for the Cybils this past fall was Book Four of the Ranger's Apprentice, The Battle for Skandia. This action-packed adventure was my introduction to this best-selling series, an Australian import for middle-grade readers.

Book Six, The Siege of Macindaw, is coming out this summer, and to celebrate, Penguin is promoting the series with an eBook giveaway of Book One, The Ruins of Gorlan.

Here's the synopsis:
"They have always scared him in the past-the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice. What he doesn't yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . ."

You can read the book here until February 15, 2009! Free!

And just for kicks, here's the Australian cover, which I find a lot less scary...

I am looking forward to introducing my sons to these books when they are a bit older--this is a very boy-friendly series, full of action and adventure (although I think my middle-school self would have eaten up the series too). In fact, the books began as a series of short stories written by the author to encourage his son to read.

If you are looking forward to the next installment of Will's saga, please leave a comment by February 15 to win an ARC of The Siege of Macindaw!

And the winner is KT!

1/17/09

The Last Polar Bears, by Harry Horse

From the valiant ship the Unsinkable, headed for arctic regions, a grandfather writes to his grandchild.

"Dear Child,
I am writing to let you know that Roo and I are well. I'm sorry I was unable to say goodbye to you properly and I hope that you can understand why I had to go on this expedition. I am going to the North Pole to find the Last Polar Bears."

All his life, the grandfather writes, he has either been too old or too young to do what he wanted to do, so with his dog Roo he has set off to find the polar bears before they are gone. And so begins The Last Polar Bears, written and illustrated by Harry Horse (2003 in the UK, 2007 in the US).
"Mama, finish reading me my book," my five-year old asked, the moment he woke up yesterday. I didn't mind obliging, because this book is an utter gem, a wonderful story, an utterly perfect book to read out loud to a five year old (I like it too). Part this is due to the many, varied, and entertaining black and white illustrations, the sort that cry out for careful study with your co-reader. Part of it is the story, in equal parts wacky adventure and fable.

The letters continue, describing the voyage.

"This afternoon Roo asked the captain if she could have a go steering the ship. "Dogs are great steerers of ships," she told him. He let her have a little go, and for half an hour we went around in circles. Roo said that dogs always steer ships in this way."

At last Grandfather and Roo reach Walrus Bay, where they settle into a tiny cabin to prepare for their expedition to Great Bear Ridge, and are troubled by wolves running across the roof at night. They are Bad wolves, hanging around and drinking too much Old Sock. What with the wolves keeping them awake, and all there is to do, life is busy. Roo and Grandfather shop at the Last Store, where Roo buys a painting of a rabbit, they care for frozen sea gulls and a small penguin knocked unconscious by one of grandfather's errant golf balls, they visit with a snow sculptor, whose art is melting into the ocean, and they plan their great expedition, choosing to take the Gentle Slop route. Roo has no interest in bears, but has been promised fields of snow ice cream.

The thirty-second of October arrives, bringing strange-ness. The folk of Walrus Bay are all leaving. The wolves head north. And Grandfather, Roo, and the young penguin head out to find Great Bear Ridge.

It is a hard journey, and beset with difficulties of the sort common to many polar expeditions. Seven days after setting out, the storm that trapped the travellers in a small igloo has ended. They are out of food.

"Child, do not worry.
I know the polar bears will find us.
I feel more tired than I have ever felt in my life. I shall dream of the polar bears tonight.
Roo says she will dream about ice cream.
Tell your mother that I will be home soon."

But there is one more letter...

And this final letter makes me sniff, but my boy is happy. He is even more happy to read three trailers for other books about Grandfather and Roo. He says it is his favorite book ever, and how funny it was, and how much he loves Roo.

My mind is full of thoughts of beloved Grandfathers growing old, melting ice, and small dogs looking forward to ice cream that isn't there. Journeys from which there is no return- "I am just going outside, and may be some time."* And I am sad, because I know that in 2007 Harry Horse, his wife, and their own Roo, set off together on just such a journey.

"Read it again!" says my boy. Sniff.

But on a more cheerful note, there are indeed three more books about Roo and Grandfather--The Last Gold Diggers, The Last Cowboys, and The Last Castaways. I also feel more cheerful now that I have found that The Last Polar Bears was first published in 2003, long before the tragedy of 2007.

Final note: many reviewers at Amazon were unhappy about the penguins. If you cannot tolerate the thought of penguins in the Arctic, you might not like this book. You might also have trouble believing in Santa.

* note written by Lawrence Oates, just before walking out of his tent into an Antarctic blizzard, sacrificing himself on behalf of Scott's doomed expedition.

1/16/09

The Dust of 100 Dogs

The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King (Flux 2009, available now--two weeks early!)

Saffron is not your average American teenager. She's pretty, she's smart, her parents are needy, her brother's a jerk, but unlike her classmates, Saffron has just started life number 102. And only the first of these, when she lived as Emer Morrisey, a 17th-century Irish girl turned bloodthirsty pirate, was a human life. The rest were all dogs.

The book begins in the 1600s with a chain of death on a Jamaican beach--Emer's true love is killed by a Frenchman who wants to possess her, the Frenchman is killed by Emer, and Emer herself is killed by the Frenchman's first mate. But before he kills her, he curses her:

"You will see!” he yelled, jumping from the brush, “You will see how true
love lasts! You will see how real love spans time and distance we know nothing
of!”

He rushed forward then, and shook a small purse toward her. From it, came a
fine powder that covered Emer’s hair and face. She reached up and wiped her eyes
clear, confused.

“What are you at?” she asked, spitting dust from her lips.

He stood with his arms and face raised to the night sky. “I curse you with
the power of every Spirit who ever knew love! I curse you to one hundred lives
as the bitch you are and hope wild dogs tear your heart into the state you’ve
left mine!” He began chanting in a frightful foreign language."

And the treasure that was to be Emer's passport to a peaceful life was left buried there, while she began her long cycle of death and rebirth.

Now that she is human again, she has one goal--to shake off the neediness of her family and get down to Jamaica to find her treasure again. But the beach where the treasure is buried is being watched by Fred Livingstone, a warped man haunted by his own dark ghosts, and the past and present collide when Saffron begins to dig.

Within the book are three separate narratives. There is the story of Saffron's American childhood and quest to reclaim her treasure, told in the first person with bits of very bloodthirsty piraticalness coming through from time to time (an engaging YA type narrative). There is the story of Emer, a girl whose life was destroyed in Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland, and who ends up, after a path of victimization, a bloodthirsty pirate (dark historical fiction-strong stuff, not for the faint of heart). And there is the third story, telling the truly unpleasant thoughts of Fred Livingston, middle-aged real-estate tycoon (neither YA nor historical fiction). Things are complicated by the interjection of vignettes from Emer's various dog lives.

In short, this is a challenging book--there is a lot happening, and it is not immediately clear how all the pieces fit together (although they do in the end). The moment I read the last page, I wished I had someone to discuss it with. I myself found the Saffron/Emer shared identity not as fully explored as I would have liked (the trauma of Emer's past seems to be deeply buried in Saffron's mind), and it's not clear what the experience of being one hundred dogs did for her. Each of the dog vignettes must be there for a reason, but reading the book the first time through, I was too caught up in the exciting plot to stop and think. So I think I shall go back and read Saffron's story arc and the dog bits again, now that I Know...

Here is the excellent Dust of 100 Dogs website, and here are some other blog reviews, at Jen Robinson's Bookpage and Bookshelves of Doom, and a trailer at The Compulsive Reader.

1/14/09

The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy

Not since Kafka's Metamorphosis has a giant cockroach been brought so majestically to the printed page. Yes, The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy (2008, Delacorte Press, 403 pages), has the most triumphantly realized giant cockroaches of any book I have ever read, which does not, incidentally, include Kafka's Metamorphosis. Although actually these sentient cockroaches are only about 3 1/2 feet tall, and are minor, though very entertaining, characters in the tumultuous sea of insanity that is this story. Yet through the wild and the whimsical journey there runs a coherent plot, to which I clung like a life-line.

During a party at Aunt Lily's ruby palace in the middle of the desert, a boy costumed as a hedgehog fires at an overweight Russian colonel, who isn't, really. This sort of thing has been par for the course of Jo's 13 years of life, ever since she was found with a note attached, warning "This is a dangerous baby" and was taken in by the famous film star Lily Larouche.

But in the days that follow the party, Jo's life becomes infinitely more surreal. The colonel and Aunt Lily (along with the colonel's cockroach companion, Sefino) whisk her off in a ramshackle plane, which is shot down into the ocean by the zeppelin of a wanna be Master of Evil, and is eaten by a large fish. This, in turn, takes the quartet to Eldritch City, where Jo meets the Order of Odd-Fish, and gradually learns just why she was labeled a dangerous baby. I am not even going to try to describe the city or the order, because it would take too much time and I wouldn't do them justice.

But all distractions of setting aside (such as the cleverest of all the gods, Aznaht, the Silver Kitten of Deceit), Jo does, in fact, face a very real threat in Eldritch City, and is, also in fact, a threat to its continued existence. And (this is where the plot falls into plot-like place), Jo and a handful of Eldritch teenagers must figure out how to thwart the demonic goddess who is lurking in the heart of the city, waiting to use Jo to return to power...

I was anxious lest the insanity, and there is a lot of it, prove such a distraction that the book became unreadable. It did not. Letting it all wash over me, I enjoyed the journey and the people, and read with quickening page turning-ness as the Climax approached, and all the disparate threads (I think--I might have missed a few) were gathered with a masterly hand as Jo confronted her Fate...

In short, this is a great book for a 13ish year old reader of fantasy, or anyone who wishes to read a book that offers an entertaining and satisfying escape from the quotidian world (battles on flying ostriches, anyone?)

The Order of Odd-Fish was a Cybils nominee (which was nice for me, because I enjoyed reading it very much, and might not have come across it otherwise, so thank you whoever nominated it, and thank you, Delacorte Press/Random House, for sending us copies!). Sadly, we could not shortlist all the books of which we were fond, so it was nice to see Odd-Fish honored by the Smithsonian as a 2008 Notable Book (although I don't, myself, quite understand why the Smithsonian takes a tender interest in children's fiction, but why not. They're smart people).

Here's another review, from my Cybils compatriot Laini Taylor (Hi Laini!)

Edited to add: for those interested in reading books featuring kids of color, Jo happens to be biracial, and a second central character is Chinese; here's a post in which the author discusses this.

anyone want to come to Providence????

Leonard Marcus is giving an illustrated talk based on his book Minders of Make-Believe
at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (224 Benefit Street, Providence), starting at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, January 21. There will be a book signing afterwards (or after words--ha ha).

As far as I know, I am the only kidlit blogger in Rhode Island (it can't be true. There must be someone else????), but if there is anyone from, say, Attleboro MA who might want to come, maybe we could meet up.

1/13/09

No Timelip Tuesday, but some satisfaction...

Last night I found the timeslip book I was going to write about today, and tried to re-read, but failed. I was right in the middle of another book, an unputdownable one, that I just couldn't stop reading--The President's Daughter, by Ellen Emerson White. This is the first book of a four part series about a girl who's mother happens to be the first female president...I read the fourth book, Long May She Reign, first, then the third book Long Live the Queen, and now I've read the first book! It is fascinating, going back to the beginning of Meg's story, and seeing that she is the same character--younger and less bruised by fate, but still, so Meg! And now I have the second book to look forward too...

Here are some actual reviews of The President's Daughter-at the YA YA YAs, and the Bookshelves of Doom. What they said.

So that was a satisfying night of reading, even though I didn't read my timeslip book. I was gratified that my husband sat on the other comfy chair, reading a book I gave him for Christmas (The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle), and even more pleased that my older boy sat on the sofa, peacefully reading the Spiderwick Chronicles to himself. I was not exactly gratified that my youngest son was playing Dark Dark Dark imaginary games with the legos--death, destruction, rampaging, etc--but at least he was not keeping the rest of us from our books. And then, to put the icing on my cake, my mother called to say that she had been up till 3 am the night before, reading the book I gave her for Christmas--The Hunger Games.

What with having to go to work, buy chicken food, buy people food, etc., I didn't have time to read the poor little timeslip story, and now I am here at the library, for an evening of book sorting and book sale planning. So there it is. Next Tuesday.

Urban Fantasy Land Readers' Choice Award


Here's another award information announcement to go with my last two posts. Urban Fantasy Land just announced that voting is open for the 2008 Urban Fantasy Awards.

Maybe, like me, you aren't quite sure what constitutes Urban Fantasy. My mental image--one of a dark city with bad creatures and people whacking away at each other--is not too far from the definition posted on the U.F. website's welcome page:

"Urban fantasy looks like our modern world, except for the creatures. You might walk into a department store and find vampires, werewolves, faeries, demons, zombies, ghosts and ghouls, where you would find other shoppers or clerks. Or you might be the only one who sees them. Sometimes the creatures are openly part of the world, and sometimes they are hidden. There’s not always a romantic story, but when there is, it doesn’t end happily. [Happily Ever Afters are considered Paranormal Romance.]"

Anyway. There is a YA category for the 2008 awards, so I was able to cast a vote based on informed opinion. Though I do wonder how the list of books for which readers could vote was picked. I would have liked to have seen Need, by Carrie Jones, on the list...

1/12/09

The Nebula Awards long list

Here’s the recently announced list of books in contention for this year’s Nebula Awards:

A Betrayal in Winter (The Long Price Quartet) by Daniel Abraham (Tor, July 07)
One For Sorrow by Chris Barzak (Bantam, September 07)
Territory by Emma Bull (Tor, July 07)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor, April 08)
In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (Tor, May 07)
Powers (Annals of the Western Shore) by Ursula Le Guin. (Harcourt, September 07)
Cauldron (Priscilla Hutchins) by Jack McDevitt (Ace, November 07)
Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Pyr, May 07)
Making Money (Discworld Novels) by Terry Pratchett (Harper, September 07)
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW, April 07)

I find it fascinating that Little Brother is on this list. To me, this book is not fantasy. It is too close to real life—only a few little steps separate our lives from the book’s dystopian governmental oversight of each and every keystroke.

It’s also interesting to see books that were marketed as YA (Little Brother, Powers) included on the list. There seems to be a constant hum of doubt/appreciation/dislike about books that might appeal to grown ups being put into YA, and many readers of adult fantasy don’t seem to take YA fantasy all that seriously (based on my recent perusal of a freshly compiled list of science fiction/fantasy review blogs). But although the idea of YA books taking their place as equals in the fantasy cannon is a nice one, it hasn’t happened yet--both Le Guin and Doctorow had reputations on the other side of the bookstore before writing these books. Incidentally, I glanced at the Nebula lists back through 2005, and the only other “non-adult book” that I recognized was, no surprise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I myself like having lots of fantasy/science fiction titles in the YA section of bookstores, simply because I am more likely to enjoy them than the books in the adult section. Perhaps this is because I like reading about children and teenagers, who are more often found in MG and YA books. That being said, One for Sorrow is the story of two teenaged boys (one of whom is a ghost), which seems to me to have been a natural for YA, and The Name of the Wind (which I haven't read, but which looks like a good one) seems in large part to be about the childhood and growing up of an orphaned boy, so generalizations seem to be futile.

The thing that really and truly struck me most deeply while creating this post, however, is how very tricky it would be to start a collection of first edition Nebula winners-look at how many came out in 2007!

Waterstone's Children's Book Prize Shortlist

Here are the books shortlisted for the 2008 Waterstone's Childrens Book Prize, which honors new and emerging authors in the UK:

How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott (Bloomsbury)
Zelah Green Queen of Clean by Vanessa Curtis (Egmont)
Changeling by Steve Feasey (Macmillan)
Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison (Simon and Schuster)
Gnomes Are Forever by Ceci Jenkinson (Faber)
The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen (Oxford University Press)
The Mapmaker’s Monster by Rob Stevens (Macmillan)
Numbers by Rachel Ward (Chicken House)

This page at the Waterstone's site displays them all with clickablness in regard to blurbs. Mapmaker's Monster and Numbers sound the most appealing to me...

Last year's winner was Ways to Live Forever, by Sally Nicholls, which is a brilliant book but one I do not think I could ever stand reading again. Waaaahhhh. But, while over at the Waterson's site, I found out that she has a new book, Season of Secrets, coming out this spring, that sounds right up my alley--sisters moving to their grandparents' house in the country, strange man fleeing from ghostly hunt....

1/10/09

Do my sons have a date with Dr. Evil?

A couple of days ago there was an article in the Times Online about books and boys and reading, introducing a new series. It brings out the usual "data" about boys not wanting to read as much as girls, and offers a new series as a solution.

The new series, Project X, features three boys, Max, Ant and Tiger, and a girl, Cat, who is something of a tomboy. The four friends are pitched against Dr Evil, a wicked scientist who wants to shrink the world.

Sophie Quarterman, of the Oxford University Press, said the books had very fast-moving plots, plenty of computer-generated images and stories involving teamwork: this has been shown to appeal most to boys.

"Not really," says my son. "I like loners." That's my boy!

I also think it strange that computer-generated images are apparently a Good Thing. Um, Diary of a Wimpy Kid seems to be doing rather well. And I don't see why girls in boy books have to be "tomboys." Can't today's definition of "girl" include classic tomboyish behaviors?

And I am wondering in general about this whole Boys as Reluctant Reader business. It seems to me like it's becoming a oversimplified marketing ploy. I'm not an educator, and so I have little data of my own, but so far there has been no drop off in the reading enthusiasm of any of the eight year old boys I know...and the boys in my son's class are impressive readers. Yet I feel nervous, and anxious, and as though I should buy the Dr. Evil books right now, lest I doom my boys to a future with no books. Oh well. Maybe they are good in their own right.

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories

When I was about nine, I was given my first anthology of Joan Aiken stories- A Harp Of Fishbones and Other Stories. Included among the treasures therein was "Mrs. Nutti's Fireplace," my introduction to Mark and Harriet Armitage, two typical British children whose lives are infused with whacky magical-ness. Here's how that story starts:

Mark, who wished to get rid of the space-gun his great-uncle had sent him, and acquire something more useful, brought home a copy of Exchange and Mart.

'"Princess-type boiler fireplace exchanged for gent's bicycle,"' he read aloud consideringly.

"But we don't want a fireplace," Harriet pointed out. "And we haven't a bicycle."

"Or there's five gross jazz-coloured balloons, a tiger's head, and two whale teeth. Offered in exchange for go-kart or griffin's eggs."

"The balloons would be nice," Harriet swallowed her last bite of cake-they were having Friday tea-and came to hang over his shoulder. "If we had a go-kart."

I was hooked. The Armitage stories are a brilliant melange of the ordinary and fantastical, and with each subsequent anthology came my way, I always read the stories about Mark and Harriet early and often.

So front and center on my Christmas book wish-list was The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories (Big Mouth House, 2008). This book brings together all the previously published Armitage stories, with four new ones (hooray!), with interesting introductions by Joan Aiken's daughter and Garth Nix. Such reading pleasure. The title story, "The Serial Garden," is particularly unforgettable, beautiful, sad, exquisitely written, funny, etc.

I have been reading Mark and Harriet to my boys, 5 and 8, for the past week or so, and they have been greeted with enthusiasm. I am rather fond of short stories in general for reading aloud, partly because longer books get put in piles unfinished, and it is sometimes hard to find them again. But a good short story can be read in one fell swoop. And these are good fun for both children and grownups.

From "Broomsticks and Sardines":

"I say, Shepherd, I'm terribly sorry-my children have changed yours into sheep. And now they say they don't know how to change them back.'

"Oh, don't apologize, old chap. As a mater of fact, I think it's a pretty good show. Some peace and quiet will be a wonderful change, and I shan't have to mow the lawn." He shouted indoors with the liveliest pleasure,

"I say, Minnie! Our kids have been turned into sheep, so you won't have to put them to bed. Dig out a long frock and we'll go to the Harvest Ball."

A shriek of delight greeted his words.

The Serial Garden was just named a 2008 Smithsonian Notable book--here's what they say about it: "In a singularly important publishing event, the first complete collection of Aiken's 24 beloved Armitage cycle of stories appears here for the first time. The family who dwells in and out of magical worlds transcends fantasy and enters the world of classic, entrancing literature. Belongs on every child's bookshelf. For all ages."

And as a proud member of Team Unicorn (in the great Zombies vs Unicorns Debate), I'd like to point out that Mark and Harriet have a very nice example of the species (shown on the cover) who is not in the least bit twee.

1/8/09

Children of the Stones


Coming January 20th, from Acorn Media, who are bringing us the best of British TV on DVD:

" Children of the Stones - A cult hit of late 1970s British television, this eerie drama has lost none of its powers—to intrigue, entertain, unsettle, and scare. The beloved British fantasy series that spooks children and adults alike. Debuting on North American DVD, this classic sci-fi thriller tells of paranoia and the paranormal in a sleepy English village. With shades of Doctor Who, The Watcher in the Woods, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the seven-episode series aired on Nickelodeon's paranormal anthology program The Third Eye in the early 1980s. Filmed on location at the Avebury stone circle—older than nearby Stonehenge—each episode builds relentlessly to a harrowing climax in what becomes, literally, a race against time."
I must have been doing something else in the early 1980s, because I never saw it...but I want to!

1/7/09

Books of 2009 I am looking forward to, Part II

I vaguely felt last week, when I was posting my list of 2009 books to which I am looking forward, that I was missing something. And in fact, I was--several somethings. To wit:

Shelter Me by Alex McAulay. I don't have long to wait for this one, since its release date was yesterday...which is good, because books that combine WW II and boarding school make me happy.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (January 20). We were lucky enough to have two of her books to read for the Cybils--Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, and Dragon Flight, and I enjoyed them both.


Betraying Season (Leland Sisters, Book 2) by Marissa Doyle (May). The sequel to The Bewitching Season, which I read for the Cybils with great enjoyment (my review).

Of course I'm looking forward to the sequel to Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (fall), but before that comes out, I think I hope to be reading her new book 12, coming out in May from Feiwell and Friends. Although don't ask me what it is about, because I can't find any information about it.

And another book I don't know much about, other than that it is YA- Gateway, by Sharon Shinn (October).

Finally, here's one I'm looking forward to more for my 8 year old's sake than my own:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney (Jan 13)


And I think that is it, although I am probably wrong.

1/6/09

Timeslip Tuesday -- Black Hunting Whip


Timeslip Tuesday took a break while I was reading for the Cybils, but it is back now! With a caveat--the book I'm posting about today is much less timeslipy than I remembered it as being before I picked it up to re-read yesterday. In fact, no timeslipping happens until page 155 of a 157 page book. So if you want to stop reading in disgust right now, go ahead....

Black Hunting Whip, by Monica Edwards, begins when the mother of a family of four children comes home to announce that she has bought a farm at action-- Punchbowl Farm, old and decrepit, far out in the countryside with no mod. cons. But it does come with a mystery. Dion, the oldest boy, exploring the foundation of the old wing of the house that burned long ago, finds a way into its cellar. And there he finds the diary of a boy who lived there long ago, who was driven from the farm before achieving his dream of riding his pony to victory in the local show, carrying the black hunting whip that his dead father had cherished.

Life at the farm for the modern children, two girls and two boys, is busy enough, what with exploring the countryside, getting new ponies and other animals, and fixing up the house. But the search for the hunting whip, buried by the long-ago boy before he left home, is always at the forefront of their minds. At last Dion finds it, and sets his mind on riding with it to achieve the victory that the dead boy never saw. It is a somewhat forlorn hope, as his pony-nothing like the fiery black pony from the past- is too small, and he as almost no chance of even placing.

And then, at the horse show, two pages before the book ends, past and present meet...and there's so little of it I don't want to describe it, lest I give it all away (although the astute reader can probably guess what happens).

So alright, it isn't much of a time slip. But it's a great book for people who love ponies, and old houses, and winter in the English countryside, with a bit of mystery thrown in...and it is the start* of a great series (there are lots more books about the family at Punchbowl Farm), by a classic author of British children's books. I'd also recommend it to fans of books like Elizabeth Enright's Four Story Mistake, where the small doings of family life in a new old house delight the reader (only with more ponies).

*I use "start" somewhat loosely, because there is another book, No Mistaking Corker, that comes first. But it isn't as good, and it isn't about the farm, so I shan't count it.

1/4/09

A Posse of Princesses

A Posse of Princesses
by Sherwood Smith (2008, Norilana Books, more middle grade, I'd say, than young adult).

Rhis is the third child of the king and queen of a small, but very wealthy, mountain country. But even though she is left pretty much to her own devices, she is still a Princess, and thus eligible to receive an invitation to the coming of age party of the Crown Prince of Vesarja, a much more important and central kingdom. Rhis is not thrilled at the prospect of being surrounded by an inundation of princesses, and unlike some of the bevy of royal maidens, she doesn't have her sights set on snaring the heart of the Crown Prince. That is, until she sees him...yet strangely, it is a young scribe whose company she finds herself enjoying much more.

Then Iardith, the most perfect of princesses, and not in a good way, is abducted. Rhis and her new friends decide to escape the politics and intrigue of the royal birthday bash and head off to the rescue themselves. And in so doing, they find adventure, some danger, a mysterious and horribly powerful enchanted gem stone, and they also learn the small but important fact that princesses are rather valuable themselves, and will be missed, and pursued, when they set off into the hills...

Maybe the plot sounds a bit frivolous, but this is a truly fun book about girls from very different backgrounds coming together to form friendships, learning to take the responsibilities of their lives seriously, and learning a bit about luv as well. I enjoyed it lots, in a light read way. I would, for instance, enthusiastically recommend it to the 12 year old girl who loves Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale.

A big reason why I like this book is that I think I could be friends with Rhis, the heroine--bookish, musical, unconcerned with being a Princess. Here's a description from the beginning of the book of her room, which is high in its own stone tower, where she is left in peace:
Rhis loved the lookout. It was cozy, and had a nice fireplace (with a magical firestick in it that burned evenly all winter long), a comfortable cushioned chair, a desk, a small case containing all her favorite books, and a tiranthe- the twenty-four-stringed instrument that Elda insisted only lowly minstrels played. Here Rhis could practice and not disturb, or disgust, anyone. Here she could sit and read and dream and watch the ever-changing weather and seasons over the tiny mountain kingdom. She could also write wonderful ballads.
I got a copy of this book from the publishers, as it was nominated for the Cybils Awards in Science Fiction/Fantasy. I try hard to give most of my Cybils books to the public library, but some I know I'll want to re-read, when I need a pleasant escape from reality. I'm keeping this one for that reason.

Incidentally, I think whoever picked the cover art missed the mark--it would have been so easy to get a bit of diversity going here, what with portraying princesses of many lands. But they all look European, and not that particularly princess-like.

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