Is my blog useful?

I am constantly wondering if my blog is useful. I am constantly wondering about other things--are the children are eating properly, if the universe is constantly expanding, what is it expanding into, etc. but, inspired by the recent conversation about ARCs and bloggers and librarians, I am taking advantage of the fact that the power is out over much the country and it is a Saturday in June (so no blog readers around) to be Sincere (to the best of my ability), or perhaps, more acurately, Self Indulgent, to think about usefulness out here in public.

Now I certainly don't want to be part of an Island of Sodor bloggisphere, where every blog is "a really useful engine." There are many blogs I love whose authors seem motivated primarily by the joy of sharing whatever thoughts they feel like sharing, with out anxiously wondering if they are a "resource." But I am an INFP, and in as much as INFPs are "driven to help people and make the world a better place" (which, being an INFP, I believe, cause that's what we do), I can't help but wonder, in my own Special Snowflake way, is my own blog useful? And more specifically, do authors see that I have their books on my review pile, and weep or gnash their teeth (depending on temperment?), or might they be, dare I hope, pleased?

The problem with this line of thought is that the word "useful" makes one ask--to whom? I know I am useful to the readers (and there are at least five of them) who like the same sorts of books that I do. I love being useful to these readers! They are useful right back at me! I know that my blog has features that are useful to people who are looking for certain kinds of books. People who google "time travel books for kids" find them here, by golly. I know that some librarians (at least two) read my blog, and may use it in their purchasing decisions. And I know that I have given some small measure of publicity to books that weren't being blogged about much, because I don't see other reviews of them.

But I have no clue if anything I have written has actually caused anyone to go buy a book (as opposed to getting it from the library), which is presumably how useful is construed by publishers and authors....That being said, it's a fact that reviews have a cumulative effect, so I'm quite happy to believe that I've contributed to book buying decisions. There is, of course, absoulutely no way to measure this. I want my blog to send people out into the world to read in a general kind of way, but also it makes me happy to think of people buying books because of something I said. If no-one bought books, there wouldn't be publishers and the wonderful books they publish. There would be no money for authors, and so fewer books would be written. This would be sad.

I'm not, at this point in my life, a librarian, or an author, or a publisher. The only place I have at the public table of books is the place I am making for myself with my blog, and when I get review copies in the mail, it becomes a more happy place. Review copies make me feel that I am a useful contributor, a person who has something to share that's of value.

But then I wonder if I truly Deserve them. I feel that I should desperately be making an effort to increase my readership, to justify the review copies I get. I know I'm not obligated to do anything, but I can't help but wonder if I could do more. I tell myself that the YA book bloggers will always have more comments and followers and excitement than I, with my middle grade focus, can hope to have. But still...

How do you feel about being useful (and am I alone in worrying about this)?

postscript regarding stats: It seems to me that stats are not a useful way in which to measure a blog's impact (except perhaps for the blogs at the very high and rather low end of the scale). In June and July, when my stats plummet (from a high of 8,000 plus unique visitors in November to a low of barely 5,000 per month in July), it's hard to feel that the particular reviews I post are "useful." There are, of course, lots of other people (dunno how many) who follow me in various ways.

But what constitutes a lot of readers, keeping in mind that this would differ depending on the types of books you review?

* I went back and looked at the pile of books I brought home from BEA from the point of view of the authors...and I'd just like to say that I do plan on reviewing Gold Medal Summer even though it's not mg or YA sci fi/fantasy...I like books about gymnastics and ballet and music too!


Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

For my mother's most recent birthday, I bought her Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear, mainly because I had heard good things of it, and partly because I knew I would be coming to visit her and would therefore get to read it too (just to show I'm not entirely selfish, I bought her another book present just for her). Sadly, when I arrived, I found that she had put aside Range of Ghosts (though not abandoned it) half read.

And when I started reading myself, I could see her point. The story takes place in a vast canvas of difficult to keep track of places (basically Asia, with Mongolia, China, India, and Persia equivalents represented). The author offers a the generous largesse of social and religious details; so generous in their variety that they are a bit daunting (for instance, the dieties of this world are so present that the land where each pantheon is worshipped has, literally, its own sky). But once I had read enough to know my way around a bit, I was able to enjoy the book lots!

I'm going to do something I almost never do, and use the blurb lifted straight from Amazon (I've frittered away my morning time weeding....sorry!):

"Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power."

So basically there are these two main characters, and they become united in a common cause against a really nasty enemy, and there is just tons of intrigue, and courtly plotting, and journeying around a world where hungry ghosts can rip the flesh from the living, rocs fly overhead, and magic, and the gods, are very real. And there's love, and despair, and determination...and it's easy to hope for a happy ending, and one is left wanting the sequel rather a lot!

It reminded me to some extent of Guy Gavriel Kay's historical re-envisionings, although perhaps a bit more densely textured, more immediate in detail and intensity. My only substantive reservation is that the language occasionally bounces into Latinate stiffness in a noticeable way, and there's just a tad more verbiage than I though absolutely necessary--it's not always a smooth flow of plain prose. Here's an example that I hope gives some sense of what I mean:

"The words chilled her innards. If he meant to chew her out for some infraction, he would not hesitate to do so in front of witnesses. Which meant he had some news to impart that he did not wish to become public knowledge just yet." Page 172

Perhaps I noticed this because I so rarely read books for adults! Another, almost irrelevant, quibble I had also stems from the fact that I prefer children's books. Quite early on our hero, Temur, begins a lovely relationship with a lovely girl, and they have sex. Which is just fine. I am in favor of happy consensual sex! Except that at this point in the book I hardly knew her, and so was somewhat jarred when I found out exactly what her nipples look like. Actually, I don't think I ever really want to know what any fictional character's nipples look like.

But at any rate, Range of Ghosts is a grand tapestry of multi-cultural, magical, fun, and by the time I had finished it, I had convinced my mother to try it again....

I especially appreciated the multicultural part--it is so nice not to be in medieval Europe! However, I was disappointed by the cover. The dude on horseback is fine, but if you look closely at the upper left, you will see a woman's eyes. Here they are: In this Asian inspired world, why the heck are they blue?


Deadweather and Sunrise (The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1), by Geoff Rodkey

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey (Putnam, May 29, 2012, middle grade) is an intriguing and entertaining adventure set in a piratical, alternate colonial-historical world (vaguely reminiscent of Joan Aiken).

13 year old Egbert Masterson has lived a somewhat sheltered life--not the nice sort of cozy shelter where one is protected from unpleasantness. Life for Egg consists of the sort of isolation from the world that happens when you are the youngest child of the only ugly fruit plantation owner on isolated Deadweather Island (which has nothing to recommend it), your older brother and sister are thugs who hate your guts, your father has no time for you (except to whack you to encourage you to work harder), and your tutor is a nasty and incompetent lout with no learning. Yet despite everything, Egg is not entirely miserable--one of the ex-pirates who work on the plantation is not unfriendly, and some comfort can be found in the few books available to him.

But then the borders of Egg's world expand with a vengeance when his father takes his children on a trip to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island. Soon after their arrival, he disappears with the two older siblings in a freak accident. And Egg begins to realize that there are Sinister Machinations afoot, involving a lost treasure of the indigenous people of the islands and greedy colonialist exploitation. There are attempts on Egg's life, and there was a huge secret his father hadn't shared. And there are lots of pirates, regular marauding ones on boats as well as the field pirates of Deadweather.

And perhaps most importantly, there's Millicent, the plucky daughter of privilege who must cast off the shackles of her sheltered upbringing (the comfy kind of sheltered) and reconfigure her own perceptions of the world if Egg is to survive....

Like I said up at the top, it reminded me more than a bit of Joan Aiken, especially her later books--almost over the top alternate history, with tons of adventure and bizarre characters and situations and plottings. It's not a book that's exactly to my own personal taste (I don't actually like pirates. Sorry. And exciting non-stop adventure is fun, but not my truly favorite type of story). But it is still a diverting read that I recommend enthusiastically to those who do like piratical adventure! If you like the look of the cover, you will like the book.

And despite my personal preferences, I was quite curious about the mystery, and happy to cheer Egg on as he a. tries to stay alive b. dreams of one day marrying Millicent c. figures out what the heck is happening. Egg is an engaging young hero (anyone who loves reading as much as he does is, of course, a sympathetic character) and it's especially interesting to see Millicent coming into her own. I also appreciated the fact that the book deals with colonialism (a bit off center stage in this one, but the next book seems to promise to involve the native inhabitents of the region more immediatly, and to give them greater agency). It's an alternate world, but the parrallels are clear.

The book ends at a good stopping place--but Millicent and Egg are clearly about to embark on a new phase of their adventures. I'll be looking forward to it.

Here's an interview with Geoff Rodkey at Educating Alice.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


City of a Thousand Dolls-- Waiting (for a long time) on Wednesday

So City of a Thousand Dolls, by Miriam Forster, doesn't come out till February 2013, but that just gives me time to read all the other books in the house and really be ready for it!

Here's why I want it: it sounds like a fantasy boarding school for orphan girls mystery with cats and romance. "Isolated estate" is also a bonus feature.

"Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life."

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine


Parsley Sage, Rosemary, and Time, by Jane Louise Curry, for Timeslipe Tuesday

Parsley Sage, Rosemary, and Time, by Jane Louise Curry (Atheneum, 1975, younger middle grade)

Ten year old Rosemary is distressed when her father and mother's business trip to China results in her being packed off to her Aunt Sibby in Maine. Unlike her somewhat staid parents, Aunt Sibby, a writer of detective stories, leads a somewhat Bohemian life. And her aunt's first words to her aren't such as would warm a dutiful daughter's heart: "Red hair! Aren't you lucky! You're not like your father at all. I was half-expecting a cod-faced little priss." (page 3)

Aunt Sibby's old and overgrown house, with its old cat, Parsley Sage (able to dance on his hind legs, despite his age, when Aunt Sibby flicks her fingers) awakens in Rosemary for the first time thoughts of magic. And then Parsley Sage leads Rosemary to an abandoned herb garden, where she finds that magic is real. In the garden grows a plant labeled "Time" (not thyme, as one might expect), and indeed, the Time plant is well named. When she fingers a sprig from it, time freezes. When she visits it second again, it transports her back to the early 18th century.

Rosemary, still skeptical of magic though she is, can't deny the evidence of all her senses. She is truly in the past. There she meets another time traveller, a little girl nicknamed Baba...and both are taken in by Goody Cakebread, who already has come upon a toddler named Wim. Goody Cakebread is not as consternated as one might expect by this influx of time-travellers--she seems to have had prior experience, and assumes that they'll go away again eventually. Which the children hope will happen too!

Unfortunately, Goody Cakebread lives in land much desired by the fire and brimstone preaching minister of the town...and the appearance of a gaggle of strange children (clearly imps of Satan) makes a nice addition to his accusations that she is a witch. Rosemary is suspicious, herself--after all, Goody Cakebread's wooden cupboard does seem to have strange powers....

Fortunately for Goody Cakebread, she is friends with the Sokokis, the neighboring Abenaki people, and she and the children plan to escape to them (with the hope that their knowledge of magic can help return the children to their own time, as they don't seem to be leaving on their own!). But before that happens, the townsfolk arrive.

All works out well in the end (mainly thanks to the cleverness of Carolanna, the minister's slave), and the story of how the Time plant came to Maine is woven into the conclusion. Baba and baby Wim and Rosemary all meet again in the present...and Rosemary already begins planning her next visit to her aunt's house.

My main thought upon reading this how short children's books were back in the 1970s! The whole story is told in only 107 pages! Part of me admires the economy of story telling. Jane Louise Curry manages to pack a lot in about early 18th-century Maine, touching on the fact slavery in New England, the persistence of Native peoples in their ancestral lands, and the dangers of being an older woman living alone in a society that still believed in witches. But part of me wishes there had been a hundred more pages--the time spent in the past flies by, and I wish we had had a bit more time to really get to know the characters and the place they found. It seemed rushed. (I also wish the Sokokis had not been quite so clearly presented as Magical Others, but this wasn't so pronounced as to turn me against the whole book).

By far my favorite part was Rosemary's discovery of the herb garden, and the first magical, beautifully eye-widening, depiction of the Time plant's power. It's the sort of thing that I can easily imagine knocking the socks of a young reader of eight or nine--a lovely introduction to the genre of magic intruding into real life. And, since overgrown gardens of magic are one of my favorite things to read about in general, I'm awfully glad to have found this one to revisit in my mind as I work on my own weeds!


Just to fill in the empty space, more Castaway Blobs!

Still not entirely back from vacation, in terms of having reviews written and ready to go, so here, to pass the time, is another thrilling episode of Castaway Blobs!


This week's middle grade fantasy and science ficiton blog posts, rounded-up for your reading pleasure

I have been spending the last few days on vacation, mostly rotting my mind playing Civilization...but am now rested and refreshed (and very, very sick of Civilization). Back to blogging.

Here are the posts I found in this week's worth of blog reading that pertain to middle grade fantasy and science fiction...please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews:

Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy, by John Dougherty, at Charlotte's Library

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbet, at The Write Path

Circle of Secrets, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon, by Pat Walsh, at Cracking the Cover

Dark Life, by Kat Falls, at Mister K Reads

The Dark is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Dead Gentleman, by Matthew Cody, at Michelle Mason

Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffrey, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Earwig and the Witch, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Oops...Wrong Cookie

Fairest of All, by Sarah Myinowski, at Ms. Martin Teaches Media

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at library_mama

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Wondrous Reads

Heirs of Prophecy, by Michael A. Rothman, at There's a Book, The Written World, Starting Fresh, and Dad of Divas

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Geo Librarian and Small Review (audio)

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Squeaky Books (audio book)

Magyk, by Angie Sage, at Mister K Reads

Middleworld, by J. & P. Voelkel, at Mister K Reads

Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, at Bewitched Bookworms

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, at HumbleIndigo

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster, at Hope is the Word

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Princess in the Pigpen, by Jane Resh Thomas, at Time Travel Times Two

Sam Silver-Undercover Pirate, books 1 and 2, by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler, at The Book Zone

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at A Librarian's Library

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at Wicked Awesome Books

Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Bookshelves of Doom

The Undrowned Child, by Michelle Lovric, at Bookish Ardour

The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood, at library_mama

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons, by Barbara Mariconda at Ms. Yingling Reads

The epic Animorphs re-read at Intergalactic Academy continues with #26, The Attack

Other Good Stuff

A look at some sci fi schools from Children's Books @ suite101

Cassandra Golds reflects on The Little Mermaid at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, and Linda Newbery talks about the Green Man at Scribble City Central.

"Why does magic need so many rules" at io9

Not mg sff related, but it's always nice to find that an author you like (Sherwood Smith) has one of the same comfort reads (Miss Buncle's Book, by D.E. Stevenson), as you do (via Book View Cafe). This is also a favorite of Jen's. Just saying.

And also irrelevant, but attractive--pretty paper art by Diana Beltran Herrera at Colossal Art & Design (via Bookshelves of Doom)


Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy, by John Dougherty

Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy, by John Dougherty (Random House Children's Books, 2008) was tremendously enjoyable. Never once, while reading it, did I think "I would have enjoyed this so much as a child." I was too busy enjoying it as just me! As well as a zesty little plot, with a sympathetic heroine who's half-Indian (yay multicultural fantasy with non-whitewashed cover!), considerable humor, and dangerous Danger, it features two of the best older women characters (Bansi's granny and her granny's best friend) in children's fantasy that I can think of.

When Bansi O'Hara's Irish father and her Indian mother met and married, little did they know that they were bringing together the bloodlines of two legendary leaders of the Fair Folk, who had been exiled from the other world long ago. And naturally they'd never heard the prophecy about their union: "When the Blood of the Morning Stars, joined and flowing together at last, is returned to the scared earth as the light dies, then shall the power of Tir na n'Og awaken...And one who returns the blood to the land shall come into the inheritance of Derga."

[those of you who become skeptical when Ancient Prophecies come into play--do not be alarmed. Yes, it is the basis for the plot, but it doesn't take over the story]

In any event, when Bansi arrives in Ireland to visit Granny O'Hara at Midsummer, when the way between the worlds is open, quite naturally two factions (good and evil, as usual) are competing to be the returnees of the prophecy. On the good side, a mischievous shapeshifting pooka and a friendly brownie are guarding Bansi; on the bad side, a shapeshifting, evil wolf-boy is hunting her.

This is all very well and good--nothing too surprising. But what is surprising, adding just tons of fun to the story, is what happens when Granny O'Hara and her best friend become involved--beautiful little set pieces of comedy and snappy dialogue, and a wild ride in a Morris Minor Traveller to fairy land armed with a car jack and miscellaneous scrap metal.

And in the meantime, the danger grows as Bansi is captured by the dark side...and she has to find the courage to keep fighting (even though, and this is a good thing, she has no secret Specialness! Just pluck and determination!)

I did enjoy it awfully much, and I'm awfully glad I found about it through this post at Scribble City Central last April and took a chance on it!


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs

The problem with a regular feature such as this is that it is boring to write the same introduction every week:

Welcome to another week of the posts I gathered from around the blogs of interest to fans of middle grade fantasy and science fiction. Please let me know if I missed yours, and feel free to send me links at any time!

It can't be helped. Onward.

The Reviews:

Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex, at Alexia's Books & Such and Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Coming of the Dragon, by Rebecca Barnhouse, at library_mama

Ebenezer's Locker, by Anne E. Johnson, at Readatouille

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at The Book Smugglers (with bonus Code Name Verity before you get to it....)

Fever Crumb, by Philip Reeve, at Fantasy Book Review

Halt's Peril, by John Flanagan, at Karissa's Reading Review

Juniper Barry, at Jean Little Library

The Lunatic's Curse, by F.E. Higgins, at Karissa's Reading Review

The Odyssey, by Gareth Hinds, at Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

Out of Time, by John Marsden, at HumbleIndigo

The Outcasts, by John Flannagan, at Fantasy Book Review

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Nortan Juster, at Book Nut

Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, at Challenging the Bookworm

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies, by Ursula Vernon, at AmoXcalli

The Stones of Ravenglass, by Jenny Nimmo, at Charlotte's Library

Stonewords, by Pam Conrad, at Charlotte's Library

Stormswept, by Helen Dunmore, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at Sharon the Librarian and at Wicked Awesome Books

Authors and interviews

Geoff Rodkey (Deadweather and Sunrise), at Educating Alice

Pete Johnson (The Vampire Fighters) at Babbleabout Children's Books and Nayu's Reading Corner

Robin LaFevers (Theodosia series, as well as the YA Grave Mercy) at Finding Wonderland

Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising et al.) at School Library Journal

Ellen Booraem (Small Persons With Wings) at Roots in Myth

Amanda Ashby (talking about the covers of Sophie's Mixed-up Magic series) at Melissa Walker

Other Good Stuff:

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, wins both the Carnegie (for writing) and Kate Greenway (for illustration) awards in one fell swoop!

And the winner of the Locus Award for Young Adult book is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

Here's an amusing list of 20 things characters in fantasy books should do more often, from Lev Grossman at Lytherus.

A list of middle grade beach reads with lots of sci fi/fantasy at Readatouille

A selection of sci fi picture books at io9 (and here's my own sci fi picture book post from awhile back)

And finally, happy Father's Day! From Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffry Brown (found at Gizmodo, where you can see more)


Because I love Lord Peter's mother

My favorite bit of Dorothy Sayers is the begining of Busman's Honeymoon, in which the reader gets to meet Lord Peter Wimsey's mother through her (warm, witty, slightly cracked, but incredibly sane) letter writing.*

So today there I was at the library booksale, and it being a beautiful June day, there were few customers (worst booksale ever) and I was mildly disheartened.**

But then I went and visited Sounis, where I found this link to letters writen by Sayers from various characters to each other (including a gem from Lord Peter's mother) that had been published in The Spectator in the early years of WW II.


*Because of something Lord Peter's mother said about how nice it was that Harriet gave her and Peter time alone together, I did the same the first time we visited my soon to be mother-in-law in England and she thought I was being unfriendly. SIGH.

**though pleased to take back into the fold some unsold books that I had donated to the sale even though I didn't want to so as to increase the number of books at Friends Preview night (as explained here)


Things (of a bookish nature) that keep me awake at night--Numbers 4 and 27

Although, of course, I lead a rich, full life in which books are only part of a whole ensemble of richness and fullness, and although I worry just fine about those other aspects of my life (on an as-needed basis), it is a (sad) fact that thinking about books can keep me from falling asleep.

Last night I had a full blown case of Reason 4, and a mild case of a fairly new worry, Reason 27.

Reason 4: I am organizing a library book sale virtually single handed and God help me in a moment of foolish optimism, exactly the same foolish optimism that strikes me every time, I promised that I would have 3,000 books. I don't. The angry mob of friends night previewers (all 7 of them--we are a small library) will pitchfork me.

Result: A desperate effort to amass at least 200 books from my own house, to fill in the gaps.

However, this mad scrounging of books did do something to alleviate Worry Number 27--that the house is going to collapse from the weight of all the books in it. This is not an entirely unfounded worry. Here is what we found when we took the downstairs bathtub out, and how many more support elements, I ask, are similarly chewed? There are over a thousand books on the second floor of our house....


Burn Mark, by Laura Powell

Burn Mark, by Laura Powell (Bloomsbury, June 19, 2012, YA)-- fascinating witch crime noir, set in London with magically-gifted teenage protagonists (and no love triangle).

It's the modern era, but the Inquisition in England is still growing strong. Witches--those with the "Fae"--are feared and distrusted (with reason, in as much as unscrupulous witches are known to use their gifts for criminal purposes, and a terrorist uprising of witches killed hundreds in recent memory). All known witches are "bridled" with iron...and any witch who breaks the law is executed, by burning. This being a civilized era, however, the witch's clothes are treated with flammable chemicals first, and a numbing drug administered...

Burn Mark is the story of two teenagers, told from their alternating viewpoints--Lucas, the son of a high ranking Inquisitor, a boy used to privilege, and Glory, born into an illegal coven of witch criminals, working class, gum chewing, and wearing lots of make-up. She has always longed for magic so that she can take her hereditary place in the coven; Lucas, on the other hand, is horrified when he develops powerful fae gifts--not only is his own life derailed, but the scandal might destroy his family.

But before Lucas is publicly outed, and bound with iron, he's given a chance to work undercover on an investigation of criminal witchcraft in one of London's covens--a powerful group with whom Glory's own coven has an uneasy alliance. And Glory has been asked the witch to whom she answers to work with him.

Glory and Lucas have nothing in common, other than both being teen-aged witches, and their mutual dislike. But as their investigation proceeds, they find a much darker plot than anyone had suspected--one that could jeopardize what little progress had been made in establishing trust between the Fae and the normal. In the course of their gritty adventures through the darkness of London's illicit world of witch crime and into the heart of the Inquisition (with its own illicit darkness), Lucas and Glory are forced to trust each other, and themselves, in order to do what is right (and just as an aside, I appreciated the fact that they did not feel mysteriously drawn to each other despite their mutual dislike).

Burn Mark reminded me very much of Holly Black's Curseworkers series, only not quite as dark, more concerned with class issues, and with more deliberate pacing. Powell takes her time setting up her chessboard, describing her alternate world, and introducing her characters and their circumstances. It's not until the second half that "exciting" things (like death and torture) start to happen.

I myself was just fine with this--I like to spend time with characters, getting to know them, before the death and torture parts start (although, in fairness, there is witch is burned to death in one of the chapters, but it's a peripheral death). I thought the antagonistic relationship between Glory and Lucas, gradually changing as events progressed, was very nicely done. I also liked that, although Glory and Lucas are powerful young witches, and use their abilities during the course of the story, magic isn't a panacea that obviates the need for intelligence and solves all problems! They are kids, with adults telling them what to do, and taking down powerful evildoers isn't easy, which is just as it should be.

The care that Powell takes with her world building makes her world extremely credible, and therefore more powerful to read about. There are, of course, parallels to our own world, with class issue, terrorism, distrust of the threatening "other," but they aren't underlined with a heavy hand.

In short, I enjoyed it, and I think this would be a most excellent one to give to a thirteen or fourteen year old who isn't into the sort of paranormal in which love is of primary importance. Viz age of reader--there's no sex, I didn't notice any bad language (but I might have missed it), and although there's violence, The Hunger Games has more, so I wouldn't mind if my own almost 12 year old wanted to read it.

As a final aside, I want to clarify that I read an ARC of this UK import. I checked with the publisher to see if the British terminology, like "skip" for "dumpster," "PMT" for "PMS", and the use of the word "chav" to describe Glory was retained in the US edition (although there is no word for "chav" in the US...), and was happy to hear that it was!

Here's the Kirkus (starred) review

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


Waiting on Wednesday--The Shadow Society, by Marie Rutkoski

I am an enthusiastic fan of Marie Rutkoski--her Kronos Chronicles series, that begins with the lovely Cabinet of Wonders, is a favorite of mine. These books are smart, entertaining, historical fantasy, and so Marie Rutkoski is on list of authors whose new books I will trot out to the store to buy (there are a very small number of authors (maybe three) whose books I will run as fast as I can to the store for, and many more I will wander to the store at some point for, and trotting to the store is obviously half way between the two, reserved for maybe ten authors, and shows great enthusiasm).

So I was very pleased to see that she has a new book out this fall! (picture and blurb are from the publisher's catalogue)

The Shadow Society (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 16, 2012) "Sixteen-year-old Darcy Jones doesn’t know
she’s not human—but then, there’s a lot she doesn’t
know, including everything that happened before she was
abandoned outside a Chicago firehouse at five years old.
But when a mysterious boy named Conn arrives at her high school, Darcy begins to discover more about her past—and is not so sure she likes what she learns. Turns out Darcy is a Shade, a creature capable of becoming invisible, but also part of the terrorist organization the Shadow Society, whose main quest seems to be to eliminate as many humans as possible. Conn, a human, has been sent to arrest her, but when the two find that they are falling in love, things get a lot more complicated."

I find the twisted torso of the cover girl disturbing--her head, trunk, and legs all seem to be going in different directions--I tried to do that pose, but failed (definitly one for Jim Hines' wonderful "striking a pose" experiment with the complications of assuming the positions of women on fantasy book covers; that being said, it's not the final art, as indicated on the picture). And the synopsis makes the book sound like not quite my thing. But I trust the author, so I'll almost certainly be looking for this one come October!

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine


Stonewords, by Pam Conrad

Stonewords, by Pam Conrad (HarperCollins, 1991, middle grade, 144 pages--books sure were shorter back then...) Note: usually I have a cover picture right up here in this part. Today, for two reasons, I don't. They are at the end.

In the cemetery off in the woods by Zoe's grandparents' house was a headstone with just one word surviving--Zoe's own name. When Zoe made friends with a mysterious playmate, Zoe Louise, who appeared one day out of nowhere--capricious, willful, entertaining Zoe Louise, who vanishes into the house when playtime is done, who the grown-ups don't see--she never thought of the gravestone.

Of course, the reader makes the connection, especially since it is Underlined by the author....and realizes that Zoe Louise is ghost...

One day, Zoe follows her playmate up the forbidden back stairs off the kitchen, and makes a brief visit to the late 19th century--now she is the ghost, invisible to those around her (and not at all willing to repeat the experiment!). Just as an aside, this isn't time travel as cultural immersion experience--it's a plot element, so we don't get any sort of fully realized historical setting. Which works just fine for this particular story.

As Zoe's understanding that she and her friend are from different times becomes clearer, she realizes to her horror that Zoe Louise is going to die...and she must go back to the past, to try to prevent it....

It is both creepy and atmospheric in good ghostly fashion, but even more than that, it is one of few time travel stories I've read where the time travel builds slowly and inexorably to a terrifying climax. This growing horror is in stark contrast to the domestic details of Zoe's everyday life, and her time spent playing with Zoe Louise.

Stonewords won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and it's clear from the reviews on Amazon that this one made a huge impression on those who read it young (of course, since it was published in 1991, there was no chance for me to do so!). I wish, though, that I had read it when I was nine or so---I wonder if I would have loved it, and I will never know.

I am not sure I would have-- it gets rather unexpectedly gruesome when Zoe Louise begins to manifest as the dead child she actually is. The other thing I'm not sure I entirely like is the fact that Zoe Louise is not exactly sympathetic. It's quite possible that she couldn't help manifesting as a corpse, but I think if you want someone to travel back to the past to save you, you should ask nicely, and not terrify them. And even when she's not a corpse, she has a streak of selfishness to her that made her not entirely likable.

So though I enjoyed this one just fine as a fast little read, I'm going to recommend instead a similar story, one that I think is even more heart-poundingly powerful--The Ghosts, by Antonia Barber. If you are one who loves Stonewords, do try to get hold of The Ghosts and tell me what you think!

In the meantime, I have added the sequel to Stonewords, Zoe Rising, to my timeslip tbr list....

The marjority of the covers for Stonewords are all so unappealing to me that I am putting them here at the end. Zoe never finds a skeleton glove, and when I myself go through a door in ghostly form, I don't do a marionette imitation. And the third one is rather unattractive, and quite frankly, boring.

But take a look at this one, the Puffin paperback edition of 1994:

Zoe is shown as a kid of color! I quickly thumbed through the book to see if she is ever described physically in any way, and I didn't see anything...so kudos to whoever designed this cover for not defaulting to white!!!!

Although the portal of light doesn't work for me. If it's ever reissued, my suggestion would be to develop the metaphor of the title, and have the gravestone on the cover...


My BEA books, and 2 other nice things that came home recently

So the sad remains of my 48 hour book challenge stack have been cleared away, and now I can use the wood stove as a handy place for my BEA books! Here they are, in all their glory, minus The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which I read on the train home and have already passed on the library:

Thank you, publishers--I look forward to reading them!

And just because I feel like sharing, here are two things that came home at the end of school that pleased me very much.

My eleven year old has his first published comic strip in the school literary magazine. By way of explanation, about a year ago he started drawing a strip called "Castaway Blobs!"-- the story of two blobs adrift in a boat. The other three of us joined in the fun, and we have a nice little collection of Castaway Blobs...Here's the basic image, as drawn by me: For the literary magazine, my son drew on the computer, so some of the charm is lost...but it still tickled me:

My younger son's portfolio of school work included many nice bits of writing, but what struck me most was his response to the following assignment: write as short a piece of fiction as you can that combines the themes of "war" and "friendship."

"Jack? He's, he's...dead."

Pretty darn good use of an ellipsis for an eight year old, if you ask me.

So there you go....

(there are many more Castaway Blobs! in the world, and I could share them if there was interest....)

(and just so as to guard my son's rights: Castaway Blobs! is copyrighted and may not be used without the permission its creator, B.H.)

The Stones of Ravenglass (Chronicles of the Red King, Book 2), by Jenny Nimmo

The Stones of Ravenglass (Chronicles of the Red King, Book 2), by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic, June 1, 2012, ages 8 and up).

Long before the story of Charlie Bone began, a boy named Timoken fled from his African home, protected by strong magic from the supernatural enemies who killed his parents, and who seek to destroy him. The first part of Timoken's adventures is told in The Secret Kingdom, in which he finds new friends (including a lovely camel, with whom he flies through the air, and three magical leopards, as well as human companions), looses his sister, and survives attempts to kill him.

In The Stones of Ravenglass, Timoken's hope that he and his companions have found a safe haven in a British castle are shattered by the evil machinations of its steward, and Timoken is imprisoned. He and a mysterious wizard (along with Gabar, the camel) escape...and Timoken sets off on a new quest.

This time, instead of looking for refuge, Timoken will build one--a place where he and his friends can be truly safe. But in a war-torn land, safety is hard to come by...even when a friendly dragon joins your cause.

This series is, I think, extremely well suited for children on the younger side of the "middle grade" spectrum--third and fourth graders. As with the first book, there's a fairytale feel to it, a sense of events unfolding in a somewhat episodic way, a story told to the reader as if it happened long ago. It's a story filled with magic--rather miraculous magic, coming from a source external to the main character, in fairytale fashion.

In the first book, I felt somewhat distanced from Timoken as a person--here that distance is lessened, but he still seemed to me "the hero of the story" rather than a fully developed character. I think that although this might not be what I as a grown up am looking for, this might make him a very appealing hero for the younger reader--I imagine it would be very easy for such a reader to step into his shoes, and trill to his adventures.

And those adventures, although not on the grand and sweeping scale of the previous book (which might be a disappointment to that one's readers), have exciting moments of great magic (literally), and the ensemble cast of camel, kids, wizard, and dragon work well together to create an interesting story.

In short: a good one for its target audience, though not one I'd insist that the five or so grown-ups I know of who visit here looking for books for themselves (you know who you are!) get a hold of for their personal reading pleasure.

And yay! for an African boy hero, shown as such on the cover. 2012 has been a year in which multicultural speculative fantasy and science fiction seems especially thin on the ground (I have only encountered 2, besides this one*), and so I hope it does really well.

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

*In case anyone is curious, these are The Book of Wonders, by Jasmine Richards and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Please let me know of any others you've read!


48 Hour Reading Challenge--my finish line

I put down my last book almost exactly at my finishing time of 6:15, and hurried out into the garden to do some hard manual labor while it was still light...

I ended up reading for 18 hours, and blogging/visiting for 3 hours, for a total of 21-not as much as I would have liked, but there was so much to do after being in New York earlier this week...

Here's what I read:

Stonewords, by Pam Concord (look for a review this upcoming Timeslip Tuesday!)

A Confusion of Princes, by Garth Nix (which was fine sci fi fun--but the problem with having a character who lacks humanity for most of the book is that those of us who love character driven stories are challenged)

Heir Apparent, by Vivien Vande Velde (a fun twist on courtly fantasy)

The Dream Stealer, by Gregory Maguire (a Russian supernatural/fairy tale story, with Baba Yagga beautiful dominating every page on which she appears)

The Kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara, by David Kertzer (my review)

The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine C. Coblentz (my review)

The Great Wide Sea, by M.H. Herlong (my review)

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, by Ron Koertge (twisted fairy tales; review to come)

And a bit over half of Burn Mark, by Laura Powell (review to come Wednesday, d.v.).

Only eight and a half...still lots of books left on the wood stove (with wilting flowers, as promised).

But $18 for Reading is Fundamental, and lots of fun!!! Thanks so much, Mother Reader, and everyone who commented on my challenge posts!

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, by David Kertzer

Thanks to this year's 48 Hour Reading Challenge (of which I have two hours left...) I have finally finished a book I have owned unread for about eight years, if not more-- The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, by David Kertzer (1997; a National Book Award Finalist). It's an outstanding example of social history, and was one of the most gripping books, including all the fiction I read, that I've encountered this year. I am now a much more educated person. So total win.

Here's the story: One evening in Bologna, in June of 1858 two officers of the Inquisition knocked on the door of Momolo Mortara, a Jewish businessman. They had come to take, by force if necessary, Mortara's son, little Edgardo. Unbeknownst to the Mortara family, a Catholic servant had baptized him some years before, transforming him into a Christian. As such, the six year old boy could not remain with his Jewish family, but must be raised as a Catholic.

The kidnapping of Edgardo launched a media firestorm, and became a cause célèbre. The mid 19th century was a tumultuous time for Italy--liberals pushed for unification of its desperate states and for constitutional government, and the Catholic church fought to preserve its absolute power over the Papal state (a considerable territory, surrounding Rome). Each side put their own spin on Edgardo's story, in a way very reminiscent of the media today--were Edgardo and his family victims of an enlightened, cruel institution that clung to the past, or was the Catholic church doing its duty in saving the soul of an innocent child, whose heart (according to their accounts) soon turned with love toward the Catholic faith?

Kertzer vividly brings to life the antisemitism of 19th-century Italy (who knew the Inquisition was still going strong, and that Blood Libel was still unquestioned by the many? Not me). Using direct quotes from historical sources extensively, he allows the protagonists in the drama to tell their own stories, guiding the reader through the maze of political and legal intrigue. The cast of characters ranges from the statesmen, rulers, and revolutionaries that I'd heard about (Garibaldi, Napoleon III, President Buchanan), to uneducated peasant girls whose court testimony gives them a voice.

Though I sometimes got a bit confused with all the mad welter of events of Italy's path toward unification, Kertzer kept coming back to Edgardo and his family enough so that the human interest of their story was never lost.

I was appalled, educated, and entertained (and have become determined to read more social history for grown ups).

But for now, back to science fiction and fantasy for the young.

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs

Welcome to another week of what I found in my blog reading of interest to readers of middle grade fantasy and science fiction! Please let me know if I missed your link, and any publishers/publicists/authors out there who have seen reviews of their books that I missed, do feel free to send them my way! I'll take links at any time during the week--just email me at charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com.

The Reviews:

13 Hangmen, by Art Corriveau, at books4yourkids

Bad Island, by Doug TenNapel, at Books Beside My Bed

The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford, at The Book Smugglers

Broxo, by Zack Giallongo, at That Blog Belongs to Emily Brown

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbet, at Books Beside My Bed

Children of Morrow, by H.M. Hoover, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Deadweather and Sunrise (The Chronicles of Egg, book 1) by Geoff Rodkey, at Imagination in Focus

Down a Dark Hall, by Lois Duncan, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Dragon of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Kid Lit Geek

Earwig and the Witch, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Stacked

The Game of Sunken Places, by M.T. Anderson, at Book Adventures

Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, at A Year of Reading

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Horton's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, at Book Aunt

Into the Land of Unicorns, by Bruce Coville, at Fantasy Literature

The Mapmaker and the Ghost, by Sarvenaz Tash, at Books Beside My Bed

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Sonderbooks

ParaNorman, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, at The Book on the Hill

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Rock of Ivanore, by Laurisa White Reyes, at The HappyNappyBookseller and Children's Atheneum

The Secret Spiral, by Gillian Neimark, at Cracking the Cover

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at Book Nut, and (audio book) at Karissa's Reading Review

Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb, by MJA Ware, at Geo Librarian

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at The Book Smugglers

The Wrath of Zozimos (Stickman Odyssey) by Christopher Ford, at Book Nut

Two at Time Travel Times Two--This Isn't What it Looks Like, by Pseudonynous Bosch, and Back to Before, by Jan Slepian.

And, at io9, a look at the two WondLa books, by Tony diTerlizzi.

(no authors and interview section this week--perhaps because of BEA?)

Other Good Stuff:

The unpublished prologue for Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at squeetus

Hero vs Villain, by Sherwood Smith, at Book View Cafe (hear, hear, I say)

Katherine Langrish explores "The Perilous Seas of Fairyland" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles


The Great Wide Sea, by M.H. Herlong

There I was about an hour ago, ready to launch back into reading for the 48 Reading Challenge after sundry distractions, when I realized to my dismay that I was downstairs, and all three books that I was in the middle of were upstairs. So of course I started a new book.

The Great Wide Sea, by M.H. Herlong (2008, Viking, YA, 288 pages), is the story of three boys and their father on a boat in the Bahamas. They are on the boat because the mother died in a car accident (sniff) and the father sold their house and decided to spend the year sailing in the Bahamas. But he didn't ask his sons how they felt about this.

Here's how they felt--the two younger ones (11 year old Dylan and 5 year old Gerry) were sad and unenthusiastic. The older boy, Ben (15), was furious.

And so there they are on the boat, with Ben hating his father, and his father being unhelpfully unsympathetic (being grief-stricken), and little Gerry missing his mama so badly (sniff), and then one day the father is no longer on the boat. He has gone overboard. Almost immediately after that, a storm drives the boat onto a deserted island. The boys manage to survive for a time, but when Dylan is terribly injured, Ben must make a horrible decision...

The emotions of the characters throughout the whole book were pulled just as tautly as they could be--stuck on the boat together, they had no way to escape from each other, so there was no chance of distance bringing diffusion. Ben's feelings of hatred toward his father, and his father's inability to put his own grief to the side to cope with it, made for painful reading, but not (since of course I am a mama to my own boys) as painful as poor sad Gerry and his blankie... I wept.

Even though plot type stuff happens (father overboard, shipwrecked on desert island, terrible accident), it happens mostly in the second half of the book, so this isn't an Action Packed survival adventure, which is what I had been expecting. Instead, it is character driven all the way, even when the disasters are being dealt with. I was utterly engrossed (read it in a single sitting in under an hour type engrossed), but I don't think I'll be reading it again. The emotions of Ben and his family were too painfully real for me to want to revisit it...(and I would have liked more soothing "everything is ok now" at the ending...)

The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine Cate Coblentz

A while back I made a list of fantasy cat books for kids, and an anonymous commenter enthusiastically recommended one I'd never heard of -- The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine Cate Coblentz (1949--a Newbery Honor book the following year). So I requested it from the library forthwith.

The story of the titular blue cat begins when he is just a little blue kitten, born under blue moon long ago in a meadow by a river in Vermont. His anxious mother knows that blue kittens can hear the song of the river, and follow that song to strange fates. But despite her efforts, the kitten hears. The song praises the power of the individual to create beauty--"all that is doing, do well"-- and the river sends blue kitten on a quest to Castle Town, to sing that song to the people there who might have ears to hear. There is one man in Castle Town, though, that the river warns blue kitten against--Arunah Hyde, whose own song is all about moving quickly through the world racking up more and more money and power...

And so the kitten sets off. He finds in Castle Town that the songs of its great artisans have been stifled by Arunah's distorted priorities, but with his purring, encourages a pewter smith, a weaver, and a carpenter to create beauty. Arunah almost gets a hold of him, but the kitten (now a cat) escapes. His hardest task of all, though, is to bring the river's song to a girl who thinks she's ugly and unloved and worthless, encouraging her to create one of the most beautiful works of art in the whole town...a beautiful embroidered carpet.

The Blue Cat of Castle Town is a magical fable, with a beautiful message (and lots of nice descriptions of artisans at work!). I imagine that if idealistic, self-consciously pious (from time to time) little me had picked up this book I would have loved it, and striven to live up to its moral.

Even now that I am Hardened and Cynical, I still can feel its pull...and I want to go out myself and create something of lovely wonderfulness...(well, actually right this minute, I want to go get my last potatoes planted, but gardens count somewhat, even though no one I know has ever looked at some potato plants and been hit over the head by their stunning beauty). That being said, as a grown-up, I felt that the Message trumped the story to such an extent that I don't think I'll be re-reading it, though it will most certainly linger vividly in my mind!

I will offer it to my nine year old, who is reading cat books at the moment. He will love the beginning cute little kitten part, but I am not entirely certain he will appreciate the fable aspect...

The best part of the book, I think, is that the stories of these craftsmen are based on real people, who actually made the things described. The book was inspired by a trip the author took to Castleton, Vermont, where she heard of this rug, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the blue cat is down at the bottom):

And she visited the Castleton church, and saw the famous pulpit (which I can't find a picture of, which I find hard to believe, and so I am now planning to go there myself (it's 3 hours and 49 minutes away) and take one....). I looked for a nice example of the pewter by the craftsman in the book--Ebenezer Southmayd--and (somewhat ironically, but not surprisingly) found that it is indeed lovey, and really, really expensive!

Here's the full text of the song of the river (page 16)
"Sing your own song, said the river,
"Sing your own song.
"Out of yesterday song comes.
It goes into tomorrow,
Sing your own song.
"With your life fashion beauty,
This too is the song.
Riches will pass and power. Beauty remains.
Sing your own song."
"All that is worth doing, do well, said the river. Sing your own song.
Certain and round be the measure,
Every line be graceful and true.
Time is the mold, time the weaver, the carver,
Time and the workman together,
Sing your own song.
"Sing well, said the river. Sing well."

And if anyone wants to sew their own little bit of this rug, there are kits...


Seventh annual 48 Hour Reading Challenge!!!!

I've officially started my 48 hours of reading as of 6:15 pm when I arrived at my bus stop and cracked open my first book....Here is my stack (making my stack is always one of my favorite parts of the whole challenge. Beginnings are always so full of promise and frisking optimism....

I like looking at other people's stacks too. Not that I'm competitive or anything (la la la), but it's fun to see what other people are reading!

I do think mine is aesthetically pleasing, although I take points off myself for having some upside-down books (and I think it's bad form to have a book with no title on the cover--that tapestry-esque one in my pile is a book called The Broken Thread, for those who were wondering).

Here's what I'd like to see--a gallery of before and after pile pictures. In my after picture, the petals of the rose will have fallen onto the remaining books, lending a tired, gentle melancholy to the whole ensemble.

This year I'll be contributing to Reading is Fundamental, as requested by Mother Reader--either one dollar per book, or one dollar per hour, whichever is greater.

Do join the fun, even if you can't (like me) promise to spend all that much time reading! It's a lovely way to feel all comradely in our reading.

Forsaken, by Katherine Langrish

Just sneaking in one quick review before I plunge into the 48 hour reading challenge...

I am an avid reader both of Katherine Langrish's books (such as The Shadow Hunt), and her blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (which is a rich feast for fairy tale lovers). So when I saw that she had a new book out in 2011--Forsaken--, which is a retelling of Matthew Arnold's poem, The Forsaken Merman (which is sad and lovely) I added it to my mental tbr list...and on impulse, I ordered if from the Book Depository last month (cause it's not out in the US). And it came, and I read it, and found it good. But I am not the intended audience, and so this one isn't one I can evaluate on the basis of whether or not it worked for me.

is part of the Rivets series, from publisher Franklin Watts. These are books that are "Perfect for readers who want to enjoy a book by a bestselling author, but who lack the stamina for a full-length novel," with a reading age of 8-9 years, and an interest range of 8-14 years. What we would call in the US "high-low." It's a really, really hard category of book for me to review--I'm not lacking in reading stamina myself, and I'm not an educator of struggling readers. So as an individual, such books will never be best beloved to me (because of being too short!), and I have to make a slight effort to judge them on whether or not they succeed in telling a compelling story in a condensed, clear, manner.

On to the book.

Forsaken tells of the daughter of the Mer King and the human woman who gave up the land to live with him beneath the sea. This woman is unique among the merfolk, not just because she has legs, but because she has an immortal soul. Though she loves her husband and children, one day the call of the church becomes to strong for her to bear, and she returns to land. It was to be just a holiday...but she doesn't return.

And her baby is crying and starving, and her ten-year old daughter, Mara, cannot stand it. So she goes in search of her mother, up the noxious river, onto dry land, and into the church itself. It is a painful journey

"Hand over hand I pulled myself uphill, digging my elbows into the sharp white gravel. My fingers bled and my eyes filled with stinging grey dust. My delicate tail fins became tattered and curled" (page 27).

And so Mara's mother is faced with a choice--does she jeopardize her soul, and return to the sea, or deny her family, and stay on land?

It is a tightly told little story with a big emontional punch. Mara is a forthright narrator, and her pain comes through clearly. The conflict facing Mara's mother is likewise addressed directly. It's rare to see a character in a fantasy book for younger readers confronting a fundamental religious dilemma, and those who believe in a loving God will appreciate her final choice.

So there's the story, and the question is--does this succeed in being one that will hold the interest of a reader up to fourteen years old? I think, for the most part, that it would--it's thought-provoking and compelling, and it's easy to empathize with Mara's painful journey onto dry land. My one reservation is that Mara is only ten years old, which I think would off-put readers older than that. However, I'd give this one in a heartbeat to the seven or eight year old girl who isn't ready as a reader for the long tomes that comprise much of today's middle grade fantasy--the girl who's ready to be challenged by a story, but doesn't quite have the stamina (to use the publisher's word, and why not), for the longer books.

So I'm not at all sorry to have bought it, even though it only took me ten minutes (possibly less) to read it. But I'd really like Katherine Langrish to write another book for me....

Here's another review, at Awfully Big Reviews


Preping for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge...with bonus pictures of my (former) book bathtub

So this weekend is Mother Reader's annual 48 Hour Reading Challenge, which I look on as a much needed push to get books out of the tbr clusters and into permanent homes, be those homes the library book sale, the library shelves, or hard-won real estate on my own shelves....I am glad that this falls during the warmer months, because I can use the woodstove as my display area:

(Isn't the puffin nice? My older son made it in art this year, and I feel that it has a lot of personality.)

My pile is a carefully chosen mix of library books, review copies, and tbr pile books, with a bit of non-fiction livening up the sci fi/fantasy. It would be awfully nice if they all proved to be gripping fast reads, or, failing that, books whose first ten pages will let me know that I don't want to read anymore.

(The pink rose is from our thriving rose bush of unfortunate pinkness, that bloomed even more prolifically and pinkly this year. The rose bush of beautiful redness would require a ladder if I wished to pick beautiful red roses.)

There are many books that could be on this pile but aren't. For instance, there are all the books that were in the downstairs bathtub:

The family that owned our house before us didn't let little things like walls stop them from installing this bathtub in what was once the pantry--it stuck out half a foot into the dining room, inside a cupboard-like structure. Their towel cupboard stuck out a good foot, built in the space where the door used to be, blocking the way from the dinning room to the kitchen. So in any event, there was this bathtub, not being used, and of course I put books in it and all was well (?).

However, all good things come to an end. We are going to add on a new downstairs bathroom at some point, but first we are demolishing this one, and the tub is now just a memory. The demolition in progress:

(If you look closely you can see the original dining room wall paper (large leaves on a raspberry background). I assumed at first it was Victorian, but now, after having done a quick bit of research, I'm thinking perhaps 194os. Regardless, we aren't going to try to find it again).

Happily, it being summer, the woodrack inside was empty, so:

But this is clearly a temporary solution, and only a third of the books fit, and the rest are on the floor of the hall. Of course, once the dinning room and ex-bathroom walls are rebuilt (and why, I ask myself, has our nice contractor not contacted us for weeks?), there will be, for a while, all that lovely ex-bathroom space where the washer and dryer will go eventually, but for the moment, I clearly just need to read. 48 hours will help, but it is never enough....

An introvert went to BEA (final BEA post before launching into a mad whirl of reading and reviewing)

I am home, and aching more than some what--I cleverly (?) and deliberately self-sabotaged myself at BEA this year by not bringing a suitcase with wheels, so that I would only take books that I really truly wanted. There were thirty seven of them--one more would have made it intolerable to stagger from the bus to the train--and so I am happy on that count.

My final tip for introverts at BEA is to go for a second year! It is so much more comfortable to be in a familiar setting, and though my spot outside where I could be alone was off-limits due to construction, I found a nice secluded doorstep that I had all to myself. Knowing what you are doing, in a purely practical, physical sense, makes any situation easier for an introvert, and, you know, probably for extroverts too! (Waves to extroverts).

My confidence as a blogger increases every year, and I engaged in several meaningful and interesting conversations with not only fellow bloggers and line-mates, but with publishers, which was pleasing.

It was lovely seeing all of you who I saw, though I am sad that there were people I didn't see who I wanted to.

I saw no signs of bloggers behaving badly this year, perhaps because there weren't that many piles of arcs! Every line that I was in behaved well, and the only person I saw doing something naughty was a quite old man, not a blogger, who jumped with surprising nimble-ness over one of the chains that had closed off a signing line.

Here is a useful thing that I learned at the Book Blogger Convention that I will apply to my blogging:

When tweeting a review, tweet at the publisher. There's a good chance your tweet might be picked up by them, increasing your review's reach, and it's a nice way to make sure the publisher knows about it (especially if you don't have an email address for them that you are confident about).

The question then becomes--is there a Master List of publishers and their myriad imprints with twitter handles???? If so, could I get it?

And here's the book that made my children happiest: Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers (coming August 2012), which was the last book I took, as I passed the Scholastic booth on my way out the door:

And here's the book that I had never heard of before that I was happiest to get an ARC of--Passion Blue, by Victoria Strauss (November 2012, from Amazon Children's Publishing). Here's the blurb:

"When seventeen-year-old Giulia, the orphaned, illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, learns she’s to be packed off to a life behind convent walls, she begs an astrologer-sorcerer for a talisman that will secure what she’s certain is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs. But does she really know the compass of her heart? The convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises, including a workshop of nuns who are creating paintings of astonishing beauty using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion Blue. As Giulia’s own artistic self is awakened she’s torn: should she follow the young man who promises to help her escape? Or stay and satisfy her growing desire to paint?"

And on the back there is this: "A lovely read." -- Megan Whalen Turner. If MWT told me a Captian Underpants book was a lovey read, I'd believe her.

Did you know that the Marshall Cavendish line of books has metamorphosed into Amazon Children's Publishing? I didn't. So there, along with forthcoming books, were old friends like Chalk, and Amazon books like Zetta Elliott's A Wish After Midnight, and the Cybil's first shortlisted self-published book, available first only as an ebook, but now "officially" published --Angelfall, by Susan Ee.

Whoever is doing their covers is doing a bang up job!

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