Sunday, June 25, 2006


I'm on vacation this week. Yea! I have a stack of books with me, and I plan to sit by the pool and read. What fun!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm

Daphne and Sabrina are orphans, bouncing from one foster home to another. Then they discover that they have a living grandmother that they knew nothing about. Not only that, but they are descended from the famous Brothers Grimm, whose fairy tales were actually books of history! The Grimm family has always kept the peace between the fairy tale characters, who call themselves Everafters, and the humans. Now it's time for Sabrina and Daphne to join the family business as fairy tale detectives.

In book 1, The Fairy-Tale Detectives, Sabrina and Daphne set out to rescue their grandmother when she is kidnapped by a giant. In the second book, The Unusual Suspects, Sabrina and Daphne find out that even fairy tale detectives have to go to school. Things go from bad to worse when Sabrina's teacher is murdered, and the girls begin to suspect that something sinister lurks at Ferryport Landing Elementary. And in the third book, The Problem Child, Sabrina is determined to rescue her parents from a psycopathic Everafter and her monstrous pet. But Sabrina has to learn that magic always comes with a price.

The Sisters Grimm books are a wild and wacky romp through the land of once upon a time. They're a lot of fun to read, and it's really funny to see how the various fairy tale characters fare in the modern world. The series gets better as it goes along. The Problem Child (book 3) was so funny in parts that I kept laughing out loud while reading it during breakfast; my husband started glaring at me over his newspaper, a sure sign that I had exceeded the acceptable limit for loud laughing during breakfast. And the books aren't just funny; there's plenty of excitement, too.

I do agree with Michele at Scholar's Blog about the characters: they're a little flat, and Sabrina's constant anger gets old after a while. (Although, as the parent of an almost-6th-grader, I'm beginning to see that Buckley may have gotten the anger thing right) I did see some signs of growth for Sabrina in the third book, though, so I'm hoping that in book 4 we'll see a different side of her. But all in all, Michael Buckley has created a funny, exciting series that is sure to appeal to middle-schoolers.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

48 hour book challenge: wrap-up

For my personal 48 hour book challenge, I set a goal for myself of reading 2 books in 48 hours. For my two books, I chose Valiant, by Holly Black, and Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson.

I thought it would be challenging for me to read two books in 48 hours, because it usually takes me several days to read one book. Not only did I complete the challenge, but I was surprised how easy it was to read a fair bit when I actually devoted time to it. Not only that, but it was really enjoyable to just sit and read for several hours at a time. That tells me that I should probably set more time aside for reading. With everything else going on in life, I guess I just keep pushing reading time aside because I'm too busy.

It was also good for me to push myself on doing the two reviews quickly. I usually like to stew on a book for a while and think about it before I post a review, but I found that pushing myself to review the books right away actually worked out pretty well.

Thanks to MotherReader for proposing the challenge. It was really fun to do the challenge, and also to check in with the other participants to see how they were doing. I'm amazed at how many books some of you were able to read!

Total books read: 2
Books read:
Valiant, by Holly Black
Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson.
Total pages: 667

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Book Review: Snow, Fire, Sword

Adi is an apprentice to a master craftsman who makes kris, traditional swords imbued with spiritual power. He and his master are on a journey to deliver a new kris to the Sultan when his master is taken by hantumu, evil beings garbed all in black who ride motorcycles. (Nazgul on motorbikes?) Lying bound in a rice field, Adi is rescued by Dewi, the daughter of a dukun, a kind of healer or shaman. Dewi's father is also taken by the hantumu, and Adi and Dewi are charged by the spirits to find Snow, Fire, Sword and defeat the evil sorcerer that is plaguing the land. The spirits don't know what Snow, Fire, and Sword are, nor do they know who the sorcerer is. Together, Adi and Dewi set off on a quest to find Snow, Fire, and Sword and save the land. They are helped along the way by various beings, both human and supernatural, but in the end, Adi and Dewi must find the courage to stand up for all that is right and true.

Snow, Fire, Sword by Sophie Masson, is a beautiful and mythic journey through an Indonesia that is a little bit mythical, a little bit modern, and a little bit fantasy. It's a book where the ancient spirits of Indonesian and Arabic myths coexist with motorcycles, helicopters and an absolutely-adorable slightly-supernatural car. The cover of the book sports a blurb from Lloyd Alexander, which seems appropriate, since the book reminded me a lot of some of Alexander's best, such as The Iron Ring and The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.

Adi and Dewi are interesting and likeable young people. Dewi longs for adventure, but finds that real adventure is much harder than she expected. Adi is content with his life and loves his master; he is driven by a sense of helplessness and shame that he couldn't help his master when the hantumu took him, and is determined to save him this time. The story is exciting and filled out with a rich cast of wonderfully-envisioned supporting characters. I can't say too much without giving things away, but suffice it to say that this is a story of personal heroism and sacrifice on many levels.

The Indonesian and Arabic names of people and places made the book a little difficult to read at first for someone who isn't used to them, but after a while you adjust and the reading gets easier. It's well worth taking the time to adjust to the differences and get into the book.

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48 hour book challenge: almost there!

I did it! I finished reading Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson. Now all I have to do is to review it before 5:20 PM Eastern time, and I'll have accomplished my goal for the 48 hour book challenge.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Book Review: Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie

When I think of fairies, I think of wild places in Ireland and Wales: green glens and fairy forts and fairy rings. But what about our increasingly urbanized world? Might there be trolls living under the Manhattan Bridge, or fairies living on the Upper West Side? In Holly Black's Valiant, there are indeed fairies living in New York: exiles from the Courts forced to live in the iron-infested city. When seventeen-year-old Val runs away to New York, she discovers a world she never suspected existed, a world of power and beauty and danger.

Val's call to adventure comes in an unusual way: she catches her boyfriend sleeping with her mother. This ultimate betrayal sends Val over the edge, and she runs away to New York. With no plans and no direction, Val makes friends with a couple of drifters and moves in with them in a makeshift home in the subway tunnels. Soon, she discovers that her new friends have dealings with the fairies; the leader of the ragtag group, Luis, serves a troll named Ravus and makes deliveries for him of a potion that helps the fairies to endure the iron in the city. Val's friends call the potion Never, and have discovered that if they inject it into their veins, they are endowed for a short time with faerie glamour. Before long, Val finds herself bound into Ravus' service as well, and is drawn ever deeper into the world of the fairies, a world far removed from human existence.

Valiant is an absolutely brilliant book. It wasn't hard to read it in less than 24 hours, because I couldn't put it down. As in Black's earlier book, Tithe, the characters are rich and hauntingly complex, and appearances often belie what lies inside.

One of the most amazing things about this book is watching the humans become more fairy-like under the influence of Never. Fairies have always been "other" from a human perspective. They have their own society with its own rules and values that sometimes seem incomprehensible to us, and they aren't constrained by the values and morals of human society. We accept this; their other-ness is part of what makes them so fascinating to us. But there's something horrifying about watching humans throw away the constraints of human morals and live outside human society, stealing and using people and even killing on a whim. Part of what makes Black's book resonate is that it is as much about humans as it is about fairies.

As with Tithe, Valiant is not a book for children. Personally, as a parent, I'd like to tell my son that he can't read it until he is at least 30: there's entirely too much sex and stealing and shooting up drugs. The fact that the drug is not of human origin makes it no less shocking. But, realistically, today's teens know all about that stuff, for the most part, and will probably be less shocked by it than I was. And there is a lesson in there about the consequences of drug use that is probably more palatable to teens because of the shocking nature of the delivery.

Valiant is not directly a sequel to Tithe; the characters and the story are different, and one need not have read Tithe to read Valiant. However, some of the events and characters from Tithe come into the story briefly, and will probably be more comprehensible if you have read Tithe.

All in all, Valiant is an amazing book, mythic in quality and modern in delivery, that will touch you in unexpected ways.

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48 hour book challenge - update

I finished my first book for the 48 hour book challenge in less than 24 hours! That means I'm ahead of the game: I've got a little more than 24 hours left to read one more book to complete my goal for the weekend. I'll be posting a review of Holly Black's Valiant soon, and then it's on to Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson.

Friday, June 16, 2006

48 hour book challenge - starting!

It's 5:20 PM on Friday, and I'm starting the clock on my 48 hour book challenge. I've set a goal of two books for myself: Valiant, by Holly Black, and Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson. To complete the challenge, I need to finish reading and reviewing both books by 5:20 PM on Sunday. I'll post updates as I go along. Wish me luck!

Poetry Friday

Today, for Poetry Friday, I'm sharing W.B. Yeats' poem of the wild hunt, The Hosting of the Sidhe:


The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away;
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a-gleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart."

The host is rushing 'twixt night and day;
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away."

Thanks to Project Gutenberg for the text; taken from the introduction to The Celtic Twilight.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Melissa Wiley has coined a new word on her Here in the Bonny Glen blog: Kidlitosphere! I like it and I'm proud to be part of the universe of children's lit blogs hereinafter and forevermore known as the kidlitosphere! Miriam-Webster, are you out there?

Thanks to Jen Robinson for the heads-up on this one.

Book Review: Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale is a brooding, intense, fascinating story. The rich descriptions and complex characters support a plot that will hold your attention.

Sixteen-year-old street-wise Kaye finds herself living with her grandmother on the Jersey shore after a nomadic existence with her mother’s rock band. Kaye used to see fairies when she was younger, but she has come to accept them as the product of a fertile imagination, until she meets Roiben, a darkly intense and attractive faerie knight, and becomes a pawn in a war between two rival faerie courts.

Holly Black’s world of Faerie is dark - very dark - a place where perfect horror intermingles with perfect beauty. Her human world isn’t any better: a bleak and gritty world where troubled humans try to make the best of their meager lives. But within those dark worlds, there is hope, and heroism comes from unexpected places.

It’s in the characters that Holly Black really shines: human and fairy are rich and complex, and sometimes show unexpected depth. Don’t take anyone at face value in this book!

I can't help wondering if there's a little bit of Puck in Roiben. His name is similar to Robin, and in fact Kaye tells her friends that she's met a man named Robin (Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow in A Midsummer Night's Dream). Roiben is the chief knight to one of the two Faerie queens (there doesn't appear to be a king here) and he is known to act sometimes in unpredictable ways. All that makes me think that Puck was an influence here. Or maybe it's just that I'm seeing Puck everywhere, now.

This is not a book for children. There are some pretty grisly scenes, and adult situations. But older teens will connect with this book in a big way. Holly Black obviously remembers what it’s like to be a teen: the pain of teen relationships, the struggle for identity, and the lack of understanding from authority figures.

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The 48 hour book challenge

Now she's done it. MotherReader has issued a challenge to all children's lit bloggers: read and review as many books as you can (4th grade level or higher) in 48 hours. Now, I'm not one to pass up a good challenge, and it sounds like a lot of fun, but I'm a slow reader with a busy schedule, and I didn't think I'd be able to participate. But thankfully, she took pity on us and created an alternate form of the challenge where we can set our own goals. So, I'm going to participate in the alternate challenge.

I've chosen two books as my goal for the weekend: Valiant by Holly Black, which I've been trying to get to, and another book that has been calling to me from the shelf, Snow, Fire, Sword by Sophie Masson. It's going to be hard for me to read even two books in 48 hours, but then, what's the point of a challenge if it's not hard?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wicked women

Speaking of polls and surveys, Michele from Scholar's Blog is taking a poll to find wicked women in children's literature who aren't witches or fairies. There are some interesting suggestions so far, including Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Mrs Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda. Head on over to the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone to check out the results so far and add your suggestions to the list. Just be aware before you go that this is a spoiler zone, so there might be spoilers.

Cool girls!

Jen Robinson has been hard at work over on her Book Page blog: she has compiled a list of 200 cool girls in children's literature. The names were suggested by readers of her blog and other children's lit bloggers, but Jen put in a lot of work compiling the suggestions into a list and extracting the top 20 that received the most votes. I think even Jen had no idea how big this would be; once she put out the call, suggestions came from far and wide.

Anyone looking for smart, brave, funny, and independent role models for girls in children's literature will find all they need on this list. Way to go, Jen!

Interesting results from survey of children's reading habits

Publisher Scholastic and consumer trends researcher Yankelovich, Inc. have just released the results of a survey of children and parents regarding the reading habits of children. Some of the results are no surprise: Children of parents who are high frequency readers are far more likely to read for fun every day than children whose parents are not high frequency readers, and boys are less likely than girls to have positive attitudes about reading. But there were some interesting results in the survey. 92% of kids enjoy reading for fun, but only 31% are actually reading for fun frequently. And the number of high frequency readers drops off sharply after age 8, and is even lower for teens.

And why aren't they reading more often? Kids report that the number one reason they do not read more is that they cannot find books they like! Combine this with the result that shows that high frequency readers are more likely to depend on parents as a source of ideas for books to read, and it shows how important it is for parents, teachers, and librarians to help tweens, and even teens, find good books to read.

Another interesting factoid: kids who use technology platforms to read or listen to books are more inclined, not less inclined, to be high frequency readers.

You can view the entire report at:

Monday, June 12, 2006

Here, There Be Dragons - a note from the author

On May 29, I wrote a post about forthcoming dragon books seen at Book Expo America. One of those books was Here, There Be Dragons, and I wrote this about it: "In spite of the title and picture of a dragon on the cover, I'm not sure if there are actually any dragons in the book."

I received the following reply from author James A. Owen:

There are indeed dragons within the book.

The title comes from the old mariners' map warning; but the dragons part refers to the seven Dragonships, each named for a color of the rainbow, and each with a dragon of some kind affixed to the prow. Or growing out of it. I forget which.

The primary dragonship of the story is the Indigo Dragon, which is a patchwork version of a sixteenth-century Spanish Galleon. And despite the bluish hues of the cover, the dragonship depicted on the book is the Green Dragon, and is mostly wood and organic materials.

And there are other dragons as well, less benign than the ships...

More is on the website here:, including art from the book, and the unadorned version of the cover.

So there you have it, straight from the horse's - er, dragon's? - mouth. I haven't read the book yet, but my son David did, and he enjoyed it. He kept reading me passages out of it, until I had to say, "Enough! I want to read it myself!"

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Poetry Friday

Since everyone seems to be doing this poetry Friday thing, I thought it would be fun to join in and try it too! Because of my current interest in all things Faerie, and because I just finished the first three books of the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, I thought that Puck's soliloquy from the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream would be a good choice:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this,—and all is mended,—
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

O.R. Melling

I'm going to have the opportunity to meet and interview O.R. Melling this coming Monday, when she makes an appearance in Baltimore, Maryland. Melling is the author of The Chronicles of Faerie: The Hunter's Moon and The Summer King. Does anyone have any questions you'd like me to ask? I'll post the interview here next week. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Book Review: Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg

What do you get when you cross a Newbery Honor winning author with a Disney franchise? The answer is, a book that has great potential, but isn't quite as good as it could be. Don't get me wrong; I like Gail Carson Levine's Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. It's a sweet book with strong appeal for young girls. It has a beautiful story about friendship, sacrifice, and self-esteem, written at just the right level for young children. The illustrations are beautiful and will delight any fairy fan, young or old. But where it falls short is in the characters: they're flat and undergo very little development. They are, in short, cartoon characters. I do recognize that is a book aimed at younger children, and thus the story and characters are expected to be less complicated. But even in a book for young children, there can be character development, and I didn't find much here.

I don't blame Levine for this. I think that she was constrained by the fact that Disney wanted to use the characters in their new fairies franchise, so they needed characters that were, essentially, caricatures. They needed stable, basically unchanging characters that they can use to create an unending line of additional books and merchandise. Each character is a portrait, a symbol: Rani, the empathetic water fairy or Vidia, the selfish fast-flying fairy. That explains why, for example, although Vidia has multiple opportunities for growth, she remains essentially unchanged at the end of the book.

I'm not a Disney hater; my husband and I enjoyed going to the Disney movies together long before we had a child. If this had been just a Disney book, I would have enjoyed it at the level it was written and thought no more of it. But I think the problem is, seeing Levine's name on the cover created an unrealistic expectation. I forgot it was a Disney book, and expected literature.

Young children will love this book, especially those who love fairies in general and Tinker Bell specifically, and those who love the Disney Princesses franchise. Adults will enjoy sharing it with a child in their lives, as long they take it for what it was intended to be.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Book Review: Bella at Midnight

Bella at Midnight is a lovely retelling of the Cinderella story. Cinderella has been around in various forms for centuries, but it still resonates today, as evidenced by the many modern versions. In spite of all these versions, Diane Stanley still manages to bring something new to the story. One of the best things about this version is the characters. Far from the flat, uninteresting characters in the original versions, the characters in this story are real people, who have problems and make mistakes and learn and grow. The chapters alternate between different points of view, which gives us a chance to get to know each character. Even the stepmother isn't evil; she's got some pretty devastating problems of her own to deal with, and unfortunately she takes them out on Bella. The way she treats Bella isn't right, but at least it's a little more understandable. The prince is a real person, too, who is essentially good but makes mistakes as he learns to be himself and not be taken in by, and take advantage of, the trappings of power. But best of all is Bella herself. The original Cinderella is a bit passive, winning the prince mainly due to her goodness and with some magical help. But Bella is a strong, interesting character who takes the initiative to do what needs to be done, while still retaining the innocence and goodness of the original.

The death of a kitten early in the story may be distressing to some children. The times are harsh, and some bad things happen; Bella witnesses some of the horrors of war, and another girl loses her father to a shipwreck.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

BEA: Final Notes

Here's a couple of final notes about books that I saw at BEA. A couple of these should have gone in my fantasy post, but I forgot about them.

  • The award for the cleverest and most appropriate packaging has to HarperCollins for Gail Carson Levine's Fairest. Appropriate to an alternate version of Snow White, the advance reading copy came packaged in a box with — what else would it be but a mirror!

  • Random House/Knopf is publishing a new, deluxe anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, due out in October. The deluxe edition will contain 16 pages of new material (archival documents, scientific notes, and found letters of Lord Asriel), a ribbon bookmark, colored endpapers, and Pullman's own chapter-opening spot art. I'm not sure if they will also be releasing deluxe editions of the other two books in the series.

  • Black Dog and Leventhal will be publishing new hardcover editions of eight of Agatha Christie's mysteries. While not technically kid lit, I first fell in love with Christie's mystery books in middle school, so I was excited to see these new editions. The eight books, to be released on September 26, include five Hercule Poirot mysteries: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, Evil Under the Sun, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and three Miss Marple mysteries: Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, and A Murder is Announced.

  • I don't often write about non-fiction, but I couldn't resist this one. DK gave out a packet of postcards containing images from their forthcoming book, Rainforest, by Thomas Marent. The images are absolutely stunning! This is definitely one to buy, and since sales of the book will support The Rainforest Foundation, you can even feel good about buying it. The book is printed on recycled paper, and a CD of rainforest sounds will be included.

Faerie events in Baltimore

Fairie fans in the Baltimore area should know about two upcoming events:

  • There is a Fairie festival this Saturday at Carrie Murray Nature center. Click here for more information. We'll be there at a vendor table with my husband's books, (not fairie related, but fantasy, so it seemed like it would fit) so if you come to the festival, be sure to look me up and say hello!

  • O.R. Melling, author of The Chronicles of Faerie, will be doing a booktalk and signing at the Children's Bookstore in Baltimore on Monday, June 12 at 4:30 PM. The first two books of The Chronicles of Faerie are The Hunter's Moon, which I gave a great review in January, and The Summer King, which was just released in May. The series was originally published in Ireland and Canada in the 1990s, but has been updated in this new U.S. edition.

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