Friday, June 23, 2006

The Gods in Winter

I came across this title by reading Colleen Mondor's blog Chasing Ray - she writes a great little reflection on it and plans to include in in a sci-fi fantasy column she's writing for this fall. Mondor is a writer and reviewer for Book Slut, an online literature magazine, and for Booklist & Eclectica. She writes a lot about children's & YA lit, and I enjoy reading her reviews & reflections. So, since we seem to have similar tastes, this summer I decided to pick up some of the books she's mentioned in her blog. The Gods of Winter is the first of them that I've read.
As she says in her blog entry, The Gods in Winter is a particularly British book, one of those classic children's stories that combines mystery, adventure and fantasy. The Bramble family has relocated to a rather peculiar estate in the Midlands that has been converted into a research facility. A new addition to the Bramble family is on the way, so Mrs. Bramble decides to hire a bit of house help. Mrs. Korngold is a perfect fit - she's good with the baby and the children, a great cook and takes good care of the house. She's a bit odd, though. The children begin to notice that strange things happen in Mrs. Korngold's presence, and it soon becomes obvious that Mrs. Korngold is more than just your average housekeeper.
Young readers may not at first recognize the story is a retelling of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, but those who know their Greek myths may have the pleasure of unraveling the tale as it goes along. It doesn't matter if you figure it out or not, The Gods in Winter is, like The Penderwicks, another retro style story for children - although this time it's retro because this is a republication of a book that has been out of print for several years. Inspired by the lovely afterword to this edition written by fantasy author Tamora Pierce, I've tried to do a bit of digging and discover the history of the book, but I've had little success. Apparently it was first published in 1978, although the setting of the book seems to be much earlier, perhaps in the 1950s. Miles wrote a few other books, including Nobody's Child, published in 1975 and now also out of print. The Gods in Winter is now available through Front Street Books and, like The Penderwicks, I think it's a great summer read for kids. There are, unfortunately, many typos in this edition, but I doubt many young people will notice while caught up in the story of the Bramble family.

Miles, Patricia. The Gods in Winter. Asheville, NC: Front Street Books, 2005.

What I'm Reading: James Madison: A Biography by Ketcham
On My Bookshelf: Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers

12 Sharp

The hottest release of the summer, 12 Sharp is the latest installment in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.
See my review published in The Hub Weekly.

Evanovich, Janet. 12 Sharp. New York: St. Martin's, 2006.

What I'm Reading : The Gods in Winter by Patricia Miles
On My Bookshelf: James Madison: A Biography by Ketcham & Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Penderwicks

I'm a lover of children's literature - good, old fashioned children's literature that brings to mind long hot summers & endless hours of riding bikes, building forts and imaging adventures. It seems that this sort of childhood has fallen out of fashion in this era of video games and scheduled playdates. Children's books have changed along with childhood; much of their innocent charm has faded under the glaring eye of our technological society. But there are always the classics, which I re-read faithfully and hope to share with my own children someday - L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series and L. M. Boston's Green Knowe stories, among others.
I can now add to these Jeanne Birdsall's new book The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. Winner of this year's National Book Award, Birdsall's "retro" story of four sisters and their summer adventures is a charming tale. The Penderwicks, forced to search out a new vacation cottage after their place on Cap Cod is sold by the land lord, find themselves in a picture perfect cottage on the estate of Arundel, a mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens. Add in a friendly cook & gardener, a lonely boy, a mean land lady and a troublesome dog and you have the makings of a wonderful family story.
In an interview with School Library Journal, Birdsall admits she didn't realize just how radical her retro story was when she began writing it. A first time author, Birdsall used classic children's authors like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager as inspiration for her simple story. "I wrote the kind of book I read and that I’ve always read, " says Birdsall. After reading early drafts, Birdsall's agent warned her she wasn't writing the type of books children read these days - Birdsall's book wasn't edgy enough. Birdsall finished the book anyway, only to have HarperCollins accept the book, but with conditions. As her agent predicted, they wanted it edgier.
Two years and several hated revisions later, Birdsall went with her gut and went back to her original story. Knopf accepted the manuscript a few months later with a minimum of changes. The Penderwicks remained true to Birdsall's original vision.
While there is certainly a need for children's literature that recognizes and addresses the myriad problems children of today face, there's also a need for literature as escape. Not all children today are forced to face abuse, abandonment or even divorce - and even those that are can sometimes benefit from simple stories with charm and grace. The Penderwick girls are not perfect and neither are their lives - their mother is dead and each girl bears her own responsibilities and faces her own faults. But the overriding message is one of family and loyalty that has much to say to the youth of today.

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

What I'm Reading: Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
On My Bookshelf: The Gods in Winter by Patricia Miles

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers

Any fans of the series will enjoy reading these histories of the Slayers who came before Buffy. In four collections of short stories, readers can meet Slayers from Ancient Greece, Munich in the 1920s, and even the slayer that died just before Buffy. Some stories incorporate historical characters like the Countess Bathoy (the one who bathed in the blood of virgins) or give new twists to historical events (who knew that the mystery of Roanoke Island could be explained by vampires?). Most of the stories lack the comedy of many of the early Buffy seasons, often describing the last stand of many of the Slayers and their Watchers. Volume 4 chronicles the Cruciamentum of eight earlier Slayers - the test each Slayer faces at age 18 when she is stripped of her powers by the Watchers' Council and forced to face a demon using only her wits. Still, despite the often dark tones, the stories are a fun & fascinating look into the Buffy universe.

Various Authors. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers Volume 1. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2001.

---. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers Volume 2. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2003.

---. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers Volume 3. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2003.

---. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers Volume 4. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2004.

A Hunger Like Fire

A companion novel to White Wolf's Vampire roll playing game, Greg Stolze's novel creates characters using the guidelines and traits players use when playing the game. White Wolf's vampires are most definitely a hierarchy, and when Bruce Miner awakes after what he thinks is a particularly rough night of drinking, he finds himself near the bottom of the vampire pecking order. Made and abandoned by his sire, Bruce's does not at first understand that the weeping sores that cover his body mark him as a Nosferatu, a family of vampires that is physically deformed by the change. Unable to initially control his rage and thirst for blood, Bruce attacks his wife and daughter and flees from authorities. He does not begin to understand what he has become until he is taken in by a group of independent vampires, vampires who try to live outside the influence of the vampire Prince of Chicago. But Bruce's attack on his family and his escape from the police have endangered the Masquerade and put Chicago's vampires at risk for discovery. Without a sire for protection, Bruce must depend on his new friends to protect him from those vampires who would have him destroyed for his actions.
Persephone Moore was made a vampire by the Prince himself in direct violation vampire law forbidding the creation of new Kindred. Persephone's role among the vampires of Chicago is much like that of a bastard noble - she has the ear of her powerful sire, but her questionable conception makes her less than accepted by many Council Members, who wonder what really prompted the Prince to change Persephone. Desperate to be viewed as more that the Prince's pet, Persephone allows herself to become a pawn in others' political games before she can begin to find her own power and make her own place in vampire society.
An interesting companion to the Vampire game, A Hunger Like Fire is the first in a series of novels exploring the politics and private lives of the vampires of Chicago. Teens who play the game will definitely want to read the series, and most will not be disappointed. Fans of vampire novels will also be interested. All characters are adults and some violence is included in the books, but most does not venture beyond the sort one would expect from a vampire novel. Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, combined with watching Season Five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD put me in the mood for vampire novels, and while this one was worth finishing, I doubt I'll read any more in the series.

Stolze, Greg. A Hunger Like Fire. Stone Mountain, GA: White Wolf, 2004.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Moon

Those of you who have read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight will be very, very envious that I've gotten my hands on this advanced reading copy of New Moon, the sequel. And you should be, because it's just as enthralling as Twilight.
In Twilight, Bella Swan falls in love with Edward, a vampire with a conscience. As New Moon opens, Bella and Edward are as much in love as ever, yet Edward still refuses to "turn" Bella, to make her a vampire like him. But a mortal in love with a vampire is always in danger, and Edward must make a decision to to stay with the one he loves or leave her to keep her safe.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of this one because I don't want to give ANYTHING away. I will say, however, that this book got to me the same way Twilight did. I read it all in one sitting, and when it was over, I couldn't bring myself to read anything else for some time. I was too caught up in Bella and Edward's story - I wanted to savor it as long as I could. Sending this ARC along to the next reader will be very, very tough, because I know I"ll want to read it again before the book is released in September. And I can't bear to think that the next one won't be out until 2007...
Twilight topped my list of best books for 2005, and is actually in my top five favorite books of all time. New Moon is a worthy successor.
To help tide you over until New Moon is released, check out Stephenie Meyer's web site for outtakes from Twilight and the first chapter told from Edward's point of view. She also has a playlist for Twilight and a bunch of other goodies.

Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. New York: Megan Tinley, 2006.

What I'm Reading: The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
On My Book Shelf: The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice & some Buffy books - it's a vampire extravaganza!

The Silver Bough

Another winner from Lisa Tuttle. This one doesn't focus on a particular myth, as The Mysteries did, but it does invoke the legends of Avalon, the island of Apples, the mysterious island where King Arthur is said to have gone to wait to rise again.
Appleton, a pennisula off the coast of Scotland, used to be known for it's luscious apples and cider. The annual festival was a huge event where the Apple Queen and a dark stranger shared a special apple to ensure the continuation of Appleton's good fortune. But that good fortune ended 50 years ago when the Apple Queen fled the town before sharing the apple with her mysterious stranger, and now Appleton is a shell of it's former self. The orchards are gone, plowed under, and no apples grow in Appleton.
Three American women have come to Appleton, each seeking something. The Kathleen, local librarian seeks a life in a quaint, quiet town, Nell seeks solitude and escape from her sorrow, and Ashley searches for answers about her grandmother's past - why she, the last Apple Queen fled Appleton for a new life across the sea. When a mysterious son of the town returns unexpectedly and a deep sea earthquake cuts Appleton off from the rest of the world, all three women find themselves caught up events that will change the course of Appleton's future, for in a small walled orchard, a magical Golden Apple grows again.
I ordered this one because one of the characters is a librarian - a sure sell for me. Then I read The Mysteries while waiting for this one to be delivered, & loved it. I loved The Silver Bough even more, though. The librarian character & the wonderful library are great bonuses, but this is an enchanting story. Appleton is such a magical place that I don't think anyone could read the novel without wanting to visit. A wonderful combination of fantasy, romance and mystery, this one kept me interested from beginning to end.
As for teens, I think some will enjoy Tuttle's books - the same who like O.R. Melling's Chronicles of Faerie and other fairy/mythology stories. However, I'd buy the works of Melling & Holly Black for those teens before Tuttle's - while hers are appropriate for teens, they are aimed at adults. Both The Silver Bough & The Mysteries contain young characters, though (college aged), so many teens will find these appealing.

Tuttle, Lisa. The Silver Bough. New York: Spectra, 2006.

What I'm Reading: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
On My Book Shelf: The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

The Summer King

The Summer king follows the theme of The Mysteries - using Celtic myths & folk beliefs in a modern story. This time, it's the story of the Summer King and his floating island.
Laurel, a young Canadian, is returning to Ireland for the first time since her twin's death there the year before. Still suffering the loss of her sister, Laurel is determined to investigate the mysterious entries in her sister's journal in the days before she mysteriously fell to her death while hiking. Laurel does not believe in fairy, but Honor did, and Honor's journal entries hint at something mysterious and otherworldly on the ledge where she died.
It isn't long before Laurel meets the Roly-Poly Man, who may have been present when Honor died. His story seems far fetched, but his need for Laurel's help seems real - she must complete the quest Honor began and save the world of Fairy if she wishes to free her sister from her magical sleep. Helped by her angry ex-boyfriend, several mythical creatures and a pirate from Ireland's past, Laurel races against time to find the Summer King and free him before Faerie and the mortal world come to an end.
The second in Melling's Chronicles of Faerie, The Summer King is fast paced fantasy/mystery/romance full of wonderful characters and myths. While there are guest appearances from a few characters from The Hunter's Moon (first in the series), the books are quite independent and can be read separately. The Hunter's Moon was one of my favorites of last year, and The Summer King will definitely make the list for 2006. This one will have great teen appeal - besides those who liked the first in the series, this will also appeal to fans of Holly Black's Tithe and Valiant as well as fans of Charles' de Lint.

Melling, O. R. The Summer King. New York: Amulet Books, 2006.

What I'm Reading: The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle
On My Bookshelf: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (okay, so it's not on the shelf yet, but it's in the mail - on it's way!)

The Mysteries

I love stories that draw on Celtic mythology for inspiration, bringing the present world together with the world of fairy. In The Mysteries, Lisa Tuttle is inspired by a Celtic story of a kidnapping, a lost love, and the fairy world.
Ian Kennedy is a private detective that specializes in finding missing people. He's not optimistic about his new case - a young woman who has been missing for over two years - but her mother is determined and he needs the money. But the case of Peregrine Lensky is different from most cases Ian has solved - this one is reminiscent of his first, most mysterious case.
There are several clues to Peri's disappearance, but they all add up to something otherworldly. Who is Midar, the seductive man Peri met the evening she disappeared? What role did Peri's boyfriend play in her disappearance - can the fantastical tale he tells really be true? Ian finds he can't rely on reason to find Peri Lensky; he must delve deep into the folklore of Scotland and the world underground if he's to locate the girl and bring her home.
Inspired by the story of Midar & Etain, Tuttle skillfully incorporates modern mystery & romance with the misty world of mythology and fairy to create a fascinating detective tale.

Tuttle, Lisa. The Mysteries.

What I'm Reading: The Summer King by O. R. Melling
On My Book Shelf: The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle

The Tale of Holly How

Just a quick note on this one, since I've already discussed the series in my entry on the first book, The Tale of Hilltop Farm. This is a fun sequel, including many of the characters (animal & human) from the first story. The Tale of Holly How revolves around the murder of a local shepherd who is selling Beatrix Potter some sheep. While at first his death seems like an accident, Beatrix discovers a clue that make her - and the magistrate - wonder. An examination by the local doctor confirms that Ben Hornby's death was not an accident (of course, the sheep could have told them this, and who did it, but the sheep are now missing). Add to this mystery and kidnapped badger & her young, an unhappy orphan at the local manor, and a runaway guinea pig and you have a recipe for another great story.

Albert, Susan Wittig. The Tale of Holly How. New York: Berkely Hardcover, 2005.

What I'm Reading Now: The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle

On My Bookshelf: The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle, The Summer King by O.R. Melling

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Trouble with Magic

I love witchy little supernatural mysteries, so I'm excited about the first book in Madelyn Alt's "Bewitching Mystery" series. Maggie O'Neill, suddenly dismissed from her boring collections job for being tardy one too many times, finds herself quickly employed by the owner of Enchantments, an upscale local antiques store. Felicity Dow, the store's classy owner, informs an incredulous Maggie right up front that she is a practicing witch. The idea makes Maggie a little nervous, but Felicity seems wonderful & Maggie needs a job. Maggie's reservations surface again on her first day of work, however, when Felicity's estranged sister is found dead and Felicity is questioned as a suspect in the murder. It doesn't take Maggie long to become convinced of Felicity's innocence, however, and Maggie's determined to do what she must to clear her new friend's name.
Harder to accept is Felicity's belief in the supernatural, and the mounting evidence that Maggie might have some uncanny abilities herself. Convinced Maggie is an empath, someone who senses the emotions and motivations of others, Felicity invites Maggie to attend a meeting of N.I.G.H.T.S., a local ghost-hunting group. Maggie's not sure about being an empath - she's thought for years she just has an overactive imagination - but she has to admit she's intrigued by Felicity's friends and what she's learning about Wicca. But before she can further explore her own interests, Maggie must help clear Felicity's name and discover the real murderer.
I really enjoyed this book, although, upon examining it objectively, it falls a bit short in several categories. As a mystery, it was fairly predictable - I was a bit annoyed with Maggie for not figuring things out sooner, since she seems like a pretty intelligent woman. Because Maggie has just met Felicity & just been introduced to the idea of witchcraft as a religion, the book does not incorporate a lot of information about Wicca or Wiccan beliefs (although what it does say seems to be accurate). I assume that will come in later books, as Maggie learns more herself. As for the supernatural aspect, it, too, is only touched on, with hints of more to come.
I would have loved more rituals, more spirituality, more ghosties & ghoulies - but I feel like I've just had a glimpse of what's to come in Maggie's future, and I can't wait to see the rest of the picture. I'll definitely be reading more about her.
As for teens, there may be some interest from those who are intrigued by Wicca or the supernatural, but this is really a book aimed at an older audience - not because of content (it's pretty much PG), but just because the characters are older & Maggie's problems are those of a twenty-something approaching thirty with nothing much to show for it. Teens who are looking for Wiccan fiction would do better to check out Isobel Bird's Circle of Three series or Laurie Faria Stolarz's Blue is for Nightmares books. These are fun, accurate portrayals of Wiccan/pagan practices with teen protagonists.
As for the adults who are looking for more of these type of books, I intend to check out some of author Madelyn Alt's "friends" - The Witchy Chicks Blog is a group blog kept by Alt & several other authors of paranormal fiction - much of which (not surprisingly) has witchy overtones. I'll let you know what I think after I read some of her pals!

Alt, Madelyn. The Trouble With Magic. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2006. ISBN 0425207463. 261 pages.
Bird, Isobel. So Mote It Be (Circle of Three #1). New York: Avon, 2001. ISBN: 0064472914. 240 pages. $4.99.
Stolarz, Laurie Faria. Blue is for Nightmares. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2003. ISBN: 0738703915. 283 pages. $8.95.

What I'm Reading: The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert (#2 in the Beatrix Potter Cottage Tales series)
On My Bookshelf: The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle, Thyme of Death by Susan Witting Albert