A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

A sequel to Chainani’s first novel, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes takes Agatha and Sophie back to the fairy tale world that they worked so hard to escape in the first book. Only this time the questions and dichotomies are multiplying in a dizzying way:

Is Sophie reformed, or is she evil?
Is Agatha good, or is she betraying her friend?
Are princes the real heroes of all the fairy tales?
Are girls the true heroines?
Can a witch become a princess?
Can a prince become an evil slob?
Can Agatha trust Sophie?
Can Sophie trust Agatha?
Can Agatha trust her prince?
Should Agatha kiss Prince Tedros or slay him?
Can girls trust boys? Can girls defeat boys?
Can boys live without girls? Can girls live without boys?
Can boys become girls? Can girls become boys?
How are boys and girls different?
Can male friendships be as close as female friendships?
Is the truest love friendship or romance?
Does a girl have to choose between female friendship and the love of her prince?
If so, which should she choose?
Can there really be a “happily ever after” for everyone?
Is there an ending where no one gets hurt?
What is the right ending?
What is the the true ending?

I’m about three-fourths of the way through Chainani’s version of the fairyland War between the Sexes, and it’s giving me moral and emotional whiplash. I like books that make me think and keep me guessing, but I guess I also like resolution. I can’t see how this book can come to a satisfying resolution, no matter what the author and the characters do with it because the central goal of the author seems to to keep everything in balance, no advantage to either side in any conflict. I’ll return later to let you know how it all came out.

*****************

It ended with a sharp division between Good and Evil, but I don’t think this book is one that anyone is going to be very happy about. Mr. Chainani plunked his plot and characters right down in the middle of the culture wars and the gender wars and the battle between good and evil. And somehow the two, good and evil, male and female, are supposed to coexist in infinite tension, with neither good nor evil winning out and with neither male nor female taking the lead, and with neither same-sex friendship nor male/female romance becoming the primary relationship in any person’s life. Gender roles are bent in this book, but never broken, which won’t make either “side” cheer. True love’s kiss wins the day, but not really. It’s a very unsatisfying, post-modern, irresolute kind of ending—or perhaps a non-ending. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another book in the series to make a trilogy, but I also wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you like

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Oliver and the Seawigs: Not-So-Impossible Tale by Philip Reeve

An army of sea monkeys. A boy villain named Stacey de Lacey. A nearsighted mermaid. Rambling Isles that walk/swim around the ocean. Sarcastic seaweed. A talking albatross named Mr. Culpepper. And a beach optician. Not in that order.

The author of this stew of ridiculous is the same Phillip Reeve who wrote a dark Arthurian saga called Here Lies Arthur and won the Carnegie Medal for it in 2008. Oliver and the Seawigs is not dark, not Arthurian, and not a saga—and contrary to the series title (yes, there’s a series of at least two books so far), not very possible. But then again, who cares about possible when you’re reading something that reads as if it were an exercise in six impossible things before breakfast?

Ten year old Oliver Crisp is the son of explorers who met on the top of Mount Everest. They’re finally ready to settle down in a house by the sea, having explored all there is to explore, but when they arrive at their house of dreams (for Oliver who’s tired of exploring), there are some new islands in Deepwater Bay just off the coast. Oliver’s parents are compelled by their exploring nature to go explore, but then it’s Oliver who must rescue them when they don’t return in time for supper.

Only 193 pages with lots of pictures, this rollicking adventure would be just the thing to suggest to the third or fourth grader with a silly sense of humor (or one who needs some silly in his life). The next book in the series, Cakes in Space, features Astra and some scary-looking cakes. In a spaceship.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

This debut novel, first in a projected series, is just the ticket for Star Wars fans. Are there still Star Wars fans around these days? Like Trekkies? Tell me that Trekkies still exist.

Anyway, The Lost Planet opens with our amnesiac hero recovering from a nasty head wound. He doesn’t know where he is or who he is. However, a somewhat damaged memory chip embedded under his scalp (ouch!) indicates that his name might be “Chase Garrety”. The only thing he remembers, sort of, is a message: “Guide the star.” What does it mean? Who is he really? And is someone trying to kill him?

What in this book reminded me of Star Wars?

*a robot helper/guardian.
*lots of alien species with odd non-humanoid bodies from several different planets.
*travel on a rickety old space ship with a less than trustworthy pilot.
*space smugglers and arms dealers.
*a “who am I” and “who are my parents” mystery.
*a vaporized planet.
*a motley crew of frenemies thrown together by misadventure and running for their lives.
*planet-hopping.
*a “federation” made up of many planets (but that’s more Star Trek, isn’t it?).

On the other hand, Lost Planet is not just a Star Wars knock-off. It’s different enough that fans of that sort of story might very well enjoy it, especially middle grade readers who are looking for science fiction/fantasy with “no kissing” parts. No romance, lots of action, and inter-planetary adventure make this novel just the right read for—well, whom does that description bring to your mind?

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Dreamer Wisher Liar by Charise Mericle Harper

Ashley is mad and sad and and jealous and worried and grumpy. Her best friend, Lucy, is moving away at the end of the summer, and now Lucy is going away to summer camp—without Ashley. What’s more, Ashley’s mom wants her to spend the next few weeks babysitting the seven year old daughter of an old friend. The seven year old, Claire, shows up with a list of “surprise” stuff to do (Ashley hates surprises) and with an over-powering extroverted Pollyanna personality (Ashley is more of a melancholy introvert). It’s going to be the worst summer ever.

Then, Ashley finds a wish jar, a jar full of papers with wishes written on them, in the basement. And when Ashley reads one of the wishes, she sees two other girls who are living out the actions that produced the wish. It’s kind of time travel, kind of clairvoyance, kind of magic. It’s scary, it’s change, and it’s surprising—all of which Ashley doesn’t like much. But she’s fascinated with the wish jar.

Most of the author’s books before this one were written for a younger audience, and it shows in the writing style and plot of this story. Third and fourth graders, maybe fifth graders, might like it a lot. Older children might find the book a little unsophisticated for their tastes. It was nice change for me from the themes and plot lines in which the kid has to save the world or fight the evil sorcerer or find the magic talisman. Nobody goes on a journey, and the book is not the beginning, middle, or end of a series. Dreamer Wisher Liar is a smaller story. Things happen and it’s interesting, but the events are modest events. It’s about friendship and learning to accept change and growing up in small but significant ways.

Ashley is a bit self-centered (like all of us), somewhat conservative and resistant to change (like many of us), and overly analytical (like me sometimes). She thinks about things, and she wants to do the right thing even when she does the wrong thing. The wrong thing she does forms the last last part of the title, the liar part, and Ashley is afraid that “the universe” is going to take its revenge on her for lying to her mother about the wish jar. But she just can’t share the magical time travel that is happening in response to the wishes for fear that it might go way. So she lies about what she’s doing in the basement. This “liar” aspect was the weakest part of the story; there are never really any consequences for the lying that goes on. And Ashley doesn’t exactly decide to quit lying; it just becomes no longer necessary to lie about the magic.

Anyway, aside from that, there are several small mysteries that come together in a satisfying way at the end of the book. Ashley learns several small but important lessons. Everything is resolved, and mostly everyone is happy, or at least content. At one point in the story Ashley tells a friend about a book she’s just finished: “I don’t usually like endings, but this was different—it was satisfying.”

Her friend answers: “You mean it’s all wrapped up, finished, no loose or uncomfortable ends sticking out.”

“Yes,” thinks Ashley. “It was all done–there was nothing left to worry about.”

If that’s the kind of book you like, that’s the kind of book Dreamer Wisher Liar is. Enjoy.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Book News

I’m participating in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon this Saturday, the 18th. However, for me it will be more like a 15-17 hour readathon. I don’t stay up late on Saturday night because it’s very worshipful to fall asleep in church on Sunday morning. So, I’m planning to be reading from 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning until maybe midnight, at which time I will turn into a well-read pumpkin. And the rest of the family is going camping, so I can read to my heart’s content.
UPDATE: I’m about to start my readathon at 8:00 AM, an hour late, since I had trouble sleeping last night. Excitement? At any rate, it’s off to the races with one of my Cybils nominees.

What will I be reading, you ask? Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, of course. We have over 100 books nominated, and I’ve actually read about 40. So although I’m pleased with how I’m doing so far, I have a lot more books to read.

UPDATE at 9:40 PM (CT): Well, I’ve read most of the day, and I’ve read two books for the Readathon, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani and Grave Images by Jenny Goebel. Both were enjoyable and solid, but not amazing. I also wrote my reviews for these two, and now I’m going to pick another book and head for bed. Happy reading to all who plan to complete the remainder of the readathon. Bedtime for me (with a little more reading)!

Have you ever wondered how the books for the Newbery Award and the Honor books are chosen? Abby the Librarian writes about what the Newbery Committee actually does, and she does so without sharing any “classified” information.

The Texas Book Festival takes place in Austin next weekend, October 24-26. I can’t go, but for those of you who will be there: hug an author for me. Or buy a book. Or something. Enjoy. Some of the authors who will be there and who would be recipients of at least a smile from me: Kathi Appelt, Shannon Hale, Trent Reedy, Chris Barton (Hi, Chris!), Molly Bloom, Jon Meacham, Jon Scieszka, Varian Johnson, Susan Goldman Rubin, Jennifer E. Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Deborah Wiles, Jacqueline Woodson, Annie Barrows, Nikki Loftin, and many more. (I met Chris Barton at KidLitCon last year in Austin.)

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

Not for the usual picture book crowd of preschoolers and early readers, Aviary Wonders is beautiful, funny, and carries a good message without beating it into the ground. The lavishly illustrated book is the work of a fine artist. But to whom would I recommend it?

Artists.
Bird-lovers.
Environmentalists.
Fan of steampunk sci-fi and robotics?
Teens.
Maybe middle schoolers.
Definitely adults who fall into the first three categories.

I just don’t know if that’s going to be a wide enough audience to make the book a success, which is a shame. It ought to be seriously considered for the Caldecott Award because the illustrations are gorgeous. The book also shows, in a quirky way, what the world might be like if all or most of the bird species become endangered or extinct. What if people had to build their own birds out of metal and rubber and silk and other materials in order to have the experience of seeing a bird in flight or hearing a bird song?

Aviary Wonders shows, doesn’t tell, the lesson that God’s creations are unique and valuable and can never be completely replicated by man. The book doesn’t mention God or creation, but that’s the message I got as a Christian who cares about our responsibility to steward and care for the world and its amazing diversity of plant and animal life. I didn’t know this fact about passenger pigeons, until reading this book led me to look it up:

“The passenger pigeon or wild pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct North American bird. Named after the French word passager for “passing by”, it was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world. It accounted for more than a quarter of all birds in North America. The species lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century, when hunting and habitat destruction led to its demise.” Wikipedia, Passenger pigeon.

Anyway, I recommend the book, but it may be a hard sell. At least, take a look at it in the bookstore. It’s lovely. It’s also odd and different in a world that values tried and true and formula.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Saturday Review of Books: October 18, 2014


“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” ~John Milton

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Trains. Well, really, one l–o–n–g train that’s so long that it might as well be a traveling city on wheels. This train, The Boundless, has everything: 1st class accommodations, a library, dining cars, observation deck, a cinema, a billiard room, stores, second class passenger cars, freight cars, third class for the penny-pinching or poverty stricken traveler, and even a circus!

The Boundless is a world to itself, inside a literary world that includes sasquatch, a mesmerist, a steam-powered automaton bartender, treasure, and a weeping hag who induces people to commit suicide (no one dies except expendable redshirt bad guys). The last element, the hag, may be a little much for some younger readers, but it somehow wasn’t terribly scary to me. And I’m not a fan of scary.

Anyway, The Boundless takes place in an alternate steampunk North American continent, and most of the action happens on the train. the train. I loved the train. I want someone to draw me a picture of the train, car by car. Or, even better, I want to ride on the train all the way across the country and experience each part of this marvelous magical train myself. (I wonder if in heaven the good things we imagine can become real and be experienced through eternity? Jesus and I could have a lot of fun exploring The Boundless, without all of the bad guys and hags and thieves.)

Will Everett is our humble hero who grows into a self-assured young man by the end of the story. The only thing I didn’t like about the story was the tired old theme of “follow your dream.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Will wants to be an artist while his father insists that he do something more practical with his life. If you want to know why I think that “follow your dream” is a stupid theme to be drilling into kids in every other book they read, not to mention the idea that parents are a bunch of spoilsports with no wisdom to be imparted, then watch this TED talk by Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs (which I’ve never seen, but I like his perspective on the value and dignity of work in this video).

So I just pretended that the simplistic Disney-esque follow-your-dream parts weren’t there, and I enjoyed the train and the adventure and the Picture of Dorian Gray subplot.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

If you can handle spell-casting, human sacrifice,and lots of violence in your children’s middle grade fantasy, then this book might be just up your alley. I actually found it riveting, while I skimmed some of the witch-y, creepy parts.

You may not know it, but there are actually eight days in a week, with one secret magic day between Wednesday and Thursday called Grunsday. (Well, some people call it that.) The only people who experience Grunsday are the Transitioners and the Kin, descendants of the original creators of Grunsday who had a very good reason for sticking it in there in the middle of the week. Transitioners live in our timeline and the alternate magical one, Sunday through Wednesday, then Grunsday, then Thursday through Saturday, every week with eight days. The Kin only experience conscious life on Grunsday. On the other days they are there, but not? Sort of like ghosts?

The fun part of the story was trying to figure out how all this alternate timeline, eight days a week, not to mention magical abilities and lords and vassals, work out in the world of The Eighth Day. We get to figure it out along with the main character, a boy named Jax Aubrey, who hasn’t been told anything about the eighth day until he experiences it for the first time just after his thirteenth birthday. (He thinks it’s the zombie apocalypse at first.) Jax slowly deciphers the clues that his friends and his foes manage to drop as he also becomes comfortable with the idea that his identity as a Transitioner has given him some special abilities of his own.

I liked it, but again it may be way too sinister, violent, and occult for some readers. It certainly doesn’t glorify the occult, but Jax is, at best, spiritually confused. At one point in the story when Jax and the other “good guys” are trying to reverse an evil magical spell that’s been cast by the “bad guys”, Jax prays to whoever or whatever— “God or Nature or the Whole Universe”— is in charge and listening, to help them. It’s a perfect example of foxhole religion, certainly realistic, but also rather muddled.

Proceed at your own risk.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.