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I‚Äôm writing from Palermo where I‚Äôve been teaching a course on the legacy of Troy. Myths and fairy tales lie on all sides in this old island. It‚Äôs a landscape of stories and the past here runs a live wire into the present day. Within the same hour, I saw an amulet from Egypt from nearly 3000 years ago, and passed a young, passionate balladeer giving full voice in the street to a ballad about a young woman ‚Äď la baronessa Laura di Carini ‚Äď who was killed by her father in 1538. He and her husband had come upon her alone with a man whom they suspected to be her lover. As she fell under her father‚Äôs stabbing, she clung to the wall, and her hand made a bloody print that can still be seen in the castle at Carini ‚Äď or so I was told. The cantastorie ‚Äď the ballad singer ‚Äď was giving the song his all. He was sincere and funny at the same time as he knelt and frowned, mimed and lamented.
The eye of Horus, or Wadjet, was found in a Carthaginian‚Äôs grave in the city and it is still painted on the prows of fishing boats, and worn as a charm all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, in order to ward off dangers. This function is, I believe, one of the deepest reasons for telling stories in general, and fairy tales in particular: the fantasy of hope conjures an antidote to the pain the plots remember. The street singer was young, curly haired, and had spent some time in Liverpool, he told me later, but he was back home now, and his song was raising money for a street theatre called Ditirammu (dialect for Dithryamb), that performs on a tiny stage in the stables of an ]old palazzo in the district called the Kalsa. Using a mixture of puppetry, song, dance, and mime, the troupe give local saints‚Äô legends, traditional tales of crusader paladins versus dastardly Moors, and pastiches of Pinocchio, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland.
Their work captures the way fairy tales spread through different media and can be played, danced or painted and still remain recognisable: there are individual stories which keep shape-shifting across time, and there is also a fairytale quality which suffuses different forms of expression (even recent fashion designs have drawn on fairytale imagery and motifs). The Palermo theatre‚Äôs repertoire also reveals the kinship between some history and fairy tale: the hard facts enclosed and memorialised in the stories. Although the happy ending is a distinguishing feature of fairy tales, many of them remember the way things were ‚Äď Bluebeard testifies to the kinds of marriages that killed Laura di Carini.
A few days after coming across the cantastorie in the street, I was taken to see the country villa on the crest of Capo d‚ÄôOrlando overlooking the sea, where Casimiro Piccolo lived with his brother and sister. The Piccolo siblings were rich Sicilian landowners, peculiar survivals of a mixture of luxurious feudalism and austere monasticism. A dilettante and dabbler in the occult, Casimiro believed in fairies. He went out to see them at twilight, the hour recommended by experts such as William Blake, who reported he had seen a fairy funeral, and the Revd. Robert Kirk, who had the information on good authority from his parishioners in the Highlands, where fairy abductions, second sight, and changelings were a regular occurrence in the seventeenth century.
Casimiro‚Äôs elder brother, Lucio, a poet who had a brief flash of fame in the Fifties, was as solitary, odd-looking, and idiosyncratic as himself, and the siblings lived alone with their twenty servants, in the midst of a park with rare shrubs and cacti from all over the world, their beautiful summer villa filled with a vast library of science, art, and literature, and marvellous things. They slept in beds as narrow as a discalced Carmelite‚Äôs, and never married. They loved their dogs, and gave them names that are mostly monosyllables, often sort of orientalised in a troubling way. They range from ‚ÄėAladdin‚Äô to ‚ÄėMameluk‚Äô to ‚ÄėBook‚Äô and the brothers built them a cemetery of their own in the garden.
Casimiro was a follower of Paracelsus, who had distinguished the elemental beings as animating matter: gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders. Salamanders, in the form of darting, wriggling lizards, are plentiful on the baked stones of the south, but the others are the cousins of imps and elves, sprites and sirens, and they‚Äôre not so common. The journal Psychic News, to which Casimiro subscribed, inspired him to try to take photographs of the apparitions he saw in the park of exotic plants around the house. He also ordered various publications of the Society of Psychical Research and other bodies who tried to tap immaterial presences and energies. He was hoping for images like the famous Cottingley images of fairies sunbathing or dancing which Conan Doyle so admired. But he had no success. Instead, he painted: a fairy punt poled by a hobgoblin through the lily pads, a fairy doctor with a bag full of shining golden instruments taking the pulse of a turkey, four old gnomes consulting a huge grimoire held up by imps, etiolated genies, turbaned potentates, and eastern sages. He rarely left Sicily, or indeed, his family home, and he went on painting his sightings in soft, rich watercolour from 1943 to 1970 when he died.
His work looks like Victorian or Edwardian fairy paintings. Had this reclusive Sicilian seen the crazed visions of Richard Dadd, or illustrations by Arthur Rackham or John Anster Fitzgerald? Or even Disney? Disney was looking very carefully at picture books when he formed the famous characters and stamped them with his own jokiness. Casimiro doesn‚Äôt seem to be in earnest, and the long-nosed dwarfs look a little bit like self-mockery. It is impossible to know what he meant, if he meant what he said, or what he believed. But the fact remains, for a grown man to believe in fairies strikes us now as pretty silly.
The Piccolo family‚Äôs cousin, close friend and regular visitor was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, and he wrote a mysterious and memorable short story about a classics professor who once spent a passionate summer with a mermaid. But tales of fairies, goblins, and gnomes seem to belong to an altogether different degree of absurdity from a classics professor meeting a siren.
And yet, the Piccolo brothers communicated with Yeats, who held all kinds of beliefs. He smelted his wonderful poems from a chaotic rubble of fairy lore, psychic theories, dream interpretation, divinatory methods, and Christian symbolism: ‚ÄúOut of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.‚ÄĚ
Featured image credit: Capo d‚ÄôOrlando, by Chtamina. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Finally, a paranormal romance where the focus is on the paranormal and not a human who unwittingly stumbles upon it. Exquisite Captive is a breath of fresh air. It has jinni in it. Jinni! This book is full of unique, immersive mythology, swooning romance, and the importance of free will. Although we briefly go into the heads of a few different characters, at the heart of it this story is about Nalia. Nalia is a jinni, and not just that. She is the last surviving member of the ruling class of jinni, called the Ghan Aisouri, meaning she is one of the most powerful jinni alive. After escaping the slaughter of her people by the fire-wielding Ifrit she is sold into the jinni slave trade, called the Dark Caravan, and enslaved to Malek, a man who never seems to age and refuses to use his third wish, which is the... Read more »
Please join me on Saturday the 25th at the Boston Book Festival for “Masters of Fantasy,” a panel discussion with Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes), Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (The Iron Trial), and Gregory Maguire (Egg & Spoon). We’ll be talking about–well, I guess I should get on that right quick, as I’m the moderator–but FANTASY. 1:00-2:00 PM, Emmanuel Church sanctuary, 15 Newbury Street, Boston. FREE.
I have never liked horror movies. Never. Ever. But I know that scary, frightening stories have a real appeal for many people. So how do I recommend them for my students? It's a challenge -- especially gauging that right balance between spine-tingling-fright and oh-no-way-too-frightening-for-10-year-olds.
Here are four short-story collections I am recommending to students. Please be warned: if they are too scary, stop reading. That's what I've done in many cases.
Four "curators"--Bachmann, Legrand, Catmull and Trevayne--have gathered together ominous tales, organizing them into different themes ranging from tricks to cake, luck to travel. There are ghost stories, monster stories and bizarre stories. Some have direct villains, while others set a creepy tone without letting you exactly see what's menacing the main character.
The curators have a terrific website Enter the Cabinet with many tales, both ones from the cabinet and others freshly added. My current favorite is The Door Downstairs, with a courageous heroine, eerie setting, and psychological themes. For extra creepy fun, check out the podcasts the curators recorded. Katherine Catmull's recording of "Dark Valentine" is enough to haunt my dreams tonight.
Here are some other favorite collections of frightening stories:
Jon Scieszka's collection has great kid appeal, with contributions from 10 different superb authors. I loved Matt de la PenŐÉa's story "Believing in Brooklyn" about a wish-making-machine, with its creepy coincidences and touching ending. What would you wish for if you could have anything you wanted? If you like this, check out all the Guys Reads collections.
Fleming begins this collection with a version of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker." In her version, the young teen who picks up the hitchhiker is told to take her shoes to the graveyard where she's buried--and he discovers a crowd of ghosts, all wanting to tell him how they died. Fleming sets her story in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, and each story takes place during a different time period. She deftly weaves in many pieces of historical details, but these never overwhelm the stories.
I found these stories more frightening--certainly too frightening for 4th graders, and probably more suitable for 6th graders. All of the stories center on how a teenager died, and that aspect really got to me. I haven't shared this collection with students yet, so I can't gauge kids' reactions.
The spider story in this collection, "Webs," scared me so much that I couldn't finish reading this collection. As soon as I say that, kids start clamoring for this collection. Here's what I wrote when I originally read this collection:
In one story, a boy‚Äôs family is vacationing in a house that is taken over by spiders. Now, these aren‚Äôt your typical garden spiders. They are spiders who want revenge for the damages done to their forest and homes. Danny starts to get worried when he finds the rabbit cage filled with spider webs, and then realizes that the bundles in the corner are the dead rabbits encased in spider webs. The story proceeds to even creepier, as Danny discovers more ways the spiders have wrecked damage on previous owners of the house. Needless to say, every time I walk into a spider‚Äôs web now, I jump even higher.
The stories in these collections are NOT for everyone, but I know that many of my students clamor for frightening stories. Do you have any favorite short story collections that you hand your 4th, 5th and 6th graders? How do you judge what's too scary?
The review copy of The Cabinet of Curiosities was kindly sent by the publishers, Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The review copy of the other collections came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
I did not want to like The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. I am tired of princesses and equally tired of princess backlash. I am weary from trying to excavate and explain the potential of a princess in a plot (see my review of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett) and I am wary of mash-ups that have the air of a Disney enterprise. However, I
The Wardens of the Realm are a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England from any threat. But in this steam-powered world, there‚Äôs a fine line between enemy and ally‚Ä¶
Reeling from her brother‚Äôs death, beautiful American spy Claire Brooks has vowed revenge on the member of The Company who she believes to be responsible: Stanton Howard. But when she chases the man to London, Claire is captured by the Wardens of the Realm and placed in the custody of the Earl of...
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Eerie Elementary by Jack Chabert is yet another fantastic series that's part of¬†Scholastic's¬†much needed¬†Branches line. These books are "specifically designed for newly independent readers who are ready to make the exciting leap from leveled readers, but not quite prepared for a traditional chapter book." In the school where I am a librarian and the majority of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders
It’s been a while since I did a top ten list of….well, anything. So, here’s what is on my To be Read list this year. Mostly for school, but I love reading middle grade and young adult fiction even if it’s just for me. So here it goes:
Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz Middle grade fiction published by Disney-Hyperion
I’ve already started this funny tale about the Captain Hook’s thirteen year old daughter, Jocelyn. She’s sent away to boarding school by her grandfather so she can learn to be a lady. All she really wants is to be a swash-buckling, sword-wielding pirate. When she learns of her father’s death, she sets off on a quest to avenge it.
I have started this book in my classroom and I love it. The kids laugh out loud and so do I. Jocelyn is a great character, as is her ally, Roger. It’s a pleasure to read a book with a girl main character that the boys enjoy as well. It’s got great pirate speak, a longing for adventure that kids will connect with, and memorable characters.
Swindle by Gordon Korman Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic Press
Korman is always on my recommendation list during our library visits. When my eight year old brought Swindle home, I told her that I’d like to read it with her because I know a lot of kids who enjoyed it. During a sick day last week, she found the movie on Netflix. First, I didn’t know there was a movie. Second, normally we would read the book first. But, we were feeling lazy so we decided to watch. The movie was very well done– it made my daughter laugh and it made me want to read the book even more.
When the character finds a vintage baseball card, he doesn’t know the value and gets swindled by a pawn shop owner. The quest to get his card back is entertaining and funny. This book is on my list as a possible read aloud.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt Middle grade fiction published by Nancy Paulsen Books
There are several things that make me want to read this book. The author wrote one of my favourite books that I read last year: One for the Murphys. That alone makes me want to read more by her. When checking out the title on Goodreads, one of my favourite quotes was included in the write up: ‚ÄúEverybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.‚ÄĚ
Then, when I read the summary, I thought: YES. Great topic. Ally has hidden the fact that she can’t read from the people in her life and has successfully moved from one school to the next without anyone knowing. But when her newest teacher looks closer, past the trouble making side she presents, he finds her secret and helps her. We all learn in different ways and it’s essential that we have books that show kids that it is okay to be different. It’s okay to need help and not everyone learns in the same fashion. It’s up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them find their own road to success. I can’t wait to read this one.
Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier Middle grade fiction published by Graphix
I can’t read every single book I see my students or daughters enjoy, though I try to read a good portion of them. I’ve seen enough students go through Smile to know that it hooks readers. When one student saw Sisters in my TBR pile, she was thrilled because she was re-reading Smile for the third time. I told her she could read Sisters and she said, “Just let me finish re-reading Smile first.” She started Sisters later that day and finished it the next. That’s enough of a recommendation for me.
Smile‘s main character (Raina) wants to fit in, like any other grade six girl. An accident that leads to fake teeth makes that harder than she thought. A variety of other game changing issues present themselves while she’s dealing with full headgear. It sounds like exactly the kind of book that pre-teens would connect with.
Sisters offers another connectable theme for kids: sibling rivalry and confrontation. Raina isn’t close to her sister Amara, even though she wanted to be, but when family strife and a new baby brother enter the picture, they have to learn how to depend on each other.
I often recommend Telgemeier to students who are unsure about what to read. She offers real issues that kids can relate to and the graphic novel aspect takes away some of the fear or uncertainty for reluctant readers. She also does the Baby Sitters Club graphics, which students love.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncellos’s Library by Chris Grabenstein Middle grade fiction published by Yearling
This book has been on my list for a while and I already started it twice. It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Night at the Museum. The first time I started it was in class but there was a hold on the book and it didn’t seem fair to hang onto it when a kid was waiting for it (I’m exceptionally fair like that). The second time was the same thing, only at home with my own kids. I loved the beginning both times but often start too many books at once and am forced to choose. Since last year was the year of Jaron and Sage because I was addicted to the Jennifer Nielsen’s trilogy, I had to put this one aside. But it’s remained on my list because I know it is going to be fantastic.
Kyle, surprisingly, wins a chance to spend the night in a brand new library, unlike any library ever known. Mr. Lemoncello is a game maker who develops a number of twists and turns in a real life game that Kyle must find a way to escape.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig Middle grade fiction published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
If Adrienne Gear recommends it, I’m likely going to read it at some point. I warn my students every year that you are never too old for picture books. They offer some of the best morals and insights we can find. Picture books also offer students a chance to really utilize the strategies we teach them such as connecting, making pictures in their head, and predicting. The fact that it is a picture book sometimes lessens the anxiety during reading lessons, allowing them to learn and connect in greater ways.
Brian is a boy that no one notices. He never gets included in games, birthday invites, or activities. When Justin comes to his school, Brian is noticed for the first time. Even if the story didn’t sound so wonderful and so connectable, the beautiful pictures would pull me in.
Grimmtastic Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic
Two more authors that I love (the write the Goddess Girl Series and Heroes in Training) have another series, The Grimmtastic Girls. I might be bias because my eleven year old loves these two authors so much and the Goddess Girl series is one of her (and my) absolute favourites. They have a great writing style and their characters are loveable, even when flawed. Obviously, I’m a little behind because when I saw one in Scholastic, I found out there are four so far.
Middle grade fiction published by Little, Brown and Company
A few things make me want to read this one: James Patterson. Chris Grabenstein. And my enjoyment of Hook. Patterson has several books for kids that I see being enjoyed in the classroom. His middle school series is entertaining and my recent venture into the world of swaggering pirates makes me want to take a look at this book.
Diving is part of the Kidd siblings lives. But when their parents going missing, they face the biggest treasure hunt ever: finding them.
Stranded by Jeff Probst Middle grade fiction published by Puffin
Another one that I ordered long ago, I need to finally read this one. I try to find books for the classroom that both the boys and girls will be drawn toward. I want them to see the fun in reading, to see that it just takes one book, the right book, to pull you in and make you a reader. The fact that students know who Jeff Probst is and watch Survivor, intrigues them. We need to find ways to invest them in reading and all it has to offer.
When four new siblings (blended family) get stranded on an island, they must get to know each other, and trust each other, fast. If they want to get home, they need to find a way to work together.
So there you have my TBR pile for the 2014-2015 school year. I should probably get off of the computer and get started. I’m certain I will get distracted by other books that peak my interest, but my goal is to get all of these done by June. What is on your to be read list this year?
The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott. Illustrations by Paul Melecky. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. Kamara suffers from the mean words of a boy at school until her Gramma comforts her and shows her the ancient mirror kept in a back bedroom of her old house. Kamara willingly cleans Gramma's mirror and discovers a magical storytelling window into her own family history. Generations of brave,
The Yeti Files¬†series by Kevin Sherry is just about the best thing EVER! Sherry, who is the author of some very funny picture books that I enjoyed reading out loud at story time when I was a bookseller, is perfectly suited to take the helm of an endeavor like this, in terms of illustration style and sense of humor. And his appreciation of large magical and non-magical creatures. Book 1 of
This book is classic in my mind. I still remember the friend that recommended it to me when I was in junior high-school. ¬†I’m forever grateful to her since I’ve loved the series and Patricia C. Wrede’s books ever since.
Speaking of Patricia C. Wrede, this is one of her new books. I love it. I really want to be best friends with Eff the main character. This book has dragons and tons of other magical creatures. It also has a fun historical element which grounds the story and makes it feel like it really happened.
This is a newer novel as well. It’s well crafted and fun. The dragons in it are different than dragons are normally depicted, and the story… I just can’t get over how much I loved it. I’m excited to read the sequel.¬†
This book is similar to Dealing with Dragons in that the main character is a girl who¬†challenges the status quo by refusing to be a damsel in distress. But the story its self is original and fun. ¬†(I’d say I love it again but I’ve said it a lot already. I do love it though.)
¬†stood under the bridge and clenched my sword tighter. I took a few breaths and tried to relax my hand.
‚ÄúA sword in an iron grip can‚Äôt move.‚ÄĚ Keegan‚Äôs taunt, from the three short weeks he‚Äôd spent training me, rang in my head.
I pushed it from my mind. Here in real life I didn‚Äôt see how a relaxed hand would help. My body trembled. I gripped the sword tighter. Iron grip or not the sword would be more useful in my hand than on the ground.
I put my free hand on the damp bricks, and slowed my breaths.
The trembling stopped. I listened.¬† I tuned out the river and heard It on the bridge above me.
It‚Äôs not a big dragon, about the size of a peasant‚Äôs cottage. I took another deep breath. It‚Äôs not a big dragon, I told myself again. It didn‚Äôt help. It meant if he wanted to eat me he‚Äôd have to do it in pieces rather than all at once.
Don‚Äôt think about being eaten.
I tuned out the water again and listened to the bridge groan every time It took a step. I heard It breathing and It‚Äôs tongue slither in and out.
It tasted the air for a princess taste. I hoped the damp covered my sent.
Thump, creak, It stepped closer.
Ssss, he tasted the air again. ‚ÄúI know you‚Äôre there princess. We killed your parents. Your brother doesn‚Äôt have long for this life and I plan on sending you to join them.‚ÄĚ
It spoke the truth. The dragons killed my parents three weeks ago. Keegan lay sleeping in the castle sick ward with burned leg and missing arm. If It killed me and Keegan died, the dragons could claim these lands, and the people in them.
I gripped my sword with both hands and crouched. Another thunk as he stepped closer to me across the bridge.
I stood, ready for an attack from either side.
Breath in, glance left.
Breath out, glance right.
I saw It‚Äôs shadow above me. It moved. My heart beat. Dragon face in front of me. Time slowed. My death in his eyes. His big dragon mouth opened and heat surrounded me. Keegan‚Äôs training kicked in and my body reacted. I slid to the left¬† and swung my sword, two handed, strait down on his neck. Hot dragon blood splashed my arms. I swung again.
The head fell to the ground at my feet. I took a breath and lowered my arm.
I jumped and yanked the sword back up. The dragon‚Äôs body fell into the shallow river. Water hit my face and arms, cooling the burns from the dragon‚Äôs blood. Steamy fog surrounded me. Still holding my sword ready, I peered through it until I saw It‚Äôs body. No movement.
I killed It.
My body started to tremble again but I controlled it long enough to climb out of the bridge‚Äôs shadow into the sun. I collapsed on the riverbank. My body trembled more. Tears came so I sat up. They gushed up through me and out of my eyes. Unstoppable. I sobbed and sobbed.
‚ÄúPrincess! Princess Nora! Are you okay?‚ÄĚ
Footsteps ran toward me.¬† I turned and wiped my eyes and nose on my sleeve. Bran, our captain of the guard, squatted beside me. He saw my tears and burned arms. His hands, like birds, fluttered around my head and down my arms as he checked for injuries. ‚ÄúAre you harmed princess?¬† I‚Äôll call the doctor.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúBran no, I‚Äôm ok.‚ÄĚ
Bran nodded but looked me up and down once more. I still held my sword in one hand. I had forgotten about it. He took it from me. I let him.
He noticed the dragon. ‚ÄúBy all the saints!‚ÄĚ He took a deep breath. ‚ÄúPrincess, I‚Äôm glad you‚Äôre alright! When we got separated I‚Ä¶ your brother will never forgive me‚Ä¶I‚Äôm glad you‚Äôre alright!‚ÄĚ¬† He ran his hand through his hair and stopped talking.
¬† He sat. Water splashed around the dragon‚Äôs body in front of us. I took deep breaths until my body calmed.
He stood, helped me up, and handed me back my sword.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve driven them back for now, my lady. We‚Äôll have a few days before they attack again.‚ÄĚ He looked at the dead dragon again. ‚ÄúI think we should celebrate tonight.‚ÄĚ
I looked at it too. It was dead. I was alive.¬† I nodded at him. ‚ÄúYes.‚ÄĚ We needed to celebrate this small victory.
We‚Äôd won the battle, but the war had just begun.
Thanks for reading.
If you enjoyed this story share it with your friends.
My family often wonders about my propensity to jump from one seemingly unrelated topic to another, often within seconds. What they usually don't realize is that in my mind, the topics are connected; I've merely forgotten to fill them in on the links.
With that in mind, I offer you three new books on Russia that in my mind, are dramatically different and yet completely complementary. A young adult nonfiction book, a young adult fantasy, and a children's picture book ‚ÄĒa microcosm of Russia in history, magic and dance.
You can read my review or any number of stellar reviews, but I will sum up by saying that whether you listen to the audio book or read the print copy, The Family Romanov is a fully immersive experience into the final years of tsarist Russia - the time, the place, and the tragically doomed family.
I was happily mulling over this excellent book when I immediately received an opportunity to review Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Brilliance Audio, 2014). I had received a galley copy of Egg & Spoon in the spring. I thought it looked intriguing, but hadn't had time to read it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a folklore fantasy that takes place - of all places - in tsarist Russia. I couldn't believe my good fortune. The book was enhanced by my recent reading of The Family Romanov. With the history of modern tsarist Russia fresh in my mind, the location and historical setting was vivid, leaving me more time to ponder the story's underpinning of Russian folklore, of which I was mostly ignorant. I knew little of the witch, Baba Yaga and her peculiar house that walks on chicken legs, and I knew nothing of the magical Russian firebird.
My reviews are linked here and here. Again, you can read my review or any other, but I will sum up by saying that Egg & Spoon is grand and magical - a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.
So there you have it, my serendipitous encounter with Russian history, folklore and culture. As our two countries struggle with our relationship, may we always remember that there is more to a country than its leaders and politicians. There is always us, the common people. And as Egg & Spoon and Firebird will show you, there is always hope.
This morning I have an excerpt and giveaway for By the Magic of Starlight, which is available now!
BY THE MAGIC OF STARLIGHT by Serena Gilley (October 7, 2014; Forever Yours E-Book; $0.99)
Beyond the limits of sight, magical beings live in the Forbidden Realm. The two worlds were once connected, but the desires of man forced their separation. Now, desire may bring them back together . . .
Raea is a fairy with a secret. Beneath a veil of moonlight and mist, she did the unthinkable: shared a night of exquisite passion with Kyne, the fairy-human hybrid whose touch makes her tremble. Now she can’t forget the feel of his hard body and hot kiss against her skin. Their connection is undeniable-and forbidden.
Kyne’s hunger for Raea is insatiable. As a fairy, he should be beyond the lure of lust, but as a man he can’t resist the pleasure only she can provide. Yet if the Fairy Council is correct, their love will unleash a secret with the power to destroy the Realm forever . . .
Serena Gilley grew up reading fantasy and fairy tales, and believing there was a distinct possibility that both of them were real. Somewhere. Even all these years later, Serena’s belief in magic and mystery hasn’t diminished. In fact, She is living out her own happily-ever-after with a handsome prince in a beautiful castle, taming dragons and granting wishes every day. Okay, so the prince is a regular guy, the dragons are really just teenagers, and the wishes she grants are as spectacular as frozen pizza on Friday night, but it’s a fantasy world just the same.
‚ÄúListen,‚ÄĚ Raea said, her voice close behind him as he fluttered down from the tree. ‚ÄúCan you hear that sound?‚ÄĚ
He listened. Yes, there was a sound. It was low, an indistinct hum that he had initially ignored as the usual buzz of a forest at night. But she was right, this was something slightly different. It droned on in too even a tone to be insects or rustling leaves.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs coming from there, where those rocks jut up from the earth,‚ÄĚ he said, pointing.
It was a useless gesture, of course, but she must have found the spot on her own. The brush of her wings began moving in that direction.
‚ÄúIt is. There‚Äôs a dry creek bed just through these shrubs. It looks like we‚Äôre in a valley at the base of a hill. The rocks seem to be covering something.‚ÄĚ
He followed her voice and the droning hum got louder as he approached. Whatever was making the noise clearly was hidden under the rocks. Without some sort of magic, there was no way they were going to get under them to investigate further. He laid his hand on the largest of the rocks and found it to be warm. Too warm to have been hidden here under the forest canopy all day.
‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs making it so hot?‚ÄĚ Raea asked.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know.‚ÄĚ
He moved to the next rock. It was warm, too. How could that be? They seemed to be standard rocks, the same material as any other rocks he might expect to find in this area. What would make them hot to the touch? Were they heated from below?
He moved to another rock and put his hand on it. But this one was soft. And it had breasts.
‚ÄúUm, that‚Äôs not a rock,‚ÄĚ Raea said.
‚ÄúNo. I like this much better than a rock.‚ÄĚ
He jolted when he felt her hand unexpectedly reach for his groin. She made contact and must have intended for that. She giggled, but did not remove her hand.
‚ÄúThis feels something like a rock.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAnd you know why that is,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs because of you, Raea. Even invisible you make me want you so badly.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI know. I feel it, too,‚ÄĚ she whispered, stroking him slowly. ‚ÄúThe protection from the dust must be wearing off. I know we‚Äôre in danger and don‚Äôt have any Sizing Dust, but I can‚Äôt seem to think about anything except you, Kyne.‚ÄĚ
He traced the form of her body, her breasts, the curve at the small of her back, the heated juncture between her legs. He moaned when she pressed herself against him, fisting his cock as if she would drag him to release right here and now. She was up against the warm rock; its weathered, flat surface provided perfect leverage for him to explore every inch of her. He found her lips and he kissed them. Then her neck, then her shoulders, then lower to tease her invisible nipples.
‚ÄúI think I‚Äôm on fire, Kyne. You‚Äôve got to do something, please. Come inside me; I need you.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou know I can‚Äôt do that. But by the Skies, I can do this.‚ÄĚ
He slid down her, his hands skimming her hips and her thighs until his mouth was positioned just right where he wanted to be. He nuzzled her there, burying himself in her scent. Her legs parted and he tasted her core. She groaned in surprised pleasure.
The concept of Dissonance is one I’ve always found interesting, but haven’t read very much of- parallel universes. This book has a very intricate and fresh idea about a world with multiple universes that are based on sound and frequency. In this world there is the primary Key World and an infinite number of other worlds that are created from the choices people make and are populated by alternate versions of people, called Echoes. There are a small number of people who can go between these worlds, called Walkers, who destroy any broken worlds to maintain the Key World. I loved the world of this story. It managed to take a very complicated concept and describe it in a way that wasn’t heavy on the exposition, wasn’t too confusing, and worked well as an intrinsic part of the plot. I loved how the plot was mainly rooted in the mechanics... Read more »
These audiobooks offer intrepid listeners stories of supernatural and psychological suspense, all with vividly evoked settings.
In the world of Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase (first book in the Lockwood & Co. series), ghost-busting firms employ psychically sensitive children to neutralize supernatural pests infesting London. Lucy Carlyle joins an indie agency ‚ÄĒ consisting of Lucy, amiable teenage owner Anthony Lockwood, and sardonic George ‚ÄĒ just before Lockwood accepts a client with a very haunted property. Miranda Raison’s narration imbues Lucy with the right balance of droll humor and compassion for uneasy spirits. Her pacing ratchets up the tension while allowing the teens’ snarky banter room to breathe in this thrilling and funny story. (Listening Library, 10‚Äď14 years)
Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood chronicles life on a remote Scandinavian island‚ÄĒgoing backwards from the future to the distant past ‚ÄĒ through seven related stories. The tales gradually reveal Blessed Island’s dependence on a strange drug and disturbing history of human sacrifice. Each tale centers on two bonded souls, reincarnated variously as family members, lovers, and intergenerational friends, who reunite only to be wrenched apart again. Narrator Julian Rhind-Tutt ably captures the emotional extremes of this unsettling novel: the uncanny recognition and tender reunion of the protagonists; the desperate fear and violence of their community; and the dark machinations of the island itself. (Listening Library, 12‚Äď16 years)
New girl Rose’s sharp edges gradually soften through relationships with classmate Pearl and eccentric dressmaker Edie in Karen Foxlee’s The Midnight Dress. Edie teases out Rose’s past and shares her own as they sew Rose’s (possibly magical) gown for the upcoming harvest festival. Reader Olivia Mackenzie-Smith transports her listener to a specific era and place (1980s coastal Australia) while also imparting the lyrical prose’s dreamy sense of once-upon-a-time. But there’s no happily ever after here: interspersed interludes reveal that one of the girls has disappeared; Mackenzie-Smith gives these interludes an ominous tone as they progress inexorably towards betrayal and tragedy. (Listening Library, 14 years and up)
After a two-year absence due to an accident she can’t remember, Cady returns to the private island where her beautiful, privileged family spends its summers. Relationships (particularly among Cady, her same-age cousins Johnny and Mirren, and family friend Gat) feel oddly strained, and no one will tell Cady what happened the summer of the accident. The pieces of her fragmented memory slowly come together to reveal a truth more devastating than Cady (or the listener) could have imagined. The shocking denouement of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars hits hard ‚ÄĒ and even more so with narrator Ariadne Meyers’s disbelieving, heartbroken delivery. (Listening Library, 14 years and up)
For more on recommended audiobooks from The Horn Book, click on the tag audiobooks. From the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
The lengthy title of Catherine Egan’s third book, The Last Days of Tian Di: Bone, Fog, Ash, and Star, alludes to the depth and complexity that is wrapped up within the story. Like the characters of this book, I felt myself immersed in unfamiliar, amazing worlds, pulled back and forth between them by the common thread: Eliza. A story of friendship, loyalty, strength, and finding the truth, Egan isn’t afraid to make her characters suffer to reach reward. In fact, it is understood and stated that “there is loss and gain with every act”. I think what was most powerful, for me, was the way this book echos life. There are consequences to every action and we do the very best we can at the time, but then we must go from there, from the result of our decisions. It is a heavy burden on the main character’s shoulders, knowing that the choices she makes will lead to her own heavy heart. But I think it is an important message for readers, particularly the young adult ones who are, in some ways, facing a similar journey. At the age of sixteen, they are making choices that feel right at the time, but have long term consequences that need to be weighed and judged. Sometimes, life really is choosing the lesser of two evils and this is a lesson that Eliza faces constantly.
In this third book of her series, Catherine Egan pulls the reader in with intense action right from the start. When Eliza’s friend, Charlie, becomes the victim of an assassination attempt, just as she’s trying to tell him she has feelings for him that go beyond friendship, the reader is immediately hooked. Aside from the action, the magical realism, the vivid imagery that drops you right inside of the book, the characters are connectable.
I realized within the first chapter that I was drawn in because when the first major event happens, I literally gasped out loud. At that point I thought, wow, I already care about the characters and I can totally see the scene. As a writer and a reader, I know that this is not an easy combination to present on the page. From there, Egan takes us on a journey to save her friend that is met with seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Like the title, the story seemed to always have one more tangent. Whether you’re thinking that they cannot possibly escape the next vicious attack or they are finally safe, the reader is constantly surprised. The term magical realism is an interesting one to me: if done poorly, you can distance yourself from the book because it’s fantasy and you know that everything is okay. If done properly, as Egan has done, you can forget that transforming, shape-shifting, and spell-binding aren’t a possibility. I saw the characters as regular teenagers– Eliza with too much responsibility on her young shoulders, Nell with the exam she desperately wanted to ace, and Charlie with the youthful irritation of someone stuck in a situation they cannot control.
Even in the magical, there is a sense of the real: the faeries’ overall disdain of humans, the faery mother who can’t abide by her son, Jalo helping a human because he’s in love with her, the oracle grandmother, saved by the ancients, who shares her knowledge in riddles, the fight for power between the Mancers, and each character trying to choose between good and evil, trying to find their way out of a situation that is bigger than themselves.Through it all, we are reminded, as are the characters, that best laid plans often go astray and the things we truly believe we want and need in life are not necessarily what we end up getting. Accepting that and moving forward anyway is not easy, but it can be done, as Eliza shows us.
In a 1988 interview with David Morgan for Sight and Sound, Terry Gilliam proposed that the most common theme of his movies had been fantasy vs. reality, and that, after the not-entirely-happy endings of Time Bandits and Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen offered the happiness previously denied, a happiness made possible by ‚Äúthe triumph of fantasy‚ÄĚ.
That triumph is not, though, inherently happy. Gilliam‚Äôs occasional happy endings are not so much triumphs of fantasy as they are triumphs of a certain tone. They are the endings that fit the style and subject matter of those particular films. More often than not, his endings are more ambiguous, but fantasy still triumphs. Even poor Sam Lowry in Brazil gets to fly away into permanent delusion. Fantasy is sometimes a torment for Gilliam‚Äôs characters, but it is a torment only in that it is haunted by reality, and reality in Gilliam is a land of pain, injustice, and, perhaps worst of all, ordinariness.
I want to thank and welcome fantastic fantasy author, Carol Browne for sharing her personal writing journey with us on my blog today. Carol‚Äôs book The Exile of Elidel is the first book of a trilogy and can be purchased from Musa Publishing, Amazon, and other on-line bookstores. Bonus: Stay tuned for a chance to win an ecopy of The Exile of Elidel at the end of this post. So let‚Äôs get this interview started‚Ä¶
How long have you been writing, Carol?
I started scribbling when I was about seven years old. From that point on I always wanted to be a ‚Äėproper‚Äô writer. It was a very long time before I achieved that goal ‚Äď we‚Äôre talking nearly five decades!
I feel you, Carol. It sounds like we‚Äôve been on the same path. Where did you get your idea and inspiration to write The Exile of Elindel?
In 1976, I was listening to a jukebox in an English pub when Mike Oldfield‚Äôs In Dulci Jubilo came on. The music conjured up an image in my mind of two fantasy characters who seemed to be nearing the end of some kind of quest. I felt compelled to write their story and find out who they were and what was going to happen to them. I set them in Dark Age Britainbecause Anglo-Saxon had been part of the English degree I had just completed at University and the era appealed to me. I felt I was going with these characters on their adventure, watching as they collected back stories and companions along the way.
What sets The Exile of Elindel apart from other books/series in the same genre?
I have to confess to not being a great reader of the sword-and-sorcery type of fantasy genre, so there‚Äôs little I can compare mine with. I like to think my elves are a bit different, though. They‚Äôre vegetarians and they talk to animals and have tremendous reverence for nature. They would definitely join the Green party if they were around today!
I also like to add humour to lighten the mood. Too much angst and jeopardy can get very tedious. I mixed up the genres a little too. In Book II there is an element of sci-fi as well as fantasy, while in Book III there‚Äôs a good dollop of horror. I‚Äôve added some light romance as well; so something for everyone!
You‚Äôve certainly thought of everyone, Carol! As a fantasy author, what is your writing process?
I write my first draft in longhand and have all my notes and research Blu-tacked to the walls of the room where I work. Once I commit myself to writing something, it is with me all the time so I take a pen and paper out with me in case I get any fresh ideas. I have a housekeeping job and frequently have to stop to jot something down. I hate it when characters start talking to each other in my head. I have to say ‚ÄėShut up! I can‚Äôt write all that down now.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs infuriating that I can‚Äôt set aside regular time slots for writing. I guess I‚Äôll have to hang on till I retire.
Seems like you‚Äôre always prepared when your characters come a-calling! How long did it take for you to start and finish The Exile of Elindel?
That‚Äôs a difficult question! I can‚Äôt remember that far back. (Those files have been deleted!) I do remember the first draft being ENORMOUS. It rambled on forever; more padding than a king-size duvet. I wrote it in the summer of 1977 and spent the next thirty-odd years lugging it around in suitcases, storing it in attics, taking it out to rewrite it and submit to publishers, putting it back in the attic.
Thirty years? Now that‚Äôs dedication! Do you have any advice for other writers striving to write in your genre, Carol?
Use your own original voice and ideas. Don‚Äôt try to be the next Tolkein.
Brilliant advice! Everyone is unique in their own way. So, what‚Äôs next for Carol Browne the author?
The rest of the trilogy will be out next year: Book II, Gateway to Elvendom, in March and Book III, Wyrd‚Äôs End, in December ‚Äď as long as everything goes smoothly with the editing process. Meanwhile, I‚Äôm nearing the end of my work in progress, a paranormal thriller. I recently wrote myself into a corner with this one and so lost a few days while I worked things out. I have discovered over the years that if you are stuck with a plot or character, there‚Äôs always a solution, but it might have to simmer away in the old brain pan for a while before it bobs to the surface.
It sounds like you‚Äôve got your work cut out for you! Okay, here‚Äôs one for me, since I‚Äôm writing a time travel series‚ÄĒIf you could time travel anywhere into Earth‚Äôs past, where would you go and why?
If I could go back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and somehow make sure the Saxons won instead of the Normans, I would. But let‚Äôs be realistic! I have always admired Horatio, Lord Nelson, and I love those old ships of the line. (I stood on board HMS Victory myself during a visit to the Naval Dockyards in Portsmouth a few years ago, and it is a day I will never forget). If I could, I‚Äôd like to go back to the time of the Napoleonic Wars and meet Nelson. I‚Äôd love to know if he was as charismatic as everyone said he was.
Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Sharon. I did enjoy the experience!
Elgiva, a young elf banished from Elvendom, must seek shelter among the Saxons as her only hope of surviving the coming winter.
Godwin, a Briton enslaved by the Saxons, is a man ignorant of his own inheritance and the secret of power he possesses.
A mysterious enemy, who will stop at nothing to wield absolute power over Elvendom, is about to make his move.
When destiny throws Elgiva and Godwin together, they embark upon the quest for the legendary Lorestone, the only thing that can save Elvendom from the evil that threatens to destroy it.
There is help to be found along the way from a petulant pony and a timid elf boy but, as the strength of their adversary grows, can Elgiva‚Äôs friends help her to find the Lorestone before it falls into the wrong hands?
Carol Browne first appeared on the planet in 1954. She regards Crewe, Cheshire, as her home town and graduated from NottinghamUniversity in 1976 with an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her dog, Harry, and cockatiel, Sparky, when she‚Äôs not writing fiction, Carol spends her time as a housekeeper, proofreader, and ghost writer in order to pay the bills. Pagan and vegan, Carol believes it is time for a paradigm shift in our attitude to Mother Nature and hopes the days of speciesism are numbered.
ENTER TO WIN: Carol has her magical elfin hat cleaned out and rearing to go. All you have to do is leave a comment along with your contact information, and Carol with add your name into the hat for a chance to win an ecopy of The Exile of Elindel. You have until midnight EST Monday, October 6th2014 to submit your comment, and then POOF‚ÄĒ the magical elfin hat picks the winner! Good luck, everyone!
A Sword and Sorcery children’s fantasy adventure, out now on Kindle!
Zac’s Destiny is a children’s sword and sorcery fantasy novel aimed at the nine years of age to mid teen market.
Zac is a fifteen year old stable boy whose life is turned upside down when he finds himself in the midst of demons, magic and a perilous quest. The land around Albemerle castle is under attack, and the only hope of survival for Zac and the people he loves is to find the great wizard, Aldric.
Men have already died trying.
Strange dreams mark the beginning of Zac‚Äôs life changing events. Armed with a magic sword, ring and crystal, he sets out with a group of soldiers to find Aldric. Demon attack almost ends Zac‚Äôs quest as soon as it begins.
Zac refuses to give up, and soon finds himself accompanied by unusual travelling companions. Many dangers bar their way. Only Zac‚Äôs determination and the unexpected help he receives can make it possible to find and free Aldric, and return for the final battle to save the land‚Ä¶
New readers love finding series that make them laugh and bring them back for more adventures. These chapter books fill an important step in children's reading development. I was excited to hear that author of one of my favorite series, The Buddy Files, has just written a new series: The Haunted Library. I think our 1st and 2nd graders are going love this silly mix of humor, ghosts and mystery.
When the Outside wind blows Kaz away from his home and separates him from his ghost family, it's a scary thing. Kaz finds a new home and discovers a human girl who can see him. It's unsettling at first, but Claire is friendly and reassures Kaz that she can see lots of ghosts. In fact, she has a ghost notebook where she keeps track of all her ghostly sightings!
Kids will have fun learning the ins and outs of Butler's ghost world, but they definitely won't be scared. Damant's cartoonish illustrations emphasize the humor involved, and the friendliness of each character.
Kaz and Claire, from The Haunted Library
Kaz and Claire set out to solve the mystery of the library ghost -- trying to figure out who's turning off the lights and scaring the library patrons. Kaz wonders if it's his lost brother, and Claire wonders if her grandmother knows more than she's letting on.
I especially love the interplay between the simple sentences and the illustrations in this chapter book. As you can see below when Kaz and Claire are chasing another ghost through the library, the illustrations show the action to guide readers in a crucial moment. The words add enough description for readers to add more to their "mental movies", especially helping them understand the characters' emotions.
Enjoy sharing this new series, either as a read aloud with 1st graders who are eager to read more chapter books with you, or with 2nd graders ready to try chapter books on their own.
For more fun, check out the rest of The Haunted Library Blog Tour. Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing Dori Hillestad Butler with some questions my students wanted to know. Come back to see her notebooks, her own haunts and more pictures!
If you're looking for other series I love sharing with 2nd graders, check out these other suggestions:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion.
Abandoning university for a (failed) archaeological dig in the Carpathian Mountains, Abigail Rook, star of William Ritter’s Jackaby, finds herself aboard a ship bound for America. Landing in the town of New Fiddleham in 1892, the young Englishwoman begins working for the remarkable Mr. R. F. Jackaby ‚ÄĒ a detective whose perceptive observations are of the paranormal variety. Right away, they’re hot on the heels of a murderer ‚ÄĒ in the process encountering a banshee, a shape-shifter, and a redcap goblin. It’s a riveting mash-up of mystery and folklore, with vivid details and striking turns of phrase. (Algonquin, 12‚Äď16 years)
In Cat Winters’s The Cure for Dreaming, seventeen-year-old Olivia Mead supports women’s suffrage while her overbearing single father adamantly does not. Dr. Mead hires handsome visiting hypnotist Henri Reverie to set Livie straight about men and women’s proper roles and squelch her ability to argue. But sympathetic Henri hypnotizes Livie to see the way things are ‚ÄĒ not accept them. Livie’s visions, unsettling and surreal as nightmares, end up empowering her in this story about hypnotism and emotional manipulation. (Abrams/Amulet, 12‚Äď16 years)
Twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to a shabby seaside cottage. Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by a young boy’s ghost, while Pat himself has nightmares about a WWI soldier. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by boy ghost Francis, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Celine Kiernan’s storytelling in Into the Grey is confident, powerful, and poetic. The twisting plot involves family love, local history, loyalty, and protectiveness, with a well-drawn cast of characters, energetic drama, and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect. (Candlewick, 12‚Äď16 years)
Sixteen-year-old Cynthia Rothschild’s ordinary junior year goes to hell ‚ÄĒ literally ‚ÄĒ when Cyn and her crush Ryan catch new librarian Mr. Gabriel unmasked with demonic wings and fangs in Michelle Knudsen’s Buffy-esque Evil Librarian. Cyn and Ryan team up to research demon-kind, recruit allies, prepare for a showdown with Mr. G. and co., and put on a damn fine musical production (she’s the tech director, he’s a theater prodigy). Smart, loyal, and witty, Cyn is an engaging heroine. Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy. (Candlewick, 14 years and up)