Category Archives: fiction

Looking for a new fantasy series populated by really unhappy people?

winters promiseWe have a winner!

I don’t usually write about books I don’t like, friends.  Let me just be clear about that up front.  I do like this one, but it’s not likely to make you love humanity more, especially not if you’ve ever been a single woman with friends and family who are trying to marry you off.

Here we have a young woman, Ophelia, who is happily running a museum on her home ark, a sort of sky island.  She’s single and fine with that, even though her family has been trying to line up a husband for her.  Apparently, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter, though, because one day it’s announced she’s being sent to the Pole with an unpleasant man who is disliked by much of the ark population there.  Oh, and they’re leaving right away.  Well, yay!

This one’s a long sucker – 490 pages in the English translation I read.  Apparently, it’s been hugely popular in France and will eventually be a four book series.  It’s gloomy, vicious, and dark, but if you like that kind of thing, you’ll like this.  The characters are interesting, and while the world-building was a little much for me at points, I suspect I had less patience for it than others might, because I spend so much of my time reading middle grade and teen novels.  It’s meaty, but in a nice winter beef stew way.  So, pull out your crock pot and get reading, people.

A Winter’s Promise (Book 1 of The Mirror Visitor) by Christelle Dabos, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle

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Not seeing it does not mean it’s not there

hearts unbrokenWe connect with books in all kinds of ways.

You might think that today high schools would be less outwardly racist and more open to diversity, even in smaller towns, even in flyover country, where I have lived much of my life.  You might think that people would get that having the Indian or a brave be your mascot would finally be passé.  But I’m here to tell you, it’s still out there.  The high school I graduated from still has that mascot, even after multiple attempts to get it changed by groups which include the people it’s somehow now supposed to honor.  It periodically comes up in a Facebook alumni group I follow, mostly by people who are trying to deny that it could ever be taken as offensive or racist, because, you know, that would mean they are racist or offensive and didn’t realize it.  Which is really what this book highlights perfectly.

But — SURPRISE! — this book is not about me.  It’s about witnessing the daily stupidity, offensive behavior, and tiny reminders of other-ness thrown at Louise, as well as the love and support she gets from her family and her culture.   It’s a perfect book, really, because its story is one that’s familiar to everyone – a coming-of-age, trying-to-figure-out-where-you-fit kind of thing.  Because it’s about Louise, however, we see a character we need to see more of – a Native young person in today’s world.

Take a walk in her shoes.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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Light the world

BluecrowneAdventure is never in short supply in Kate Milford’s books.  Whether it’s ghosts and possible treasure (Greenglass House)  or immortal beings and magical powers here, there is always a lot going on, which is perfect for any middle grade reader.  In this fun outing set many, many years before Greenglass House, Lucy Bluecrowne and her half-brother Liao are supposed to be settling down in the newly-built Greenglass House, safe with Liao’s mother as her father heads out to sea again.

But then, bad guys with evil motives show up.  Well, darn it.  (Not really.)  Lucy must be a quick thinker and risk-taker in order to save Liao and herself.  It’s not all action, either.  You see some wonderful and caring relationships – feelings that bubble up and churn and stay constant – which are all nice reminders to kids that some of us find our families in unexpected places.

Bluecrowne:  A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford

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Most electric-est

luLu sneaks up on you.  If you’ve read the others in the Track series by Jason Reynolds (Ghost, Patina, Sunny), you’ll know what I mean.  There you are, reading along, and then something real life unexpected happens and whooomp, you are surprised and yet not surprised, because that is how real life is.

I love this series, and Lu is lightning, light, most electric-est.

Lu by Jason Reynolds, #4 in the Track series

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Upstream mothers and Bluebeard’s treasure

finderskeepersMo LoBeau is one of those fierce, brash, occasionally wrong-headed, middle grade characters who make a little rainy day reading a treat.  She lives in a cozy community of people who love her fiercely despite her faults, along with a few more who are a bit shifty, vinegar-ish, or cranky.  There’s always something going on.

In her previous adventures (Three Times Lucky, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and The Odds of Getting Even), she was solving mysteries with the Desperado Detectives and spending a lot of time thinking about her Upstream Mother, the one who attached newborn Mo to something floaty during a massive storm.  Fortunately for her, Miss Lana and the Colonel came across her and made a home for her in Tupelo Landing.

This time, there’s a pirate treasure to be found, some matchmaking to do, and adventures galore.  (Do you often use the word “galore”?  Really, today’s discourse is lacking without it.) This one isn’t a heavy read or one loaded with social issues or especially deep thoughts.  But that’s ok.  You might just need a break from the real world, and this could be the perfect pirate treasure chest to crack open.

The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage


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Big feelings, big heart

dariusthegreatisnotokaySoulless minions of orthodoxy.  Ah, high school.  Middle school.  Incredibly toxic workplaces. We have them everywhere, even if we are supposed to be in bully-free zones.

Darius is really just trying to live life, doing his after school job with the corporate-mandated greetings, watching Star Trek with a dad who doesn’t understand him, being a Fractional Persian, taking his meds.  He doesn’t think going to Iran to see his dying grandfather will help with any of that, although he suspects there will be some good food and tea there.

There is that and so much more.  He makes a friend, a true friend, a best friend.  Watching him live his life in the new space, we see a whole different Darius unfurl, be tested, doubt himself, love, let go.  Sohrab is one of those friends of the soul we’re lucky to have maybe once or twice in life, and Darius sees that and knows, even in his worst moments, how much that matters.

Reading this book on a gloomy day, I was transported, not just to Iran with Darius and his family, but also through the tricky, painful edges of the way his brain works, back to friends of my youth whose laughter and support helped me through my own tough moments.  Though I can hardly watch the news without feeling despair these days, this sad, joyous, tender, beautiful book manages to end on a note of hope, and that is a gift indeed.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

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Completely ridiculous

mac bDid you ever imagine yourself – back in 3rd or 4th grade – as a spy or a detective or some other cool secret person?  Would you be like Encyclopedia Brown, taking on the neighborhood bullies?  Or would you indulge in a little international intrigue?  Give me a fake passport, a ticket, and some spending money, and, obviously, I’d be on the plane to France.  Tout suite, people.

Clearly Mac Barnett was better connected or luckier than most of us.  The Queen wasn’t seeking out Kansas girls for any of her detecting needs during the Cold War.  But Mac B. picks up the phone one day, and it’s her, The Queen, and the crown jewels are missing.  The President of France will make an appearance, as will the KGB.  It’s completely ridiculous.

Still, jealous as I am, it’s delightful.  Silly.

Mac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett and Mike Lowery

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On the joy of rereading

vango bseSometimes everything annoys me.  Another dystopian teen rebellion.  Erg.  Cozy mystery in a bookstore with a cat and maybe a ghost.  Blech.  Charming small town that comes together to change someone’s life.  Sigh.  Inspirational nonfiction.  No, thank you, no. Sometimes I just cannot read another of any kind of disappointment, and, really, everything is a disappointment.  What I might like on a sunny spring afternoon on my porch becomes a dull retread on a gloomy fall day.

But then there are the favorites.  Where is some Rainbow Rowell or Kathi Appelt?  How about Harry Potter in French or German?  (Yes, I do that FOR FUN.  I fly my book nerd flags, too.  Live with it.)  Or perhaps a little Vango?  Oh yes.  That’s it.vango pwk

What’s beautiful about my absolutely awful memory is that rereading my favorites is such a wonderful experience.  Did I forget about how much I loved Ethel?  Or that mysterious priest?  Or even the bell ringer and the abbess?  You bet!  It’s like a whole new book every time.   Either I find something I forgot about or some piece that didn’t stand out before is right there in neon this time.  It’s never a disappointment.  Delightful.

The two-book Vango series never gained the kind of popularity in the U.S. it deserved.  There’s action.  There’s history.  There are great characters with mysterious pasts.  Good. Evil.  All of that.  Perfect for a grumpy week in September.  Perfect.

Vango: Between Sky and Earth and Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

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Come for the toast references, stay for the fun

heretics anonymousIt’s been a few days since I finished reading Heretics Anonymous, so I don’t actually remember if there are multiple toast references.  Do I care?  I do not.  The whole cover is one big joke on seeing Jesus or Mary in your toast, so I’m covered.

Michael might be an atheist, but he is not alone in his need to question the Church as it plays out in Catholic high school.  He’s always getting dropped into schools when his dad gets promoted into something else. Maybe it’s teenaged rebellion, maybe it’s wanting to become a female priest, maybe transubstantiation just sounds weird.  There are so many reasons to move outside the box here.

It might be less about faith than the hypocrisy in and around religion.  It might be more about where you find your safe place, your friends, your truth.  Funny.  Lovely.

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

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The wilderness for the unprepared

Whether you end up there because your parent has become a survivalist or maybe you’ve got some wrong-headed idea about redeeming yourself, heading into the wild without planning for it can be a really, really bad idea.

I am Still Here and The Other Side of Lost are completely different kinds of books.  One is full of suspense & menace; the other has cute boys & good tents.  (Not that I’m complaining about cute boys and good tents.  On a long trip, they are both nice to have around.) Both have blisters, bad choices, mistakes, and scary moments that thankfully turn out ok.

I read one after the other, because I was curious about how the theme of surviving the wilderness has kept popping up in the last six months or so on my TBR list.  Fortunately, these two are a good start if you’re going to go past reading Gary Paulsen’s classic, Hatchet.  I am Still Here was maybe a little darker than I was expecting, even though the book flap clearly lays out that Jess is in a crappy situation and wants revenge.  (That sounds like fun!) Mari in The Other Side of Lost is also grieving and in a self-created crappy place, but there are lighter moments with her.  It’s less about the actual trail than her personal journey, I guess.

Are we all just looking for a way to completely disconnect from our overwhelmed lives?  Perhaps, but let’s just hope you choose reading a book and not heading into the wilderness without a plan.

I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby

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