Category Archives: Children’s Fiction

Stories by, about, or for children.

A Tale of Two Castles

Levine, Gail Carson. A Tale of Two Castles (2011).336 Pages. Harper Collins. $16.99*

This review is pre-release: It comes out May 10, 2011

Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite childhood books. My mom gave it to me for Christmas in 1998– she’s big on writing dates in books which are gifts– and I’ve read it so many times that a few pages are loose, the spine is falling to pieces, and it’s stained all over. I’ve got an abiding love for Gail Carson Levine, in part because of Ella Enchanted, and in part because she’s got a knack for writing magical stories which children are guaranteed to love.

Synopsis

Twelve year-old Elodie has just set out on her first adventure, and her first step toward adulthood. It is time for her to head to Two Castles and become an apprentice, though she cannot afford a short apprenticeship, so she must commit to the 10-year “free” term. Despite her parent’s wishes– that she apprentice to a weaver, Elodie seeks out an apprenticeship with the Two Castles mansioners.

Things don’t go according to plan, and Elodie soon finds herself working for the dragon Meenore and brushing up on her skills of “deduction, induction, and common sense.” But something is wrong in Two Castles, and Elodie’s job will not be as easy as it first seemed.

First Lines

Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight. I wept onto her shoulder. She released me while I went on weeping. A tear slipped into the strait through a crack in the wooden dock. Salt water to salt water, a drop of me in the brine that would separate me from home.

Father’s eyes were red. He pulled me into a hug, too. Albin stood to the side a few feet and blew his nose with a honk. He could blow his nose a dozen ways. A hong was the saddest.

Continue reading

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Young Adult Fiction

The King’s Daughter

Martel, Suzanne. The King’s Daughter (1998 ed.) 231 Pages. Groundwood Books. $14.95*

From the Cover

The year is 1672. Eighteen-year-old Jeanne Chatel has just been chosen as a “king’s daughter,” one of the hundreds of young women sent by the French government to become the brides of farmers, soldiers, and trappers in the North American wilderness.

Orphaned at age ten, Jeanne has been raised in a convent. But with her independent spirit, she doesn’t hesitate to the opportunity to go to New France, as Quebec was then known. Wildly romantic, she conjurs up a new life full of adventure.

Upon her arrival in New France, Jeanne’s romantic dreams are soon cast aside, and she learns to be practical and realistic in this wild new country where death stalks the settlers every day. Life is not easy: her new husband is not the dashing military man she has dreamed of, but a trapper with two young children who lives in a small cabin in the woods. Proud and aloof, he is still grief-stricken over the death of his first wife and a child at the hands of the Iroqu0is. Alone much of the time, Jeanne faces danger daily, but the courage and determination that brought her to this wild place never fail her, and she soon learns to be truly at home in her new land.

First Lines

“A king’s daughter! I’m a king’s daughter!”

Closing the parlour door without a sound, as she had been taught, Jeanne repeated the magic words that had just changed her life. Her heart was beating wildly. She pressed both hands to her chest as her thin face relaxed into an unguarded smile.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Secondhand Charm

Berry, Julie. Secondhand Charm (2010). 342 Pages. Bloomsbury. $16.99

From the Cover

Deep in the forest, in a secluded village, a young girl has become known for her unique powers as a healer. Even gypsy charms– mere trinkets when worn by others– seem enchanted when Evie ties them around her neck. The love charm may be especially  potent, since Aidan, the handsome stonemason’s apprentice, has been unusually attentive lately. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next door. She longs to travel to the city, to study at University.

When His Majesty the king pays an unexpected visit for the town’s annual feast day, Evie gets her chance. He awards her a scholarship, and suddenly– accompanied by both Aidan and her best friend, Prissy– Evie is on her way. But this story is no simple fairy tale*. Her journey takes unexpected twists, from the high seas to t he royal palace. And Evie will discover not just intrigue, adventure, and romance, but a most incredible legacy… a magic within herself she is only beginning to understand.

First Lines

“What will you do when school is done, Evie?”

Priscilla peered at me through her thick spectacles. They had the unfortunate effect of making her already watery eyes swim large and fishlike. That didn’t bother me. After eight years as academic rivals at Sister Claire’s school, Priscilla and I had both decided that it was much easier being friends. And what were fish eyes between friends?

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

I am Tama, Lucky Cat

Heinrichs, Wendy & Yoshiko Jaeggi (illustrator). I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend (2011). 32 Pages. Peachtree Publishers. $16.95

This review is pre-release. It is due out August 1, 2011.

When I joined NetGalley.com, I spent ages scouring the books, looking for those which looked interesting. Luckily for me, I found I am Tama, Lucky Cat, fairly quickly. I am big on mythology from around the world– especially Japanese, as I was an East Asian Studies minor– so I was excited to get to see this book early*.

The Story:

Tama the Calico– and therefore Lucky– cat went in search of shelter. She was lucky enough to find a caring monk in a worn down temple. To gain entrance, she sat in front of the doorway with her paw held up in traditional maneki neko pose. She brings happiness to the monk, and one day brings him luck as her beckoning saves a wandering lord. He becomes the patron of her temple, and everyone’s luck improves.

The Illustrations:

The illustrations were well balanced to the story, with soft colors and nice composition. It is the sort of storybook which is mellow enough to make good bedtime reading.

Thoughts:

I’m always excited to see children’s books exploring mythology, especially when they do it well. With lovely illustrations, and simple-but-effective vocabulary, this book manages to convey the story in a way which kids will relate to. In the back of the book is a brief note with some information on the legend, including speculation as to which temple and which lord the legend may be about.

I’ll give this one a solid 4/5; I really liked it, and was impressed, though I was not completely blown away.

____________________________________

* Disclosure: I received my copy free from the publisher through NetGalley.com

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold

The Extra-Ordinary Princess

Ebbit, Carolyn Q. The Extra-Ordinary Princess (2009). 324 Pages. Bloomsbury. $7.99

From the Back Cover:

In the peaceful land of Gossling, there are four princesses. The three older girls are beautiful and talented and very good at everything they do– but not the fourth. Amelia’s unruly red hair, imperfect schoolwork, and disdain for anything prim and proper make her a most unlikely princess.

Then a plague sweeps through the land of Gossling, taking the lives of the girls’ parents. With Amelia’s eldest sister too young to rule, the kingdom is left in the hands of their terrifying uncle, Count Raven. But before Count Raven can cast a spell over them to protect his reign forever, Amelia escapes. Now it seems the fate of her sisters– and the kingdom of Gossling– is in the hands of a girl who will prove she is much more than ordinary.

First Lines:

On the sixth day, the queen lay dying. The afternoon was bright, and the sun peeking through the tightly drawn curtain was strong, though outside the heat of the past ten weeks has broken and it was finally fall.

For four months a terrible illness had spread through the small country of Gossling; it spread quickly through the tiny towns and villages, traveling down the long rivers and over high hills, through the country’s dense forests and into its cities. No scientist, doctor, or scholar knew how the sickness spread or how it might be cured. ….

Thoughts:

If the book had been what was suggested by the back cover, then it might have been brilliant. Indeed, the concept was a solid one; Amelia, youngest of four, struggles with a sense of self, and feelings of inadequacy. Where her sisters are talented, and everything seems effortless to them, Amelia has to work hard. She is not particularly smart, not particularly graceful, and not particularly anything. She is ordinary, and cannot handle her ordinariness.

When the plague comes to the country, Amelia’s parents send her and her sisters away to their summer home in the mountains. Finally, her parents succumb to the disease, leaving Merrill only 7 weeks shy of the 18 years-old that she needs to be in order to rule. Why they could not have disregarded this rule, I do not know. Seven weeks is not so very much difference, frankly.

So anyway, the Evil Uncle comes– you know he’s evil from the beginning, and it only gets more obvious from there. He turns Merrill into a tree, and Lily and Rose into swans. He misses Amelia, because she is still in the summer palace with chicken pox. From here, things take a steep downturn.

Amelia runs off with her friend Henry and her enemy Meg and begins her adventure in a place called the Sunflower Forest. From there, they travel quite a bit, seemingly unperturbed by the forty-day limit they have in which to save her sisters. Eventually, they end up in the Night Forest, a magical place, where Henry is given a prophesy saying that he will save the kingdom (which he never does), and Amelia gets three magical rocks which she can wish on. I put emphasis on the three because she uses it four times. (Once for Henry, once for Meg, twice for different transportation.)

When Amelia and Henry are in the Mountains, they are distressed that there are only three days left, but when they meet their allies after traveling two days, they state that there are 48 hours remaining until the curse becomes permanent.  Time remains an issue through the end of the book, as numbers are simply thrown around “two hours later” “four hours later”, “at two-fifteen in the morning” etc.

On top of all of this, there are many, many fruitless side-plots. Meg is not evil, but spoiled, and she becomes “good”, sort of. Amelia is dyslexic, but it only shows up in one chapter. The plague ends after her parents die, but nobody ever speculates as to its source or purpose, and later in the book, someone mentions checking the progress of the plague. The title “White Queen” is thrown around quite a bit, but at times it seems it is meant to be secret, and at times it seems to be public knowledge. Amelia and her sisters have their own magic, but it rarely manifests itself, except when convenient. Henry is a gardener’s son, but the queen took an interest in him and nursed him herself, making him Amelia’s “milk twin” but this is never really explained.

There is so much going on in this book that at times it seems to lose track of itself, which is unfortunate, because it has a lot of potential. The concept is good, and with a few less distracting side-plots, and some more focus on fixing inconsistencies, it could have actually been a good book. In part, it was the writing, and in part it was the editing which doomed this book to score a 2/5.

5 Comments

Filed under Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy

Wolf Tower

Lee, Tanith. Wolf Tower (1998). 223 Pages. Puffin. $6.99

The Claidi Journals: Book 1

There is the House and Gardens, and then there is the Waste. Claidi is bored and miserable, she serves the awful Lady Jade Leaf, and is trapped by the Rules and Rituals of the House. Should she dare to deviate, speak out, or disregard a Rule or Ritual, she could find herself banished to the Waste.

That isn’t seeming like such a bad fate, at the moment. Especially if she gets to make her escape with the handsome Prince Nemian. What awaits her in the Waste is not what she expected, and Claidi, free at last, learns more about herself and her world with every day.

First Lines:

Yes.

I stole this. This book.

I don’t know why. It looked… nice, I suppose, and nothing has been  nice for years. Well, not often.

It was in h er stationery chest, out of which she sometimes makes us– mostly me– get her a piece of silk paper or thick parchment. Then she doodles a few stupid lines of awful “poetry.” Or a foul painting, like used washing-water in the Maids’ Hall with something dropped in it– lime juice or jam. And then we all have to applaud. “Oh! How clever you are, Lady Jade Leaf. What bright-shining genius!” Because she”s royal. And we are not. Oh no. We couldn’t ever do anything wonderful like that.

Thoughts

Claidi’s world is simultaneously similar to (they have ice cream) and different from (there are still roving bandits and places like the House) our world, which can be tricky to pull off. It is, however, well done.

Claidi herself is a very interesting character; she starts off as a rather meek maid, and grows in determination and personality as her story progresses. At first, things just happen to her, but by the end of the book, she seems ready to make decisions for herself. At times, Claidi is inconsistent; on one page, she says that she is not good at science, on another she talks about the microclimate of the House and how it disrupts storms. But, for the most part, the issues are easily overlooked.

As a whole, with an endearing character who grows into an interesting character, the book is well worth reading. It gets a 4/5.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days (2007). 304 Pages. Bloomsbury. $17.95

The Synopsis:

Unlucky Dashti was hopeful when she learned that she would be lady’s maid to the beautiful Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, her first day of work resulted in her imprisonment in a tower with Lady Saren– they will be there for seven years, or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar. As a contrast to the dark, cruel Lord Khasar, there is Khan Tegus– a man Saren has pledged herself to.

Dashti is resourceful and practical, and has every intention of getting them out of the tower alive, which would be easier if Lady Saren would help. Neither girl has any idea of what awaits them at the end of their time in the tower, and as their food dwindles, they begin to wonder if they will even last that long.

First Lines:

Day 1

My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn’t moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It’s a shame I don’t have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

Thoughts:

Based off of Grimm’s “Maid Maleen,” and set in a Mongolia-esque country, Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti’s story, told in journal form. Dashti is a survivor, and against all odds, she has the determination and character to persevere, which is what makes her interesting. Coupled with that determination, however, is a sense of worthlessness; Dashti honestly feels that she has no value beyond her role as Saren’s servant, and it makes her frustrating, at times.

The world is interesting, Dashti’s voice unique, the entire concept brilliantly executed. Saren can be more than a little frustrating at times, as can Dashti’s self-deprecation, when it is clear that she is worth much more than she knows.

Book of a Thousand Days scores a 4.5/5, because it’s brilliant, but the girls could be frustrating.

I really loved this book, however, and it made me want to pick up Tanith Lee’s Claidi books again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction