Immersing Yourself in a Fantasy World

goosegirlAnd then there are those sequels I can’t not read.

I just posted about making time for sequels (or not), and then I found myself devouring a complete trilogy in just a couple of weeks. That’s rare enough, but add to that the fact that it was a fantasy story (not my usual genre), and you have something so odd that I thought it deserved its own blog post.

It all started when I wanted to share one of my old favorites with my daughter. Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a fairy tale retelling that I fell in love with years ago. In the story, Princess Ani is on her way to the Kingdom of Bayern where she will marry the prince. Because that’s what princesses do. Various things go wrong that I won’t spoil for you because you should read it for yourself, and Ani finds herself on her own and not sure who to trust.

kissofdeceptionAs I was reading Goose Girl aloud to my ten-year-old, I started thinking about all the stories that start with princesses (or other noble ladies) facing arranged marriages. The librarian in me thought that might make a good list or maybe display, so I decided to see how many I could find. Somewhere along the way, I came across a book called The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson. It sounded interesting.

The SLJ review was pretty glowing: “Romance, adventure, mysticism-this book has it all and it just may be the next YA blockbuster.” So I placed the library hold and waited.

When the book came in eventually, I shrugged. Why did I want to read this again? I couldn’t remember. I hardly ever read fantasy. But I gave it a chance. Why not?

It began rather ominously:

“Today was the day a thousand dreams would die and a single dream would be born. The wind knew. It was the first of June, but cold gusts bit at the hilltop citadelle as fiercely as deepest winter, shaking the windows with curses and winding through drafty halls with warning whispers. There was no escaping what was to come. For good or bad, the hours were closing in.”

Something about the richly descriptive prose or the fascinating world held me captive as a reader. I could hardly put it down. My heart pounded along with Princess Arabella’s as she fled an arranged marriage to someone she’d never met. I was riveted to the pages as she made a new identity for herself, and I stressed big time as I read about the two strangers who arrived in town since I knew what the princess didn’t: one was an assassin sent to kill her and one was the prince she might have married. Unfortunately, neither of us knows which is which for much of the book.

When the book ended, I felt like my interest in the story was far from sated. I needed book two like I’ve never needed a sequel before, maybe ever. The few days it took to get it from the library felt like a lifetime, and once I had my hands on it, I gobbled up the story as fast as I could. I was thrilled to find out that I didn’t have to wait for book three. It was checked in at my library. I was less thrilled to discover that it was nearly 700 pages, but that wasn’t going to stop me from following Princess Lia’s story wherever it took me.

Having finished the trilogy now, I’m left wondering what to do with myself. I’ve spent weeks immersed in this world of destiny, deception, and danger. How will I go on when this story has ended?

At least I still have Goose Girl and its sequels to read with my daughter as she discovers the magic of a story in which a girl makes her own way and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do.

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Perspectives on World War I

summer100 years ago today marks the end of the first world war. In the serendipity that is my library request list, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson appeared on my hold shelf about a week ago. So it was that I found myself reading a story about the outbreak of the war while my community prepared to commemorate its end.

In truth, I had placed my name on the waiting list for the book because it was on an “If you like Downton Abbey…” reading list. And it is indeed Downton Abbey-like in its exploration of the way the war affected a small English town. We don’t get a lot of details about what’s happening abroad. The story focuses on the personal rather than the political aspects of the war. It’s about lack of food in the shops, inability to travel, and changed career plans. But the part of the story that fascinated me the most is the portrayal of women’s lives at the time, especially the twenty-three year-old Latin teacher who struggles to be independent from the oversight of the trustees who manage her inheritance. It was another world in terms of how women were permitted to live, but it was a time of change.

If you like gentle stories full of historical details and wry wit, this is a good choice for you. If you are more interested in an account of the war itself, try Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan, which I wrote about here. Or if you want to read about the American home front, don’t miss one of my favorite books Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen.

On Sequels

atthesignoftrueand.jpgI rarely read sequels. Who has time for that? (Says the person who has also posted about rereading books multiple times just ‘cause.) The truth is that no matter what I say about lack of time, if I really want to read something, I’ll make the time . . .eventually.  If I am being honest, I would say that I rarely bother with sequels because they are usually disappointing.

Usually is not always, of course. I recently reread a book and its sequel that I’d read years ago and wanted to revisit. It turned out that At the Sign of the Star was just okay, in my opinion. I almost skipped reading A True and Faithful Narrative even though I had Inter-Library Loaned both of these books since my library system no longer owned them. But I’m so glad I gave it a chance. A True and Faithful Narrative told Meg’s story as she grew into herself, into the writer she had always imagined herself to be despite the obstacles before her as a female in the 1680s. It was one of those very rare situations where the sequel was actually better than the first book.

All in my own opinion, of course. But there you have it. Not all sequels are terrible. Some of them are even really good.

Other YA sequels you might want to make time for:

thunderhead.jpgThunderhead (sequel to Scythe) by Neal Shusterman – Both Scythe and Thunderhead were rather outside of my usual choices, but I could not put either of them down.  Seriously, if you like dystopian novels that explore ethics and ideas while telling a story that is brutal and compelling, you need to read both of these books. Actually the School Library Journal called Thunderhead, “A rare sequel that is even better than the first book.” I’m not sure I’d go that far myself, but I will say that I will absolutely be reading the third installment as soon as it comes out, which is a super rarity for me.

empress.jpgThe Empress (sequel to The Diabolic) by S.J. Kincaid – Perhaps a bit like Scythe and Thunderhead, this science fiction story explores big ideas (what is personhood, science vs. religion, etc.) in a world that is harsh and full of deception. But here the focus is on the political intrigue at the emperor’s court where Nemesis, a genetically engineered bodyguard, is sent to impersonate a Senator’s daughter to protect her. There are unexpected twists and turns in both books, and by the end of The Empress, I am not even sure what to expect for the third book.

I’m considering reading The Rose and the Dagger (sequel to The Wrath & the Dawn, which is excellent), and I’ve been saying I’ll get around to A Torch Against the Night (sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was an unexpected favorite of mine) for ages.

Sequels I plan to read for kids: Patina and Sunny (sequels to Ghost) by Jason Reynolds. If you have yet to read Ghost, start there. You’ll thank me, I promise.

What other sequels should I be sure to make time for?

Let’s look at the Weather

Look at the Weather by Britta TeckentrupI found this book shelved with the nonfiction picture books at my library. Next to books offering information about weather for preschoolers and young children. This 100+ page volume stood out as different from the sea of 32 page picture books. At a glance, I thought perhaps it might be misshelved. Looking further into the book, I thought perhaps there was no section for this book in my library. No one place it belonged.

It is not quite a picture book, but it contains illustrations on each spread. It is not full of facts about weather so much as it is an invitation to observe and experience the weather as it happens. To reflect and consider. There are more questions in this book than there are facts.

It is not a book that is only for children, by any means. I often say that picture books are for everyone. My fifth grade daughter is probably sick of me reminding her that you never grow out of picture books. This is a book that proves the point. Hand this book to anyone of any age and let them savor the art and the text. It is sure to speak to readers of a far greater variety of ages than will discover it in the nonfiction picture book bins at the library, which is why I share it with you today. Don’t miss this one. Don’t let it sit in the bin and eventually be weeded from your local library. It is far too lovely for that fate.

Hidden Gems at the Library

As I celebrate one year of working for the library, I thought I would highlight one of the perks of the job: discovering hidden gems in the library collection. I already blogged about Through the Barricades, which I came across while browsing the library’s shelves—something I never had time to do as a patron. Others I have discovered while looking at circulation reports and pulling books that haven’t checked out in a long while. Sometimes when you are doing this kind of work, you feel like you understand why a book hasn’t checked out. Maybe it doesn’t look appealing or the description makes it sound a little strange. But there are other books with low circulation numbers that I find myself reading—and enjoying, and I just know that other people would love them too if they found them.

Catlantis by Anna Starobinets, for example, falls into this category. This short book is actually a rather silly story about how cats came to have nine lives. It involves time travel and other magical elements, but it never takes itself too seriously. If you are a kid who appreciates cat-oriented wordplay, this is the book for you.

Speaking of wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor, The Short Con by Pete Toms is another lonely book with few checkouts. It’s a shame, really, because this graphic novel will appeal to grown ups as well as kids. There are pop culture references, cat puns, and just plain weirdness. It’s small, but a lot of fun. I’m glad I found it, and I hope other people do too.

I’m glad it’s part of my job to discover these hidden gems and help them get into the hands of the right readers!

I am a Rereader

When Dimple Met RishiThere are two types of people in the world: people who reread books and people who don’t.

I am a rereader. I probably shouldn’t reread as much as I do considering being widely read is an important part of my job, but sometimes I just want to immerse myself in a familiar story—usually a happy one. Sometimes I’m feeling down or stressed. Sometimes there’s no reason at all. It feels a bit like a guilty pleasure because the books I reread the most happen to be the fluffy ones. If I’m honest, there are times when I feel a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve read my favorite teen romances (Alex Approximately and When Dimple Met Rishi for a couple of specific examples) multiple times. With so little reading time and so many more books I want to read, why give extra time to these books? They aren’t exactly hard-hitting, important stories. At least not in the way that we usually think of “important.”

Plenty of people probably think they aren’t worth reading once, much less multiple times. There are people who only spend their reading time on the books that are Capital I Important. And that’s fine. I’m not here to judge anyone’s reading tastes no matter how much they diverge from mine. There was a time when I would have. There was absolutely a time in my life when I would have judged myself for enjoying fluff. For wanting fluff. Honestly, for needing it sometimes. These days I call it “self care,” and I own it. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with a comfort read–whatever that may be for you.

Lost Girl of Astor StreetIn addition to the teen romances I mentioned above, my next choice for a comfort read is historical fiction. I’ve blogged about my interest in historical fiction often enough that this probably doesn’t surprise anyone. But there is something I find incredibly comforting in getting completely out of your own time period. I have recently reread a couple of favorites: The Lost Girl of Astor Street (historical mystery/romance) and No Shame No Fear (historical/romance), and I can highly recommend both to readers whose tastes run similar to mine. ;)

In conclusion, there are probably way more than those two types of people in the world. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I just like to read my favorite fluffy books whenever I feel like it.

Hello, My Pronouns Are…

Lanyard with pronoun pinI’ve been wearing a pronoun pin on my lanyard at the library for months. Either no one has noticed it, or they just haven’t said anything. I’ll be honest, I expected at least one person to ask why I felt the need to identify “she/her” as my preferred pronouns when I present as female. But no one said anything.

Until this week.

A few days ago a library patron noticed and spoke up. And, to my great relief, it was positive! She expressed appreciation for the way that the pin normalized the idea that pronouns might not be as obvious as we think they are. We talked about our kids growing up in a world where “they” can be singular and about how we can help create an environment of acceptance in our kids’ schools.

The conversation reminded me of something I read in the book Who are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity. In a note to grown-ups at the beginning it says, “Some grown-ups worry that children are too young to talk about gender diversity. But it is all around us. Kids are already talking about it, and you get to decide how you want to be a part of that conversation.”

I’m still learning about what it means to be inclusive in this way, but I’m glad to be part of the conversation both at home and at the library.