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?

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.

History Lessons

Through the Barricades by Denise DeeganIf a book that can be described as “a history lesson” sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, you might like Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan. The story immerses readers in the world of Maggie Gilligan and Daniel Healy as they become friends and find themselves pulled in different directions through war and politics. I’ve read enough history to know a bit about world events during the years that the novel is set (1913-1916), but the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin is not a particularly well known piece of history. At least it wasn’t well known by me.

I first heard of the 1916 Easter Rising while browsing Netflix when I came upon Rebellion. The five-part mini-series follows several fictional characters through the week-long insurrection. It has been criticized for not being terribly historically accurate, but since I’ve nearly exhausted Netflix’s supply of such historical dramas (which I particularly enjoy), I took a chance on it. I was immediately swept up in the drama and curious about what was real and what was invented for the story.

Not long after watching all five episodes of Rebellion, I found Through the Barricades in the teen section of my library. The time period and the premise were enough to entice me, but the chance to see another perspective on the Easter Uprising was the real reason I added it my check outs.

The story starts in 1913 and by the time it got to the Uprising, I’d almost forgotten that that’s what I had been waiting for. At that point, our characters had been through a lot. Well, Daniel had been through a lot as a soldier fighting for the British Army in the Great War. While war stories are not usually my thing—actually I usually steer clear of them—I have to admit it was Daniel’s account of the war that kept me riveted to the pages. I read it quickly and occasionally exclaimed to whoever was nearby how stressful the story was to read. This is the kind of stress that makes me avoid war stories! But it is also the mark of an immersive story.

I added Through the Barricades to my list of YA fiction that is Based on Real People/Events. I seem to read a lot of these sorts of books.  I imagine they don’t appeal to everyone. Not everyone is reading fiction for facts, after all. And that’s probably a good thing.  Probably most fiction readers don’t want a history lesson with their story. For me, though, that is often exactly what I want. I love letting a story give me a feeling for a time period or historical event. I’ll usually look into the facts about the time period  as well, but the story creates a feeling that facts can’t quite get create. Through the Barricades is probably not going to draw in readers who aren’t interested in history, but for hardcore fans of the genre or readers interested in the time period, it’s worth a look.

If you like… Time Travel

If you follow me on Goodreads or other social media, you may have noticed a theme in my reading choices lately. You are not imagining it. I am binge reading time travel novels. This is not a new reading interest, by any means. I did a project on time travel fiction for one of my library school classes eleventy billion years ago, and I will sometimes admit that I have the beginning of a time travel novel of my own creation saved on my computer. I started it years ago, and I always say I’m going to finish it but that’s not what this post is about. Lay off!

Focusing on the matter at hand: If you like time travel fiction, what should you read next? Here are a few newish suggestions:

For Kids: The Time Museum by Matthew Loux is a fun adventure that takes readers all over time in graphic novel format. My daughter enjoyed it and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

For Teens: The Passenger by Alexandra Bracken and Into the Dim by Janet Taylor are very similar stories. Both fall into the “Hey, your mom is secretly a time traveler and in serious danger from a rival faction of time travelers and you will have to rescue her somewhere in time” category. Apparently, that’s a Thing. Who knew? Anyway, both were good, but probably don’t read them back to back like I did or you’ll probably find yourself confusing the details and growing tired of the genre. Tempest by Julie Cross is slightly different in that it’s more of a spy thriller, but still has a secretive parent and possibly evil time travelers with whom the protagonist has to contend.

So which one should you read? If you want plenty of romance in your time travel story: The Passenger. If you want an action-oriented story with a male lead: Tempest. If you want a story that spends a lot of time in the distant past: Into the Dim.

For Adults: If you missed my post about The Jane Austen Project, that’s where you should probably start. That was the book that began this little genre binge of mine, and I recommend it to readers of historical fiction who want something unusual as well as those who, like me, are obsessed with time travel. If you’re more of a mystery/thriller kind of reader, try A Murder in Time by Jill McElwain. It’s the sort of book that I couldn’t put down despite feeling like it was a little bit cheesy. If I’m honest, a bit of cheesiness is part of the fun of time travel stories, at least for me.

Of course, there are as many reasons for reading a particular genre as there are readers. Some people are enamored with the idea of a do-over or want to mull over the paradoxes. For me, it’s the silly anachronisms and the fish-out-of-water elements that make it fun to read. Not to mention: star-crossed love. I can never seem to resist a love story, even if it makes me cry.

Links of interest: