I will be on a blogging break the remainder of the summer, aside from the occasional pop in for news or updates. My travels will almost span the continent, and include plenty of adventures in and out of books. 😀 I look forward to seeing you all in August!
Have a beautiful, glorious summer, and happy reading!
Before I get to my spotlight, I want to give a huge shout-out to all the great dads out there! Sure, Father’s Day is over…but I think we can spot them one more day. 😉 And to that end, I’m going to share a snippet of a story I read on Neil Gaiman’s blog a billion years ago. I read it back in the day when there were about two blog/journals online, and one of them was his. And I’m pulling this from memory, so if Neil is reading my post (haha) he’ll have to step in and correct any details I get wrong.
So, at the time his youngest daughter was older elementary school aged, or maybe heading into middle school. And on the wall in the halls of her school, there was a picture of Neil Gaimon–her dad. And one day perhaps feeling under the magnifying glass or maybe embarrassed, she took a marker and colored a mustache on her dad’s poster face, or maybe drew glasses. I don’t remember which. The school contacted him kind of embarrassed and looking for direction, and Neil instantly smoothed things over and stood by his daughter being a kid whose dad has a poster on her wall at school, rather than a student defacing the image of a famous author on school property. Then he shared the story (which I’ve probably butchered) on his blog, because he was highly amused by the incident and just chuckling about it. I remember thinking how much this represented why Neil Gaiman is so likable–that even though he’s wildly talented and decently famous and could put on airs if he wanted to, no way would he ever do that. Especially where his child was concerned!
So, here’s to all the dads out there, whether they be famous or not, who roll with the nonsense their kids dish out and live to tell the tale. You’re awesome!
And that makes a decent intro to this week’s spotlight because:
a) it’s one of Neil Gaiman’s books! Wild coincindence, that! lol
b) on the surface this story is about gods and heroes and legends, but underneath…it’s also about family, and a kid living true to his father’s legacy. And I simply loved it!
And you see there Odd, riding on Thor’s back, with Odin kind of behind them, and Loki beside them. Of course, they’re not looking quite like themselves, and that’s Loki’s fault and a driving plot point in the story. You see, the Frost Giants have gotten hold of Thor’s hammer, taken over Asgard, and banished the gods into these animal forms down on Midgard. In order to help them, Odd must show courage, ingenuity, and tenacity, as he overcomes the challenges his crippled leg presents in the frozen world he lives in, and pushes past the limitations others would place on him because he’s only a boy, with a bad leg, and an annoying one at that.
It’s not a super long, twisty story, so I won’t say much about the plot. Just that I loved how the story elements were mined and reused, so the solution flowed organically from the character’s original problems. You’ve probably heard me talk about that before…and I hope you won’t tire of it. I simply love a well plotted book, that grows like a beautiful tree, from the strength of its own roots! It makes my content-editor heart sit up and sing.
I also really appreciated that though Odd’s circumstances have evolved by the end, who he is fundamentally has grown but not been abandoned. The problem of his leg being crushed, which happens at the beginning of the story (almost as pre-story), is a situation which shows you what kind of person Odd is, and the things which make him who he is are not entirely ‘fixed’ at the end. I love that, as too often heroes are seen as becoming less themselves instead of more truly who they are in the process of overcoming their problems. And, in a story which has as its focus a boy who requires a crutch to get around, I think acknowledging the strength which he has within his circumstances is especially important.
So, that’s cool. And of course, Neil’s writing is as fluid as ever. One of the things I love about his books which I love–admitting that he’s written a couple which didn’t work for me–is that you always have the feeling that each word was placed just so, because it was the right word to go there. He doesn’t do any of this toss-it-together-and-see-what-shakes-out stuff that so many writers do! Since I write super fast and suspect I fall in the later category of shake and bake writing, I appreciate the precision he uses and find joy in reading not only his stories, but the words within those stories.
Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
“It made my hungry. For salmon. Do you suppose they ever ate anything else? Also, those gods were generally not terribly bright, and are lucky their enemies weren’t any smarter.”
Mmm, salmon. You know, I think that may be what’s for dinner! As for the gods, I kind of got the feeling they were letting Odd handle this one, but the story reasons that could be the case held together for me. It may have been just a stretch that all Asgard came to a grinding halt, and that only Odd could fix it…but not much of one. In truth, when this story is set beside the rest the Norse myths, it’s even more believable, because most those tales are pretty far-fetched. And in the end, it’s the word pictures and deeper resonance of this story that stays with you, not the probability of the plot.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by the blog of our host, Shannon Messenger. And happy reading!
How do you do amusement parks? Are you someone who dashes from one roller coaster to the next, or would you rather watch the stroller and bag while you munch your hot roasted almonds? If you’re an author, you will find yourself repeatedly tossing aside your cotton candy and climbing on the submission roller coaster, whether you want to or not.
Here’s a few tips for how to survive the ride, adapted from something that I wrote up for a former agency sister a few months back, when she was first heading out on submission and feeling a bit green about it. You could say I’ve become a bit hardcore on this roller coaster thing, seeing as how I queried agents for 2-3 years before signing with my first agent, and then endured 2+ years of submissions with her, only to part ways with that agent and–now–once again climb on the querying roller coaster! I’m thankful that I do have one book (my romantic suspense) under contract, so I can remind myself that this whole topsy-turvy thing really can produce books!
If you want to come out with a fierce grin on your face and avoid the dreaded green splatter, these are my suggestions:
1–Ever notice how much easier it is to scream and wave your hands on a roller coaster when other people are doing it, too? This applies to submissions, as well! Find other authors in the same stage you’re at, or only a little further down the path. They can be a bit hard to locate, but having a group like that to hang out with socially is great, because the challenges you’re facing now go way beyond needing help with a manuscript and are hard to explain to someone who’s not in the profession or at this point yet. Picture this conversation:
Friend: “Hey, you look a little tired. How are you doing?
Author: “Doing good, but got another glowing rejection today.”
Friend-who-doesn’t-have-back-story: “Oh, um, is that bad?” To which the author tries to explain that a glowing rejection can be a good thing, because hey, it’s glowing and the editor really wanted it! But of course also stinks, because, rejection!
OR Friend-who’s-been-there: “Oh, man! Those stink! They’re so bitter-sweet, you know?”
And Author feels heard and has warm feelings of being understood.
See how helpful that can be? So, try to find your tribe of authors in the same stage or one similar to where you’re at. If you can’t find an in person group, see if you can spot one online.
BONUS, because this particular section of the roller coaster has steep curves and someone just lost their hat: Once in awhile, remind yourself of all the rejections that world famous bestselling authors received. I know, I know! This will feel like an indulgence, and maybe a tad narcissistic since they’re all so amazing and you’re just you. But you know what? They were noobs once, too, and setbacks happens to the best of us. A little reminder that rejection is part of the process, and not a value statement of your book can really help you survive those sharp turns.
2–Promise yourself you’ll buy that cute little stuffed unicorn if you get on the ride and don’t jump off in the middle. Why the reward? Well, you’d celebrate if you got a contract, right? Probably show up at the nearest ice cream store and tell everyone you were buying a round, sprinkles and extra toppings galore! But when you’re riding the submission roller coaster, getting a contract is beyond your control. In fact–and this is important–the moment where you get a contract is actually a reflection of all the many things you did right up to that point. That’s so crucial to understand that I’m going to bold it and repeat it–the moment where you get a contract is actually a reflection of all the many things you did right up to that point! So instead of waiting and buying everyone in town a giant banana split when your contract finally comes (!!!), isolate those things you did right/will do right to get there, and as you go forward, reward yourself in bite-sized pieces for taking those steps. This can be tricky, because day-to-day life makes it hard to find the rewards, or make time for them, but it’s an important promise to yourself that you will get there.
3–What about that writing thing you’re supposed to be doing? How does that fit into this roller coaster riding? Well…you’ll spend a lot of time standing in line. And when you’re doing that, it’s tempting to focus entirely on how nervous you are about the roller coaster, and how you hope this time you don’t cry and you’ll be brave enough to lift your hands. But you’ve got to take your mind off the roller coaster and focus on your next book. Remember, writing a book is how you got where you are. It’s how you’ll get to the next stage, and the stage after that, and so on. So, one of your daily things you get rewarded for (like the fluffy unicorn, above) should be writing, revising, and working on the next book.
BONUS because this is the part where your stomach falls out of the bottom of the world: If you’re ever feeling blocked, or having a hard time working on the next project–right after a rejection, for example–try telling yourself that this new manuscript is just a writing exercise, for you and a handful of trusted friends. Definitely try not to dwell on the rejection process while writing, since that can really stink up the creative process. Shelter this book as much as your heart requires. It will get its turn out in the world, but right now it’s a baby and needs to be nurtured.
4–What about those pics they take? Should you go look at yours, and allow everyone to see how silly you looked? Because it seems like that will just make working on the new project so much harder. Well, this is the part where you have to use your own judgement. ‘Going to look at roller coaster pics’ in our analogy is attending writing workshops, classes, and reading books on how to help you grow as a writer. There can be times when you’re riding your roller coaster that you can’t face the crowd gathered around the pics, and sometimes its okay if you simply slink off and curl up with your new book baby. However, if you’re noticing a pattern in your rejections…for example, they mention repeatedly that the editor couldn’t quite connect with the story, that might be a description problem, or might mean the information flow was off. And the books and workshops can help with that! Or, the editors might all be saying that they struggled to find the pov character sympathetic, and hooray, that’s also something you can improve in! So addressing these issues can help you feel confident as you move forward with your next project, and of course help you grow since we should always be improving as writers.
Riding the submission roller coaster can be hard. But the good news is, you’ll get better at it! Just give yourself a little love, and recognize it for what it is–a temporary time in your career, which will bring great rewards if you’ll just hang in there! Think of it this way…the only way to truly fail at riding roller coasters is if you refuse to ride.
That’s my advice–to you and to me, as well! What tips or tricks have you found to be useful? Share them in the comments, as I’m always happy to learn!
Oh, and Apricot-kitty? She says we’re all trying too hard. We should sit back, relax, and let life come to us. It’s the cat way, and therefor the best way. But while we’re here, we can leave the ice cream by her bowl.
For the Marvelous Middle Grade roundup of posts, interviews, reviews, spotlights, and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog! And happy reading and writing! 😉
I didn’t get spotlights in on the middle books, but if you want to see my thoughts on book one in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, you can see that spotlight here. As for Neverseen, I pronounce it a smashing success!
This is important to note, because some of the teen readers in my life were less than thrilled with Everblaze. In fact, my daughter was lukewarm on whether she wanted a hard copy of Neverseen or would accept (gasp!) her first paperback in this series. However, her friends who’d already consumed it reassured her, a hardcover was acquired, and eventually she stopped re-reading it and I was able to get my hands on it. So, let it be known–if you were disappointed with Everblaze, you will not be with Neverseen!
So, what are my thoughts on this fourth book in the series? Well, for one thing, I think Shannon did a marvelous job of dovetailing the plot arc and character arcs, which is probably a large part of why the book is so good. For a fourth book in a series, which has been acquiring new characters and picking up extra plot points with each additional book, this is no small thing! In my day job as a content editor, I work with authors on series and it’s HARD to nail that balance! I also think this book did the best to date of taking the series themes and fully exploring them within the arc of the individual book. In Neverseen, the questions which have been raised as to why the Elvish society should be the de facto rulers of the intelligent races, and whether their lofty ideals are truly realized within their own social circles were fully explored through the action and plot. We also got some great insights into the Neverseen organization, and how they in many ways mirror the goals of the Black Swan, albeit going after those goals in a very different way. Both groups recognize the need for change, and both are working to accomplish that change by shaking up the status quo from the inside out.
But, on reading over the above…I do believe I’m making the book sound boring! I can promise that my daughter and her friends are not geeking out over this book because they love the layered effect of the various societal problems, and the way those issues are echoed through the plot. So, what specifically did I love? Well, we finally get to see inside the ‘bad kid’ school, Exillium, which I’ve been curious about from the beginning. And it did not disappoint! In fact, it made me wonder why the elves haven’t forged an army from these kids, because that could be a thing. We also get to see what I can only call water bending (anyone out there fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender?) and also learn about shades, which are elves who can use their shadowvapor in creepy and cool ways. Additionally, we have some fantastic reveals and a couple new kids join the team, to epic effect. Let’s see…what else can I share without totally ruining it for you…fire fighting fire. A sweeping, city crashing wave. Tree houses. Dinosaurs which scream a cyclone hole in the ocean, by way of travel. Traps within traps. Flying shoes. And–argh! The rest would definitely count as spoilers.
I will say just one thing more. There was one reveal which I’ve seen coming since book one (being way too good at predicting these things) and another that I suspected for a couple books now. However, there was another twist which I found deeply poignant and did not see coming at all. It was the kind which will stay with me, however, and made for such a beautiful capstone to the book that I suspect it will always be associated with this series. Lovely, truly lovely.
And, that brings us to Apricot-kitty’s thoughts:
“I liked the pajamas the teens wore, when they stayed in the tree houses, and I still love Mr. Forkle. He’s got the heart of an elf, tenacity of a human, and wisdom of a cat. However, I did not like all the time they spent holding their breath in the water, and I could do without ever again seeing everblaze fire, as well!”
Did you all notice how she took my entire blog post and summed it up in one short paragraph? Times like this…I suspect she’s trying to make me look bad. But then again, maybe she can’t help it, cause she is a cat. 😉
For more Marvelous Middlegrade Monday posts, spotlights, reviews and interviews, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog. And, happy reading!
Memorial Day is about looking back, and honoring all those who’ve sacrificed their lives so that our freedoms and way of life can continue–and that’s something I wholeheartedly support!
But, it’s also an excellent time to look back on our own lives, and on our year. It’s not quite the mid-point of the year, but there’s still been a lot of space between us and those January goals we made. All the way back to January…it seems such a long time ago! This entire year to date has felt a bit like that, for me. Super busy, great creative energy, but I’m pleased to say I’m still on target for my major goal this year to hit 366 written or revised words. And that feels great!
So, I’m going to share with you a little video about my friend Strawberry Man that I created approximately five years ago. Hopefully it will provide a laugh, but I mostly want to celebrate the joy of creativity–in my life and yours.
I’m pretty sure I picked this one up after hearing another MMGMer recommend it. But, it’s been long enough that I can’t remember where it was I heard it! If you see this post, please jump up and down and yell ‘Me, me, it was me!’ so I can thank you properly.
The turtle of Oman is about a little boy, Aref, who doesn’t want to move. He’s fine and happy just where he is, with a polite thank you for asking! However, his parents have decided to go to school in the US for a few years, and the book begins with his father actually catching a flight out. The rest the book is devoted to the last few weeks Aref has in Oman, as he says goodbye to his homeland with a less than willingly outlook. I rather enjoyed it–starting with the gorgeous cover!
Now, the truth is I mentioned having really enjoyed it because I’m going to start with a few things that irked. However, I think most of them were of a personal nature, so I want you to hold in the back of your head the fact that I really enjoyed it–okay? Alright, here goes. First up, the writing vacillated between gorgeous and fluid and so lovely to hear…and seriously klunky. It would have been easier for me to enjoy if it had picked a happy medium and stuck with it, because as is it felt a bit like listening to a kid practicing your favorite classical piece on their beautifully tuned new instrument, and doing a great job aside from their botching the tricky parts. Second, I found the mom a too long suffering. That sounds like a horrible criticism (and maybe it is–I did mention this might be personal!) but it seemed to me like it wouldn’t have ogreized her or damaged Aref if she’d sat him down at some point and said ‘listen, I get that you don’t want to move. You’ve made that very clear, and I won’t tell you how to feel. But, sometimes in life we need to make the choice of being positive even when we don’t get what we want. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to practice that, now, so I’m hereby requiring that you tell me two positive things about your life–including this move–for every three things you complain about, from now on. Deal?’ And Aref could have seen how many great things were still going on in his life, and ‘discovered the new thing’ of being able to see the silver lining around the cloud. But, that’s probably just me! Because, sometimes his unyielding negative perspective got old, and he started sounding like a broken record. So, that–his attitude–was my third thing I didn’t enjoy…even as I recognize that kids are often like that. And, finally, my last irk was that this child’s age/voice was all over the place! Sometimes he seemed six, and sometimes at least ten. I never did figure out approximately what age he was, though I may have missed a clue.
Okay, so that was a fair amount of negative! Usually when I have that many negative things to bring up about a book, I skip it because I’m not really interested in bashing books on here. But, this one kept pulling me along and kept me reading every time my irks added up to wanting to stop. And over time, I fell in love with Oman, and came to have a sneaking suspicion that no one would ever willingly leave Oman and Aref was taking the only reasonable perspective, after all. Since I’m quite sure that’s not true, and it isn’t in fact Eden, that says to me that the book was highly successful in what it set out to do–create a sympathetic character and bring his loves out in such a way that they became my loves.
So, that’s probably the number one reason I think this book belongs in classrooms and on kids bookshelves. Not because it’s the best ever parenting (though it’s true that while his mother may be overly long-suffering, she’s also a saint) or even because I came to realize that Aref’s unique ability to live deeply in the moment and connect strongly to his roots, plus perhaps some fears over living without Siddi while his parents are overly distracted, created in him the deep unwillingness to move that he demonstrates throughout the book. Despite those pluses, the main reason this book got an MMGM spotlight was that it does an amazing job of transporting the reader to what is (for many of us) a totally foreign clime and helped us fall in love with a land that could easily be ‘other.’ Possibly the best job I’ve ever read. There is so much of fear and ignorance in this world. Books that tear those negative views down by growing love and respect in their place should always be cherished. Those are the books we need on our shelves.
And, finally, because Aref’s grandfather–called Siddi–could be the most priceless gem ever brought to life through pen and ink! Would that every child could have a Siddi in their lives. He reminded me of my own Grandpa, whom I loved dearly and always new something about everything and taught me to see my world and love it, too. Only, Siddi is even better than any real Grandpa could be–he’s perfect, actually. The Grandpa mold need never be cast again.
Let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
“Where are the turtles? That’s what I’d like to know. We see just a bit of them, that’s true, and I really enjoyed the falconer and his falcon. But, I’m quite sure I was promised more turtles!”
Like many cats, Apricot doesn’t much care for water, but she does enjoy watching those things such as turtles that do enjoy it. Alas, if readers pick up this book looking for reptiles, they’re going to be disappointed. In this book, Aref is the turtle–metaphorically speaking–in that he’ll be voyaging off in the big world and coming home again, eventually. However…maybe kids will overlook his lack of a hard shell and take up his practice of making lists of those new things he discovers every day. That was another of my favorite things, from the book. And, truly, all of those favorite things added up to much more than the irks! It may not be the kind of book you can’t put down and rush to get back to, but it is the kind of book you’ll be grateful you read.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, interviews, giveaways and reviews, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!
Would you guys think me lacking in perception if I told you that I had no idea this was a graphic novel, til I opened it? I picked it up at the library on a whim, because I liked the cover. I may have flipped it over to glance at the back. But, I suspect I fell prey to the perception which clouds any discussion of graphic novels–the one that says they’re less of a book, or not ‘real’ in the way others are. Which is especially funny, given I’ve tried to push that perception back!
At any rate, here’s the cover that snagged my attention:
I’m glad I picked it up, as I found it to be funny, insightful, and a wonderful fusion of art and story. It reminded me of the point in time when I first came across a picture book that wasn’t just a well-told story with art to accompany it, or an artistically designed book of pictures with text alongside, but a joining of the two mediums to tell a story that could not be told without the other. I think in that case it was my first reading of Where the Wild Things Are, many, many years ago.
This story kind of felt like that–it wasn’t a comic or graphic novel ‘type’ of story, and yet was better off for having been told through this medium.
It’s the story of one Anya, who is Russian but doing her best to forget that. She’s ditched the accent, learned the way of the people, and successfully blending in her high school, if not exactly thriving. Unfortunately, she’s not happy with her blended status, and has picked up some bad habits such as smoking*, incessant negativity, and a healthy dose of truancy.
Then she falls down a hole in the middle of a lonely walk, in the park, and is stuck down there for two days…with no one for company but a ghost, who also fell down the hole some hundred or so years ago. And is still there, obviously. When she gets rescued, the ghost comes with her, and shennanigans ensue.
I’m hoping you’ll get the chance to read it, so that’s all I want to say. There’s little else I can disclose without sharing spoilers. Okay, except this: yes, she gets everything she wants (momentarily), yes, she grows and changes (fulfillingly), and yes, there’s a lovely plot twist that I did NOT see coming!
Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
“An excellent example of wishing for that which you don’t really want, something we cats try to avoid. Except in the matter of cat-nip. And climbing too tall trees. But, really, this is mostly a human concern, as the areas where you two-legs do this are too many to list! Humans would be wise to read and write more books like this one.”
I’m glad Herself was feeling generous today, and ready to admit that cats DO occassionally make this mistake, as well. It’s easy enough to think that our lives can be readily patched up and put in perfect working order if only we had [fill in the blank here], but of course, reality often proves otherwise. Anya’s Ghost did a delightful job of exploring the kind of struggle that usually precedes true change, and why a ‘just fix this’ attitude rarely works!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog!
*And, in the mean time, I’m curious how you guys feel about the portrayal of a teen (albeit high school student) smoking, in a middle grade book. In this case I didn’t have a problem with it, but I’m very interested to hear what you all think!
How would you feel if you had a secret friend, a twin, you hadn’t seen since you were both tiny? What would you do if you had the chance to find that long lost twin? After Sunny Skyland comes across a backpack full of cash–which she makes a reasonable effort of finding an owner for–she makes the decision to embark on a cross country trip and track down her twin. No matter what it takes. Runaway Twin is her story.
The setup of finding a pack back of cash in the woods–cash that no one steps forward to claim, and that isn’t counterfeit or marked by a bank as stolen–is a bit far fetched, and gives a pretty good indicator of how realistic the story that follows will be. But, hey, we’re talking about a story where twins are separated at a super young age and never reunited and where no one makes any effort to figure out where the missing twin is, so how realistic do we really expect this story to be? It’s a teen fantasy, a flight of what if, and as such has several major strengths to recommend it:
It can get kids talking about the assumptions they make about those who are less fortunate–kids they may know who’ve been in ‘the system’ or don’t have a traditional family. If they’re not wearing the latest clothes, and maybe their grades aren’t as good, what are the strengths they do have? What are the ways their life experiences have (perhaps) helped them grow? Valuing each person for their own unique strengths is one of the first signs of true maturity.
It can help kids think about priorities, and the way that wanting to impress someone else–even your parents–can lead to poor choices.
It provides great insights into a perspective of entitlement, and the way that such an outlook can sour a person on their life and rob them of the very blessings/riches they’re accustomed to.
The story does this so well because the author did such a superb job of creating in Sunny a likable, sympathetic character. She’s highly flawed, and makes more than one judgement call that almost gets her killed. But, she’s a brave soul, kind-hearted, and wise beyond her years. She’s also clever, which a character should be whenever they can possibly manage it. This genuine likability on Sunny’s part carries the story past many obvious flaws (including small ones, like the absence of cell phones and presence of pay phones), and left the story thoroughly enjoyable despite its flaws. Rather like Sunny.
Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
“Must you torture me so? Oh, yeah, it’s easy to like Sunny, but what about that dog of hers? He’s so disgusting, and dog-like, and…thoroughly dog-defining. And yet, I would have been sad if she hadn’t found him and they hadn’t cared for each other. Do you see what you’ve done? I’m feeling sympathy for a dog!”
So…I think that’s a loved it, from the kitty? Truly, the author’s great strength was writing a story with characters she made you love, and she did it repeatedly with multiple background characters, in addition to Sunny. Bravo, for that! She also did an excellent job of giving us a twist at the end, which is unusual in these stories but was highly satisfactory.
I do have to add one more caveat…at the very tail end of the book, it’s stated that Sunny will be writing her story for a school essay and titling it The Runaway Twin. If you, like me, hate that kind of ending–since it smashes the veil of believability just when I want to enjoy the close of my book–let your eyes glaze over that bit, and make up whatever final sentence you want. I think you’ll feel the story is worth it.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!
Hello MMGMers and blog readers! Happy last-Monday-in-April, from me and my newest lily, to all of you. What are you planting, lately? Got any gorgeous garden projects coming along?
Today I’m spotlighting a new (to me) series by Jennifer Nielsen, who you may remember as the author of The False Prince series. Picking this one up was an obvious choice, since I loved Sage, who may or may not also be known as Prince Jaron, and adored all three of the Ascendance books–my spotlight’s here.
Mark of the Thief was very different. It’s alternate history, for one thing, since it’s set in a magic-influenced Roman Empire. It’s also not nearly as playful. And the tone and structure are different, too.
That said, different isn’t always bad. In this book, we meet Nic, a boy who has spent the majority of his life a slave in a mine outside of Rome, along with his sister. Their father is dead and long gone. Their mother is possibly alive, but sold away from them years ago. And while Sage had a tough life but felt only marginally affected by it–his natural buoyancy and sense of self seeing him through–Nic’s troubles have been of a much more personal nature, and have deeply impacted his character. He wasn’t dodging a swift kick because he’d cleverly swiped something, as Sage was. He was systematically beaten because he was a slave, and because he refused to obey orders that probably would have killed him. He feared for his life and his sister’s life every day. And he did so with nearly no hope. So, the tone of the story is very different, despite the boys sharing many similarities.
The historic aspects of the book are another plus. While this Rome is very different from the real Rome (as appropriate, given it’s got gryphons and magic) and perhaps not 100% accurate in other respects, the setting can nevertheless provide an excellent way for kids and classrooms to bring this civilization to life. I also thought the book did a great job of accurately reflecting the terrible institution of slavery, the discrepancy between the classes, and the cruelty of the entertainment and blood bath that went on in the Colosseum, while keeping this book a solid middle grade that kids in the older middle school grades can realistically read. That is no easy feat, and I was really impressed with Ms. Nielsen’s handling of some tricky subjects.
However, I’m sure you all can hear the ‘but…’ that’s coming. The problem was, for all this book had its strengths, when compared to the Ascendance triology, it was a disappointment. The voices felt muted, the characters a little more blurred, and the plot and structure a slightly flawed but passable net instead of the expertly knotted and woven masterpiece that we enjoyed in The False Prince and its sequels. That said, I still think most readers would enjoy this book. I certainly did. The key is to head into it with reasonable expectations, and let it stand alone, as its own story. If you do that, then you’ll see Nic’s determination and admire his courage in the face of fear, enjoy the resiliency Aurelia shows, and her kindness to other exposed children, you’ll love the magic of Caesar’s bulla, and revel in the political intricacies of Rome in all its glory. I really think you will!
But, let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:
“Hmph. It was better plotted than The Lighting Thief. If this had been the author’s first book, you’d all be raving about it. You people need to learn to live in the moment a little more, and let each book feed you in its own way. Only humans would let yesterday’s mouse spoil today’s mole.”
It just goes to show that you can’t please everyone because as for me…I’ll pass on eating both mice and moles! Not my thing, even as treasures, but thanks all the same to our ‘generous’ kitty. 😉
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Spotlights, reviews, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog. And, happy reading!
I went digging through my archives for this one, so I could provide you guys with a link to my spotlight on the first book, and was shocked to realize it’s been a full two years since I posted my review of the (then) arc! Time flies when you’re reading books, eh? 😉
You’ll find that spotlight on The Eighth Day here, and I do recommend you begin this series at the beginning, with the first book. I’ll try to avoid spoilers in my spotlight of the sequel, The Inquisitor’s Mark!
I was rather smitten with the first book so my expectations for the second were rather high. In a contrary sense, that may be part of why it took me awhile to get to the second–I just wasn’t sure it would measure up. Of course now I’m kicking myself for waiting…except that this means the third one is out, too! Yay for The Morrigan’s Curse, which has swooped down and settled on the top of my TBR pile!
Okay, so let’s see what I can say about The Inquisitor’s Mark without giving too much away. Dianne Salerni has brought back all our favorite characters–Jax,who is a young transitioner that just learned about the eighth day and was left (when his father died) in the care of a fellow teen…who is himself a descendant of King Arthur, plus Evangeline, who is a descendant of Merlin and key to keeping the spell intact that prevents an ancient prison from busting open and destroying the world–and the world is the same in that a select group of people can ‘transition’ into an eighth day which serves as a prison for some seriously messed up ancient dudes and their descendants. Modern technology doesn’t work in the eighth day unless it’s pre-computer chip, but that doesn’t prevent people from blowing stuff up and pulling out big guns. The science fiction aspects and the fantasy spells are all mixed up in a way that doesn’t seem like it would work, but actually does, and just as in the first one, the pacing is impeccable and the plotting phenomenal.
But, in this book I felt we got to know the characters better, and they live inside my head at the close of this book in a way they didn’t at the end of the first. I loved the first one–loved it, and haven’t quite forgiven the young MG student who borrowed my arc and never gave it back–but I was more enthralled with the adventure, the concept, the epic scale, and just how much fun it was. In this one I felt like all that was there, but I also got to know the characters as they moved and functioned on a human level, inside families and as they navigated relatable human relationships that all of us struggle with.
I also loved–really loved–a certain character who I won’t even name, and how this character’s arc intertwines with Jax’s so that both boys can grow and their changing relationship inform the story theme. Aargh! It’s hard to talk about it and not talk about it, you know? Let’s just say that this quote:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Plays a significant part and shapes the destiny of all the kids, and through them, the book and the story world. And as grand as that sounds, it does so through a regular-style kid doing something any kids in his shoes could do. Even now, I get warm fuzzies thinking about it.
But, let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:
“I made my views pretty clear last time: if I were ever given an Eighth Day, I’d use it to take a very long nap. Preferably in the sunshine. These kids run here and run there til it’s not clear why they’re running any more. Also, that Arthurian kid hasn’t got much sense, getting himself handcuffed like that. He should have known that as soon as he did, all the crazy would come loose and fire off every which way!”
We’ll forget Apricot-kitty’s almost plot slip there, and move on to her sensible suggestion of a nap. That’s something I could go for. And it does make you wonder–if the transitioners are living an extra day every week, wouldn’t they age faster than everyone else? Because aging has to do with wear and tear on the body, right? Perhaps their magic helps them in some way, or maybe the spell does, but I’m a little surprised there isn’t more focus on visits to a super high quality (and restful) spa!
What would you do with an extra day? And if you’d spend it reading, which books would you take with you, assuming you had to carry them?
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, interviews, reviews and giveaways stop by Shannon’s blog, and happy MMGM!