Book Reviews: September 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Just Shy of Outstanding


A note.  It’s been just over a month since my last update to this blog.  For that, I apologize; life just became too chaotic for me to update.  I am beginning now to piece my life back together and regain some semblance of organization and relaxation.  I have had, though, two reviews sitting partially done for a while in my drafts box: this and one more.  These two I want up on the blog sooner rather than later.  I will post them regardless of it being a Tuesday.  Look for Nine Pages to return to its regular schedule soon.

9780670013968Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Meet the latest in Dewdney’s Llama Llama family. Llama Llama is spending a night at his grandparents’ house. After all the fun, when Llama Llama is getting ready for bed, he realizes that he has forgotten his stuffy in his mother’s car, but Grandpa is ready with a beloved stuffy of his own to keep Llama Llama company in the night. Told in the series’ usual singsong rhyme and rhythm and with illustrations I’ve not appreciated enough before, I’ve been able already to put this book into the hands of many grandparents as the perfect gift for grandkids because it is part of a popular series, expresses grandparents’ love for their grandkids, and is new enough that it is unlikely to be a book that the grandkids already have. Just an adorable book, really. It so truly captures the waffling of that first night away from home.


cvr9781442445864_9781442445864_hrOlivia and Grandma’s Visit by Cordelia Evans and illustrated by Shane L. Johnson. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

With Grandparents’ Day falling as it does in September, I suppose it ought to be unsurprising to have two grandparents’ visit-themed books in this roundup, but I admit myself surprised. This one is an older book that I stumbled across only because a grandparent whose grandchild loves Olivia asked about it. This time Grandma is coming to visit Olivia, and Olivia is being told that she must give up her room and share her brother’s for Grandma’s comfort. Olivia is not pleased. She doesn’t want to sleep in her brother’s room. It smells funny, and she thought that she’d get to share with Grandma. She tries several times to get back into her own room, and her insightful Grandma detects her desire and hesitation and invites Olivia back into the bedroom herself, favoring Olivia with an ice cream sundae. Olivia then learns that Mom is always right when she is chased out of her room and into her brother’s by Grandma’s snores. This plot packs in a lot of life lessons: about sharing, about family, about obedience, about trust, about cultivating a positive outlook. Something about it left a niggling doubt in my mind. Maybe I felt that Olivia was somehow rewarded for her attempts to wheedle her way back into her room when Grandma treats her to an ice cream and some special attention. Maybe I felt like not enough time was spent on how she ought to treat her brother or not enough was said about how she was treating her brother poorly. This book is based off of the Olivia TV series, which is an offspring of the original book series by Ian Falconer. I wonder how the plot plays out in a 15-minute episode instead of as a picture book, if these things that bothered me would be dealt with or be dealt with differently so that they bother me less.


9780312515812Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle. Priddy-Macmillan, 2013. First published 2003. Intended audience: Ages 1-4, Grades Pre-K.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? is very much like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written and illustrated by the same pair. It uses the same pattern. The edition that I read uses sliding panels to reveal the animal seen on the next page before turning the page. The sliding panels were a big hit with my young story hour crowd. I’m not sure, however, that the sliding panels actually help tell the story any better. One of my eager listeners, excited to be taking part, kept sliding the panels before I could read the sentences printed on them. The book being written in a certain pattern though, it was easy enough to guess at the text. What might have been fun is to reveal just a bit of the animal on the next page, have my listeners guess or tell me what they could about the animal. This book more than Brown Bear, Brown Bear uses obscure animals: a whooping crane, a macaroni penguin…. Carle’s illustration of the dreaming child was an interesting choice too. The child looks only vaguely humanoid. I would have better believed it to be a moon than a child. By the time we arrived at the dreaming child, though, I’d lost the attention of most of my audience, so no one really batted an eye at it but the parents and I.


20578965Dinosaurumpus! by Tony Mitton and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2014. First published 2002.

This book is a play off of Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance, also illustrated by Parker-Rees. Instead of African animals gathering for a dance, it is a group of dinosaurs meeting in the sludgy old swamp. The text rhymes and repeats the phrase “Shake, shake shudder… near the sludgy old swamp. The dinosaurs are coming. Get ready to romp,” which easily becomes singsong, which is perfect for its dance-themed plot. Given time I’d learn to read the whole of the book in that same cadence. This book is not as easily dance-along as, say, Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, but it has the potential to be dance-along nonetheless with the descriptions of dinosaurs twirling and stomping. There are a lot of onomatopoeias in the text that make it even more fun to read aloud. Some less familiar dinosaurs (like deinosuchus) appear beside the more familiar triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex, so be prepared or prepare to stumble; I did stumble, but I think that I hid it decently. Small facts can be gleaned about the dinosaurs from the text and pictures. The tyrannosaurus does frighten the other dinosaurs and may frighten a few children, but he only wants to dance too. This book I came to read because a young would-be paleontologist asked for a dinosaur book, and I wanted something that would be fun enough to keep the interest of my other listeners but factual enough to please him.



Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. First published in 2008.

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. First published in 2009.

I actually read the sequel to Little Blue Truck first because a child asked me to read it. Maybe because I read it first, I enjoyed Little Blue Truck Leads the Way more than I did Little Blue Truck. Little Blue Truck Leads the Way is a story of taking turns and being kind to one another. Little Blue Truck is a story of being kind and helping one another. In the wake of Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, Little Blue Truck seemed repetitious—but then I know that that should be reversed—that Little Blue Truck Leads the Way repeats the themes of Little Blue Truck without much variation. That being said, there was a little more, I thought, to the plot and to the moral of Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. Little Blue Truck, however, is an animal noise primer, which Little Blue Truck Leads the Way is not. Both books have some onomatopoeias that make the read aloud fun.

***                     ****

25773980Max the Brave by Ed Vere. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015. First published 2014.

Max knows that cats chase mice, but Max isn’t sure what a mouse looks like. A la Are You My Mother? Max asks different characters that he encounters if they are mice. They are not, and the mouse tells Max that he is a monster and that Mouse is asleep just over there. Turning the page reveals an actual monster—big, green, and hairy with sharp teeth in a wide mouth—which Max mistakes for a mouse, antagonizes, and is swallowed by. Afterwards, Max only chases mice, which he has been taught by Mouse are “monsters.” I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed this precious, precocious kitten. I enjoyed a story of a cat that believes it is chasing monsters. But I also recognize, that long term, this book hasn’t really got a lot going for it. It’s a fun book and it will remain a fun book, but I don’t think that it’s original or stand-outish enough that we’ll have many people asking for it or remembering it beyond Barnes & Noble’s promotion of it.


9781770496453Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt. Tundra-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-9.

A fly leaves the sunny outdoors and lands inside “on top of the world” (a globe), but from there he is sucked up by a vacuum and goes through the stages of grief as he believes his life is over. There is a place for this book. This may even be a helpful book for grieving children. When reading it aloud, I skipped the section headings that list the stages of grief, and doing so I think gave the book a better flow and made the book more appropriate for a general audience, making the educational aspect of this picture book more subtle. There are very few books for kids about death or grieving and even fewer of those that deal with the grief in an unobtrusive way or broad way (most will make direct references to death and to grieving and it being okay to grieve), and so I think this is one that I may recommend to customers in the future when they need a book for grieving children. Outside of the context of grieving, this is an odd book and a harder sell. Flies aren’t the sort of protagonists that one readily attaches too (though there is a popular Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold), though Watt does give the fly a bold and memorable and relatable voice, rather like Mo WillemsPigeon. Fly’s dialogue is generously emotive, which makes it fun to read aloud. The illustrations especially I think have some clever details for parents.


These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: Rogues: The Good and the Bad of the Short Stories


roguesA copy of Rogues, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozios, recently followed me home from the library.

I had been introduced to one story from it—Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Lightning Tree”—by a friend during a delightful trip to the ocean. It is sometimes frustrating not to own a piece of fiction that I remember so fondly—both as a piece alone and for its association to those memories—by one of my favorite authors, to not have it readily accessible whenever I’d like its companionship. So first I reread “The Lightning Tree,” a story from the perspective of the Fae Bast, Kvothe’s often truant assistant innkeeper. This story gives us a better grasp on the inhabitants of the village around the Waystone Inn, particularly its younger residents, for whom Bast does favors in exchange for favors, and its women, who excite Bast and whom are excited by Bast. During The Kingkiller Chronicles so far there’s been little mention of children and entrances by only a few characters from the village. The helpful guardian Bast depicted in “The Lightning Tree” is one that I’d like to see more of, even though I recognize that there’s no room for him in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Kvothe may not even know about this side of Bast. I really enjoyed this story for its focus on the children, on their problems—big and little—and its depictions of their different personalities.

Rothfuss’ story is followed in the book by one by George R. R. Martin, “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother,” an excerpt from a history of Prince Daemon Targaryen, whose misadventures along with those of his family lead up to the mysterious dance with dragons. This read like a history, and it was more difficult to get through for that, though the insertions of stories told by the jester Mushroom did help to lighten the tone and the intrigues and romantic trysts were plentiful even in these 32 pages. Pretending myself in Westeros and this book being forced on me by a maester did make it seem more fun. I mean, serious points for accurate tone since a history tome is what Martin claims to be translating here. But while it is really interesting history, I’m just not sure history is what I looked to read—especially since so much of “roguishness” is in a character’s attitude and performance. It’s difficult to make a character in a history textbook seem attractive—and most rogues are by connotation if not definition attractive—or else they are criminals or cads.

I’ve read too little of Neil Gaiman and really ought to rectify that, so I hopped backwards to his story, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” next. Gaiman presents a fantastical, underground London, where each neighborhood more accurately reflects its name, Elephant and Castle being ruled by an elephantine man—not just large, but possessing a trunk and huge elephant ears—and Shepherd’s Bush being ruled by shepherds who turn unwary travelers into mindless sheep whose only desire is to remain a part of the flock. A thief called the Marquis de Carabas loses his coat, he tries to follow it, has to do a favor for a man who has devoted himself to a Mushroom and has mushrooms growing on his moist skin, he is betrayed, his past catches up to him, and his coat ultimately saves him by being so forcefully his. I really enjoyed this world, especially knowing a bit about London, and I enjoyed the Marquis and his brother particularly.

Gwen suggested that I might enjoy Scott Lynch’s short stories even more than his novels and even sent me a link to “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” online without realizing I had my hands on a copy of Rogues. Like Gaiman, Lynch built an interesting fantasy world here. Theradane is ruled by feuding wizards. A thief frightened by the government into retirement gets drunk with retired gang, but their debauchery is interrupted by a monster falling through the ceiling. This thief, Amarelle, goes off and drunkenly rails at one of the wizard rulers, who records her threats, then uses that recording to blackmail Amarelle into stealing a rival wizard’s locus of power—which is an entire street. Three strong female characters, two of them lovers, an automaton, and a government paper-pusher are our protagonists. The story is broken up into chapters for easy reading, and leaves open the possibility of the group returning in more stories of thievery and government overthrow. This was by far the most lighthearted of the short stories I’d yet read in this collection because of its camaraderie, outlandish hijinks, and irreverence.

I’ve heard good things about Joe Abercrombie’s books and have wanted to read some of them, so I went back to the very beginning to read “Tough Times All Over,” with strong females abounding in many positions of power, including thieves and leaders of thieves’ gangs. The genders are actually fairly well balanced here. The story follows not a character but a package across the Venetian city of Sipani, the perspective changing every time the package changes hands. Like Lynch’s here are a pair of female lovers—or would-be lovers if the time and tide allowed. This story I really enjoyed. Short stories make a great canvas for form experimentation, and I think Abercrombie took good advantage of that canvas.

Gillian Flynn’s “What Do You Do?” followed. A female sex worker who does only hand jobs turns aura reader then gets drawn into the employ and into a friendship with a woman whose husband is a regular customer. Though when Susan introduces herself to the narrator it is as the victim of a potential haunting—or the stepmother of a sociopathic son. Flynn leaves open to interpretation the truth of the situation at Carterhook Manor. I didn’t dislike Flynn’s style, but her subject matter—and she deals with the dead with the hurting often (the sole survivor of a ritualistic massacre, a missing woman from a crumbling marriage, a journalist investigating murders)—is raw enough for me to have left a free copy of her novel Dark Places behind. I’m glad to have sampled, but I’m not sure hers are dishes I would order for myself. If you like a bit of fictional darkness more than I do, though, I think I’m ready to recommend Flynn.

For “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” Matthew Hughes has created an interesting world where fantasy and religion meet science in the form of machines meant to leach power from captured minor gods and half-men created by experimentation gone wrong who hunt for ritualistic meals of human flesh. Raffalon did not overly appeal to my sense of feminism, capturing instead the sort of womanizing, self-idolizing rogue that, well, is typical of the fantasy trope. The woman he joins up with proves herself competent but he is desirous of her only because she is the only thing there until a goddess of sexual desire gets hold of them both, transforming her into a more classically sexy woman and him into a more endowed man. I would happily spend more time in the world, but I’m less certain that I’d want to spend that time with Raffalon.

Joe R. Lansdale wrote a short story as an addendum to a series with which I am otherwise unfamiliar. In “Bent Twig,” with his partner Leonard elsewhere, Hap helps a female friend find her missing daughter, a girl who has before fallen into drug abuse and prostitution. This contemporary, sort of rough-and-tumble vigilante detective adventure worked pretty well, I thought, as a standalone. The details in this story were dark too, but Lansdale painted clear black-and-whites where Flynn did not and the distance between myself and the characters was greater in Lansdale’s than Flynn’s. This was a tour down a gritty back alley. Flynn’s was a walk in someone else’s body.

Michael Swanwick’s “Tawny Petticoats” is a con job in a corrupt dystopian future where the U.S. seems to have become wilderness and city-states, but technology is more advanced than at present, which makes me hesitate to call it post-apocalyptic. Our three con artists try to swindle three wealthy marks out of silver and then out of payment for worthless black paper that they believe ready to be made into untraceable counterfeit bills. I was intrigued by the world where debtors and criminals are made zombies via puffer fish poison and humanoid canines are a possibility, but the characters for the most part seemed a bit caricature-ish.

David W. Ball’s “Provenance” took research. His is the story of an aging art dealer, unafraid of an under the table deal every now and again, who finds a missing Caravaggio and goes to sell it to a televangelist. He tells the televangelist the piece’s history, but then sells the same piece to the arms dealer from whom it was stolen. Neither of these though are the original and the art dealer’s story turns out to be the most fascinating of all. The unexpected revelations towards the end of this story are probably its highlight (and I just dropped a few spoilers and for that I apologize).

Carrie Vaughn sets her story “Roaring Twenties” in an underground bar and jazz club that can only be found if one possesses at least a little magic. I was reminded of Taki’s Diner in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, where Shadowhunters and Downworlders mingle and dine—though Gigi’s establishment in Vaughn’s story has much more class. Partners Madame M and the narrator, Pauline, go to the club to speak with the owner, but are left waiting, and while they wait, help a couple of star-crossed lovers escape their warring and dangerous bosses. Vaughn’s prose glitters a bit more than others’ in this anthology (at least than the last few mentioned above, which were all a bit more direct). The story itself is… a bit odd. The protagonists don’t do much but wait and pass the time. The ultimate goal seems to be to prevent a raid on Gigi’s place, which they cannot do, though by being late they are on hand to help minimize the damage. Particularly, the narrator, Pauline, seems to do little. Her job seems to be to keep Madame M safe through sharp observation and a quick mind, almost a Watson to Madame M’s Sherlock, though the metaphor does not hold very well beyond the partnership of the impossibly capable with a less capable but more human partner.

Bradley Denton’s “Bad Brass” is a contemporary piece about the theft and resale of band instruments, a love of music, tangled family histories, and love triangles that get in the way of rational thought. This was a well-executed story. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but the characters are varied and solid, the writing itself was good.

Cherie Priest’s “Heavy Metal” was more poorly executed (though I am struggling to identify what exactly I found offensive in the prose), but I was more on-board for the low fantasy monster-hunter adventure. It took me about two pages to get sucked into this story, but once I was in it, I really enjoyed it. It was almost exactly my cup of tea: monsters plaguing nature activists who are outsiders in a tiny town, monsters fought by old or new gods or both….

By this point in the book (I’d read more than 500 pages of the anthology), I was frankly getting pretty tired of the rogue trope and of short stories too, and Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love” was not doing much to inspire my patience, one protagonist being a melodramatic flop and exiled prince in ridiculous and childish Romeo love/lust. (That being said, “killing” someone to help them is always interesting, and the Sovereign North Bank is an interesting setting, a sort of riverside Tortuga built like an early 19th century city slum and treehouse.)

The rogue is definitely likeable; that is almost implied in the title “rogue” which could easily be replaced by a title with less pleasant connotations like “thief” or “idiot,” “crime lord” or “arrogant snot.” But often the rogue comes too with less likeable personality traits, the type associated with those alternate titles, and often adding “condescending” and “womanizing.” I can only have so much patience for such a character especially when the format in which he is presented doesn’t allow for much character growth or often the portrayal of a broader range of human feeling or action.

Short stories have their place, but I am a novelist and read novels almost exclusively. I like novels because they allow for a broader canvas, a broader range of human experience and a more sweeping plot. Some writers are very good at condensing all of that experience and story into a smaller illustration, but it is a rarer talent. I think a lot of the challenge is in picking a broad enough topic to be interesting and a small enough topic to fit the piece. Alternately, some good short stories read like scenes of a broader piece with the rest of the story being provided by the readers’ imaginations instead of the writer’s, but these scenes have to have an arc, have to have an end and have to have enough of a beginning so as to not throw the reader too jarringly into action. These are thoughts of mine. I am no expert on short stories.

I still had a few days left on my library loan, though, and maybe I’d stumble onto another gem, so I kept reading.

Paul Cornell’s “A Better Way to Die” was next, a science fiction where parallel worlds have been discovered and transportation between the parallels made possible. Some people are harvesting the bodies of younger selves and transplanting their older minds into these younger selves. Some worry that they’ll be replaced by newer models. One person of the latter mindset meets his younger self at a party and they play a card game for the highest stakes—enough to bankrupt their purses and, though neither has spoken it, the chance to survive in this world. The loser storms away and steals the money—or so it seems. In a parallel “heaven” it is revealed that they’ve been set the one to try to kill the other. This is an interesting look at the meaning of self, the influences of time and of circumstance. It’s an interesting warning to future generations who might discover parallel worlds. The science of the story is not very clear, but I don’t think that it really has to be. It’s focus is not on the science, but on the implications and the questions.

Steven Saylor’s “Ill Seen in Tyre” reads like a not particularly well-researched historical fiction—but maybe that’s not fair; I’ve not done the research, but a few details jarred against what I thought I’d remembered from various classes, and that kept me from really investing in this story. A student from the city of Rome—but before Rome becomes an empire, maybe?—is travelling with his teacher, Antipater, a man from Tyre. The story is set in Tyre, described as an old city even now, but a bit of a cultural backwater, taken with folk heroes, whose stories seem chronologically impossible, suggesting that these heroes did not age in 200 years. But these are Antipater’s childhood heroes, and he seeks a book of magic from their adventures. He thinks he has found someone willing to sell him that book. The folk heroes are rogues themselves, but so too are the protagonists tricked by a rogue, and maybe they are rogues themselves. This story taps against the 4th wall, the characters questioning the narrative form and the definition of rogues, so it seemed a decent ending place.

Though I started in on Garth Nix’s “A Cargo of Ivories” too and got enough of a taste to decide that, after a break from rogues, I may want to return to this anthology.

An anthology like this really has its merit in its ability to provide a sampling of authors that a reader might not otherwise encounter or might not follow so easily into a whole novel.  Already, reading his story in this anthology has prompted me to snatch Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King into my hands when I saw it at the local used bookstore.  Only a few of these authors had I read prior to this anthology.  Several other authors here are ones whose works I was familiar with prior to reading this anthology–in at least so far as having handed copies of their books to customers.  Now when a customer asks me about one of these authors I can give a more informed opinion.  Not only will I know whether the author sells, but I’ll have some idea of her style and her subject–and I did not have to devote much time to reading a whole novel by the author to be able to do so.

Rogues.  Ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.  New York: Bantam-Penguin Random, 2014.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Bantam Books, Penguin Random House, any of the contributing authors, or anyone involved in its production. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: An Education (507 words)


She had only heard gunshots at a distance. Sometimes an explosion echoing through a tranquil wood, a wild fire in a distant part of the forest, the question of life or death for sport. Sometimes a sound that might have been a shot or might have been a car backfiring or might have been a transformer blowing and shutting down power to a block that wasn’t hers, something that she had chosen to believe was anything but while the question lingered. Mostly she knew the sound of gunfire from films, depictions of violence after which actors stood up, unhurt, and walked away, blank rounds and a bit of gunpowder to make a light like a firework maybe if the era or the drama called for it.

What news footage she had been forced to witness by well-meaning teachers, she had suppressed or lost to the doldrums of busywork and summers where she didn’t have to learn.

What she knew of gun violence was not firsthand. She knew people who knew people but had never known anyone. She had seen what it had done to those who knew people. She knew enough about human experience from fiction and experience to know what it did to people who knew people, even before she knew people.

She remembered a day in middle school when too many lives had stopped and the world had tilted and flung weeping students into teachers’ arms and shook out flags, when breaths were short and quick, and tumult had come crashing down like airplanes out of the sky, like a set of buildings.

That day seared.

That day years later anytime could still be conjured in stark-shadowed Baroque and flashbulb image. Images and camera footage kept resurfacing on anniversaries and in unexpected places.

That day could still cause horror and anger—anger for the hurt caused, for the hurt that could be caused again by a simple illustration, a brief reminder, for the unthinking reminder.

Then another day. More questions. A lone gunman this time. A gunman in a school. A day that had to be gotten through when others’ days had been ended too soon. Every child a reminder, every parent and child another whiplash, a ghost of a similar embrace lost that day. A tiny town struck silent while a nation, while a world turned eyes that couldn’t yesterday have found it on a map, and a president who could pronounce names like Tehran and Kabul fumbled the name in a speech in a town he would never otherwise have visited.

Now a day. Two dead. One hurt. One running. Questions. Where? Here? A clip unloaded, a clip uploaded, a clip gone viral. Everywhere. CNN? BBC? Everyone talking. What will happen? What did happen? What have you heard? What do you know?

The schools locked down all over. Grief counselors coming into schools because of two people the students never met.

Students too young to understand, and all the parents’ talking. All the news channels showing.

Are they thinking?

What do they remember?

There is an oft quoted and misquoted and misattributed quote: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”  (Quote Investigator attributes this quote to sportscaster Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.)  This is one of those pieces.  It poured out of me after cutting a vein, and I’ve not edited it much sense spilling it onto the page.

And then I made it the legal theft line of the week, a tricky challenge.

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy used the line to write “Shots and Seconds” and made some interesting observations about gunshots.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Succeed” (877 words).

C.C. at Creatures, Critters and Crawlers wrote “Reunion.”

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Making a Name.”

And Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “Robbery” (256 words).

Book Reviews: July and August 2015 Picture Book Roundup


9781419705441_s3Library Mouse: Home Sweet Home by Daniel Kirk. First published 2013 by Abrams.

Apparently Chick-fil-A hands out glossy, magazine-like paperbacks instead of toys with its kids meals? I found a copy of this book discarded and abandoned on the floor, and couldn’t bring myself to just toss it. Library Mouse is a series, and this book is not the first in the series. It was obvious to me that Sam and Sarah’s friendship and backstories have been laid out elsewhere. Sam and Sarah are precious, opposite gendered, platonic friends, something I think lacking too often in literature today (though less often in picture books than in books for older children). The text was a little too focused on education for my tastes, Kirk slipping definitions awkwardly into the friends’ conversations. Those definitions could I think have been given less awkwardly if the wording had seemed more colloquial than textbook or if related words had not been shoved into the conversations: i.e. after using the word and Sarah questioning it, Sam providing the definition of architecture is natural; his defining architect subsequently is not. That being said, I think education was one of Kirk’s end-goals. I liked but wasn’t enamored of the illustrations, which were bright and cleverly detailed, but the characters’ expressions did not translate as well as I would like.


23507512If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-3.

This was a story hour book, and a fairly successful one, though my audience was too young to have much experience at school, and went to a school without show-and-tell to give the book context. With something of an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie pattern, Magnolia tries to keep her alligator from getting her in trouble with the teacher, but his drawings make her laugh during class, and when he gets hungry, he takes a bite out of one child’s thankfully generous afro, and when Magnolia tries to keep his teeth occupied, the bubble gum ends up everywhere. This was a fairly memorable picture book, with humorous text and humorous illustrations. The core text stands alone fairly well from the illustrations (which is helpful for aloud readings), but there is text in the illustrations for expanded readings. It was a good book to introduce some of the rules of classroom behavior and offers some compelling reasons for those rules, making it an especially good classroom read.


9780385391757Busy Penguins by John Schindel and photographs by Jonathan Chester. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2000. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

I was fairly unimpressed by this board book. It consists of photographs of penguins in their natural habitat, and two word sentences describing their actions, including a very memorable picture of a penguin pooping, which I don’t think I really needed rattling around in my mind. I think there are a fair few parents who will feel the same way. It’s possible that this primer might appeal to penguin-lovers, but I sort of feel that that may be its only market. There are other books by the same author for other animals, but I’ve not read them yet nor do I know if they suffer from the similarly memorable photographs.


9780312645212The Crown on Your Head by Nancy Tillman. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2014. First published 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I frankly have come to expect better of Tillman. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You gave Tillman a broad canvas. Here Tillman focuses in on the forehead and suggests that there is an aura of individually which invisibly crowns every person’s head. She tries to turn the book into a call for acceptance of others’ unique quirks, personalities, and differences, and I actually think that that’s where the text went wrong for me. In a quick moment, it went from mushy parent-to-child love to almost preachy universal acceptance by all towards all. While I like the message, I feel like Tillman’s handling of it was more of a fumble. Tillman, though, handles the rhyming verse fairly well, and I like the magical realism of her details both in text and in the illustrations. Tillman’s illustration are as always absolutely, mind-boggling stunning: bright, realistic, whimsical, beautiful, the sort of thing I’d hang in a nursery in a moment (and in fact, I could do). As always Tillman is careful to include diverse races and genders in her illustrations, though here, with bright crowns on their heads, the children’s individual features were washed away even more so than is usual in Tillman’s art. The illustrations earn this book that extra half star.


These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: How To Write Books in a Series–Finally: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword




Bek has proved right, and I owe her a public profession of her correctness. We got together in April, and started somehow or another, in talking about everything and nothing, talking about Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series. I told her I’d sort of fallen out of love and why, and she demanded to know where in the series I’d left off, then proceeded to tell me that the next book—the ninth book, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword—is where Cowell finally brings it all together, mollifying my complaint that the books that have trying to become book in a series have remained a book series instead.

The witch Excellinor returns in How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword with another prophecy about the next king of the Wilderwest. In book 8, the next king was concluded to be either Hiccup or his nemesis, Alvin the Treacherous, Excellinor’s son. Now Excellinor reveals that the king is going to be known by ten objects, eight of which Hiccup already carries with him or has back home on Berk. These objects Hiccup has been collecting since the first book, one of them being a toothless dragon.

I am reminded again of the parallels that could be drawn between this series and J. K. Rowling’s series for a slightly older audience, Harry Potter. Harry late in the series is told that his quest involves collecting six items—Horcruxes—the first of which he encounters by chance in the second book. Hiccup’s books being so much smaller than Harry’s and Hiccup having more objects besides to collect, it is unsurprisingly really that it has taken Hiccup as long as it has to find the objects—though one could yet question why he needs all of these things—or really any of them (other than to appease a prophecy). Moreover J. K. Rowling gives us a whole 750-page book devoted to the organized and intentional search for Horcruxes. Harry searches for Horcruxes in order to be able to destroy a great Evil and the search can be seen only as fairly selfless. A search conducted by Hiccup for ten objects that would cinch him a powerful title and earthly authority could be misconstrued as selfish—even as the stated goals of his kingship (free the dragons, free the slaves) are fairly selfless—making an intentional and willful search for the King’s Lost Things potentially harmful to Hiccup’s image as selfless hero. So while I did get a bit tired of the episodic quests of earlier books, I see now why it was important for the journey to this ninth book to be so drawn out, why Hiccup’s retrieval of the eight objects had to seem so unconnected to a larger goal.

The Slavemark too that Hiccup has kept hidden since book 7 returns to plague our hero and cause the trouble that we were promised that it would, but being revealed when it is, it is even more troublesome for Hiccup, who seemed prior to its revelation to have finally risen above all the tribes’ prejudice and ridicule and seemed to have won out over his nemesis and the over his enemy, the dragon Furious, who has vowed to destroy all humankind.

So here we have, I think, the beginning of the series reading like books in a series instead of a book series—finally. I hope for good things henceforth.

I tore through How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword in just a few days. By the 75th page if not before I was hooked and deeply entrenched in the suspense of the plot.

Cowell continues to experiment with illustration in this book, using a number of styles. Primarily she uses the 19th and early 20th century captioned illustration, which either captures a singular moment with a repeated line of the text or which is a portrait of a particular character or place. A few of the captions of the illustrations enhance rather than repeat the text, adding lines that could be taken as optional, but I chose to believe were instead text themselves, meant to be read in conjunction with the normally formatted text. She again uses just a touch of mixed media, using a photograph of fire in several instances as dragonfire. I actually feel as if this mixed media was less successful than the mixed media she experimented with in book 8, partially because the photograph was more integrated here with the drawing and partially because the infernos that the photograph was meant to represent I think could have been given more oomph with an illustration instead of a photograph of a narrow tongue of flame. That being said, I see what Cowell was trying to do with the photograph. The photograph looks to be more concentrated fire drawn by Cowell because her drawing style is sketchish and her lines loose, where the photograph is layered as reality.


Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 9: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2013.  First published 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Mystic and Rider: Internal and External Journeys as Foreground



I hadn’t read Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider for four years. I’d reread all the other books in the Twelve Houses series at least once before returning to this first book. There’s much to draw me to the Twelve Houses books as I’ve discussed before, but there is something especially compelling to me about the deep friendships between the six primary protagonists. In this first book, those friendships remain unformed for the majority of the book, the six are instead plagued by prejudiced distrust and several brief fights that must be broken up by more level-headed and duty-driven members of the group. It was interesting to revisit this time before their friendship because I had foreknowledge; I know how inseparable this unlikely group becomes. More than that, I know the trials that they will face in the future, and I can see the foreshadowing in their dialogues. I enjoyed laughing and mumbling, “Oh honey, you don’t even know.” I can also enjoy a writer who foreshadows because it shows a plan and it shows forethought (usually).

The exterior action of the plot is concerned with assessing the attitudes of various regions and ranks of a kingdom. The worldviews of a society are the sort of detail that is usually relegated to an emblematic scene or a throwaway line of dialogue or exposition. It’s impressive to see Shinn maintain the readers’ interest in what is so often so condensed and shoved to the background by other writers.

Granted, Shinn supports this plot with a romantic co-plot and the drama of six diverse personalities in prolonged, close quarters.

I think Shinn does a good job of integrating these the internal and external plots so that neither seems to take precedence over the other. It could be read with either or neither as the primary focus.

Shinn also adds a bit of mystery by concealing one character’s background in particular and having another spend the book not trusting her because of that concealment. I never read the story without knowing Senneth’s story, having read the third book in the series first. I suspect though that that mystery helps too to drive the reader through the story.

Shinn writes fantastic characters, all invoking a great deal of empathy. She writes a fantastic, vast, and vivid world. If you haven’t yet been intrigued by my earlier reviews of these books, I advertise them one last time. Beyond this, there are no more books in the series for me to review, so this will be the last you’ll hear of them from me for a while. If you like high fantasy; poetic, solid prose; empathetic characters and stories of close friendships; if you like fantastical romance; if you enjoy a little politics and intrigue and fantastical religion, give these a try.

I’ve grown a bit with these books, and as I’ve grown, I see them differently, but they are only a bit tarnished for being away from a circle of friend and fellow fans. My rankings of them fluctuate a bit with my circumstances. What once I liked least, I think I now like almost best. And these books set the bar for fictional boyfriends very high. I’m glad that I have these books as warm friends’ smiles in my bookcases, and I considering purchasing the series a solid investment for all the times I will pick them up to smile over a scene or ask Shinn’s advice on worldbuilding.


Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book 1: Mystic and Rider. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Sharon Shinn, Ace Books, Berkley Publishing Group, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: A Box of Chocolates Book Tag


This book tag, another challenge from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, (mostly) avoids all forms of superlative, and for that I thank it most unabashedly. I may be able to do another of these at any time without feeling the need to repeat any answers. I’m not saying that I will, just that I appreciate the option. So somehow sans superlatives, I’m much more relaxed about this book tag than I was about the royal court.

The royal court was about characters. This book tag is about books. The pile of books that I’ve encountered is a lot smaller than the community of characters, making this tag a lot easier to complete too.

Chocolate Book Tag


The cover is deceivingly bright and peaceful.

Dark Chocolatea book that covers dark things

One of the darkest books I’ve read in a long while is J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, a modern, realistic social drama that deals with the consequences of poverty, drugs, prostitution, marital discord, family discord, family pressure, social pressure, self-harm, suicide, death of a family and community member, the death of a child, preventable death, guilt, hypocrisy… and that’s just what I remembered off the top of my head since I read it in April of 2014. A quick look at my review reveals that too there’s domestic violence, mental illness, workaholism, and rape.

42717White Chocolatea favorite light-hearted read

There are a few books I keep around just for light reading. One of those is Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment, which is crams clever, absurdist humor into a brief 111 pages with illustrations and chapter divisions.


What will it look like, Tara?

Milk Chocolatea book with a lot of hype right that you’re dying to read

A lot of hype may be a stretch, but there is certainly some hype, especially among the online book review community—or a portion of them. There is not, though, a mainstream book with a lot of hype that I am dying to read right now. Often once a book has garnered a great deal of hype, reading it, as a bookseller, feels more like an obligation that a personal desire. It’s a tricky tightrope. That being said, I am dying to read Tara Sim’s upcoming book, Timekeeper, and not just because she’s a friend and classmate of mine. No cover reveal yet. Certainly no review from me yet. But it is on Goodreads, and it is garnering some notice, as I said, from the bloggers and Tweeters. Timekeeper is expected in Fall 2016. It’s going to be a long wait.

9780312549664Chocolate with a Caramel Centera book that made you feel all warm and gooey on the inside

It really seems as if this question should not be as hard as I’m finding it, but I have been running to my roommate more often than not for “fluff” and not finding much that grabs me among her suggestions. Moreover, because I do have a book review blog, I am often reading books more critically, not giving them the chance sometimes to melt me as effectively. Lastly, I just don’t think I read a lot of fluffy novels, most of them being more the-world-will-end-if-we-don’t adventures. Some of those novels have ooey, gooey scenes or lines, but I would never say that the whole book is mushy. Perhaps the ooiest and gooiest that I can think of it Nancy Tillman’s Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You.

0763666483A Wafer-free Kit-Kat a book that surprised you recently

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of rereading, and it’s sort of difficult to be surprised by a reread—not impossible, mind, just difficult. Most of my surprises lately have been unpleasant—as in “I expected so much more from you!” I don’t really want to promote those. Most of the novels that I’ve read this year have been rereads, continuations on a series, or novels that I expected to like and did like. The picture books that I’ve read I either expected to like and didn’t, or I didn’t anticipate reading (most of my picture books are chosen by Barnes & Noble corporate or are read as I walk them home from wherever a customer has left them). Maybe my best surprise has been Steve Light’s Have You Seen My Dragon? which I sort of expected to like because dragon, but I didn’t anticipate having any educational elements. That it doubled as a primer was a pleasant surprise. Even so, that surprise was in March of this year….

Just a few titles are missing from this picture including I Am a Frog!, Waiting Is Not Easy!, and I Will Take a Nap!

Just a few titles are missing from this picture including I Am a Frog!, Waiting Is Not Easy!, and I Will Take a Nap!

Snickers – a book you’re going NUTS about currently

Or a series? I am always recommending to parents and we are always reading at story hour a book from Mo Willem’s (currently) 23-book Elephant and Piggie series. The kids love them. The booksellers love them. The parents love them. They cover a wealth of kids’ struggles and questions with humorous dialogue and illustrations. They are a lot of fun to read aloud.

percyHot chocolate with cream and marshmallowsa favorite comfort read

Can I have a favorite comfort series too? It used to be Harry Potter, hands down. And I’m still often in the middle of one, but now it takes me a year or more now it seems to read through one Harry Potter book. Things have to be pretty bad indeed before I run to Harry and co. Lately I’ve been running more frequently to one of the five books of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Percy and co. are more likely than Harry and co. to make me laugh. The swift pace tumbles me more quickly and more deeply into Percy’s world than I am tumbled into Harry’s (though whether I ever truly leave Harry’s is a potential debate topic), and when I need a comfort read, I likely want to be transported and quickly from my own world and trouble. Some of Harry’s book are furthermore just long, and if I do get sucked into one of those, I am in for a longer commitment, where I can be fairly confident in easily finishing a Percy Jackson book in a few weeks even if I’m reading slowly.

the-kingkiller-chroniclesA box of chocolatea series that has a bit of everything and a lot of people would really really like it
There is a quiet effort at joint conquest between a co-worker and myself. We find one another whenever we manage to get someone to purchase Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind, first in The Kingkiller Chronicles (a book I honestly am NUTS about as well). It takes very little for me to suggest The Name of the Wind. Primarily, I need to be confronted with a reader of a certain age and a certain openness to fantasy. Usually I am not given enough time argue the literary quality of these books to an anti-fantastist and potentially win a convert (a feat I would consider a great victory), but I think I could make that argument convincingly. The first book in the series I consider more of a bildungsroman than not, making it a great stepping stone into adult fantasy for younger readers (teens, new adults, people who prefer children’s literature for whatever reason but are mature enough to handle the darkness allowed by marketing to an older audience—but no one below age 13 certainly, and probably no one below age 16 or so). There is a clever orphan boy who goes to school and succeeds with his cheek and cleverness, makes friends, upsets teachers, learns magic…. You might find that sort of summary (comfortingly) familiar. Rothfuss’ poetic command and convolution of the English language is stunning—just stunning, musical as his protagonist claims to be. The world-building is top notch, especially as the series goes on and we travel the world and encounter different cultures and races, but I was caught by the detail of his magic system far before we ever left the Commonwealth. There are strong female characters who defy patriarchy (though maybe not with as much success as I could hope, at least in the second book). There is political intrigue, and I’m starting to believe there will be even more of that when we eventually get book 3, The Doors of Stone. There’re romances for those who enjoy that. There are periods of darkness to satisfy those craving dark fantasy. I could go on….

Challenge: Royal Court Book Tag


I wholeheartedly accept this challenge from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, as I said I would do when she first told me about it. I’ve decided that this must exclude picture books and any media besides books—because it is a book tag. I am also assuming this is already an unspoken rule in this game, but I cannot use the same character twice, even as I look over this list and think of how many titles one particular character is owed. (Watch as I destroy the rules!)

These sorts of games are always tricky—not only because they ask me to choose one out of millions of characters that I’ve encountered in more than a quarter of a century, but also because the number of characters that I’ve encountered is so huge, and I have a difficult time combing through all of the possibilities, likely to get waylaid by whomever I’ve encountered most recently.

King and Queen: Your Favorite male and female leads.


This is my favorite illustration of Cimorene, still toting the symbols of femininity while flaunting the strictures of society. And she’s clearly clever.

Let’s talk about how few books there are in my possession with strong, memorable female leads. Really, let’s. (Some of the onus is on me, of course. There are some books here with female leads whom I like but I just don’t love, whom I don’t feel all that close to, or whom for whatever reason were overshadowed by male co-leads.) But it made the answer to this question pretty simple. Queen Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles keeps her title.

Now let’s talk about the plethora of beloved male leads I have to choose from…. But the more I think about it, the more I think my favorite—and by that I mean most beloved—character is Cammon from Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series! He’s a lead from the fourth book, Reader and Raelynx, surely.

Queen Cimorene and King Cammon will do well together and rule most wisely and justly. He may even be a better match for her than her canon husband—Mendenbar.

Royal First Born: the most loyal character

I'm pretty sure Tolkien never did a character sketch, so we'll let New Line decide what Sam looks like.

I’m pretty sure Tolkien never did a character sketch, so we’ll let New Line decide what Sam looks like.

It takes a special kind of loyalty to follow another character and a cause (by one estimate) 2000 miles, straight to the enemy stronghold, all the while being assailed by outside forces, while that character is slowly going mad, growing weak, and being overcome by an Evil Force. So welcome to the royal family, Samwise Gamgee the Brave from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

I would not mind having Sam as heir apparent.

Second Born: the most laid-back character

That's him there in the pointy, starred hat. That drawing's done by his authoress, so I'd reckon it's the nearest to canon we'll get.

That’s him there in the pointy, starred hat. That drawing’s done by his authoress, so I’d reckon it’s the nearest to canon we’ll get.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has a name worthy of royalty. The man has seen a lot, and maybe that’s partially why he seems so laid back when we meet him around the sprightly age of 150. He has his fingers in everything, pulling strings like a puppet master, but he greets every new situation with a great deal of composure—maybe because he’s seen so much that he’s already foreseen this very situation arising. Mid-battle scene the words used to describe him are still “calmly,” “as though he had not a fear in the world, as though nothing had happened to interrupt his stroll up the hall,” and “speaking as lightly as though they were discussing the matter over drinks,” (OotP, 813-814). How a 150-year-old man is the second born son of younger parents is a math problem I will not be answering.

Bonus: If I include TV characters and those TV characters do not need to be recurring, it comes down to a battle between Lily and Moku both from the same episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender: “The Cave of Two Lovers.” I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of mind-altering drugs. But they aren’t fazed by giant skybison, ancient curses, Fire Nation soldiers, or traveling with the Avatar.

Third Born: the most headstrong character

This seems to be the original cover art for Dragonflight, the book in which Lessa is introduced.

This was the original cover art for Dragonflight, the book in which Lessa is introduced.

Headstrong still has a positive or at least loving vibe to it. I can think of a few characters of George R. R. Martin’s who have graduated beyond “headstrong” to maybe “incorrigible.” Ramsay Snow/Bolton, for example, is not sane enough to merit headstrong. But Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series? She’s maybe headstrong, [SPOILER] undermining and disregarding others’ authority first to engineer the downfall of her family’s usurper, then endangering herself and her dragon and by extension the continuation of the dragon species for the survival of dragonriding culture. [END SPOILER] I’d much rather saddle the royal family and the kingdom and the planet with Lessa than Ramsey.

Royal Adviser: most trustworthy character

Ironically enough, Jaron, called for many years Sage, of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy comes to mind here. He won’t tell me what he’s up to and what he’s doing will seem beyond foolish, but I trust that he has the kingdom’s best interests at heart, and what’s more I trust that his ideas will have the outcome that he wants and that the kingdom wants. He’s one who could fall under several tags. That third born is calling his name too…. *Note: I’ve not finished the Ascendance Trilogy yet. Jaron could yet let me down.

Duke and Duchess: your favorite couple.

This is perhaps the only tag of which I’m immediately certain. It’s Cammon and Amalie from Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series! And I’m only certain because I’ve been asked before whom I would consider my OTP. And now the court gossip really has some juicy tidbits. The king has a consort! (It’s potentially possible that a great deal of their merit as my OTP depends on keeping Cammon happy….)

Lady-in-Waiting and Gentleman of the Bedchamber: two characters that take care of those around them.

“Gentleman of the Bedchamber” is an actual, historical title, as it turns out, and yes, the position was roughly equivalent to a lady-in-waiting at least during certain points in history.


I actually like this cover, and my one quibble is that her hair could be lighter, but I can also pretend her white blond hair is reflecting the flames.

Senneth Brassenthwaite from The Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn is remarkably good at being drawn off-mission by the plight of others, and she will literally burn down the town, make herself an object of suspicion and scorn, inconvenience her friends, and cause herself pain to protect another.

Kit Rodriguez from Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series also a few times gets all twisted around, nearly destroyed, nearly driven insane trying to help others: his interventions with Darryl and the Martians Aurilelde and Khretef particularly stand out in my mind….

Secret traitor: least trustworthy character

I’m having a difficult time with this one because a lot of the untrustworthy characters that come to mind, I can figure out, and once I’ve figured out their driving motivations, they become predictable, and then I can at least foresee their betrayal, maybe avoid it. In the wise words of a savvy pirate: “a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly.” Caudicus from Patrick Rothfusssecond book in The Kingkiller Chronicles is dishonest, but I don’t know why. [SPOILER] I still can’t see what he has to gain from killing the Maer. Keeping him weak, sure. That increases Alveron’s reliance on Caudicus and keeps Caudicus paid, but if Caudicus loses his benefactor, and his benefactor dies heirless, what does Caudicus gain? Unless he was in the employ of someone who does stand to gain from the Maer’s death! But I’ll never know. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of the Maer. Unless the king that Kvothe kills is the King of Vint, who would gain by having the Maer dead. [END SPOILER] Nope. Too much supposition there. A possibility to file away for later.

Court Wizard: a whimsical or fun or magical character

I think I’m going to call in the big names here and invite Tom Bombadil from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to court to sing nonsensical songs and work amazing magics with seemingly little effort. He is certainly capricious enough to be whimsical, and I get the feeling that he is more playful than loose-screwed. Of course he is welcome to bring Goldberry.

Royal Fool: the funniest character.

This seems to be the cover from the first printing in 1927.

This seems to be the cover from the first printing in 1927.

At first I could think of almost no character to give this title too, but then I realized there are books that I own that I would qualify as straight humor, and it must be such a book’s hero that claims this title. In those books, it’s mostly the narration that makes the stories funny, really, and of those stories that sprang first to mind only Mr Mulliner narrates his own stories. So Mr Mulliner from P. G. Wodehouse’s books will be my royal fool—bless him. He won’t realize that he’s the fool and perhaps to his face I will call him my storyteller—but the court will know.

Court Gossip: the character most likely to have and spread secrets

I had some fun looking through the foreign covers for one that better showed Kvothe. This is a Finnish cover for The Wise Man's Fear.

I had some fun looking through the foreign covers for one that better showed Kvothe. This is a Finnish cover for Book 2: The Wise Man’s Fear.

There was that time that Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles was gifted with all of the courts’ dirty secrets… and then sold them to an unscrupulous publisher…. He’s an excellent secret-keeper when he wants to be, but he’s also an excellent storyteller and equally excellent at bending those stories to favor whom he wishes.

Attractive Servant: just because every kingdom needs one

Seems only fair to have one of each gender.

There are several female characters who are the embodiment of attractive, who are defined primarily as attractive. Why is the only male embodiment of beauty that I can remember a cupbearer to Zeus, not given more than a line of recorded dialogue telling characters in a taxicab to buckle up? Other male characters are described as attractive, sure, but it’s not their defining characteristic.

I mean, really! This is the first cover printed for Book 1: City of Bones.

But Aphrodite from Rick Riordan’s books (and elsewhere besides) and Felurian from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles are both beauty and sex itself. I suppose they would have to be on the list of most physically attractive characters, but both are really a bit vapid. Kirra Danalustrous from The Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn and Denna of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles also are both described as having similar effects on the men around them as do Aphrodite and Felurian—but neither is vapid.  I wouldn’t mind having either at court.  Neither would be likely to stay very long in my employ, both being wanderers, but they both might wander back to the castle every so often.

I’d also like to invite Jace from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series to be in attendance. He won’t like being a servant either, but I would like looking at him, and I’d let him snark the royal court since that is a great deal of his charm.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Unasked (861 words)


From a distance, no one would be able to tell that the towel tied over her skirt was not part of the dress. That was easy enough to smuggle to the creek. The soap cake she dropped in her pocket. It was too easy. The trickiest part would be getting down the ladder without loosing the towel from around her waist.

She was halfway down, one hand holding steady the knot that had indeed started to slip from the cotton, when Darryn announced himself with soft footfalls on the hard earthen floor. He spared no time on a greeting, but asked, “Is now a bad time?”

Internally, she cursed him using several of the colorful phrases she’d learnt in the fishing town of her childhood. She could tell him that it was a bad time, tell him to leave. He would do it. But if he ran into Mr. Crowe and Mr. Crowe asked after Talya, Darryn would tell him exactly where to find her—or where he thought Mr. Crowe would find her—in a bathtub that Mr. Crowe would quickly find empty. Darryn was a terrible liar, and Mr. Crowe was like a bloodhound. Asking Darryn to lie might be worse. She could tell him the truth, but he might worry that her actions were just illicit enough to get them both in trouble.

Any way she likely got in trouble.

She got down off the last rung and turned to face him. Truthfully, she said, “It is a bad time.”

The deities hadn’t been good to her, but she would have to hope that someone would watch out for her—just this once.

“I’m sneaking off,” she continued, “and I need you to as well before Mr. Crowe finds you. Before anyone finds you.  Don’t tell Priscilla where I’ve gone either. Don’t tell anyone.”

“You’re sneaking off,” he repeated, “with a towel?”

“Yes.” Her voice snapped more sharply than she’d have liked.

She liked Darryn. He found the good in people and in situations where Talya saw only bad, and he was unwaveringly loyal to those he liked best—Talya among them. He couldn’t lie, so he was honest even if he didn’t want to be, sometimes betraying secrets he hadn’t meant to betray, but always apologizing profusely if he did, so Talya always knew it was not willfully done. Usually he was easygoing, he was always eager to please, and he was not wont to complain—or if he did complain, it was because he sought to protect, because he saw dangers.

To soften the harshness of her bark, she explained, “I want a bath. But I don’t want to haul water, and Mr. Crowe’s forbidden me to use the raincatch water for anything other than drinking water for the animals till after the next rain.”

Darryn frowned. “So you’re going to creek.”

“And I’ll be careful. I’ll go to the forest’s edge.” In fact she planned to venture just beyond the first trees to keep from being spotted, but Darryn feared the woods and wouldn’t want to know that. “Any soap will be washed downstream and away from Evanston. No one needs to know.”

Talya waited while Darryn thought this over. She knew he wouldn’t like it. Technically it was a violation. No one was supposed to use soap in the creek. It had to be clean to drink—but she’d thought of that, found a way to keep her actions from hurting anyone else. Still Darryn wouldn’t want her in trouble—and she could still get in trouble. He would want to stop her, talk her out of it, but he would know that he couldn’t.

“I could come as your lookout. I’d keep my back turned.”

She would trust him to mean to do it too. Watching her, glimpsing her would be another form of violation. He wouldn’t mean to look, but something would startle him, and he’d turn, and somehow she didn’t want him to see.

To soften the refusal she smiled. “No.”

“Then,” he was clearly faltering, coming to the same conclusion she had done: that the best thing that he could do for her was keep out of sight himself until she was safely back.  “Then I’ll get the water for you.”


“You don’t want to haul water, but,” he smiled, “I think the day’s been kinder to me.”  He pointed at her. Dirt, hay, and hair all clung to her sweaty skin and tangled in her mussed braid.

“I can’t ask you to—”

“You’re not asking.” He walked past her and into the storage area at the end of the barn aisle. He emerged with two buckets. Of course he knew where they were. “Find the tub,” he said coming back up the aisle. “Set it up wherever you like. I’ll fill the tub for you and be gone. Leave you to become a girl again or whatever’s hiding under that dirt.”

“Darryn Tvorec, you—” But though she knew many colorful phrases, she couldn’t bring herself to shatter him with the acerbity of any of them.

“You’re welcome,” he called as he headed out the barn doors.

This week, the line stolen was mine.

With it, Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “No Happy Hour Tonight.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Sunrise Kiss” (545 words).

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “A Mom Solution” (259 words).

And welcome to the thieves’ ring C.C., who used the line to write “Not on My Watch,” which you can find on her blog, Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers.

Check back for more posts later.