Challenge: Legal Theft: We Fought (455 words)


The ground was still frozen when the war started. Though our men were almost all farmers, our village wasn’t spared the conscription. The army took any man with a strong back or strong arms and any man that they thought that they could make strong with training. Boys who hadn’t seen a fourteenth winter were wrested from the arms of weeping mothers, whisked into a wagon or marched off between soldiers. The army conscripted the strongest animals too, oxen to pull carts and wagons and heavy canons, horses for the officers and those who would be cavalry. They took chickens and hogs and some of what was left of the winter’s wheat.

They left the women. They left behind girls and young boys and gray haired men older than fifty.

They left us behind like chicken bones at the end of a meal.

But chicken bones make broth. We could give up or get working, so when the ground began to thaw, we picked ourselves up and got to the farming, same as every year, except now we had fewer hands to labor, it meant longer hours for us all, and we had to do some of what we hadn’t before.

We grew callused as the ground softened. Hands more used to sewing and mending hardened against ash handles of carts and plows, hoes and spades.

As we trundled water from the stream, we tried not to imagine how distant soil, thawing now like ours and ripe for the sowing, was being watered by blood—an enemy’s, a stranger’s, maybe blood from one of our own. What crop would that nurture?

At night we did by firelight the work that might have been done in daylight when the men were here and our hands were not needed sunup to sundown in the fields.  Around the hearths we quietly added patches to knees worn thin from kneeling in on the ground and darned socks that had been worn to holes by long hours behind the plow or walking lines to scare off crows and rats. With no time to tailor new clothes no one minded except Rose that we could all see half her calves below the skirt’s hem.

We fought our own quiet war against our fear and the coming winter and change.

We fought to keep our gardens ripe and our babies plump.

We fought with hoe and plow and spade and dogged determination.

We spilled sweat and only a little blood.

They say war changes a man.

I hoped our men would recognize their women when they returned to us.

I hoped that they’d respect the war we’d been through while they were away, the wounds and scars and pride that we’d won.

The line this week is mine.

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everyone’s Weird wrote “Wars” (330 words).

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “Waiting for Spring.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Long Weeks” (564 words).

Recipe: Chicken-Potato-Pea Soup


This will be a super-quick post for a super-easy recipe–or it was easy for me because I made it with leftovers.

Remember when I made chicken broth?


Well, I took the last container of frozen broth, put in some of the leftover pasty filling, and made soup.  Because what is soup but broth and filling?

I just heated the two leftovers together in a sauce pan.  I started off with the heat on high, to melt and thaw the ingredients quickly, then, once the broth had all liquified, I let the ingredients simmer together until I felt it had been long enough.  Maybe altogether, the soup was on the stove for half an hour.

The most difficult part of the process was breaking the frozen pasty filling into pieces small enough to put into a pot.  Not until I went to put the filling into soup did I realize that putting all of that filling into one gallon-sized Ziploc was maybe not my smartest ever decision because it had frozen into one block of frozen filling.  I ended up swinging the bag into the lip of a concrete stair step a few times to break it into manageable chunks.

So as a postscript to my pasty recipe, maybe put leftovers into smaller bags.  Or keep a concrete step or sledgehammer handy.

DSCN6722The resulting soup was rather like pea-potato soup with chicken and onion.  The peas pretty much liquified when heated and the potatoes had begun to break apart too.  I appreciated this, though, because it added some thickness to the soup, which might otherwise have been pretty brothy.

A little extra salt and pepper was all the soup needed to be delicious.  My roommate and I ate ours with grilled cheese sandwiches, using the soup first as a dunking sauce, and then as soup itself.

All photos are mine.  Click to view them larger.

Recipe: Whatever-You’ve-Got Pasties


Yesterday I wandered into the kitchen around dinnertime and opened the fridge, freezer, and pantry, hoping for something to draw me towards it and make me salivate at the thought. What drew me instead was a memory, though I could not tell you at all why. I had the strongest craving for a pasty, a treat you’ll probably be familiar with if you’ve visited England, where a proud pirate hangs over tiny street corner vendors and the occasional brick and mortar store. There are no pasty shops that I know of in my area. (If there are any especially in Southern Virginia please let me know, but I bet readers would appreciate hearing about pasty shops in other parts of the country too.) Although both recipes that I referenced for this meal were for steak and potato pasties, I knew from my time abroad that pasties come in many flavors (my favorite was actually a pork and apple that seems to have vanished from West Cornwall Pasty Co.’s menu), so I made pasties of whatever I had in the house: frozen store-bought pie dough (because I’m lazy), potatoes (I don’t even know what variety exactly because they were on the discount rack of our local grocery store, labeled merely as $.99 for a package of produce, but they are smaller and had red skins), frozen chicken thighs, a can of peas, and some frozen diced onions. The main recipe that I referenced is one out of Dinah Bucholz’s Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook—the first time I’ve used this book though I’ve had it for some time.  The other is this by Jim of Upper Peninsula Now, which I found because I wanted to hear from someone who used store-bought pie crust.

Because I decided to do this late last night I had most of today to prep it. I took the pie dough out of the freezer last night and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. I did the same to two chicken thighs (one fairly large, one fairly small) this morning.

Around 4:30 PM today, I finely diced three potatoes, one largish, two small, put those in a bowl with the drained can of peas, threw a generous helping of the frozen onion on top of that, and then microwaved the chicken to thaw it a bit more and diced that as finely as I could, adding it to the bowl too. (Note: on raw chicken, a serrated blade is better than a flat-edge, but a good flat-edge does wonders on potatoes. Also note: there is a lot of fat on chicken thighs.) A bit of salt and pepper was added to the mix even though those are the recommended spices for steak and potato.

DSCN6718I had only one roll of pie dough left, what could have been the top or the bottom of a pie. I gathered the pie dough into a ball, separated that ball into two and rolled each half into two round- or oval-ish pieces. Those pieces I moved one at a time onto an ungreased baking sheet. Once on the baking sheet, I moved some of the mixed filling onto the center of the dough. Really only about two heaping spoonfuls of the mix fit into my pieces. There was a lot leftover, and I’ve put those leftovers into a bag in the freezer in the hopes that this recipe works well and that I can use the same ingredients again.


Once the mix was on the dough, I folded the dough over on itself and pressed the edges together with my fingers, trying to trap all of the filling inside of the dough. One came out beautifully; the other not so much (I think that that piece was both too thin and maybe not round enough; I had to flip it over because the bottom was sort of tearing apart).

I cut two vents into the top of each.


I put the pasties into an oven preheated to 425 F—or I meant to, but this is a new oven to me, and I’d never used it to bake, and didn’t know how it would signal that it was done preheating. They baked for 10 minutes at a hot temperature climbing towards 425 F, then for another 5 minutes at more exactly 425 F (just to be sure; there was raw meat to cook thoroughly after all).

Then I turned the oven’s temperature down to 375 F and let the pasties bake for another hour.

That’s really it. Not a difficult recipe, especially when using store-bought pie dough to escape the hassle of making dough oneself.

They came out of the oven a bit after 6:30, so this first time these took about 2 hours of combined prep and bake time.  Really, the prep time was only about 30 minutes, after factoring a bit of time for preheating the oven, which I forgot to do before mixing the filling.  And the bake time should only have been 1 hour and 10 minutes instead of the 1 hour and 15 that I used because I was still learning my oven.  So altogether, it should have only taken 1 hour and 40 minutes combined prep and bake time.

Out of the oven, the steam is visible rolling off of them and out of the vents, and they’re beautiful—even my too thin one with the tears.

DSCN6721I admit that while these were pretty good, they didn’t taste as good as West Cornwall’s–or my memory of West Cornwall’s anyway.  These pasties maybe could have used a bit more seasoning, but I’m not sure what (I’m open to suggestions), and the dough was actually a bit drier than I’d like, but it held the filling in beautifully, even with the vents and tears.  For as easy as this recipe was and as inexpensive, I’ll definitely give it another go.  These were very filling–or at least I thought so.  I couldn’t quite finish mine, but my roommate was not displeased to have my last bite.

All photos are mine and can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Book Reviews: October 2015 Picture Book Roundup


There are so many books this month that I had to rethink how I organize these books just to make some order out of the chaos of words on the screen. Luckily, there were a few books for each of a few categories this month.

The Books That Can’t Keep It Inside Their Spines

0763661635Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley and illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne. Nosy Crow-Candlewick, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

I first read this book in March 2013. I had complaints then: It reminded me of other books, it didn’t interact with the reader as fully as it could have done, nor did the characters interact with each other as much as they could have done. Those complaints are still valid, but I had a lot more fun with it this past month when I read it for story time. The book begins as an adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling,” but the s distracted by the sight of a green tail on one of the pages, which the duckling chases out of his book, discovering it to be a crocodile in the following pages. The crocodile starts to eat up the text, letter by letter, then whole sentences at a time while the duckling begs him to leave off as best he can without a few letters: “St p! Mr. Cr c dile!” To stop him, the duckling suggests the reader rock the crocodile to sleep and while the crocodile is asleep the duckling draws a pink tutu, ballet slippers, and bow on him to make him less scary, but this only, understandably, makes the crocodile angrier, and I don’t like the implication that it’s okay to mess with someone who’s asleep. The duckling is given the power of speech, but the crocodile remains silent and menacing, an animal stuck in an Animal’s world, as I put it in 2013. In the end, the crocodile chews his way out of the book, leaving a hole in the last pages and back cover. There’s no knowing where this loose crocodile could turn up again, and I’m a bit surprised that there hasn’t been a sequel. This book plays with space and format well, but while I understand that a rational discussion between two Animals would have made for a very different story, the taunting and harassment of the animal by an Animal does not sit well with me. I appreciate this book more than I did for its interactive elements and it’s creative illustrations, so I’m giving it three stars instead of the two I did in 2013.


9781627794510We’re in the Wrong Book! by Richard Byrne. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Bella, Ben, and Bella’s dog have appeared before in Byrne’s earlier book, This Book Just Ate My Dog. I hadn’t realized so until I was putting This Book Just Ate My Dog back on the shelves more than two weeks after reading We’re in the Wrong Book. In This Book Just Ate My Dog, characters disappear into the gutter of the book, unable to cross to the facing page. The kids to whom I read We’re in the Wrong Book! aloud really seemed to enjoy guessing the book styles that the protagonists fell into. I was less impressed by this book honestly. It’s an interesting concept, but I just didn’t get much enjoyment from it myself. In We’re in the Wrong Book, the book characters walk through some doorway or fall through some tear or sail off in a hot air balloon or take an origami boat onto the next page, each new page being a different style book: a comic book, a maze book, “Red Riding Hood,” an origami instruction book, etc. I would have liked to see more creative use of the book’s construction, knowing how Byrne has used the construction of the book previously. It was interesting to stop mid-book to try and make an origami sailboat, and it would have been fun to stop and solve the maze too. As an activity book with a plot, this book would get a much higher rating, but as a picture book, I felt that the activities slowed and interrupted the plot and the text. So take my reading with a grain of reader error. Aloud and on a schedule might not have been the best way to enjoy this book. At home, a page at a time, this might have been a lot more fun.


The Book For Adults

672077Wisecracks: Everyday Wit and Wisdom compiled by Tom Burns. Barron’s, 2005. First published in 2004 by Tangent-Axis.

This is a picture book for adults. The text is composed of the sort of snarky quips familiar from Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest (really, many of theses phrases I’ve read or heard before). The lines were sent to Burns by various, unnamed contributors. The format of quirky text beside black-and-white animal photographs that might illustrate the text is highly reminiscent of Bradley Trevor Greive’s books (Grieve’s first, The Blue Day Book, was published in 2000). Unlike Grieve’s, though, each page’s text in this book is independent rather than building towards a book-long message. This book had me snickering, more at its witticisms than its photography, and as I’ve said, this text was not written by Burns. I do still appreciate the book, however. It’ll be a good pick-me-up on a gray day.


Dinosaurs! 61608107906180LMy Dinosaur Is More Awesome! By Simon Coster. Sky Pony, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Honestly, this one fell flat—even for my dinosaur-enthusiast. This is sibling rivalry and ridiculous fighting taking place over whose dinosaur (presumably imaginary) is better. The dinosaurs do some very un-dinosaur-like things, each more ridiculous than the last. The mother to settle the argument steps in with her enormous dinosaur, who also does ridiculous, un-dinosaur-like things, claiming hers to be the best. Honestly, it would be cute acted out, I think, but as a single person reading a story, it just didn’t do it—for anyone. And there was some unexpected bodily humor besides.


0f8a8cf55c472aeafdd04f5e07e169deWhat the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure by Refe Tuma and Susan Tuma. Little, Brown, 2015.

This is a picture book follows an Internet phenomenon and the publication of a book for adults that sounds as if it was fairly similar in concept and style, but had more text and more pages. A lot of sites—Amazon, Goodreads—seem to think that this and the other book, What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night with no colon, are the same book. I’m pretty sure, but not entirely sure, that they are wrong, because the author on his Tumblr was referring to this as a new book. The illustrations are photographs of dinosaur toys that appear to have wrecked or to be wrecking the house, creating huge messes in places they shouldn’t be and interacting with things that they shouldn’t. Then the messes stop, and you might, the text warns, start to think that the dinosaurs have gone away, but that’s what they want you to think. Meanwhile, they’ve built a rocket and launched themselves into space. This was pretty fun text to read aloud, but I think the pictures would have been better appreciated one-on-one than aloud story time-style. They’re busy and detailed, and wow, these parents/artists really went all-out with their tableaus. A messy book of good, clean fun. I think the parents enjoyed it more than my toddler audience, though.


The Sweet Stories of Best Friends

9780062379559Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

When I first saw this story on a shelf, I got excited, because this is a pretty awesome duo, one of my favorite picture book writer/illustrators and the writer of the Artemis Fowl series. At the same time, I got a flutter of nervousness in my stomach. When writers write outside of their usual age group, there’s always a chance that the book is an absolute train wreck that will nevertheless sell well because of a big name author. Opening the book for the first time, I was worried that Colfer had indeed been unable to narrow his story to suit his new target audience. The first page has a lot of text, but subsequent pages are more appropriate for a read-aloud picture book. I didn’t get to read it aloud to anyone, although I was supposed to do. I read it to myself in anticipation of reading it aloud and snickered to myself at some of the jokes. Overall, this is a sweet story with a happy ending, a story for writers and dreamers and artists I think especially. Imaginary friends exist even when they’re no longer needed or visible to the people that they befriended. As their friends find “real” friends, the imaginary ones fade away then float away and wait to be needed by someone else. Fred meets Sam and everything seems perfect, but then Sam meets Sammi, and Fred begins to fade and tries to warn Sam, who assures Fred that he will still need Fred even if he befriends Sammi and that Fred won’t fade away. Sammi has an imaginary friend too, and while Sam and Sammi become greater friends and move on to more adult pursuits, Fred and Freida grow closer too, so much so that they become more and more real. They never fade for Sam and Sammi and they never fade for one another. Both sets of friends support the other and both go on to achieve their dreams and goals—much to the bewilderment of those who cannot see or hear the imaginary pair, who at one point perform in Carnegie Hall while the audience wonders when the performance will start and Sam and Sammi compliment their friends. This is a great, quirky story about holding on to the wonder of childhood, and also about the evolution and growth of a proper friendship, an age-proof friendship, if you will. What’s more, this portrays two male-female friendships that never become romantic! (See my rant on the lack of portrayal of such friendships here.) The illustrations and text are both clever. Jeffers makes clever use of pointillism to illustrate the imaginary friends’ difference from the real friends and the imaginary friends substance or lack thereof, giving them always a hazy substance and never any clear outline. All this is done in only blue, white, and black hues, the overall images being fairly gentle and soothing to the eye despite Jeffers somewhat jagged lines. One Goodreads reviewer rightfully calls the text “touchingly lyrical and abruptly hilarious,” and I really can’t describe it any better than that, so I won’t try.


9780805098266Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is the second Little Elliot book by Curato, the first being Little Elliot, Big City. I haven’t read Little Elliot, Big City, but I went looking for the illustrations after falling in love with the illustrations in Little Elliot, Big Family and I think that Curato’s art has improved even between these two books, so we should keep a close watch on this man, I think. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, saturated, poignant—oh so poignant. I think I enjoyed this story more than did my toddler audience, but I loved it. I am a homesick girl, too, away from her family and being taken in by others while mine are a twelve-hours-long drive away. That probably plays into my love of this book, over the course of which much the same thing happens to Eliott, who feels so alone in the Big City (clearly New York, by the way) when his friend Mouse announces that he will be busy with a family reunion with his hundreds of cousins. Mouse and Elliot, a polka-dotted white elephant, are animals in a human city. Curato shows such diversity of family and races and lifestyles over the course of a mere 40 pages, and does so casually without any fuss and without having to raise any issue, which I think is one of the best ways to undercut the whiteness of the canon. I like the text, I really like the story, but it is the illustrations that I’m in love with, and Mr. Curato, if in a few years, you feel like illustrating a teen fantasy cover, you let me know. The first three pieces in this gallery are from this book. The next three are from Little Elliot, Big City.


The New Classic Series

cvr9780689832130_9780689832130_hrClick, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000. First published in 1999. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I first read Click, Clack, Moo in March 2013. It sells very well and is often prominently displayed in Barnes & Noble, and it did not then live up to my expectation. I find it an odd little book for kids, its tale revolving around a lot of bureaucracy: demands, ultimatums, neutral parties, compromises, terms that I don’t expect kids to understand or relate to. Reading it aloud this past month, I had in my audience one particular fan of this book, who mouthed the words along with me, and that made a great deal of difference. If the kids enjoy it, who am I to suggest they might not. Now, she was on the older side of the book’s target audience, but nonetheless within the target. It’s a pretty fun book to read aloud anyway, and there’s something to be said for the early lesson of how to compromise.


cvr9781442465534_9781442465534_hrClick, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

In this Halloween spin-off of Click, Clack, Moo, Farmer Brown tries to lock himself inside his house Halloween night, but creepy noises and frightening shadows lure him to the door to investigate, where he finds a note inviting him to a Halloween party in the barn, hosted by his animals. The creepy noises are the highlight of this book, it always being fun to put on a spooky voice.


y648Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly Dean and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Would you believe that this was the first Pete the Cat book I’d ever read? I’ve read it twice now on two occasions within days of each other. That in itself gives it a good review. The first time, my one visitor to story hour requested Pete, and I had many copies of this book on the shelves. Somehow, this one escaped my notice when it was published; I don’t remember it coming out, though I know I was at Barnes & Noble at the time. Pete books use sometimes rhyming text, a lot of repetition of phrases, and somewhat dated slang to say “cool,” which I find an interesting choice, but I’m old enough to know how these phrases ought to be inflected, if the kids don’t understand why. In this one, Pete’s just feeling down, “blue,” he has the “blue cat blues.” Grumpy Toad gives him a pair of shades that improve Pete’s outlook, to “see things in a whole new way”: “The birds are singing. The sky is bright. The sun is shining. I’m feeling all right.” Pete shares these sunglasses with his friends, who are also having poor days; “nothing is going my way,” they all complain. The glasses work for them all too. But when the sunglasses break, Wise Owl is there to tell Pete that he never needed the sunglasses to feel “all right.” “Just remember to look for the good in every day.” That bit felt a bit dues ex machina; that was a hiccup in the text. How was Owl right where Pete needed him to be right when he looked up into the tree? But such is fiction. I appreciate that Pete stops and takes the time to talk to his friends, share with them, and give them what they need.


y648-1Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues by Kimberly Dean and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Pete invites his friends over for a sleepover, but none of them are quite sleepy when Pete wants them to be. One by one, Pete has to tell them to go to sleep, “this cool cat needs to go to bed.” Eventually, he reads them all a favorite story of his to help soothe their minds and put them to sleep. I wasn’t as pleased with this one as I was with His Magic Sunglasses, though I see this as a good story to read aloud at bedtime, especially at a sleepover, a sort of niche book—though bedtime books are a large niche. The rhyme is stronger in this text than in His Magic Sunglasses. The text was all over the page in different colors, fonts, and sizes. That made it a little difficult to read aloud. I missed lines because I didn’t see them till after I was turning the page. Missing lines broke the rhythm. Going back to read them would have broken the rhythm too. Be prepared if you try to read this book aloud. Prepare first perhaps.


The Spooky Standalones

1076322 The Tailypo: A Ghost Story adapted by Joanna C. Galdone and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Clarion-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1984. First published in 1977.

This is one of my friend’s favorite ghost stories—a local folktale—and before finding this book I’d heard her tell it a few times—very memorably—the first time while she was driving me down dark, twisty country roads at night when I couldn’t escape her story—and yes, we three adults all screamed when near the end we found a raccoon in the road with our headlights.  She calls it “Tailybone,” but it’s the same story.  Her storytelling is the unavoidable comparison to this picture book, which I read aloud to a story time audience, but not without her Appalachian accent slipping into a few of the phrases (though it’s not my natural accent). Galdone’s adaptation is less dark than my friend’s and used less repetition—the difference between the oral and written story—but was more descriptive for using less repetition, making more clear the terrain and describing in more detail the animal. I almost prefer both of these vague as in my friend’s telling because it leaves the story open for a broader interpretation and telling. Leaving out the setting avoids the “Oh, we’re not near a swamp. We’re fine,” that could follow Galdone’s. I think, though, that Galdone’s done a good job rendering an oral folktale into print, and if it’s not a folktale that you know, it is a fun one. Paul Galdone’s watercolor illustrations here helped I think to keep the story lighter than it could have been. The illustrations shy away from putting the readers in the old man’s position during any of the spooky parts, always keeping the reader an outsider observer, and the moments depicted are never the spookiest or most gruesome. Two of my audience members were young enough that I didn’t want it to be that spooky and worried it might be too much regardless, keeping particular watch on the youngest, but I think they all came out all right, and we finished on a lighter note with the next story and some crayons.


9780064431835The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd. HarperCollins, 2002. First published 1986. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is one of those new classics, but it really only shows up in stores around this time of year. A little old lady who is not afraid of anything encounters several animated pieces of clothing that first impede her way before she tells them off then follow her home. She is finally spooked by a huge pumpkin head saying “Boo! Boo!” She shuts herself in her home, but there’s a “knock, knock” on the door, and deciding that after all she isn’t afraid of anything, she answers it to ask the pieces of clothing and pumpkin head what they want. They answer that they came to scare her, but she won’t be scared, so what are they to do now? The little old lady provides the answer and today’s pumpkins and ghostly clothes become tomorrow’s scarecrow. This text builds. At first it’s just a pair of boots going clomp, clomp, but later it’s a two boots going clomp, clomp, on pair of pants going wiggle, wiggle, one shirt going shake, shake, two gloves going clap, clap, one black hat going nod, nod, and one pumpkin head going boo, boo. There’s repetition and counting (though no higher than two). Reading it, I found myself—and some of the kids—stomping, clapping, nodding, wiggling, and shaking along with the text. It’s one I’ll have to remember for those times when we need to expel a little energy at story time. I have a soft spot for stories of strong, brave, clever women.


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.

Challenge: Mansion, Shack, Apartment, or House?


I first saw this book tag through Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master. She says that “The My Future Book Tag was originally created by BookGeekMovieFreak over on YouTube,” and I’m going to trust her on that.

I edited the instructions that Gwen followed a little bit. I wanted to take away the chance for me to, ah, stack the odds in my favor, I suppose. I used the last eight novels that I’d finished reading—with one exception because I’d read two books in the same series). Luckily for me I’ve been rereading a bunch of old favorites anyway, so I’m hoping that my future is bright. I wrote those eight novels on slips of paper and dropped them into a Tupperware dish that could serve as a “hat” to draw from.

Then I started drawing names one at a time and followed the tag’s instructions:

402100Book 1: The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Open your first book to a random page. If the first word on the page is less than five letters, you’re going to college (celebrate!). If the first word is more than five words, you’re not.
Hey! I mean, I’ve already got a B.A. but the first word is four letters (“Odge”), so maybe that means I’ll one day go back to school? I would like one day to go back to school, when it’ll be less of a financial burden.

Open your first book to a random page. The profession of the character whose name you see first will be your profession. (Note: if the character is still in school, you will be a teacher and if that character’s profession is not mentioned in the book, you will be unemployed.)

I’m planning to deviate from these instructions a bit too, again in the interest of leaving more to fate. Not the first name I see, but the first name on the page. I don’t trust my eyes to be objective.

But there’s only one name on this page: Nanny Brown. Well, Nanny Brown used to be a nanny. Now she’s an old, ill woman confined to a hospital bed. …Let’s just stick with “nanny.” Not a profession I particularly want, but it might pay my bills.

15808621Book 2: The Kingkiller Chronicles, Book 2: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Open your second book to a random page. You’re going to marry the character whose name you see first.

Bast? And I? Anyone know any good binding charms for Fey? I don’t think I trust that husband of mine.

Open your second book to a random page. You’re going to be best friends with the character whose name you see first.

Penthe and I are best friends. All right. A best friend who can kick everybody’s butts never hurts, and she’s a pretty cool gal. And maybe she can ease my mind when it comes to my not so bound husband. After all, men have nothing to do with children. The idea of man-mothers is ridiculous.

6Book 3: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Open your third book to a random page. Count the number of letters in the second word on the page, then subtract two, to see how many children you will have.

“Shoulders.” One, two, three… Two less than nine is seven. Seven. That is a lot of kids. Mind, fiction tells me the last one born will be something special. Better watch out for that one. (Ironically, my favorite character from this book series does have seven kids. She’s all right.)

Open your third book to a random page, once for each child that you will have. The first names you see on each page will be your children. (Note: If you are having zero children – or negative children – you should open the book once. The first name you see is a character you are related to, but you get to decide how.)

1) Harry

2) Bagman. We’ll call him Ludo. That’s a little kinder.

3) Wormtail. Again, let’s call him Peter.

4) You-Know-Who. This is going very poorly. We’ll call this one Tom.

5) Winky. …Winky? I must have let our youngest, Tom, name her. I must have promised. Some promises really should be broken.

6) Harry… II. Did I make the same mistake? Did I let Winky choose his name? Maybe we call him Secundus? What does one do when you have two kids with the same name?

7) Mr. Diggory. Amos. We must have finally learned that adults should pick the kids’ names.

So to recap, that’s Harry, Ludo, Peter, Tom, Winky, Harry II, and Amos.

TST_exlargeBook 4: The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 3: The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Where does your fourth book take place? Because that’s where you’re going to live.

Carthya. I can live with living in Carthya. Though, yes, let’s holiday out-of-country in Avenia at the sea.

Open your fourth book to a random page. Whatever method of transportation the first character you see usually uses is what you’ll be using. (Note: teleportation and other magical devices are allowed. If the character has no means of transportation, you will be using public transportation.)

“With the gentle manners one might expect from a rabid bulldog, Terrowic threw me over his shoulder.” …I think I’m walking most places, though I bet sometimes Terrowic can find a horse to ride. We thankfully don’t spend much time getting to know Terrowic, though we do spend too much time with him.

561456Book 5: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

Pick your favorite animal that appears in your fifth book to be your pet. If there are no animals in the book, you won’t have a pet.

Haha! I laugh at you from the back of Blackjack, my black pegasus. Eat air!

Open your fifth book to a random page. The first name you see will be your enemy.

…Um… my first random pages use no names. So… try 2! The spirit of Delphi? That… sounds like a problem. The world’s most powerful prophetess is my enemy. Luckily, I don’t think she can influence prophecies. But she’s still not someone I’d want as an enemy, particularly when she’s inhabiting the body of a mummified hippy.

So I go to college then Bast and I marry and live in Carthya but vacation in Avenia with our seven kids: Harry, Ludo, Peter, Tom, Winky, Harry II, and Amos. Amos is probably one to keep an eye on as a seventh child. I become a nanny, putting to financial use the practice my seven have given me. We walk most places, but sometimes we can get a horse, and sometimes I can ride around on the back of my pet pegasus, Blackjack. My best friend Penthe keeps me sane. My worst enemy is the spirit of Delphi.

This has been every bit as ridiculous as M.A.S.H. ever was.

Book Review: Revisiting Old Friends in The Secret of Platform 13


402100I have a feeling this might be a month for old friends. I don’t know when I first read Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it since then. I do know that it was the first of her books that I read and the first of hers that I loved, the one on the merit of which I picked up the next, and the next.

Rereading it now was a very interesting experience. I couldn’t remember all the pieces, but one detail or another would remind me of what was coming, or remind me of parts of what was coming, so that reading the story became more like stringing old bits of memory together, finding the missing negatives in a string of photographs (too dated a metaphor?).

This was published three years before Harry Potter and I think it needs to be said that one can raise an eyebrow and expect that Rowling might’ve found this book too. An entrance to a secret world is found on an abandoned train platform, known by only some and particularly to those affiliated with magic. Raymond and Dudley share a great many things, including a penchant for perfect knickerbocker glories and a tendency to pitch a noisy fit when their desserts are anything less that perfect. Mrs. Trottle dotes on her Raymond as fiercely as Petunia Dursley does her Dudley, but the similarities fairly end there. Ben is the special boy neglected by his caretakers, but Ben is taken in happily (at first) while Harry is an unexpected, unwanted burden on the Dursleys. Ben is among other servants in basement quarters where Harry is shoved into the closet like a broom.

Eva Ibbotson has expressed approval of Rowling and her series, wisely saying “we all borrow from each other as writers,” but I haven’t found any comments from Rowling on Ibbotson.

After the kidnapping of a young prince, when the opportunity of rescue comes nine years later, a humble and kindly king and queen choose unlikely heroes for their son’s retrieval: a fey who is kind to everyone; an ancient wizard whose robes are covered in bits of old, dried spaghetti; a gentle, sensitive, yodeling shepherd who happens to be a tall and strong ogre; and a twelve year old hag who wins herself a seat among the rescuers by suggesting a gift for the prince to lure him back—a creature native to their Island that resembles a baby harp seal that loves nothing more than music. They meet a boy they think is the prince who turns out to be a servant among the household, but are drawn to his ease among strangers and magic, humility, will to please, and loyalty. The boy they think they’re supposed to bring back to the Island is spoilt in the worst degree, greedy, and selfish. This book nods towards high-action, especially at the end when elaborate heists are planned and assassins must be fought to defend a harmless, magical creature, but ultimately the heroes are kindness and friendship not pride or greed or wealth. Like all of Ibbotson’s books, it seems, the good guys are starkly contrasted with the bad and goodness is rewarded with a happy ending. Ending as they do, and being written for a younger audience so that the pacing is quick, the text is short, and the language is not particularly challenging, Ibbotson’s novels—and particularly this one with which I have such a long history—are comfort reads, excellent for stressful weeks and sick days.


Ibbotson, Eva. The Secret of Platform 13. Illus. Sue Porter. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Originally published 1994 by Puffin-Penguin Putnam.

This review is not endorsed by Eva Ibbotson, her estate, Sue Porter, Scholastic, Puffin Books, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Love and War in The Shadow Throne


TST_exlargeThere is very little time between the second and third books of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy; there is in fact a bit of overlap between the last chapters of the second book and the first chapters of the third. The third book does very little to recap Jaron’s previous exploits, and it jumps immediately into the action and into the drama. Because I tried to begin the third book of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy after having finished the second in March 2014 and finished the first chapter unable to remember whom a particular character was and how he was able to enter the kings’ private garden and then be hugged by the weeping king, I went back and reread book 2 before returning again to retry book 3, and I think I advise reading the two books back-to-back if that option is available to you too. If you have to read the prologue of The Shadow Throne to reignite your delight in the series, somewhat diminished perhaps by The Runaway King, do that first, then return to The Runaway King and remember what you’re reading up to and why you’re reading. DO NOT run to the Wikia site for the series to answer your questions; I spoiled a bit of The Shadow Throne’s ending for myself doing so.

Especially as I neared the end of The Shadow Throne and of The Ascendance Trilogy, I parroted Sam Gamgee’s quote from Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Two Towers:

“And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”

Nielsen has never shied from the dark and the brutal; it’s that more than anything else that tips this series from middle-grade to teen. With Carthya at war, surrounded by more powerful enemies on all sides, all of them invading or pressing at the borders, this book is even darker than the other two. The plot seems to bounce Jaron, Roden, Tobias, Fink, Imogen, and Amarinda, all teenagers or younger, in and out of battles and in out of captivity. Their captors are cruel, and Nielsen describes in some detail some of the fiercer beatings, using whips, truncheons, the flats of swords, boots, and fists. The captives are starved and humiliated. There’s psychological torture besides: offers to spare another captive in exchange for information or obedience, offers to save one of two captives but condemn another….

Jaron’s cleverness shines through in all its glory as a tactician and military leader and his love for Carthya and for humanity, his desire to better the lives of everyone, and to sacrifice himself all shine too.

But this is a story about the power of love. Love gives a person purpose, someone or something to fight for, someone or something to fight to return to. Though Jaron claims not to understand this till very late in the book, his actions are driven by love more often than he admits and it’s this that makes his armies and himself powerful in the face of overwhelming odds. Jaron has generated a great deal of love and loyalty among those he knows and those he rules. The attacking armies have greater numbers, but the Carthyans fight for Jaron and for Carthya. It is love that motivates Jaron to escape his first and maybe most brutal captivity of this book, love and fear for a friend.

This book seems to have garnered a lot more criticism on Goodreads than I’d have expected: for being more predictable than previous books, for doing little that was original as a war fiction book, for being war fiction at all. Perhaps these critiques are not unfounded, but I found myself willing to go along with Nielsen and with Jaron through a war fiction (especially coming directly off of the action and hijinks of The Runaway King), and I appreciated the way that details from previous books became clear as forethought for backup plans and backup backup plans in this book, showing if not some spectacularly original thinking on Jaron’s part (at least not when we as readers have read through hundreds of wars in a hundreds of different worlds) then at least some very insightful thinking and careful planning by Nielsen. I allowed Nielsen to play with my heartstrings a bit. [SPOILER] I at first believed that Imogen was dead, then reasoned she couldn’t be, then as time went on and she didn’t reappear, decided that she must be, and then she was back, and I was surprised to see Imogen back when she came back but was surprised because I believed that Nielsen had done away with her, and a lot of people are calling this a cop-out, and maybe it could be, but it was also the only way to happily resolve the series within a trilogy. Had she been dead, Jaron would have been a victor in the war maybe, but he would have been a broken and hollow man. Because the point of this book and this series was the power and strength to be found in love, Jaron had to be happily married, had to be in love—not necessarily with Imogen, but with someone, and he had to be married for love and not for duty. So that’s my answer to those who cry cop-out, a cry I’d probably otherwise raise myself. [END SPOILER] Some of what came as a surprise to Jaron and, because read in his first-person narration, read like plot twists, did not come as a surprise to me, but that I believe was within character for him. Though otherwise good at figuring out people, he was always slow to see love, not unlike Sherlock Holmes (at least within the BBC universe). I would be very unsurprised to learn that Holmes gave some inspiration to Jaron actually. So then again I see reason that the plot twists seemed less twisty—and again I offer my argument that this is a series about the power of love ultimately, so love had thematically to win (here I am talking about a specific “twist”).

Ultimately, as a war book, as a conclusion to a series of mounting danger and threat, I was satisfied. I do feel, like many, that the first in this series is perhaps best because Jaron is most loveable at his most carefree and most obnoxious, but the series builds as it should, and concludes as it should.


Nielsen, Jennifer A. The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 3: The Shadow Throne. New York: Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Jennifer A. Nielsen or Scholastic Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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.