Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

I almost thought I could write a somewhat nuanced review for a Cat Valente book, just this once. But after finishing the third Fairyland adventure, I find myself looking for words to match my feelings. Prepare for another not-too-eloquent but all-the-more-gushing love letter to Fairyland and September and a certain marid called Saturday.

by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
ISBN: 1250023505
Hardcover: 248 pages
Series: Fairyland #3
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a girl named September told a great number of lies.

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

September is now 14 years old and trying very hard to be a grown-up. That means keeping her emotions in check when they try to run away with her, but it also means looking to the future. Knowing that her Persephone visa requires her to revisit Fairyland every year, she starts saving money from the odd jobs she does around the neighborhood. Her father is back from the war and while his leg still ails him, the little family seems much happier and well-rounded.

But September is like us voracious readers. She desperately wants to return to Fairyland and see her friends, Ell and Saturday. She spent all year missing them, keeping her secret, and preparing, as best she could, for the journey to Fairyland. But this summer, no Wind shows up to whisk her away. Summer goes by and not a Wyverary in sight. Of course, the one thing we can be sure of is that September does make it back to Fairyland and, after being officially named a Criminal and Revolutionary, goes straight to the Moon.

fairyland 3 aroostook

As anybody who follows my meandering reading life will know, I have the highest expectations for a Cat Valente book. I expect them to enchant me and touch me and deliver wisdom in the most beautiful language while telling a riveting tale of adventure and fun. Let’s get the fangirling out of the way first and then I’ll try and talk like a sensible human being about what is another phenomenal book by one of the best fantasy writers of our time.

I didn’t warm to The Girl Who Soared immediately, as I did to its two predecessors. Much like September, I found the real world bland and painful compared to the colorful Fairyland, and I longed to return there. In my opinion, it took entirely too long to get to Fairyland and – especially – to find Ell and Saturday again. September is a heroine who can very well go adventuring by herself. She doesn’t need a wyverary or a marid to survive the fairie’s jokes or the Blue Winds’ cruel words. But I need them! I hadn’t realised just how attached I had grown to A-Through-L and Saturday, but passing almost the entire first half of the book without them was torture.

September does find her friends again, eventually, and where else would Ell be found than in a library…

A silent Library is a sad Library. A Library without patrons on whom to pile books and tales and knowing and magazines full of up-to-the-minute politickal fashions and atlases and plays in pentameter! A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can’t-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!

Once I got Ell back, I was immediately happier – if a little worried about the curse that has been put on him. But it was the reunion with Saturday that really broke me. “All the feels” does not begin to cut it. The author has slyly built up emotion over the course of these three books, and I thought I was clever enough to catch her doing it, to anticipate her next move. But I didn’t expect certain things to hit me as hard as they did. I have to be very vague about this or else I’ll ruin your reading pleasure. But trust me, if you think the first half of The Girl Who Soared is a bit slow, keep reading. It pays off a thousandfold by the end. I definitely cried a tear or two.

We have come to know that mixing mythology and original ideas is one of the author’s specialties and she continues to do it rather well. Be it a moon-Yeti, a whelk that is also a city, a taxicrab (check out Ana Juan’s gorgeous illustration below) or two Lunaticks, one gets the sense that these strange creatures are somehow old friends that we’ve met in fairytales and mythology books and fantasy movies from the 80s. Yet at the same time, their strangeness adds another layer to Valente’s version of Fairlyand.

fairyland 3 taxicrab

And it is this brilliant, coy kind of world-building that makes it so hard for me to let go at the end of every book. We readers understand how it works. A year passes in our world, September goes to Fairyland, comes back, waits another year for her next trip. This was hard enough to bear in the first two books. There was never enough time in Fairyland to spend with her friends, without having to save the world or staging a coup or fixing her own mistakes. This time around, the ending was particularly shattering, and I honestly don’t know if the book hangover I’m feeling will go away until the next volume is out.

And now has come the time to confess that I lied. As hard as I try, I cannot form a rational sentence or start a sensible discussion about Valente’s books. They are too close to my heart to think about like an adult. So the gushing and fangirling and undiluted love is all you’re going to get.

THE GOOD: Plot-twists galore, heartbreaking reunions with well-loved characters, beautiful prose and a world full of colorful and fantastic creatures.
A sluggish and slightly episodic beginning.
Just read all the Fairyland books, will you?

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!

divider1The Fairyland Series:

  1. fairyland 1-3The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  3. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Miyuki Miyabe – ICO, Castle in the Mist

Sometimes, I discover things backwards. As I’m participating in Worlds Without Ends’ Women of Genre Fiction challenge and have discovered great, great authors, I came across this little book called Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe. The review was favorable, the plot sounded intriguing, so I went out and got it. The author mentions right in the preface that this is a novelization (of sorts) of the eponymous PlayStation game. I had no idea and, honeslty, found it a bit off-putting. Novelizations (of movies or games) usually aren’t that good.
Then a few weeks ago, I found a used copy of the remastered PS-game of Ico and its companion The Shadow of Colossus – of course I bought it and started playing. After an hour, I knew I was going to give the book a chance. The atmosphere and story provide wonderful fodder for a gripping fantasy story.

ico1ICO: Castle in the Mist
by Miyuki Miyabe

Original title: Ico: Kiri No Shiro
Published by:
VIZ Media, 2005
ISBN: 1421540630
Paperback: 370 pages
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: The loom had fallen silent.

When a boy named Ico grows long curved horns overnight, his fate has been sealed – he is to be sacrificed in the Castle in the Mist. But in the castle, Ico meets a young girl named Yorda imprisoned in its halls. Alone they will die, but together Ico and Yorda might just be able to defy their destinies and escape the magic of the castle.
Based on the video game filmmaker Guillemo del Toro (
Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) called a “masterpiece”, Japan’s leading fantasist Miyuki Miyabe has crafted a tale of magic, loss, and love that will never be forgotten.

The PlayStation game starts when a young boy with horns growing out of his head gets locked up in the Castle in the Mist as a sacrifice.  The story kicks off when he frees a girl, dressed all in white, from a cage in the tower. The book lets us know what happened before in what was probably my favorite part of the entire story.

Ico didn’t live in a vaccum before he became the sacrifice to the Castle in the Mist. He had a family, friends, and a village full of people who knew and cared about him. It was in these first chapters that I found my favorite character. Toto, Ico’s best friend, is determined to save Ico and, if it isn’t too difficult, save the world from the evil powers of the Castle in the Mist. He is proactive, he is lovable, and is a convincing young boy with a good heart and a slightly befuddled brain.

Once Ico gets locked up in the Castle – this is where the game starts – the story slows down by definition. Ico is alone and even when he finds Yorda, caged at the top of the tower, there isn’t much dialogue because Yorda doesn’t speak. Even when she does, he can’t understand her language. Descriptions of the two wandering through the castle follow. Some are almost a play-by-play of what you have to do in the game to get out of a particularly riddling room and as such, weren’t very good storytelling. They weren’t even very good as a game guide. Miyuki Miyabe tried to spice it up by the visions that haunt Ico whenever he touches Yorda’s hand, or that he sees randomly in the vast halls of the Castle. Still, the second part of the novel was hard to read and bordered on boring.

ico and yorda

In the third part, my interest peaked again. We get to see Yorda’s side of the story and, finally, other characters are involved. This peek into the past offers not only answers to some of the most pressing questions, it also shows Yorda – though isolated and essentially locked up in the Castle – surrounded by other people. It involves politics to some degree, more mysteries, danger and – YES – dialogue. I rarely find myself aching for dialogue this much, but in a book like this, it was a welcome change. Although this part focuses mainly on Yorda, her feelings, questions, and memories, I again found myself drawn to the side characters. The life they breathed into the story was much needed and kept me going for a while longer.

My biggest gripe was the amount of description. That’s the danger of turning a video game into a novel… the author seemed to feel the need to describe Ico’s surroundings in such detail that the readers know each part of the Castle as they saw them in the game. The problem is obivous. This leads to page-long descriptions of any given room’s layout, including chains hanging down from the ceiling which can be used for climbing up. In fact, details that – in the game – are there as a riddle for the player to figure out, aren’t really all that important for the plot. When Ico explores a cave by a waterfall for what seemed like 20 pages, I was close to giving up. I don’t need to know where exactly he puts his feet, when he takes a jump from which wall to which, what hanging vines help him swing from one rock to another… these are things that are intriguing in a game, where you actively play the protagonist and need to think in order to work these issues out. In a prose story, it slows the plot down to an almost-standstill.

Which leads neatly into my second biggest problem. Ico, though the hero of this story, is an incredibly passive character. Sure, he runs around the castle, looking for ways out, but he always – ALWAYS – has to be told what to do. He doesn’t discover any of the answers himself, he is either shown them through visions or by other characters. The queen, for example, reveals a great deal of her plans because she thinks herself safe. She didn’t come across as stupid, just overly confident.

ico and yorda climbing PS3

copyright @たきたて

I admit I feel the urge to cut the author some slack. I only played the game halfway through (because Yorda is not just helpless, she’s useless!) but there isn’t really much information in-game that can be used for a novel. As such, Miyuki Miyabe did a commendable job, giving the Castle, Ico, and Yorda a backstory that made sense in its own way. Of course, the characters are painted extremely black and white – so literally, in fact, that the queen usually appears wearing pitch black dresses, and Yorda being clad in all white. But that’s a problem I’m willing to forgive. Naturally, the hero is going to be good. In the game, we are playing him, and we’re the good guys…

My feelings are rather mixed. I absolutely loved the completely made-up bits, I loved the invented side characters and the mythology Miyabe came up with. I hated the endless descriptions. That’s as simple as I can put it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, but I was enchanted enough to pick up another novel by the same author. One that came completely out of her imagination, without a bothersome video game to get in the way of good storytelling.

RATING: 6/10  –  Good.


Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, the Milk

I have been insanely busy lately, so this slim and heavily illustrated children’s book by Neil Gaiman came at the perfect time. Finally, I could sit down with a book and read it in one sitting without such annoying things as work interrupting me.
It was fun, it was silly, and I would have loved to have read this as a child.

fortunately the milkFORTUNATELY, THE MILK
by Neil Gaiman

Published by: Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN: 0062224077
Hardcover: 128 pages
My rating: 7/10

First sentence:  There was only or­ange juice in the fridge.

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

When a motherless-for-the-weekend family find themselves in lack of any milk for their breakfast cereal and tea, one brave father steps outside to buy some at the corner shop. The children find that it takes him surprisingly long to return. What they don’t know, of course, is that their dad went on a wacky, time-travel adventure featuring dinosaurs, aliens, wumpires, and piranhas. The father’s absence is explained in full and reminded a bit of The Usual Suspects for kids.

This is clearly a children’s book. Not only is it full of illustrations and has fun with fonts, but it is also a very simple story that is probably as much fun being read to as reading for oneself. That said, I commend Neil Gaiman for putting so much time travel in this book. Sure, you never have to remember for longer than a few pages what time the protagonists have just left and when a second version of themselves suddenly show up to steal the milk – or give it back. But, being an adult, I scrutinized the logic behind Gaiman’s time travel (and don’t go telling me time travel can’t be logical in its own way) and it all holds up.

There are some wonderfully quirky bits, some parts that will be funnier to adults than to children, and – my favorite thing about the entire book – gorgeous illustrations. The UK and US editions of Fortunately, the Milk are illustrated by different artists. While you will find Chris Riddell’s wonderful art in the UK version (I loved his images in The Graveyard Book to bits!), the US version shows off Scottie Young’s amazing skill. His drawings are intricate and full of flourishes and twirly bits… I stared at them for minutes at a time.

fortunately the milk piranhas
Scottie Young’s characters are little more than stick figures with big heads on top, but their faces are expressive and wonderful and just fun – just look with how much love for detail the hair is drawn. The only thing that would make this an even better book would be full color illustrations.

Now that I got all of the praise out of the way, let me tell you what disappointed me a little. Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft. His books are atmospheric and dark, they cleverly play off genre tropes, they show us old things through a new lens. This, however, wasn’t any of that. I enjoyed it because of how it celebrates the joy of storytelling, of making things up, of going along with silly ideas that children suggest – all of these things are important to me, and the fact that a big name like Neil Gaiman can reach millions of people with it makes me happy. If your own children ever come up with a tale like this, don’t shut them up. Let them tell you about the stegosaurus in the hot air balloon!

But for all of that, it was maybe too simple, maybe a bit too predictable. I honestly can’t say if I feel that way because I am not the target age group or because I am a spoiled book brat. Having read such amazing children’s books as Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland novels or Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda books, I have come to expect more of children’s novels than a silly adventure with everything and the kitchen sink.

To me, children’s books truly show a writer’s talent. And an author who manages to write a children’s book that can entice both children and adults is a true genius. Neil Gaiman charmed me for an hour, but ultimately, the story will be gone from my memory very soon. The pictures… now, the pictures may stick around for quite a while longer.

RATING: 7/10  –  Very good


Sarah Zettel – Dust Girl

I must congratulate myself on my choice of summer reading material. It has been so hot and dry this last week that I find myself desperately wishing for rain to cool down the city. Dust Girl takes place in Kansas which, I admit, may be just a bit dustier and drier than Vienna, but the atmosphere of the book went well with the stifling heat I’m experiencing in real life.

dust girl 2DUST GIRL
by Sarah Zettel

Published by: Random House, 2012
ebook: 304 pages
Series: The American Fairy Trilogy #1

My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, I was a girl called Callie.

Callie LeRoux is choking on dust. It settles on the food in the kitchen. It seeps through the cracks in the hotel that Callie and her mother run in Kansas. It’s slowly filling her lungs. Callie’s begged her mother to leave their town, like their neighbors have already done, but her mother refuses. She’s waiting for Callie’s long-gone father to return.
Just as the biggest dust storm in history sweeps through the Midwest, Callie discovers her mother’s long-kept secret. Callie’s not just mixed race—she’s half fairy, too. Now, Callie’s fairy kin have found where she’s been hidden, and they’re coming for her.
While red dust engulf the prairie, magic unfolds around Callie. Buildings flicker from lush to shabby, and people aren’t what they seem. She catches glimpses of a tail, a wing, dark eyes full of stars. The only person Callie can trust may be Jack, the charming ex-bootlegger she helped break out of jail.
From the despair of the Dust Bowl to the hot jazz of Kansas City, from dance marathons to train yards, to the dangerous beauties of the fairy realm, Sarah Zettel creates a world rooted equally in American history and in magic, where two fairy clans war over a girl marked by prophecy.


Callie LeRoux hast two secrets. The one she knows is that her father is dark-skinned, which is why she isn’t allowed out in the sun too much. Her mother does her best to keep Callie’s skin as pale as possible. The second secret is that Callie is a half-fairy. The story starts out very well with Callie witnessing the biggest sandstorm ever, loses her mother in that storm, and returns to the hotel to find the Hoppers waiting to check into some rooms. That family rivals any thriller writer in creepiness. I guarantee chills down your spines when you read about the Hoppers, especially the children (why is it that children in horror movies are always the scariest things?).

When Callie meets Jack and decides to go and find her mother, he joins her on a journey through Kansas and the dust. They find out about Callie’s heritage as a half-fairy, about fairy politics (and real-world ones) and are on the run from one person or another throughout the rest of the book.

What I loved wdust girlas how several strands of story are set up throughout the beginning, how side characters were introduced that pushed all of my mythology buttons, and how Callie and Jack are portrayed. I did have a huge problem placing them age-wise. Callie behaved like a 12-year-old but was treated more like a girl of 15 or even 16. Jack being described as “no older than Callie” didn’t help either. Goodreads tells me Callie is supposed to be 13 and that’s what I settled for. But it was not apparent through the writing and my brain wasn’t sure whether to picture a little girl or a young woman.

While I enjoyed the ideas and themes in Dust Girl, I was sad that they were left mostly unexplored. As for world-building, the author kind of wrote herself into corners. The magic is never really explained but it seems to follow no rules at all – a matter of taste, surely, but I like boundaries to my magic. Otherwise, the heroine is all-powerful and where’s the fun in reading about someone like that? Callie being mixed race should have had a much deeper impact on her life. After a few days on the run, being exposed to the hot desert sun, Callie’s skin grows visibly darker and she receives sidelong glances. It is mentioned but not really explored. So yes, racism exists, and it existed in the 1930s. But I was hoping for much more than a few throwaway remarks.

Sarah Zettel writes action really well. Callie and Jack stumble from one problem into the next, a repetition I didn’t mind because every time they were being hunted, I was on the edge of my seat, worrying for them and hoping they would get out of it. I expect that young adults will enjoy this book a lot because it is fast-moving and engaging and keeps things simple.

That simplicity is one of my qualms. I realize that, as an adult, this book was not written for me or my age-group. But all the best children’s fiction can be read by adults and enjoyed on a different level. Take Harry Potter or Terry Pratchett’s YA novels – children will mostly read for pure story, adults may choose to look deeper and find what additional levels the author has hidden in what only seems like a simple story. I was missing that element completely in Dust Girl.

Towards the end, I felt like the plot strings and world-building were a big fat mess. Not only does Callie not know whom to trust and what to do with her powers, the readers are left hanging as well. It is clear that this is the set-up for a trilogy or series because 90% of the story arcs introduced are left unresolved. The ending is rounded enough so you don’t want to throw the book against a wall and scream because you want to know what will happen next. But of all the strange things that happened to Callie, of all the things she has found out about herself, the Seelie and Unseelie people, where her mother and absentee father are, we don’t really get any answers.

This sounds a lot more negative than I actually felt about the story while reading it. It is competently written, was very engaging and fantastically creepy at times. For me, the style was a bit too child-like, the story a bit too messy in terms of structure, and while I did enjoy it and read it quickly, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I will pick up the second book and see where Callie’s story leads me but I’m in no hurry to do so.

THE GOOD: Great ideas, wonderfully creepy, a page-turner. Nicely atmospheric.
THE BAD: Plot strings get tangled, no clear rules for the magic-system, messy world-building. Unresolved ending.
THE VERDICT: Recommended for younger readers (11+) or as a quick read between meatier books. It’s not a highlight, but it was fun enough to keep reading.

RATING:  6/10   Good.


The American Fairy Trilogy:

  1. Dust Girl
  2. Golden Girl

Other reviews:

Terry Pratchett – Nation

So… the blog is a bit Pratchett-heavy lately. The simple explanation is that I have finally discovered the man’s genius and my mood demands his particular mix of hilarious humor, social satire, and seriously clever, thought-provoking themes. There you have it! At this point, I’d read Pratchett’s shopping list, but because it is summer and I have a lot of his novels here (and unread), I went for the one with the prettiest and summeriest cover.

by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Doubleday, 2008
ISBN: 9780385613712
Hardcover: 410 pages

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Imo set out one day to catch some fish, but there was no sea.

Finding himself alone on a desert island when everything and everyone he knows and loved has been washed away in a huge storm, Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s also completely alone – or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird and gives him a stick which can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot.
As it happens, they are not alone for long. Other survivors start to arrive to take refuge on the island they all call the Nation and then raiders accompanied by murderous mutineers from the Sweet Judy. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things – including how to milk a pig and why spitting in beer is a good thing – and start to forge a new Nation.
As can be expected from Terry Pratchett, the master story-teller, this new children’s novel is both witty and wise, encompassing themes of death and nationhood, while being extremely funny. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!


When Terry Pratchett says in interviews that he gets better with every book, he is not lying. He seems to pour his heart and soul into his fiction, and while the writing has always been good, it became nothing short of remarkable in these last few books I’ve read. Whatever else you may think of Sir Terry and his sense of humor, nobody can dispute that he is a master storyteller who truly understands people and translates real humans onto the page.

This book starts with a tragedy. Mau is in the middle of his manhood ritual – getting safely back home from the Boy’s Island – when the wave strikes. It is the biggest wave he has ever seen and he only survives because he is in a canoe when it hits him. The Boy’s Island? Gone. Mau returns to his home to find his entire tribe – the Nation – gone. The last survivor of his people, he sends their dead bodies to the sea and grieves. But there is another human on the island. Daphne, whose true name is Ermintrude (but who’d want to be called that?), survived the wave aboard the Sweet Judy, a ship now stranded on the island, and mostly in pieces. Mau and this strange, white ghost girl have to try and build up a new Nation, and new lives for themselves.

The culture clash is expected but deftly handled. Neither Mau’s gods nor Daphne’s prim manners are portrayed in a way that makes them seem superior. They have each grown up in their own culture and now they have to find a way to understand each other and question what they’ve been taught all their lives. For Daphne, it may begin with not wearing 7 layers of clothing and actually showing her naked toes to strangers (gasp), for Mau – ever since the wave wiped out his family – it is the Big Question. Do the gods really exist? And if they do, how could they have let this happen?
As they both struggle to come to terms with their beliefs and their loss, more survivors appear on the island and a new, albeit small, Nation comes alive.

nation pratchett

There is so much beauty on these pages and I am not sure where to begin. Daphne and Mau are wonderful protagonists. Mau’s self-doubt – for he is not a boy but never went through the proper manhood ritual, so he believes himself to have no soul – and Daphne’s keen scientific mind are not really all that different. The themes in this book may be obvious, but the characters are still at the center of the story, and I continued reading as much for Mau and Daphne as I did for the valuable life lessons. Pratchett doesn’t hit you over the head with a hammer of science. In this alternate Pacific Ocean nation (and it is alternate), neither Daphne nor the author find Mau’s culture and belief to be ridiculous or primitive. Yes, Daphne likes proof for the supposed miracles she sees – such as poison turning into beer – but she takes Mau’s gods seriously. This is a wonderful story that shows that different isn’t inferior – and to wrap this message in a wonderful, emotional, and funny story is the best way to deliver it.

The characters are vivid and real, they have gone through something terrible and deal with the aftermath in their own way. Mau thinks about giving himself to the darkness, Daphne tries to act the brave, proper lady. But inside – and the reader knows this – they are hurting and wondering about the future. As they slowly build their lives on the island, ideas start popping up. I loved the protagonists most of all because they enjoy thinking and through that learn more about the world and about themselves.

Someone had to eat the first oyster, you know.
Someone looked at a half shell full of snot and was brave.

Little asides like this may at first strike you as comic relief, a little fun to lighten the serious tone. But the thing that struck me over and over was that, despite being funny, there is so much truth in it as well. That is how people evolve, that is how inventions are made – by somebody doing something seemingly stupid or crazy, being brave, and discovering something new about the world. And in working together, amazing things can be achieved – such as the construction of a new Nation, even if it is different from the one before.

Take one strip of the vine lengthwise and yes, it needs the strength of two men to pull it apart. But weave five strands of it into a rope and a hundred men can’t break it. The more they pull, the more it binds together and the stronger it becomes. That is the Nation

Any book, for me, is carried by its characters and their growth. Both Mau and Daphne go through immense changes, not only because of the wave but out of sheer necessity. Daphne’s courage in the face of tragedy goes to show just how much she has grown. When this young girl with a passion for science performs an amputation, even Mau is surprised.

“[…] Those captives were treated very badly.”
“And you’ve been sawing the bad bits off them?”
“It’s called surgery, thank you so very much! It’s not hard if I can find someone to hold the instruction manual open at the right page.”
“No! No, I don’t think it’s wrong!” said Mau quickly. “It’s just that… it’s you doing it. I thought you hated the sight of blood.”
“That’s why I try to stop it. […]”

I have a fondness for pratical people and maybe that is why Tiffany Aching speaks to me so much. One thing I’ll definitely take away from this is that Terry Pratchett is made of Magic. I hope he will continue to write for many, many years and share his wisdom about humanity with us, in the shape of fantastic stories, peopled by lovable, wonderful characters.

Nation has also been adapted for the stage and while I’ll probably never get to see it, the pictures look beautiful. Of course the actors look much older than I picture the characters but I love how small details have been taken into account. On the right, Daphne – still rather proper in her dress – is wearing the grass skirt the Unknown Woman made for her. And Mau is trying out trousers in order to understand what makes trousermen so excited about them (turns out he’s quite fond of the pockets, if nothing much else).

Terry Pratchett's Nation (stage play)

This is marketed as one of Pratchett’s books for young people and while it definitely can be read by children and young adults, I believe it is even more suited to an adult readership. I remember, as a child, I read books for the pure pleasure of story. I didn’t care about messages, or the exploration of themes, or even world-building. I watched characters I liked do things that were interesting, and on that level, Nation succeeds. But it is the message that form the heart of this novel, it is the encouragement to think for yourself, and to go through the world with open eyes and an open mind.

THE GOOD: Wonderful characters who live through a sad but beautiful story. Brilliant exploration of serious themes with just a pinch of Pratchett’s trademark humor.
THE BAD: Takes a while to get into, some story elements (the Navy plotline) could have been left out.
BONUS: The filthy-mouthed parrot.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended to Pratchett lovers or newcomers, to scientists and religious people, to those who have suffered through loss and pain, and those who are simply interested in a good story.

RATING:  9/10  – Beautiful. Close to perfection.divider1

Second opinions:

Frances Hardinge – Fly By Night

I picked this book up for two reasons. One, the Book Smugglers have a major love affair with Frances Hardinge’s books. And, two, I trust children’s books much more at the moment than I do YA. I never thought I could shy away from an entire genre but the pile of crap that is being published lately is disturbing. I am sticking with adult books and, to get my dose of whimsy, books for younger kids. Thanks to Ana and Thea for the recommendation – this was a blast.

fly by nightFLY BY NIGHT
by Frances Hardinge

Published by: Macmillan, 2005
ISBN: 0330418262
ebook: 448 pages
Series: Fly by Night #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “But names are important!”, the nursemaid protested.

A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution. Mosca Mye has spent her childhood in a miserable hamlet, after her father was banished there for writing inflammatory books about freedom. Now he is dead and Mosca is on the run, heading for the city of Mandelion. There she finds herself living by her wits among cut-throat highwaymen, spies and smugglers. With peril at every turn, Mosca uncovers a dark plot to terrorize the people of Mandelion, and soon merry mayhem leads to murder . . .
With an unforgettable cast of characters and an inspiring message at its heart – sometimes the power of words can change the world


It’s going to be very difficult to talk about this novel without rehashing the entire plot. So I will only give you the basics. Mosca Mye runs away from home, with only her trusted goose from hell, Saracen, by her side. Her journey will take her to the rather unsuccessful conman Eponymous Clent, and later into the city of Mandelion. There, conspiracies are brewing under the surface, an illegal printing press has the Stationers Guild up in arms, and Mosca manages to get herself right into the center of the political intrigue.

copyright @ tealin

copyright @ tealin

Which leads me to the first two things that impressed me. First of all, Frances Hardinge manages to put a quite complicated political situation in a children’s book and make it accessible despite its intricacies. Sure, I can hear the outcry of certain parents (the same ones who cried out about Cat Valente’s Fairyland books) that this may be too difficult for a child to understand, but I’ve always been of the opinion that people can only grow when they are confronted with something new. And children spend most of their time discovering things they don’t understand. Yet. That said, it did take me a while to understand how the political factions are connected to each other. The Guilds – Stationers, Locksmiths, Watermen – each came to life after a while and I came to see a bigger picture.

The second thing that made me adore this story was the author’s phenomenal imagination. There is very little 18th century England in this novel, most of it is pure made-up brilliance. Be it the religion – one with numerous gods, shrines, and giving children a name befitting the Beloved under which they were born – the city of Mandelion, where coffee houses are found on boats and can float down the river at a moment’s notice, or the politics governing that city. Mosca is born under Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns (see why I love this?) and is thusly named Mosca – fly in Spanish. I found it stunning and refreshing and was reminded a little bit of the Flora Segunda books. Every page offers something new to the greedy reader and these things can range from downright hilarious, to scary, to surprising. You will look for boring  moments in vain.

copyright @ tealin

copyright @ tealin

The only reason I haven’t mentioned the characters yet is because the abovementioned two points stand out so much they had to come first. But Mosca Mye definitely deserves to be noticed, not only because she is a plucky heroine with her heart in the right place and her body often in the wrong place and the wrongest of tiems, but also because she is a girl I wholeheartedly want my own children to love and look up to. Mosca doesn’t always do what’s right, but she always does what she believes to be the right thing. She is not perfect. Living in the swampy town of Chough has made her eyebrows almost seethrough, her face is often described as ferrety and her looks don’t even figure into the plot at all. What a refreshing notion – and one I see much better done in Middle Grade fiction than YA, for some reason. While the side characters don’t show up a whole lot, they each have personality and a distinct voice that made it easy for me to know who was talking, even without the “xyz said”. Eponymous Clent especially has grown on me with his flowery speech and the big words he uses.

While this wilde adventure is over and Mosca is mostly unscathed (come on, that’s not a spoiler), there is a sequel to Fly by Night which I will be reading quite soon. After all, there is some unfinished business to take care of and I have a hunch that Mosca won’t be far from it when things culminate…

And after all, it was Mosca who said:

quotes grey I don’t want a happy ending, I want more story.

THE GOOD: Great characters having a wonderful adventure in a wildly imaginative world. Politics, intrigues, and ideas that will challenge kids to think for themselves. A heroine that is lovable and concerned with things other than boys and her looks. Yay.

THE BAD: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the political intrigue may be a bit over their head. Honestly, I think even without understand all the details, kids will still enjoy this story for the fun adventure that it is.

BONUS: Saracen, the goose. Unstoppable.

THE VERDICT: 7,5/10  – Very good.

dividerThe Mosca Mye Series:

  1. Fly By Nightmosca cover
  2. Midnight Robbery/Fly Trap

China Miéville – Un Lun Dun

I got interested in China Miéville first, not because of his fiction, but because of his public speaking. Interviews or panels – whatever he said fascinated me and made me want to get to know him as an author. When Perdido Street Station blew me away, I knew I wouldn’t stop there. I picked Un Lun Dun next because I wanted to see how somebody as wordy as Miéville would write a novel for young adults. He pulled it off beautifully – then again, I don’t know what else I expected.

un lun dunUN LUN DUN
by China Miéville

Published: Pan Books, 2011 (2007)
ISBN: 0330536680
Paperback: 521 pages

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very non-nondescript theories.

Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba enter the strange wonderland of UnLondon. here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people, too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas, and Hemi the half-ghost boy.
But the two girls have arrived at a dangerous time. UnLondon is a place where worlds are alive, where a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, where carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets… and a sinister cloud called Smog is bent on destruction. It’s a frightened city in need of a hero…


Zanna and Deeba are best friends so it is not unusual that they stumble into a huge adventure together. As it becomes clear that Zanna is the Chosen One and the prophecies say she will save UnLondon from the threatening Smog, this book becomes more than just a wanky portal fantasy. Any girl who has ever been the designatet ugly and/or fat friend will easily sympathise with Deeba. She is a loyal friend who tries to be accepting of her friend’s important role. But constantly standing on the sidelines is no fun. Which is why I rooted for her from the word go.

What makes this book readable for younger people is that the language is tuned down quite a bit. There are still big and sometimes difficult words but their meaning is usually clear from the context or explained in the text. That is a huge bonus right there, because that is how children learn new words. Or if they’re as swept up in the adventure as I was, they’ll probably just read over them. Either way, the big words do not distract from the flow of the story.

un lun dun binjaChina Miéville must have a vast imagination. The things he came up with in this book, the creatures and people that live in the abcity, range from hilariously original to absolutely bonkers. There are binja (bins that are ninjas), smombies, and unbrellas. UnLondon is what happens when all the trash and things people throw away in London congregates and creates an entirely new city and culture. Any moil – which is anything mildly obsolete in London – helps make up the stuff UnLondon is made off and there is something fun and new to discover on every page. I also would never have exptected to grow quite so fond of an empty milk carton. But yeah, that little thing totally grew on me.

quotes grey“My dad hates umbrellas,” said Deeba, swinging her own. “When it rains he always says the same thing. ‘I do not believe the presence of moisture in the air is sufficient reason to overturn society’s usual sensible taboo against wielding spiked clubs at eye level.'”

The themes explored and issues raised are fairly obvious but I loved how Miéville managed to show the complexities of politics in a manner that every child can understand. People who seem to be good aren’t always really good. But they’re not automatically bad either. Some are being lied to, some are doing the lying, others are double-crossing or plain greedy. By putting all of this into the context of the UnLondon society with an obvious and easy-to-identify main antagonist, I believe this shows kids that a little conviction can go a long way. And that not everything is necessarily as it first seems.

That said, Miéville takes on tropes of fantasy books and turns them on their head. We learn how the adventure is supposed to go, throw caution and rules into the wind, and do it our own way. To which I can only say: This is awesome!

Of course, un lun dun illustration china mievilleUnLondon is not only made of cool stuff. There are dangers galore which make for great action scenes. But there at least as many great characters with their own lives and back stories that offer us some moments of rest and good old fun. Because this is a YA book, we are introduced to them quickly and don’t necessarily spend a lot of time seeing their character development but they are all sympathetic and lovable. Some of them even get their own illustrations, all of which I found wonderful and adding to the atmosphere of the abcity. Deeba is an engaging and clever heroine-by-accident who makes mistakes but learns from them, as all good rolemodels should. I find myself wanting to read about all the other abcities as well. After all, there is Parisn’t, Lost Angeles, and – my personal favorite – Sans Francisco.

THE GOOD: A fantastic, fun world to discover by following great characters. Quick, short chapters, a fast-moving plot, language that is easy enough for children to read but not talking down to them.
THE BAD: As an adult, I would have liked more depth – basically I would have read the grown-up version of this. But this is a YA book and as such it was superbly done.
BONUS: Curdle, the milk carton.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended, clever fiction for young people that raises issues without lecturing, wraps them into an adventure and makes the imagination soar.

RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

dividerRelated articles

Review: Patrick Ness – The Ask and the Answer

After enjoying The Knife of Never Letting Go as much as I did, and after its evil, evil cliffhanger ending, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Todd and Viola. This book, while different from its predecessor, was no less enjoyable.

ask and the answerTHE ASK AND THE ANSWER
by Patrick Ness

Published by: Candlewick, 2010 (2009)
ISBN: 0763648374
ebook: 528 pages
Series: Chaos Walking #2

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “Your noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.”

Part two of the literary sci-fi thriller follows a boy and a girl who are caught in a warring town where thoughts can be heard — and secrets are never safe.

Reaching the end of their flight in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, Todd and Viola did not find healing and hope in Haven. They found instead their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss, waiting to welcome them to New Prentisstown. There they are forced into separate lives: Todd to prison, and Viola to a house of healing where her wounds are treated. Soon Viola is swept into the ruthless activities of the Answer, while Todd faces impossible choices when forced to join the mayor’s oppressive new regime. In alternating narratives the two struggle to reconcile their own dubious actions with their deepest beliefs. Torn by confusion and compromise, suspicion and betrayal, can their trust in each other possibly survive?


When I embarked on this journey with Todd and Viola, I never expected it to go this dark. During the first half of this middle novel – and those are always difficult – we do get a bit of a breather. Todd and Viola aren’t running constantly anymore, but neither are they safe. For the first time since the readers met them, they are separated and we get to see what happens to them from both points of view. Both Viola and Todd are amazing heroes who show surprising strength, bravery, and infinite loyalty to each other.

Arrived in Haven, which turned out not to be the safe haven they had hoped for, Todd has to deal with Mayor Prentiss and the tasks he forces him to do while Viola learns a new set of skills in the Houses of Healing. Not only does this open up the world of the trilogy a lot, it also gives us an opportunity to get to know an entire cast of new characters, some likable, some confusing, and some downright scary.

I must admit, I didn’t get into this book as quickly as the first volume but once the scene was set, I was all in and this was a real page-turner. The protagonists stay put in the same place most of the time – here, it is the psychological battles they have to fight that got under my skin instead of the thrill of being hunted. With Mayor Prentiss, Patrick Ness has created one of the most despicable, corrupt (and probably insane) villains I remember ever reading in a YA book.

ask and the answerApart from the psychological trials Todd and Viola are put through in the respective struggle to get back together, there is enough other stuff going on to keep any reader happy. Intrigue, torture, secrets, a cure to the Noise, Spackle, armies, impending war, and the bare struggle for survival. Patrick Ness manages to describe torture without being graphic but still conveying the idea of how terrible it is. As shocked as I was at some of the scenes, it was the manipulation and ruthlessness that scared me more.

We are shown an utterly disturbing scenario where two factions clash, ostentatiously fighting for peace and freedom. Excepting Mayor Prentiss (whom I loathe with all my heart), it is difficult to put characters into groups of black and white. There are many shades of grey, hard truths to be learned, and some amazing character development to be found here. I would never have thought I’d come to care about a certain character from book one but I did. A little. Which shows all the more how well-written the characters are.

In concluion, I am impressed – following up a hit like The Knife of Never Letting Go can not have been an easy feat. But Ness pulled off the middle volume of a trilogy with grace and without looking down on his young readers. While it is different from the first book, in setting, pacing, and theme, I loved reading every page and can only recommend it. If you’ve read book one, there is no way you haven’t picked this one up already anyway. Keeping with his tradition, the author leaves us with a cliffhanger, although not quite as brutal as last time. For my part, I’ll be picking up Monsters of Men very, very soon and I’m honestly curious if Todd and Viola will make it out of this trouble – or off the planet, if they have to – alive and in one peace. At this point, I have no idea what will happen.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent


The Chaos Walking Trilogy:

  1. The Knife of Never Letting Go
  2. The Ask and the Answer
  3. Monsters of Men

Review: Kate Milford – The Boneshaker

The Book Smugglers count among my favorite book bloggers ever. Not only do they manage to make my TBR grow even faster but their site is also beautifully structured, funny and insightful. I picked up this book entirely on their recommendation. Ana and Thea are my go-to girls when it comes to middle grade fantasy. So far, they haven’t let me down. Thanks for another great tip, you two!

The Boneshaker - Kate Milford

by Kate Milford

Published by: Clarion Books, 2010
Illustrated by: Andrea Offermann
ISBN: 0547487436
ebook: 384 pages
Series: Arcane #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Strange things can happen at a crossroads.

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata – self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie’s half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right.
Set in 1914, “The Boneshaker “is a gripping, richly textured novel about family, community, courage, and looking evil directly in the face in order to conquer it.


Despite the misleading title, this is not a steampunk novel. The Boneshaker in question is Natalie Minks’ Chesterlane bicycle, a big bike for a young girl, and Natalie has a lot of trouble riding it – or just keeping it upright, for that matter. But there are other things on her mind once Jake Limberleg’s medicine show arrives in her little town of Arcane, and Dr. Limberleg makes Natalie’s automaton move without winding it up. There is something strange in the air of Arcane and Natalie gets the feeling that people are not what they seem.

This book was just what a good story for children should be. It draws you in quickly, provides us with a wonderful girl protagonist who doesn’t mind to scrape her knees and loves tinkering with clockwork automata, and weaves magical tales into the real world. Natalie loves hearing her mother tell stories, and the best ones are those about people living in her own town. The story of how old Tom Guyot faced the devil is Natalie’s favorite – and I can easily see why. As soon as we get to read that story, Kate Milford had her storyteller’s claws firmly set into my brain.

Ajake limberleg posters we follow Natalie unravel the secrets of her town and especially of that strange caravan full of weird medicine, a machine that tells your future, and panaceas for sale, it becomes obvious that more is at stake than the townspeople having their money taken for nothing more than spiced water. I had a lot of fun figuring out what all the little clues meant, and even though some things were quite obvious (this being a children’s book, I’m sure I couldn’t have guessed as much when I was a kid) the atmosphere kept me interested anyway.

Being a German-speaker comes as somewhat of a disadvantage in the case of this book. Because of a certain name, a character twist that happens around the end was not just easy to guess but a plain fact long before it was revealed. I will not spoil this for you or even mention the name (now don’t you go Googling all the names in this book!) but the big reveal wasn’t a reveal at all to me – which obviously is not the author’s fault, and didn’t make the book any less fun. (On a sidenote: I hear something similar happened with Star Wars in the netherlands because the word “Vader” means father in Dutch – there you go. Although very similar to the German “Vater”, eleven-year-old me did not make that connection. So I guess I had it coming, anyway.)

I must also admit here that I did this book a great injustice. It was one of the first reads I started this year and I took a break right in the middle to read Cat Valente’s amazing Deathless, a book so beautiful I’m still recovering from it. After that, it took me a few chapters to get back into The Boneshaker. Despite my book-hangover, the ending was thoroughly satisfying and believable.

Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, The Boneshaker is a fun romp through an atmospheric town filled with magic, best enjoyed on a Chesterlane bicyle.


THE GOOD: Great storytelling, a nice mix of reality and magic, an original idea with a kick-ass heroine.
THE BAD: Not all things are completely revealed in the end.
THE VERDICT: A highly entertaining story unlike anything I can think of. This coming-of-age tale deserves more attention than it’s getting at the moment and I’ll be sure to pick up its  prequel, The Broken Lands.

RATING: 7,5/10  Very good.

Review: Alan Bradley – A Red Herring Without Mustard

Last summer, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Flavia de Luce, child sleuth and chemistry enthusiast. As the first two detective adventures were so much fun and I’m sure by now that with Flavia you can’t go wrong, I dove into our heroine’s third case.

by Alan Bradley

Published by: Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 0440339863
ebook: 391 pages
Series: Flavia de Luce #3

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: “You frighten me,” the Gypsy said. “Never have I seen my crystal ball so filled with darkness.”

In the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey, the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce had asked a Gypsy woman to tell her fortune—never expecting to later stumble across the poor soul, bludgeoned almost to death in the wee hours in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets.


Here comes a heroine who manages, with the first one-and-a-half pages, to burn down a gypsy’s caravan wagon after being told her fortune. While one may call Flavia de Luce a bit clumsy at times, she is everything but stupid. Her passion for chemistry is unsurpassed and ever since the events of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, she has dabbled in crime-solving. Quite successfully, at that.

Narrating her third adventure, Flavia captured my attention as easily as ever, and didn’t let go until I was finished with the book. This is quite a feat, considering that I wasn’t very impressed with the mystery. Flavia’s voice was enough to keep me interested, her family situation and some dark secrets I’m sure are looming in her past, are engaging enough. Beneath the cold English surface, we get further glimpses of Flavia’s inner turmoil. She covers it well with humor and cynicism but we can tell that she does suffer from never having known her mother, from her family’s cold demeanour, and from her sisters’ cruel japes.

red herring

The first two books in the series each had a theme surrounding the murder case(s). First it was stamps, then it was puppetry, this time it is… fish? Not really. Gypsies, telling the future, crystal balls? Also not quite. Not being a big reader of crime fiction, I sorely missed that overlying theme that taught me new tidbits and gave me an insight into a world otherwise new to me. We get clues to follow from the start, ostentatiously all over the place, seemingly unconnected. Of coures, I was relying on Flavia to help me figure everything out but in the end, the solution wasn’t very satisfying and the clues felt too scattered for me to make up my mind. Then again, maybe I’m still just terrible at guessing.

All things considered, this is a gem of a series, no matter whether each murder case happens to be up my alley or not. Alan Bradley has shown three times now that he is a great writer and highly talented in depicting highly intelligent, young girls who like to spend their free time helping out the local police. What on earth would they do without Flavia de Luce?

THE GOOD: Flavia is as charming and funny as ever, her narration is funny and engaging and she makes for a wonderfully precocious protagonist.
THE BAD: The clues were a bit too loosely tied to each other for my taste. I would have liked a theme connecting them, like in the first two books (stamps, puppetry).
THE VERDICT: For Flavia fans, this is another recommendation. So far, it was my least favorite of the series, at least as far as the mystery goes. But that doesn’t change the fact that these books are beautifully written and very engaging, quick reads.

RATING: 6,5/10  Very good, with some reservations

dividerThe Flavia de Luce series:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking From Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches