Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boswell Best Focus on Kids' Novels--Land of Stories, Shadow and Bone, Seraphina.

There sure are a lot of interesting kids’ novels on Boswell’s Best this week. I don't think about kids' books as much in the summer because our kids' events are so closely tied to schools. There was a time years ago when most children’s book releases came with one shipment in spring and another in fall. But now it’s a 12-months-a-year business and we are only the better for it.

One of the books with the biggest buzz has been Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Little, Brown). The premise is that Alex and Conner are given a treasured fairytale book by their grandmother, and that book is probably treasured because it sends them into the Land of Stories, where Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella married the three Charming brothers, and Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive. Playing with these fairytales is of course big fun for writers (Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha van Leer are also fans of the concept, as well as our pal Michael Buckley) because it’s all public domain. You can’t play with Disney characters without the corporation’s approval—you can thank our government for indefinitely extending copyright laws for that. Bob Minzesheimer in USA Today has a good time with Colfer’s book (yes, it’s Kurt Hummel from Glee), but wishes it had been slightly shorter. I think this is the function of the smaller-than-normal trim; it almost reminds me of the old Big Little Books.

Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, a series that several Boswellians have enjoyed, is still on the Best, but you folks all know about that. Folks who enjoyed Divergent and its sequel might go for Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt) . Orphaned Alina Starkov is drafted into the army with her friend Mal, sent on a dangerous mission into The Fold, and then, when the convoy is attacked, is trained to become a Grisha. If you don’t read kids’ fantasy (let alone, adult fantasy), you’re kind of not understanding the basics of the genre—the chosen one is a plain sort with a power previously unknown. Then you add a lot of exotic sounding descriptions that play upon some sort of mythology (once again, public domain). But Bardugo has what many other kids’ fantasy books dream about at night, great reviews including a full writeup by Laini Taylor in The New York Times Book Review. As she notes about the lush setup, which draws upon Russian mythology: “Bardugo’s setup is shiver-inducing, of the delicious variety. This is what fantasy is for: letting us slip into the skin of characters grappling with great power and the destinies that come with it.”

Boswellian Pam is crazy for Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina (Random House) , joining the chorus that includes Christopher Paolini (“beautiful written”) and Tamora Pierce (“I love this book.”) Here’s her take: “For forty years, an uneasy peace has existed between humans and dragons, who can contract themselves into human form, often to work as scholars in the world of Goredd. Seraphina, a gifted musician just hired as assistant to the court music master, has a secret that could doom both her and her father. She tries to keep a low profile but, is drawn into the investigation of the murder of a royal prince that looks suspiciously like a dragon-like attack. Because she has a dragon teacher, her knowledge of dragons is useful to Krigs, Captain of the Guard. She falls in love with him even though he is engaged to the Princess of the Realm, Seraphina’s student and also friend. I loved this book. The characters were complex and the world was original and richly developed. I have read a lot of fantasy books with dragons but, this one has a very unusual twist. Hopefully this author will write more novels in the future and I look forward to eagerly devouring them.”

I’ll also direct you to Random House’s website, where they show the four starred advance reviews, from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. Is that a chorus, or what? All three titles are 20% off through at least next Monday, including website orders.

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