Review of Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest

by Juliet Marillier

Book One of the Sevenwaters Trilogy
TOR Fantasy, New York, 2000 554 pages.
Starred Review

A huge thank-you to my sister Marcy, who gave me this book. I began reading it on the first leg of my trip to ALA Annual Conference 2011, read the first two chapters, and actually somehow left it behind between flights. So as soon as I got home, I ordered a replacement. Now I’ve read the second book as a library copy, but I’ve decided to order both the second and third books to have for my own. I am absolutely sure I will want to reread them again some day.

Daughter of the Forest is incredibly well-written. This is one of those books I love, a fairy tale retelling, but it’s done with a tremendous amount of loving detail, creating an intricate tapestry of a book. The story is told in old Ireland, in the time of the Druids, with Christianity just beginning to come. Sorcha and her six brothers are the children of Lord Colum, the powerful chieftain of Sevenwaters. Sorcha runs a little wild, the youngest of so many brothers. She has a bond with her brother Finbar, so they can speak without words.

Then her father and brothers capture and torture a Briton. Finbar, who is different, not so warlike, takes a bold step to help the Briton escape. The Briton is sheltered in the friar’s house. Can Sorcha, learning skills as a healer, help him survive? Will he be even willing to survive?

But her time helping the Briton is interrupted when her father comes home — with a new wife. This wife has a strange power over him. Sorcha and her brothers are uneasy.

And then the fairy tale I recognize begins. The evil stepmother turns all the brothers into swans. The only way Sorcha can restore them is to knit them all shirts out of nettles. But she must not utter even one sound until the work is done.

I never thought about it before, but there is definitely a novel in that tale! Juliet Marillier brings it to us with rich detail. There are some horrible moments, but you will be completely captivated by Sorcha’s tale. She goes from Ireland to Britain. The Fair Folk get involved. And the romantic hero is one of the most wonderful men I have ever encountered in fiction. He’s so loving, so careful to protect Sorcha.

Here’s a taste of Juliet Marillier’s rich prose, in the first chapter, when Finbar has declared he will not join his father’s military campaigns:

“Why do I remember this so well? Perhaps his displeasure with what we were becoming made Father take the choice he did, and so bring about a series of events more terrible than any of us could have imagined. Certainly, he used our well-being as one of his excuses for bringing her to Sevenwaters. That there was no logic in this was beside the point — he must have known in his heart that Finbar and I were made of strong stuff, already shaped in mind and spirit, if not quite grown, and that expecting us to bend to another will was like trying to alter the course of the tide, or to stop the forest from growing. But he was influenced by forces he was unable to understand. My mother would have recognized them. I often wondered, later, how much she knew of our future. The Sight does not always show what a person wants to see, but maybe she had an idea as she bade her children farewell, what a strange and crooked path their feet would follow.”

A truly magnificent tale.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book given to me by my sister Marcy.

Review of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch


How Mirka Got Her Sword

by Barry Deutsch

Amulet Books, New York, 2010.
2011 Eisner Award Nominee
Starred Review

Here’s one more review of a book from School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. I hope I’ve convinced my readers to follow the Battle next year!

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but when I saw the caption on the cover of Hereville, I knew I had to try it: “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.” I’m sorry, but that’s one caption I can’t possibly resist.

Hereville gained high praise from Judge Susan Patron in Round One of the Battle:

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, a graphic novel by Barry Deutsch, must be the only book ever whose outside front cover made me laugh. “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl,” it proclaims. Thick, shiny, paper painted in shades of coral, brown, black and white—changing to deep purples and grays in the scary night scenes—feel silky to the touch. Every page is vibrant with energetic pictures, dialogue, sound effects—and extremely minimal exposition.

“The story plays with genres, tilting them on their sides; using incongruity, it skewers conventions. Seemingly we are in the middle of a Hansel and Gretel pastiche, a fairy tale, in which the characters sprinkle their dialogue with Yiddish words, “A klog iz mir: Woe is me!” as well as expressions like “Yaaaah!” ”Mumph!” and “Aaak!” Mirka, one daughter in a large family of sibs and step-sibs, rebels against the traditional role expected of her in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hereville. Rather than learning such “womanly arts” as knitting, she wants to fight dragons. There is lots of very clever stuff here: visual jokes such as an illustration contained within an exclamation point, table legs morphing into trees, and a deliciously horrid troll.

“Wit and irony also abound in the text: a monster pig eats Mirka’s homework, Mirka and her clever, loving stepmother engage in wonderfully funny debates, and some Orthodox traditions are gently poked fun at (“preparing for all that non-working [on Shabbos] takes a lot of work!” and “In Hereville, kids aren’t allowed to have non-Jewish books. So Mirka keeps hers hidden”). I was hugely entertained, even as one tender scene brought tears to my eyes.”

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but I know that I will want to read absolutely anything Barry Deutsch writes about Mirka. The setting is utterly unlike any other book I’ve read (a small orthodox Jewish community in the country), but I can relate to Mirka’s fairytale dreams. I love the prosaic nature of her first nemesis — the giant talking pig. You can see she has the heart to fight a troll as well.

This book is funny, magical, insightful, and a joy to read. I can’t wait to find out what Mirka will do with her sword.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and Grimm

by Adam Gidwitz

Dutton Children’s Books, 2010. 256 pages.

Here’s another book that appeared in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. To celebrate the excellent battle action this year, I’m posting reviews of books from the Battle, and including commentary from the distinguished judges. This will give you an idea of the stellar critiques that make sljBoB so entertaining.

In the first round, this book drew a judge whose readers I think are just perfect for A Tale Dark and Grimm: R. L. Stine. He talked at length about why he chose it to win:

“When I was in elementary school, I was already fascinated by the worlds of fantasy and magic and horror. I read every book of fairy tales in our school library. I then proceeded to our town library where I moved up and down the shelves of fairy tales, Norse legends, and Greek myths, devouring book after book.

“As a long-time devotee of these stories, I opened Adam Gidwitz’ A Tale Dark and Grimm with great anticipation. I’m happy to say the book provided a wonderful return to the Grimm world—the world of dark woods, unspeakable evil, not-so-innocent children, witches, dragons, and more—that had enthralled me as a child.

“Gidwitz has not only presented us with a masterful retelling and re-imagining of the original Grimm works. His book provides a wonderful lesson in story-telling—how stories are made, how they can be twisted and turned, and how they change over time.

“The book is inviting right from the start. The author warns that the old Hansel and Gretel story isn’t what you expect, that fairy tales aren’t for the faint-of-heart. His warning that “the one true tale is as violent and bloody as you can imagine” makes the book irresistible. Who could stop reading after a warning like that?

“He then presents a retelling of several Grimm tales, beginning with Hansel and Gretel and using them as protagonists for the ensuing stories. We follow the brother and sister from adventure to adventure, into the woods and out, into king’s castles and witch’s hovels, into deep darkness, and finally to redemption– and even a happy ending. Thus he has cleverly tied the stories together and turned them into a novel.

“Gidwitz’ writing is simple, clean, easy-to-read. In a word: delightful. He manages to capture all the dark feelings and atmosphere of the original tales in language appealing to kids today. He doesn’t modernize. He doesn’t camp it up. The writing is crisp and clear, and he takes the story-telling seriously.”

However, in the second round, A Tale Dark and Grimm lost to Trash, by Andy Mulligan. Judge Pete Hautman still had good things to say about A Tale Dark and Grimm. I love the way he explains why kids might enjoy it more than adults:

“I felt a little uncomfortable stepping into these books. Okay, I’ll admit it—I like happy books that make me glad I am who I am. Murderous parents, child-eating witches, orphaned trash pickers, and monstrously corrupt politicians do not make me feel good about being human. But that’s because I’m a grownup, all tender and vulnerable and fiercely protective of my comfort level. Younger readers are more adventurous. As was I, once upon a time. Clearly, to give these books a fair shake I would have to channel my younger self.

“In A Tale Dark and Grimm, Adam Gidwitz makes it easy. These fairly straightforward retellings are interrupted, frequently, by the author, who offers warnings (“This next bit is a bit gross,”) commentary (“No, I didn’t think the moon ate people either. But is says so, right in the original Grimm,”) and alternate endings to several of the tales. There is a forbidden fruit deliciousness here—like being a kid and having your most favorite and funniest uncle telling you stories that might make your overly-protective helicopter parents blanch.”

For me, I enjoyed the book. I like the way it reminded me of reading the Grimm fairy tales as a kid. The book is clever and well-written and nicely plotted — but it didn’t win my heart. The fact is, I like the original tales better. And I admit my favorites were the happier, princess-filled tales. I wasn’t ever really a fan of the ones with heads chopped off. This book ended up with a very different tone than what I remember from being a little girl reading fairy tales.

However, I think my boys would have loved it! When they were around upper elementary or middle school age. This would have made an excellent family read-aloud. And I’m looking forward to recommending this book to boys in the library, especially ones who like a little blood and gore. This is a perfect book to hand to a boy who’s been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, or, yes, R. L. Stine’s books.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go enjoy a fairy tale or two.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Toads and Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson

Toads and Diamonds

by Heather Tomlinson

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2010. 278 pages.

Toads and Diamonds is a beautiful twist on the Charles Perrault fairy tale, with the story set in India.

As in the fairy tale, one stepsister has precious gems and flowers fall out of her mouth whenever she talks, and the other has snakes and toads come out of her mouth. However, in this book, the stepsisters love each other dearly, and it’s not so clear which is the gift and which is the curse.

And both girls must leave their beloved home. They each have a long journey ahead of them to learn their destiny.

This book is full of beautiful writing and an intriguing story. Both girls have adventures and learn about themselves before they are reunited again. The Indian setting makes this quite different from most fairy tale retellings. You can’t help but like both sisters and hope that they both overcome the challenges they’re faced with.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an ARC I got at ALA Annual Conference.

Blog Tour Author Interview with Diane Zahler

Today I’m excited to host my second-ever Blog Tour Author Interview with Diane Zahler, author of A True Princess. You’ll find my review of the book just below in the previous post on this blog.

I found Diane’s answers to my questions intriguing. I hope you enjoy them!

Diane Zahler
Diane Zahler

I’ve always loved fairy-tale retellings, and can think of several that I love, such as The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, Beauty, by Robin McKinley, and Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. What are some of your favorite retellings? Would you say those influenced your own writing?

I love Beauty and The Goose Girl too – in fact, those are my absolute favorite retellings. The way Robin McKinley and Shannon Hale filled out their stories and grace with which they write were a real inspiration to me. I also love East by Edith Pattou, a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and Ash by Malinda Lo, a retelling of “Cinderella.” As these writers did, I wanted to create a complete world in my retellings, with intriguing characters and settings and a sense of magic.

Which were some of your favorite fairy tales as a child?

I read all the Andrew Lang fairy tale books – The Red Fairy Tale Book, The Blue Fairy Tale Book, yellow, green – if there’d been a puce one or a vermillion, I’d have read those too! I was especially taken with “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which I used as the basis of my first book, The Thirteenth Princess. And I loved “Rapunzel.” But I didn’t notice, at that age, that the princesses in these stories were not in control of their own fates – they were manipulated by magic, and later, generally, saved by a prince. I like a princess who can call the shots! And if there had been princesses like that when I was a kid, I think I would have loved them.

Can you put your finger on some reasons why you love fairy tales? (I’m not sure I could!)

Fairy tales treat both our earliest fears and our deepest hopes. The fact that similar tales are found in cultures around the world and have been popular for centuries indicates that the themes they treat resonate with us on a deep level. Many of them deal with abandonment, the death of a parent, and other situations that seem hopeless and out of the characters’ control. And yet often good vanquishes evil, and there’s a happily-ever-after. The idea that we – identifying with the characters in the stories – can face our fears and overcome them is empowering.

I actually very recently finished revising a middle-grade fairy-tale-type novel of my own, and have begun sending queries to agents. Do you have an agent? Any tips about getting published? Did you find any resistance to such traditional fantasy, with so many vampire and werewolves out there?

I don’t have an agent. I’ve had agents in the past, and they were not particularly helpful. Of course, the books I was sending out at the time weren’t particularly publishable, so that might have been the problem! But I had worked in children’s book publishing years ago and still knew some people, so I was able to get my work read. And I found that the fact that my books were fantasy in a more traditional vein was an relief to my editors. I get the impression from agents and editors I know that fairy tales are more likely to endure than the trendy vampire/werewolf/angel-fallen-to-earth fiction that’s so popular at the moment. As for tips – endurance. Resilience. A thick skin. Never give up! It took me decades to get here, but it took me much of that time to learn how to write.

I think of A True Princess as a wholesome story, suitable for young girls beginning on chapter books who love fairy tales, but also offering plenty to enjoy for older people like me. The main character encounters many good people who care about her, and it’s a feel-good story, even with the moments of danger. I wish that saying that didn’t make the book sound boring, because it’s not! Would you care to comment about that and about the age level of your imagined reader?

A True Princess, like The Thirteenth Princess, is marketed for the middle-grade, or tween, reader. That’s between 8 and 12 years old, though I’ve heard from many girls of 13-16 who really enjoyed The Thirteenth Princess. I did keep my readers in mind to some extent as I wrote, but the fact that my protagonist in both my novels is 12 keeps certain topics naturally off-limits. Lots of fairy tales in their original form are the opposite of wholesome – they feature murder, betrayal, abuse, every horror you can imagine, and some that are beyond imagining. Needless to say, I haven’t included most of those details in my retellings. My aim is not wholesomeness, or creating a feel-good story. Instead, my intention is to take the elements of the original story that I think would resonate with readers – the struggle between good and evil, the search for identity, the tension between fear and courage –and use those to craft a story that contains both aspects of the original and themes that work for today’s readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with my readers and me!

A True Princess

Some more about Diane Zahler and A True Princess:

About Diane Zahler
Diane Zahler, author of A True Princess, has loved tales of fairies and magic since before she was old enough to read. She has worked in the children’s room at a public library, in children’s book publishing, and as an elementary and high school textbook writer. The Thirteenth Princess, her first novel for young readers, was published in 2010. She lives with her husband and dog in an old farmhouse in the Harlem Valley that is held together with duct tape and magic spells. Diane’s website is:

About A True Princess
Twelve-year-old Lilia is not a very good servant. She daydreams, she breaks dishes, and her cooking is awful! Still, she hardly deserves to be sold off to the mean-spirited miller and his family. Lilia refuses to accept that dreadful fate, and with her best friend Kai and his sister Karina beside her, she heads north to find the family she’s never known. But danger awaits. . . .

As their quest leads the threesome through the mysterious and sinister Bitra Forest, they suddenly realize they are lost in the elves’ domain. To Lilia’s horror, Kai falls under an enchantment cast by the Elf-King’s beautiful daughter. The only way for Lilia to break the spell and save Kai is to find a jewel of ancient power that lies somewhere in the North Kingdoms. Yet the jewel will not be easy to find. The castle where it is hidden has been overrun with princess hopefuls trying to pass a magical test that will determine the prince’s new bride. Lilia has only a few days to search every inch of the castle and find the jewel—or Kai will be lost to her forever.

Here’s a link to order this book from

Here’s the complete list of blog sites on the tour:

February 1: The Compulsive Reader — Review, book giveaway
February 2: The Brain Lair — Author interview, review
February 3: Jean Little Library — Review
February 3: Galleysmith — Author post, review
February 4: Write for a Reader — Review
February 5: The Cozy Reader — Author post, review
February 6: Libri Dilectio — Review
February 7: Tales from the Rushmore Kid — Interview with my editor
February 8: Green Bean Teen Queen — Review
February 8: Mother Daughter Book Club — Review
February 9: There’s a Book — Author interview, review
February 10: Mrs. V’s Reviews — Author interview, review
February 11: The Cazzy Files — Author interview, review
February 11: Sonderbooks — Author interview, review
February 12: BookScoops — Author interview, book giveaway, review

Review of A True Princess, by Diane Zahler

A True Princess

by Diane Zahler

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2011. 182 pages.
Starred Review

Today I’ll be posting my second-ever Blog Tour Author Interview on my blog, where I interview Diane Zahler about this book, which has just come out. I did not agree to do the interview until I’d read the book, so I was happy that I enjoyed it very much! I wasn’t surprised, because some of my very favorite books are retellings of fairy tales, but I was happy about it, and happy as well to spread the word about such a good book.

A True Princess is a loose retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.” One thing I like in a fairy tale retelling is when they plausibly explain odd details in the original fairy tale. Like Ella Enchanted explains why Cinderella was such a doormat to her stepsisters, while still being spunky. A True Princess by the end of the book reveals why in the world a queen would use a pea below a pile of mattresses in order to test whether a candidate was a true princess.

But I do like it that the author didn’t adhere slavishly to the fairy tale and gave a more modernized ending, with some true love involved in the prince’s choice.

This book is a feel-good story, which I also enjoy. All the fully human characters are kind, except Lilia’s stepmother, and she’s only at the beginning. She’s not actually even Lilia’s stepmother, since Lilia was a foundling, taken in by kind man when she was a toddler. Lilia explains how she got there:

“I was about two years old when Jorgen, out fishing in the river, grabbed a strange, rough basket as it floated past. He found me inside, sound asleep. The river came down from the mountain glaciers and was ice cold. If the basket had tipped in the swift current or leaked, I would have perished from the freezing water. But I was perfectly dry, and when I opened my eyes — the color of spring violets in this land of the blue-eyed — Jorgen was overcome with astonishment and could not leave me to the river. He carried me home to his new wife and two motherless children — his son Kai, who was close to my age, or so they guessed, and his daughter Karina, who was five years older. I had stayed with them ever since, but I certainly was not part of the family, and Ylva never let me forget that. I helped Kai with the shepherding and Karina and Ylva with the household chores, and I slept on a pallet in the barn with the sheep. Ylva did not even let me eat at the table with the others.”

The book begins as Lilia overhears Ylva telling her husband that they must hire Lilia out to the miller, whose wife needs a serving girl. The miller is a cruel man, even to his own children, and Lilia decides to run away, to head north and see if she can find answers about her origins.

Lilia is rarely truly alone in this book — which makes it all the more of a feel-good book to read. For the next day, Kai and Karina, and the dog Ove, catch up with her. They tell Lilia that they are coming with her. Ylva was so angry when Lilia left, she threatened to betrothe Karina to the miller’s son. So the story is more of friends going on an adventure than of a lonely quest.

But the friends do face an adventure. At an inn, they meet some kind (and handsome) lords who are also traveling. They warn the three travelers about the Bitra Forest, where the Elf-King lives, who steals children and poses great danger to travelers.

Despite the warnings, they are attacked by bandits in the forest and go off the path. They encounter the Elf-King and his people, and his daughter decides she likes Kai. She enchants him and decides to keep him.

So the quest to find Lilia’s origins ends up being a quest to rescue Kai. Lilia bravely stands up to the Elf-King and negotiates with him. If Lilia will bring back Odin’s own cloak clasp, dropped on his Hunt, and now in a palace not far away, Kai will be released. But she is only given a fortnight in which to do it.

So there is real danger and tension, but because of Lilia’s support from Karina, and others she meets along the way, things never get truly dark.

This is a good yarn and with its feel-good nature is suitable for a middle grade student’s first fairy tale retelling. But it also has plenty to offer for people like me, who have loved fairy tale retellings for years.

And you’ll finally understand why the princess was bothered by that pesky pea!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an advance review copy sent to me by the author.

Review of Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George

Princess of Glass

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2010. 266 pages.
Starred Review

I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Jessica Day George. Princess of Glass is a follow up to her excellent Princess of the Midnight Ball, but it’s also an incredibly creative twist on the story of Cinderella.

I thought that the Cinderella story has been rewritten so well so many different ways, there was not much more that could be done with it. Though I must admit all the versions I’ve read are among my favorite fairy tale retellings: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, Bella at Midnight, by Diane Stanley, and Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Jessica Day George does something quite different with the story and wonderfully creative, using the version where Cinderella attends three balls. What if the godmother were really an evil witch bent on entrapping Cinderella for her own evil purposes? What if the prince and all the people at the ball were affected by an enchantment and falling in love with Cinderella despite their true feelings?

Finally, what if a princess who had experience with evil enchantments and how to protect against them was at the court and was falling in love with the prince herself?

The main character of the book is Poppy, one of the younger of the 12 Dancing Princesses featured in Princess of the Midnight Ball. After so many princes suffered fatal accidents trying to break their family’s enchantment, the king tries to build bridges by sending some daughters to foreign courts.

Poppy is a delightfully independent young lady. When she notices strange things going on around Eleanora, a clumsy servant girl from an impoverished family, she determines to get to the bottom of it. I like the way she’s still knitting charms to help, which she learned from her brother-in-law.

The author includes two knitting patterns at the end, one for the poppy-decorated shawl Poppy wears to a ball. My only complaint is that I wish there were a picture. I’m going to have to make one to see what it looks like!

I found it ingenious how Jessica Day George wove in all the motifs of the Cinderella story (except maybe the stepsisters) in a way so completely different than I’d ever thought of them before. Brilliant!

I can’t help but hope that more stories will be forthcoming about some of the other 12 princesses and their adventures in other foreign lands.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Calamity Jack, by Shannon and Dean Hale

Calamity Jack

by Shannon and Dean Hale
illustrated by Nathan Hale

Bloomsbury, New York, 2010. 144 pages.

Here’s a companion graphic novel to Rapunzel’s Revenge, which was also written by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean and illustrated by Nathan Hale, who, interestingly enough, is no relation to the other Hales.

In Rapunzel’s Revenge, the creators took the story of Rapunzel as sort of a framework for a melodrama set in some sort of version of the Wild West, only with magic and a witch-like tyrant and strange creatures. In Rapunzel’s adventures, she met up with a con-artist named Jack who carried around a goose that laid golden eggs.

You don’t really need to read Rapunzel’s Revenge first to enjoy Calamity Jack. In it, Jack is bringing Rapunzel to the big city where he grew up. In Rapunzel’s Revenge, they rescued Rapunzel’s mother from a tyrant terrorizing the whole area. In Calamity Jack their plan is to rescue Jack’s mother from a tyrant terrorizing the whole area.

We also learn about Jack’s background. Not surprisingly, it involves a beanstalk and a giant. Though like Rapunzel’s Revenge, the fairy tale framework is simply a jumping-off point.

The story is wild, over-the-top, not exactly believable, and melodramatic — but a whole lot of fun. This is a graphic novel adventure yarn with a touch of romance and lots of teamwork, as Jack acquires a rival who’s also interested in Rapunzel. She’s still wielding her braids as a lasso, but it also takes Jack’s schemes to defeat the giants and save the town.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst


by Sarah Beth Durst

Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), New York, 2009. 308 pages.
Starred Review

When Cassie was small, when her Dad was away from the station, Gram would tell her a fairy tale:

“Once upon a time, the North Wind said to the Polar Bear King, ‘Steal me a daughter, and when she grows, she will be your bride.’…

“And so, the Polar Bear King kidnapped a human child and brought her to the North Wind, and she was raised with the North Wind as her father and the West, South, and East Winds as her uncles….

“When the Polar Bear King came to claim his bride, she refused him. Her heart, she said belonged to another….

“Knowing the power of a magic promise, the North Wind’s daughter sought to counter it with her own bargain. ‘Then I will make a promise to you,’ the North Wind’s daughter replied. ‘Bring me to my love and hide us from my father, and when I have a daughter, she will be your bride.’ And so, the Bear carried the North Wind’s daughter to her human husband and hid them in the ice and snow….

“In time, the woman had a child. Passing by, the West Wind heard the birth and hurried to tell the North Wind where his daughter could be found. With the strength of a thousand blizzards, the North Wind swooped down onto the house that held his daughter, her husband, and their newborn baby. He would have torn the house to shreds, but the woman ran outside. ‘Take me,’ she cried, ‘but leave my loved ones alone!’

“The North Wind blew her as far as he could — as far as the castle beyond the ends of the world. There, she fell to the ground and was captured by trolls.” Cassie heard the bed creak as Gram stood. Her rich voice was softer now. “It is said that when the wind howls from the north, it is for his lost daughter.”

Cassie blinked her eyes open. “And Mommy is still there?”

Gram was a shadow in the doorway. “Yes.”

After this surprising prologue, the book opens the day before Cassie’s eighteenth birthday. Cassie remembers Gram’s story when she tracks down the biggest polar bear she’s ever seen. She smiles to think that if the Polar Bear King existed, this is what he’d look like. She loads her tranquilizer gun so she can tag and measure him.

And then he disappears.

She stays out late trying to figure out how she missed his trail, and is ready for a scolding from her father, back at the Arctic research station. What she isn’t prepared for is his reaction to her story of the giant disappearing polar bear. He tells her she must leave the station right away, fly to Fairbanks to stay with her grandmother. He says the station can no longer be her home.

When she wakes at three a.m. to the sound of the plane that’s come to take her away, she realizes how serious her father is. Gram is on the plane and she tells Cassie the fairy tale was Gram’s way of telling Cassie the truth. Her mother was the daughter of the North Wind. She bargained with the Polar Bear King, and now, on her eighteenth birthday, he’s coming for Cassie.

Cassie is incredulous, but also feels hurt and betrayed that either her father or her grandmother didn’t tell her the truth. She doesn’t want to leave her home. When Gram gives her time to get ready for the flight, Cassie goes outside and calls the Polar Bear King. He comes.

Now Cassie makes a bargain with the Polar Bear King. If he frees her mother from the trolls, she will marry him.

So begins this striking and original retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” I’ve already read two novelized versions that I loved: East, by Edith Pattou, and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George. This one is very different, because it sets the story in the modern day.

I loved the way every chapter begins with Cassie’s GPS readings. They go haywire when the Polar Bear King brings her to his castle a mile north of the North Pole.

Bear is a munaqsri with the task of transferring and transporting the souls of polar bears who die into polar bears who are born. His heart breaks when he is not fast enough to be present at a polar bear birth, and the baby is stillborn.

I was delighted that Cassie comes up with a job, a way she can help, using data from the research station. This is not a heroine who is happy to sit alone in a magical castle! She finds a way to work side by side with Bear.

But what I loved most about the book was how it showed Cassie falling in love with Bear. She teases him and cares about him and sees his love for the polar bears. We can see her love for him blossoming on the page.

As in the fairy tale, he comes to her in the shape of a man at night, and on the first night, Cassie swings an ax at him! But as she comes to care about him, she allows him to sleep in the room, and then later she kisses him. Finally, she gives him a wedding night.

And my paragraph there is just about as explicit as the book gets. It’s beautifully romantic without having to go into detail. As in the fairy tale, though, her husband only comes to her in the shape of a man at night, and doesn’t want her to see his face.

When she breaks that taboo, tragedy strikes.

Cassie has grown up on the Arctic research station, so we believe that she is capable of surviving when she sets out to rescue her husband from the troll castle east of the sun and west of the moon.

This is another book I’d like to get into the hands of teens who love the romance in Twilight, because here, too, we have a story of One True Love. We have a heroine who is devastated by the loss of her beloved and is willing to do anything to bring them back together.

Back when the Harry Potter books were at the height of their popularity, my husband had the insight to say that he believed it was so popular because of the aspect of the chosen child. Everyone would like to be told: Here is your destiny. This is what you were born to do.

I think Twilight‘s popularity is similar. We wish that True Love were as simple as the “imprinting” Stephenie Meyer’s werewolves experience. I think that girls, at least, long to experience love that they feel is their destiny, to find their One True Love. And, take it from me, there’s a real satisfaction to calling the rival who steals away their husband, the Troll Queen!

I admit that I always love novelizations of fairy tales. I honestly thought that I’d read too many versions of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” to be impressed by another, but I loved this. Beautiful writing and a beautiful story. A wonderfully romantic tale of True Love you would go past the ends of the earth for.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

where_the_mountain_meets_the_moonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon

by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 282 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Newbery Honor Book
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction

“Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal. The villagers called it Fruitless Mountain because nothing grew on it and birds and animals did not rest there.”

Minli lives in this village with her Ma and Ba. They are poor, like the others in the village, but Minli is different.

“What kept Minli from becoming dull and brown like the rest of the village were the stories her father told her every night at dinner. She glowed with such wonder and excitement that even Ma would smile, though she would shake her head at the same time. Ba seemed to drop his gray and work weariness — his black eyes sparkled like raindrops in the sun when he began a story.”

However, spurred by stories, and a magical goldfish, Minli sets off on a quest to ask the Old Man of the Moon how to change their fortune.

This book is a wonderful quest tale, with stories woven throughout, all having the feel of Chinese classic tales. The book design is wonderful, with a small picture for each chapter, full color illustrations periodically, and a change in font whenever a separate story is told.

The stories Minli hears all tie together, helping her on her quest. She meets friends along the way, including a dragon who can’t fly, and must outwit some monkeys and get past an evil tiger. The story itself is simple and satisfying, but also intriguing.

The book reminded me very much of The Wizard of Oz, and I would love to read it to children who are just old enough to listen to a book with chapters. Like The Wizard of Oz, the quest leads our heroine back to those who love her, and everybody ends up happy, having learned their lessons well. Minli does face dangers, but none too horribly frightening.

As much as this book would be suitable for young children, I found it delightful reading myself. I liked the way Minli’s adventures tied in with the tales that were inserted. I’ve always loved fairy tales, and this book offered many original tales, all tied together in the quest of a delightful little girl with plenty of pluck.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.