Title: ICE

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Year Published: 2009

Recommended: This is difficult. I had some big problems with this book that kept me from enjoying it, but if those things don’t bother you, it’s otherwise an engaging read. And the only way to explain those problems is through some spoilers.

Spoilers: Er, yes. Quite a few. Although as with Ash, knowledge of the source tale pretty much makes ‘spoilers’ irrelevent, since it follows the basics pretty closely (curse, trolls, etc).

I only finished this book last night, so I don’t have a great deal of perspective on it, but I wanted to get everything down while it’s fresh in my mind. When I was a wee lass, one of my favorite movies was The Polar Bear King, which is an adaptation of the same fairy tale ICE is based on. A princess is wed to a polar bear who becomes a man at night, but because of the nature of his curse she can never see his face. When she disobeys this command, he is whisked away from her to wed a troll princess, and she must rescue him. The fairy tale is in turn a version of the Psyche myth, which always appealed to me because in the end, the princess rescues the prince, even if it was her mistake that got him into trouble in the first place–but really, if she hadn’t broken the rules, she wouldn’t have been able to break the curse either.

In ICE, Cassie’s mother is supposedly dead, but her grandmother tells a story about the daughter of the north wind, and there’s something complicated about a curse and reasons for refusal to marry the polar bear, and promising her daughter, and being kidnapped and taken to a troll castle, etc. It’s been a while since I read the actual fairy tale, and the compressed version presented in ICE never stuck with me, so I’m still not sure quite what was going on. But the idea is that Cassie’s now supposed to marry the polar bear, and since she lives in the arctic at a research station it’s pretty easy for him to show up to claim her. She agrees to marry him if he will rescue her mother from the trolls, because extortion is the best beginning to any healthy relationship.
Continue reading ‘Review: ICE by Sarah Beth Durst’


19 books

27Jan10

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Often those times involve books. I put a whole bunch of books on hold, which isn’t unusual; what is unusual is that they were available right away. Normally, by virtue of scant copies and high demand, I have to wait quite a while for my holds to come in. Instead, this time around I have far more books than I can possibly read in three weeks. Thankfully, I also have the ability to renew books. So here are the nineteen books I either have out or am about to pick up from the library:
1. Bury Me Standing: the Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca – For research
2. Crashed by Robin Wasserman – Because the ending of Skinned is so freaking depressing, I want to see if it gets better.
3. Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier – after reading Liar I’m interested in her earlier work.
4. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst – A retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which was my favorite fairy-tale for a very long time
5. Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell – Random rec on a blog. Sounded interesting. Cover is truly awful, though.
6. The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld – I hadn’t even realized this series existed, and since I’ve enjoyed Westerfeld in the past I picked it up. I read it last night (it’s short) and wasn’t overly impressed.
7. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale – Another random blog-endorsed book. Plus, non-western/non-white character.
8. The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan – I’ve heard various things about this book and just got curious. Plus, the author’s blog is very charming.
9. Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice – Has been on a scribbled list for a few months. I can’t even remember what it’s about.
10. Monster by Walter Dean Myers – It’s been on my radar for a very long time, and I finally got around to putting a hold on it. There was a waiting list, so I didn’t think it would show up with this crop. Oh well.
11. Columbine by David Cullen – I’ve heard a lot about this, and I was young enough when the massacre occurred that I don’t actually know that much about it or the reactions to it. This is what I’m reading at the moment. So far, it’s intense.
12. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch – In case Columbine doesn’t leave me depressed enough.
13. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon – Another non-Western fantasy. Yay!
14. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson – Saw this endorsed one too many times to pass it by.
15. Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe – I have a soft spot for ghosts and bitter teens.
16. Fire by Kristin Cashore – I adored Graceling and would have bought this book if I had the funds. But I don’t. Hasn’t actually come in yet, since the waitlist is INTENSE.
17. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – I’ve wanted to read this in a passive “I’ll pick it up someday” way for years.
18. Devil’s Kiss by Chadda Sarwat – I know little about this book except that it embraces the dark and scary side of urban fantasy, which intrigues me. Could be crap. Could be awesome. I’ll let you know.
19. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – Another random blog rec.

I picked up most of these yesterday, and I finished the first one last night. I’ll keep you posted on the rest.


Title: THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER
Author: Kim Edwards
Publisher: Penguin
Year Published: 2006

Recommended: No. I know plenty of people love it, but I found very, very little to appreciate in this novel, and given its length (400 dense pages with obese paragraphs) it’s quite an investment for so little pay-off.

Spoilers: In the second-to-last paragraph, although I don’t think knowing some of the basics of the ending makes that much of a difference to the story.

As part of a personal challenge to myself, I am making an effort this year to read more literary/realistic fiction–somewhat loosely defined, as I’m including YA fiction that qualifies, where I normally keep YA in its own, separate category. I’m trying to keep the proportion at about 25%–one in four. I hit book number four and realized I didn’t have a lit fic book out from the library, so I did the rare shelf-scrounge and came up with something lent to my mother: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

I was predisposed to dislike this book, mainly because of the title. The ______’s Daughter or The ________’s Wife, etc, was used originally to title folk tales because the women had no names; their characters were defined by their relations, usually men. The popularity of this scheme is troubling to me for that reason; the central characters are not defined by themselves, but rather by the men (and sometimes women) in their lives. When’s the last time you saw The ________’s Son, or The _______’s Husband? I can’t think of a single such title, though I’m sure there are a few. Men define themselves. Women must be defined in relation to others.

But titles are often not within the control of the author, and even if they are I’m willing to cut a book some slack. There are some truly abysmal titles attached to some wonderful books out there. So I dove in.
Continue reading ‘Review: THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards’



Bloomsbury, which put out the LIAR cover which substituted a white, fair-haired girl for the black, tomboyish protagonist, recently came under fire for doing basically the same thing all over again. This time the book is MAGIC UNDER GLASS, by Jaclyn Dolamore. The protagonist: brown-skinned. The girl on the cover: definitely not.

Bloomsbury has responded to the second round of outrage fairly quickly. The page for the book now has this notice: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

Which is great. It’s what they should do after-the-fact. But this shouldn’t be happening in the first place. This isn’t just a careless mistake, or the innocent result of the cover design being in the hands of those who haven’t necessarily read the book. Because it occurs in the context of inequality, and an industry in which the voices and stories of people of color, both fictional characters and flesh-and-blood authors, are already under-represented.

Ari of the blog Reading in Color wrote an open letter to Bloomsbury (and quite a bit else on the subject–which she rounds up in the latter half of this post). In her letter she says:

“Do you know how sad I feel when my middle school age sister tells me she would rather read a book about a white teen than a person of color because “we aren’t as pretty or interesting.” She doesn’t know the few books that do exist out there about people of color because publishing houses like yourself, don’t put people of color on the covers.”

This isn’t an issue of aesthetics or “accuracy.” It has real, profound consequences for all the anything-other-than-white young readers who look at the shelves and find that there’s no room for them there.

And while making a stink about these covers after the fact is important, and can result in appropriate action, there’s far more to be done. These mistakes need to be caught before they hit the shelves. Before they’re designed. And these rare stories and voices need to become a whole lot less rare–because before there can be representative covers, there need to be representative books.

It’s all been said before, and better, and by people whose voices are far more important than mine, but it remains important to say.

And once that new cover is issued, I’ll put my money where my mouth is.



Title: LEVIATHAN
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: To anyone looking for light adventure and fun, and doesn’t run screaming in the other direction at the mention of steampunk.

Spoilers: Not really. I think.

My first exposure to this book was stumbling across the magnificent map that lies inside the covers (both front and back, which is good since the library tapes down the jacket and obscures about a third of each map, so you need to flip between them for the full effect). The countries of Europe are represented by either animals or machines, indicating their status as either Darwinists, who manipulate the ‘life threads’ of various species to create useful hybrids, or Clankers, who engineer great war machines. It’s Europe in the early days of WWI, if the British used giant hydrogen-filled whales and the Germans tromped around in the gears-and-steam versions of AT-STs. Continue reading ‘Review: LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld’



Title: ASH
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: To those who are intrigued by the idea. It’s a lovely but simple story, and while I enjoyed reading it I’m not sure I’ll remember much about it.

Spoilers: Technically yes, but it’s a hard book to spoil if you know the basic premise and the source tale.

I have a bit of an obsession with fairy tales. I used to read the various fairy-tale collections (Grimm, Anderson, Andrew Lang’s fairy books) and still return to them every so often. The various re-tellings and re-imaginings of these stories fascinate me, even if I end up hating them. So when I saw ASH spotlighted on several blogs, I had to give it a read.

In many ways Lo has stuck to the original story quite faithfully. Reading about the loss of Ash’s parents and how she came to live under the thumb of her step-mother was familiar, but Lo’s prose is beautiful and her world much richer than the traditional story. In ASH, fairies are real, and dangerous—but for Ash, irresistible. The fairies were the most intriguing part of ASH for me, and I wished they had a more prominent role. They supply, of course, the fairy godmother, in this telling a beautiful male fairy who falls in love with Ash. His love, though, is distant, and perhaps because it is unfamiliar to him, he doesn’t express it in any clear way. He never came alive for me, and remained the least interesting of all the magic in the book. He gives Ash her gifts, but I was more interested in the wild hunts and revels that Ash stumbles across. In the end, I felt that the fairies should have been far more prominent. They have an instrumental role in the story, but because they seemed separate from the rest of the events, in their own world, it felt off to have them/him have such an impact.

Apart from the nature of fairies, ASH’s big departure from the traditional tale is the romance. Ash never desires the prince—instead, she is drawn to the king’s Huntress. This “twist” is stated very up-front in most of the blurbs and interviews I’ve seen, so I was expecting it. I think perhaps had it been a surprise it would have had more impact. As it was, I didn’t buy the romantic tension between the two of them, perhaps because Ash is an exceedingly quiet character. She often felt purposeless, drawn from place to place and person to person. The romance and its ultimate conclusion were sweet, but they didn’t seem real.

I wanted to love this book. Certainly the prose is beautiful, and at times I was delighted by the way Lo brought the fairies into her world, but in the end none of the pieces quite came together. There seemed to be two stories: the story of Ash and the Huntress, and the story of Ash and the fairies. They could have been woven together, but instead they seemed firmly divided, and that robbed depth from the story.

I find I don’t have a great deal to say about the book; there isn’t much to object to, but there isn’t a great deal that shines. I’m glad I read it, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by the idea, but I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll remember much.


Note: This is a review I wrote quite some time ago (more than a year) but it was buried in my personal journal and I didn’t want to lose it. So here it is.

Title: The Stolen Child
Author: Keith Donahue
Publisher: Anchor
Year published: 2007

Spoilers: A few.

Recommended: It’s been a long while since I read it, but I can’t imagine giving this book as a gift. It’s certainly not a book to avoid, but nor is it a book to seek out.

Back when I was working at Borders, I picked up this book off the free shelf in the back room. I probably wouldn’t have bought it otherwise, despite my affection for modern takes on the world of the fey (Holly Black and Emma Bull are to be blamed for this). It’s marketed as a literary novel, which makes a certain amount of sense–despite the fact that the two main characters are a changeling and the boy the changeling displaced, there is almost nothing magical about this story, and that was the major failing for me.

Continue reading ‘Review: The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue’