Where the Trains Turn November 19, 2014 Where the Trains Turn Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen His imagination runs wild. The Walk November 12, 2014 The Walk Dennis Etchison Creative differences can be brutal. Where the Lost Things Are November 5, 2014 Where the Lost Things Are Rudy Rucker and Terry Bisson Everything has to wind up somewhere. A Kiss with Teeth October 29, 2014 A Kiss with Teeth Max Gladstone Happy Halloween.
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November 21, 2014
Never Wait for a Sequel Again: 17 Standalone Fantasy Novels
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November 18, 2014
The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s Histories in the Age of Netflix
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November 17, 2014
In Defense of Indiana Jones, Archaeologist
Max Gladstone
November 14, 2014
An Uncut and Non-Remastered List of Star Wars Editions!
Leah Schnelbach
November 13, 2014
Why Do We Reject Love as a Powerful Force in Interstellar?
Natalie Zutter
Showing posts by: mari ness click to see mari ness's profile
Aug 21 2014 1:00pm

When Even Magic isn’t Enough: A Stranger at Green Knowe

A Stranger at Green Knowe does, I must say, start out on a strange note for a Green Knowe book, given that it starts not at that old and magical house, but rather deep in the African jungle with a family of gorillas.

A few jumps, roars, mildly questionable if well meaning descriptions of human African natives, and enthralled descriptions of the African jungles later, and poor little Hanno the Gorilla finds himself captured by a white hunter and taken to the London Zoo. His little sister gorilla doesn’t make it.

[It only gets slightly more cheerful from here.]

Aug 14 2014 2:30pm

Drifting Away, on More Than One Level: The River at Green Knowe

The River at Green Knowe LM BostonThe last Green Knowe book had left Tolly and his great-grandmother with enough money to take a nice long vacation—but not quite enough to afford to leave their ghost-ridden house empty during their absence. To cover that expense, they rent the house out to two mildly eccentric women: Dr. Maud Biggin and Miss Sybilla Bun.

Dr. Biggin is writing a, uh, scholarly book about giants who lived in England prior to the arrival of normal sized humans (let’s just leap past this), and Miss Bun just wants to feed everybody. Despite the need for peace and quiet for scholarship, and perhaps because of Miss Bun’s need to feed everyone, they decide to invite three children to stay with them during the holidays: Dr. Biggin’s niece, Ida, and two refugee children, Oskar and Ping. Fortunately, the rest of the book is mostly about them, and their exploration of The River at Green Knowe.

[In which I have to confess something. You may all judge me for it.]

Aug 7 2014 3:00pm

A Blind Ghost: Treasure of Green Knowe

Treasure of Green Knowe LM BostonNine year old Tolly returns to the old house at Green Knowe to face some terrible news: his great-grandmother has sent away the old picture of Toby, Alexander and Linnet for a London exhibition, which means—gasp—no ghosts to play with, since the ghosts are attached to the picture. Some people might consider this a good thing, but not Tolly, who now thinks of the ghosts as his best friends, which probably says something about the boarding school he’s at, but I digress.

Worse news is to come: Mrs. Oldknow is actually considering selling the painting. All of those wonderful floods and heavy snows from the first book have heavily damaged the roof (maybe not as wonderful as described) and Mrs. Oldknow has no money to pay for repairs. Since she also legally has to keep the historic house repaired, she has little choice: the painting, the only valuable object she has left, has to go.

Unless, that is, another ghost can help Tolly find the Treasure of Green Knowe. Fortunately enough, the house just happens to have another ghost—Susan.

[Spoilers! Which means he can!]

Jul 31 2014 2:00pm

When Your House Obsession Becomes A Kid’s Book: The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe L M BostonYoung Toseland Oldknow—Tolly, please, if you must give him a nickname, not Towser, or worse, Toto (I am trying to look past the implied insult to Oz here, everyone)—is off to live with his great-grandmother in a very old house that to him feels very far away. He is both scared and slightly hopeful: since the death of his mother, his only real family is a distant father and a well meaning but generally clueless stepmother, so a great-grandmother feels like something. She might even be real family.

Spoiler: she is. What Tolly didn’t expect—and couldn’t expect—were the ghosts. Or, if you prefer, The Children of Green Knowe.

[When you are not about to let a little thing like a plague distract you from living, playing, and dealing with evil haunted trees.]

Jul 24 2014 3:00pm

Wrapping Up the Ends, Untidily: Lois Lowry’s Son

Lois Lowry SonIn Son, Lois Lowry returns us to the terrifying, ordered world she had first explored in The Giver, the world where at most fifty infants are allowed to be born and live each year (extras and any babies that “fail to thrive” are euthanized), where everyone is assigned a job, a spouse, and children to raise, where everyone takes daily pills to suppress any form of hormonal attraction. Also, everyone eats the same carefully prepared diet. Delightful place, really. Fortunately, as Son reminds us, this world does have other places. Unfortunately, those other places have their own evils.

As Son begins, Claire, a Birthmother, is undergoing her first pregnancy, in the process answering most of the questions I had from The Giver. Spoiler: I am not happy with the answers.

[More unhappy spoilers follow—spoilers for this book and the previous books in the series.]

Jul 17 2014 4:00pm

Shifting from Human to Supernatural Evil: Messenger

Messenger Lois LowryLois Lowry’s Messenger takes place a few years after the events of The Giver and Gathering Blue. Jonas has settled down in the seemingly genuine utopian village where Kira’s blind father, Christopher, found refuge. Jonas has become the village Leader, with the simple and descriptive name of Leader, and Christopher has become the village Seer, with, ditto. Matty is still Matty, if a little cleaner and more educated, now hoping to earn the name of Messenger. We also get a hint that just maybe the community of The Giver has been forced to change, just a little, by Jonas’ departure, and that they are willing to forgive and forget.

(That’s Jonas’ interpretation. My interpretation is that the community is still so against change that they are doing everything they can do to ensure that no one in the community knows that alternatives exist—even though alternatives are clearly around.)

[When human evil is overtaken by supernatural evil.]

Jul 10 2014 2:00pm

Community Obedience: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue Lois LowrySeven years after writing The Giver, Lois Lowry wrote a companion volume, Gathering Blue. In it, she explored another future society that, like the one in The Giver, very carefully allocates its workforce and assigns tasks, and, like the one in The Giver, does not hesitate to kill unacceptable members of the community. By “unacceptable,” this community generally means the disabled, the old, those who refuse to work or contribute, and, as young Kira is about to discover, those that stand up against the community leaders. It is a community of codified status. And it is a community that insists on absolute obedience on laws—while not necessarily getting that absolute obedience.

Unlike the community in The Giver, however, no one is under the impression that everything is perfect in their community: they know what death means, refusing to use innocuous words like “release” in its stead, and have mourning rituals for the ones they have lost. They know about illness; as the book starts, Kira’s mother has just died from one. Part of their community lives in a very poor section, called the Fens, where they live by scavenging and trade and very little else. They know about grief. They know about love. And they can see colors. Indeed, this last gift is what keeps Kira alive.

[If not always happy about it.]

Jul 3 2014 2:30pm

Walking Away From Colors: The Giver

Lois Lowry The GiverLois Lowry’s The Givera version of which is coming soon to your local movieplex very soonstarts out on a chilling note, as the sight and sound of a plane—just one plane—completely freaks out a young boy named Jonas and for the first time, introduces him to fear. Because it is a deviation, and any deviation from normal, in this world, is wrong and terrifying. It is, after all, a planned and structured world, where everyone is carefully placed in the correct job, with the correct family and correct spouse, with no more than two children who must be carefully applied for and then cared for, with rituals for talking about feelings and interacting with peers, where the absolute precision of language is insisted on, a world of still evolving genetic engineering. Oh, and drugs.

Like the best of dystopian novels, The Giver is less about a future world than about our own. Lowry considers some of the solutions for managing an ever increasing world population and decides, with cold and clear logic, to see exactly what type of community such solutions would create.

[It’s not really one I’d want to belong to. Very spoilery.]

Jun 26 2014 2:00pm

Ghosts or Time Travel? Tom’s Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Garden Philippa PearceLast time, I chatted about a ghost story book masquerading as a time travel. And now for the flipside: a time travel book masquerading as a ghost story: Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce.

As the book opens, Tom is sulking, since his parents are sending him to the home of a not much liked aunt and uncle, just because his younger brother has the measles. Tom would rather have the measles than stay with Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen. His parents, on the other hand, are firm: one kid in the house with the measles is quite enough, thanks, even if Tom is yelling at them. His arrival at his aunt and uncle’s place does nothing to cheer him up; it’s one of many gloomy and depressing flats carved out from one of those huge old English family homes. He sulks some more.

Until, that is, the clock strikes thirteen.

[And, suddenly, bonus magical garden. Spoilery.]

Jun 19 2014 3:00pm

Time Travel, or Possession by Ghosts? The Court of the Stone Children

The Court of the Stone Children Eleanor CameronEleanor Cameron was hardly idle after abandoning the Mushroom Planet books that had brought her so many fans. She continued to write a book every other year or so, including A Room Made of Windows, a critically well received, more mainstream novel that eventually led to her abandonment of fantasy and science fiction writing for children.

But before turning completely to those mainstream novels, one more book haunted her: The Court of the Stone Children.

[Ghosts, time travel, and art.]

Jun 5 2014 2:00pm

Sometimes, Abandonment is Better: Time and Mr. Bass

Time and Mr Bass Mushroom Planet Eleanor CameronAs we’ve seen in these rereads, authors have several ways to respond to the demands of young fans for more books in a series. They could announce that a certain otherwise perfect fairyland was inexplicably unable to set up a simple security system and thus decided to go invisible; they could, when this failed, choose to trudge on in increasing despair, fortunately dying before seeing the travesty a certain U.S. television series would later make of their work. They could merrily send everyone off to a glorious afterlife, or rather less merrily send all of their characters into a miserable totalitarian hellhole with bonus political corruption (I’m still at a loss for this one), or simply refuse to write further books in the series until reluctantly returning years later for a limping sort of finale.

And then there’s Eleanor Cameron, who in 1967 returned to the Mushroom Planet, with Time and Mr. Bass. Not to spoil things too quickly, but I kinda found myself wishing she’d taken the totalitarian hellhole route. Or at least the killing everyone who doesn’t wear lipstick route.

[Those of you who had issues with BBC’s Merlin should probably skip this book, because, if you thought that screwed with the Arthurian legend...]

May 29 2014 1:00pm

How Many Planetoids Do We Have to Hide? Mr. Bass’s Planetoid

Mr Bass's Planetoid Eleanor CameronAs it turns out, keeping the existence of a tiny, secret planet inhabited by squishy Mushroom People is not all that easy, especially if the person who discovered the planet was in correspondence with certain scholars, and in particular one Prewytt Brumblydge, who seems to be well on his way to creating a machine that can unravel the planet. (Spend a moment thinking about what you did this morning, and feel either smug or deeply unproductive in comparison.)

And, as it also turns out, David and Chuck, the protagonists of Eleanor Cameron’s two previous books, don’t have just one tiny, secret planet to protect. They have two: the Mushroom Planet, and Mr. Bass’s Planetoid.

[Exactly how many small, undetected planetoids are zipping around the Earth anyway?]

May 22 2014 2:00pm

A Questionable View of Science: Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet Eleanor CameronApparently I’m not the only one convinced that the remarkable discoveries, chronicled by children’s author Eleanor Cameron, of one Mr. Tyco Bass, that member of the Mushroom Planet who devoted a full human lifetime to creating various Strange Inventions, studying the stars, discovering new planetoids, and—in a new twist—finding what seem to be rather dangerous holes in space orbiting the Earth (GULP) should be brought to wider attention. Granted, my interest is purely scientific. That of Horatio Quimby Peabody, however, is rather less scientific, and rather more consumed with the joy of gaining renown—and possibly even tenure—by making such discoveries public. Thus his sudden decision to be a Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet.

[Though I seriously hope no young readers will be taking Horatio Quimby Peabody as an exemplar of the academic and scientific professions. Also, updates on the chickens.]

May 15 2014 1:00pm

Exploring Space Before the Moon Landing: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet Eleanor CameronYoung David Topman divides his time between reading and dreaming of travelling between planets in his completely imaginary spaceship. So, when a newspaper ad directly asks for a small spaceship built by two boys (I’m quoting, before you all start protesting) promising adventure to the boys delivering said ship, David immediately leaps at the chance.

He enlists the help of his friend Chuck, and with some scrap metal and other household products, they manage to put together a little spaceship—one that might just be able to make Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

[Imagining what Earth would look like from outer space, just a few years before the moon landing.]

May 8 2014 1:00pm

Fairy Tale as Comfort: The Little White Horse

Elizabeth Goudge The Little White HorseElizabeth Goudge needed at least a temporary escape from the horrors of World War II when she sat down to write The Little White Horse. Set in a land and time that seems remote from war, where food rationing has never been heard of (the lavish descriptions of rich, sweet foods are among the most memorable parts of the book), the book certainly succeeded as an escape: an idealistic fantasy—with just a touch of realism—that assured readers that with faith, everything could work out. Really.

[And by the time you finish this book, you might even believe that.]

May 6 2014 3:30pm

Once Upon a Time Goes to “Kansas”—Sorta

Once Upon a Time Wicked Witch Glinda Dorothy

Previously on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, the fairy tale show decided to add to its already mixed-up cast of traditional fairy tale stories and Disney cartoons Robin Hood, Dr. Frankenstein (his monster has decided to look for opportunities in other lands), and the glorious green skinned Wicked Witch of the West. You go, Zelena you witch, you. Then the plot got Even More Complicated.

So what’s happened since we last checked in on the show?

[More sexy pirate! YAY! More huge plot holes and morally questionable decisions, NAY! Very spoilery, though once again I mostly focus on the Oz stuff.]

May 1 2014 11:30am

Fairy Tale as Sarcasm: The Water-Babies

Jessie Wilcox Smith The Water Babies

“...there are dozens and hundreds of things in the world which we should certainly have said were contrary to nature, if we did not see them going on under our eyes all day long.”

The Table of Contents for Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, a Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863) scared me, promising me, as it does, a Moral at the end of a book—a Moral that, moreover, lasts for a full chapter.

Unlike the Duchess of Wonderland, I am not fond of morals, wherever they appear in a book, which makes me even less fond of chapters labelled as “Moral.”  And I am very suspicious of any book that cheerfully tells me that no, no it doesn't have any morals at all, since it's a fairy tale, only to end up with an entire chapter called “Moral.”

[Fairy tale as social satire. Major spoilers.]

Apr 24 2014 3:00pm

How Not to Write for Both Children and Adults: Sylvie and Bruno

I was first handed Sylvie and Bruno when I was an eager kid just coming off of Alice in Wonderland, certain—certain—that this omnibus edition of Lewis Carroll, which the cover said contained everything that Carroll ever wrote (which turned out to be true; it even included various mathematical puzzles) would be sure to have lots and lots of jokes and funny conversations and funny poems and would be the best thing ever.

As I have noted in these rereads, my expectations are frequently wrong.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to say about it and its sequel Sylvie and Bruno Completed.

[Not, perhaps, a kindly something, but something.]

Apr 17 2014 2:00pm

More Logic, Wordplay, and Mirrors: Through the Looking Glass

Six years after sending a curious girl through a land of mathematics, dream, and logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll returned to the story of Alice in Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.

In some ways, the book is a direct opposite of its predecessor: starting indoors, rather than outdoors, Alice stepping boldly through the looking glass instead of following a rabbit and falling down a rabbit hole. In nearly every other way, the book is a direct continuation: with Alice entering a world of logic and confusion and nursery rhyme and twisted poetry—only this time, I’m not quite as certain that she has entered fairyland, or a fairyland.

[I am certain that we will never know who was really the worst: the Walrus or the Carpenter, though we can be certain that if we ever become oysters, and see the Carpenter, we should try to wobble away really really fast.]

Apr 10 2014 1:00pm

Beginning It All: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The original plan for these rereads, after Oz and Narnia, was to try to explore the history of children’s literature in some sort of linear fashion. That didn’t happen for any number of reasons, one of which was that I started these rereads by immediately skipping Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. I could give you a profound or witty or academic reason for this, but the truth is, although I’ve generally tried to make these rereads more or less complete, I did not want, under any circumstances, to reread Caroll’s later books: Sylvie and Bruno/Sylvie and Bruno Completed. They are just terrible. Until I realized that I might just have something to say about them after all.

But first, one of the most influential works of children’s literature: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[White rabbits, flamingos, dreams, and a model for later children’s writers.]