Today I Read..The Forgotten Tale

the-forgotten-taleToday I read The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey, book 2 of the Accidental Turn trilogy.

After leaving behind the land of Hain, Forsyth Turn and Lucy Piper have returned to her world to settle down and live more-or-less happily ever after with their daughter Alis. It hasn’t been easy, with Forsyth getting used to a new land and a new culture and a new language, where he is no longer the rich and respected Lordling of Turnshire, no longer the powerful Shadow Hand of the King, no longer a brother or a friend to anyone. And worst of all, Alis will grow up never knowing his contribution to her heritage–she will not know the songs and stories from Hain, she will not have her place in society as the beloved daughter of a Lordling, she will not know his friends and family as her own. But they are together, Forsyth and Pip and Alis, and that is a comfort.

But there is a problem which will not go away–Elgar Reed, the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn series. He is fascinated that his character has come to life, and will not understand that Forsyth does not want to have anything to do with this careless man who created him with so little thought, who put him through so much heartache and hardship, and who reminds Forsyth so much of his long-dead and unmourned abusive father.

Back in Hain, the famous heroes Kintyre Turn and his loyal friend Bevel Dom have done the unthinkable–they have retired and settled down (mostly) into a comfortable life together ruling Turnshire, as the Lord and his Paired. Until some long-lost family starts turning up unexpectedly. Family…and some enemies.

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J.M. sent me an e-book ARC in return for a review. Well, she sent me two copies–we had an entertaining lesson on converting files with 2 pages per pdf page into epub vs concerting files with 1 page per pdf page into epub. For entertainment, I’ll post a sample at the end.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and comes after The Untold Tale and Ghosts: An Accidental Turn Novella. I would definitely recommend reading The Untold Tale before reading The Forgotten Tale, as it does rely fairly heavily on what has gone before. Ghosts is more of a bonus–you’ll get by without having read it, but you’ll recognize more if you read it first, especially since it is where Bevel Dom really has a chance to shine.

This book is a great example of how “and they all lived happily ever after” is a cop-out, a phrase that glosses over the reality of what it really takes to make it happy day after day. Yes, both of the Turn brothers have married the loves of their lives, and had children, and settled down into a second line of work that they reasonably enjoy. They are also finding out that love is hard work, and that it requires constant work to stay a happy marriage. For all that Forsyth and Kintyre are very different people who married very different spouses, sometimes they can be remarkably similar, and make similar mistakes with their families which they need to recognize and correct to be both happy and healthy as a family. They are not alone at fault–their family members also need to learn to communicate their needs and listen to what Kintyre and Forsyth need. Pip condemns Forsyth’s anger instead of listening why he is frustrated, and Kintyre’s newest family member causes a great deal of trouble when he glorifies Kintyre’s past adventuring over his daily life of running the Chipping.

They also see the dark side of families, when they meet a relative of an old enemy who threatens their world, out of love for the villain. I won’t give away too much here, but just remember that the best bad guys never stay dead for long. As Buffy Summers told Dracula, “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back.”

Forsyth’s interactions with Elgar Reed are particularly fascinating to read. For Forsyth’s point of view, he and everyone he knows from Hain are people–flawed, complicated, fully developed people. Reed keeps being surprised as he learns about Forsyth–there are things he never thought about, things that he included as throwaway lines or as convenient plot points, that were never supposed to mean much. He never considers how such things affect people’s lives. Reed comes from the place of ultimate privilege–he is literally the creator of the world of Hain and everything in it. However, he is also a careless creator, who never once considered that his creations might have their own thoughts and feelings and desires, because he thought they were fictional. He is absolutely gobsmacked when he discovers just how far past Forsyth is from what he intended. For example, Forsyth points out that he was written as a scholar and a polyglot, with a knack for learning languages–in Pip and Reed’s world, this means that he picks up very quickly on programming languages for computers and becomes an accomplished hacker for CSIS. How does a fantasy world character react to the modern real world? By using his skills as best he can and relating his new life to his old one, and learning to adapt and survive.

One more thing I realized upon reflection of this book–J.M. once more demonstrated her talent for making me think about fictional conventions and my own reactions. There is a character from The Untold Tale who shows up again with their nonhuman partner, and who seems to be flirting with a new character (I don’t want to give too much away.) Both characters are presented as make, but I asked J.M. if the returning character is going to be revealed as a girl in disguise, because they seem to be a new love interest in the early stages. Specifically I said “Pretty sure [X] is a girl is disguise…Well, [Y] is a hero in training, and you’ve killed his first love interest to prove the situation is serious and torture him a little, so he needs a new love interest that he can forget about by the time the next book begins. And knowing you, she’ll make him work for it and won’t be that forgettable. But there’s something.” J.M.’s reply was “It’s like you study this stuff or something”. Which, yes, I do. But that can also trip me up. Why should [X] be a girl in disguise? That’s actually pretty heteronormative of me to assume. Why can’t they both be male and flirt? Just because [Y]’s first love interest is a girl, doesn’t mean that [Y] can’t be bi, or pan, or whatever they call it in Hain. I confess to accidental bi-erasure, and I apologize J.M. You caught me again. You always do make me think, and I can’t really give a higher compliment.

And one last thing–anyone in the Toronto area, the launch party for The Forgotten Tale is happening tonight on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM at  the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. This will be the very first chance to buy the book, in advance of the release date on December 6, and a great time to get it signed by the author as well. Hope to see you there!

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With words tasting of bitter almonds, I say: “I hack.”

Reed’s sadness dissolves into confusion. “Hack what?”

“Whatever the Canadian Security Information Service tells me to,” I answer with a shrug, being deliberately glib. “I learned of hacking quite early upon my arrival here, and it was easy enough to read the many volumes available regarding coding. I am a polyglot, you recall—you wrote me that way. JavaScript and C++ are just another set of languages to perfect. And it was the easiest way to set myself up with a legal identity.”

“But . . .” Reed blusters. “Computers?”

“Of course. It is not so different from the work I did as the Shadow Hand,” I sneer, raising my hands to indicate the walls covered with wires and screens, and the small bookshelf overflowing with programming books, Alis’s favourite board books, and stuffies. On the wall above my main console, Smoke has been hung on a cherry wood plaque board. “I investigate, I read, I synthesize data, and I return recommendations and command actions. And just as before, I have found a way to ingratiate myself to the governing body of this nation.”

Reed’s jolly fat cheeks drain of color. “But you’re a scholar.”

“And in this world, libraries are digital and computers are books,” I say, stunned by his lack of comprehension. I scowl. “I was no mere book-mouse,” I push. “You know that.”

Reed staggers back a step, reaching out blindly behind him and crashing into the wall, clutching at my desk chair to remain upright. “I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .” He gasps for air, sweat pearling on his forehead.

His reaction startles me. Derision, I expected, but not this shocked horror. Unless . . .

“Reed . . .” I say slowly, horrified in my own right. For how, how can a Writer create a character and not know all of their nuances? How could he have . . . put this in motion and not realized it? “You do recall that I was the Shadow Hand, do you not?”

“I . . . I do,” he mutters. “I just . . . when I set it up, it was a . . . a bit of a throwaway, really. It was such an offhand comment. I didn’t . . . I didn’t expect you to . . .”

A throwaway? The most important aspect of my life, the only part of me that I felt made me worthy, and honorable, and good, the thing of which I was proudest and which redeemed me from being, I felt, a spoilt younger son, and my creator tells me it was a throwaway? Barely remembered, hardly thought about?

Insulting! Beyond the pale!

“What I do here, it is the same!” I insist. I cannot . . . this is untenable! “This is meaningful.”

“But . . . computers,” he repeats. “I just . . . I expected more . . . I don’t know . . . bafflement?”

“I have lived in this world for nigh on two years,” I snarl. “How simple must you think me? I am no Kintyre, to bash around, and bull ahead, and understand nothing.”

“Hey now,” Reed says, rising to defend his greatest literary achievement.

“Spying is the same no matter where it happens. I can learn all I need about a target by following their social media accounts, tracking their IP, watching their online spending habits. It is identical to my old duties, only I need to send out no Shadow’s Men, write no blackmail expense slips, take no in-person meetings with the king. Here, I need not even don the Shadow’s Mask, or Cloak. Here, I need not even change out of my sleeping clothes, if I so desire,” I add with a derisive snort.

My dark amusement rubs Reed the wrong way, and his hackles rise. “But being Shadow Hand wasn’t important! It was such a secondary feature of your character that I . . .” He trails off, eyes falling to his feet, shamed and confused. “I only put the Shadow Hand in one book.”

“Secondary. Secondary?” I hiss. “After Lewko the Elder was tortured by Bootknife, you chose me for Shadow Hand because, what? It was convenient? Because I was nearby? Being the Shadow Hand of Hain was my whole life! It was the only thing that was mine, truly mine!”

“Forsyth, I—” He swallows hard. “You’re just Kintyre’s little brother. You’re not supposed to—”

“Ah!” I snap. “And there is the crux of the problem! I am no hero, and so I cannot have a passion, have a desire to help? I am a citizen of Canada now, am I not? Do I not owe it to my kingdom to serve her best interests?”

“But it’s beneath you!” he shouts, his ire rising to match mine.

His disapproval surprises me. I expected him to understand. I don’t know why I did, because every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given me evidence enough to assume that he would not. Call it blind hope. Maybe, I thought, if I could make him understand, make him see it from my perspective, maybe we could have . . . reconciled our differences. Maybe we could have found the friendship he so clearly wants. Maybe, secretly, deep within the part of my soul that was born of his typewriter, I had wanted. . . . Ah, but it is pointless to wish for that which one cannot have. Reed will never understand how much he doesn’t know about what he has created.

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From the mixed-up files of Wading Through Books (not an actual quote), for your entertainment:

Elgar Reed, unfortunately, is. He sent us a very large nose, and Pip’s Asian facial structure.  But the look in her bouquet of flowers and some celebratory wine, along gaze when she is plotting mischief is all Kintyre Turn. with a startlingly large painting of Turn Hall looking, Right now, Alis is bouncing gleefully in a romper well, exactly as it ought. It was signed in the bottom attached to the lintel of my office doorway, smashing a corner by one of those fellows who worked on the Lord sodden Library against the edge of the harness each time of the Rings film designs, and was Reed’s first, but sadly her chubby little feet leave the carpet, and practicing not his last, foray into breaching the tight-knit tapestry three of the four words she has— book, Da, and no. Ma is of our family.

 

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Today I read…The Untold Tale

The Untold TaleToday I read The Untold Tale, the first book in the upcoming Accidental Turn trilogy by J.M. Frey.

Forsyth Turn knew exactly who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t big or brave or strong. He wasn’t bluff and hearty and called friend by men from every land under the sun. He wasn’t handsome and smooth and accounted a skilled lover by women from sea to sea. He wasn’t the man the bards sang of. He wasn’t his brother Kintyre Turn.

Lucy Piper knew exactly who she was. She was a normal woman with a normal life. And just like many other people, she was a fan of the wildly popular The Tales of Kintyre Turn series by author Elgar Reed. In fact, she wrote her thesis on the books. But they were just books.

Two very different people from two very different worlds. And they are about to discover that they are both very, very wrong.

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First, I’m really sorry J.M. that this review is so late, but I’ve been working in a library (yay!) and have less time to write (boo!).

J.M. sent me an ebook ARC to review some time ago, and I did read it, but I haven’t been able to write my review until now. But now the paperback and the ebook are both available for all you lovely readers to go out and buy, so yay! The Toronto launch party was December 10th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, with hosting duties by author Adrienne Kress and entertainment provided by Chantal Barette.

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Whenever I finish reading a new J.M. Frey book, I send her an initial thought before I sit down to write my full review. (Okay, that’s a lie, first I cry a little and wonder why I keep letting her play with my heart like bubble wrap, but after that I message her.) For Triptych I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” For The Untold Tale I told her that it was “A horribly uncomfortable story that everyone needs to read. And yes, that’s a compliment.”

Forsyth is…familiar. He is the voice in your head, telling you that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, charming enough, working hard enough, resourceful enough, considerate enough, talented enough. That those whom you care for regard you with pity, not love. That you are tolerated, not respected. That the Other–your sibling, parent, friend, peer–is so much greater than you are, and that all who know you both compare you and find you lacking. That whatever you try, you will fail. Forsyth is depression and fear and insecurity. And then he meets the mysterious Pip, who he loves without feeling worthy of her, and she says such strange, wrong things. That Forsyth is handsome, that he is clever, that he is responsible and loved by his people. That his brother Kintyre is not better than him. Things he would love to believe, but just can’t.

And Pip, who has loved the books for so long, and who is starting to realize that sometimes fantasy worlds are better as fantasies. That they can be incredibly problematic for people who don’t fit the dominant narrative–that people of colour, or who are queer, or who don’t fit nicely into little gender role boxes, or who are anyone other than the brawny hero and those in his direct orbit, don’t really get their stories told. That maybe the brawny hero is pretty darn tired of sleeping with random maidens and getting soaked in blood, and sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. That the love interest has a story, and the sidekick, and the villain, and the innkeeper, and the maidservant. That the story that the Author tells about the characters is not necessarily the story that the characters wish to tell about themselves.

There are other things I could talk about–the romance that does more than merely nod towards the concept of consent certainly comes to mind, and the way that Pip and Forsyth navigate their way through both rape and rape culture and how it affects them both, and not in a superficial way. They suffer, and they think, and they (eventually) talk to each other.

And as a fangirl, the thought of a fictional character attending a convention and seeing what fans think of their world is…both delicious and cringeworthy. There is a scene where Forsyth, dressed as Forsyth Turn from the Elgar Reed books, meets a female cosplayer in a genderbent Kintyre Turn costume who proceeds to hit on him, not caring that a) Kintyre and Forsyth are brothers and Forsyth is clearly not into incest,  and b) Forsyth says no. Cosplay is not consent people… Well, read it.

Frey has a knack for writing books that are incredibly hard to describe properly. It’s a fantasy, but a very real and aware one, which examines the tropes and both celebrates and criticizes them, and thus proves it’s love. You can’t really love something if you only love the good parts–you have to look and know the bad, and acknowledge it, and love it anyway without washing the bad away. I recently read A Game of Thrones for the first time (yes, I’m behind, my to-read list is in the triple digits at this point). I posted on social media when I finished that I thought it was compelling yet highly problematic for the female characters. I raced through reading it–it was one of those books that you just can’t put down. But in my opinion there wasn’t a single well-rounded female character.  Frey comes from an academic background, and she’s a fangirl through and through. She’s used to analyzing her beloved fandoms and figuring out why she loves them, but also where the problems are.

The Untold Tale is the first in a new trilogy. The story feels complete as it is, and at first you wonder how there can be more. But then you start thinking about what happens after ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  That too is another untold tale. The second book will be The Forgotten Tale, and the last will be The Silenced Tale, and I’m sure that both of them will make me think about the title and what it really means just as much as The Untold Tale has.

Oh, and J.M.? You’re going to break my heart again, right? Please?

Chantal Barrette

Chantal Barrette performing at the Untold Launch

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When Bevel has imbibed enough liquid courage—I don’t know what his gauge is, but he seems to have met it—he stands and sways over to Pip’s side.

“Sorry he hurt you,” Bevel slurs gently. He’s not quite too drunk to be clear, but his lips are  tumbling over the consonants.

Dismissively, Pip answers, “Kintyre should be apologizing, not you. You’re not his keeper.”

Bevel laughs. “Oh, but I am.”

“And aren’t you sick of it?” Pip challenges.

Bevel shrugs. “That’s just Kintyre. You get used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it bothers me,” Pip returns. “Actually, no, you know what bothers me? It’s not that he doesn’t know the social cues and common practices of politeness. What bothers me is that he observes them around him every day and has decided, however unconsciously, that they aren’t anything he needed to bother himself with. That learning to communicate and interact with other human beings was beneath him. That everyone would just recognize his superiority and marvel, and obey. That is what bothers me.”

I am so stunned by the boldness of her words that my tongue seems to be blocking up my throat. My heart is there, beating alongside it, hard and loud and painful. I have never, ever heard anyone challenge Kintyre this way.

Bevel isn’t certain how to respond. “Listen,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You’re a pretty little girl–” he doesn’t seem to catch Pip’s incredulous look at the insulting diminutive “– so why don’t we just jump ahead to the end of the evening, hm? We promise we’ll be very gentle with you, won’t hurt your back at all.”

“And what happens at the end of the evening?” Pip asks, wary.

I cover my face with my hands. I cannot watch this. Either Bevel will insult and embarrass himself, or Pip will say yes, which will be worse. Either way, I do not want to see her face when it happens. I couldn’t bear it.

Bevel leans in close and whispers filth into her ear.

“What? Both of you?” Pip yelps, and her face twists in disgust. Bevel leans close and says something else, and Pip physically shoves him back. “No! No, I’m as happy to have a threesome with two hotties as any red-blooded girl, but you guys are complete sleazes. Get off me.”

She shoves him hard enough that Bevel knocks my chair and I have to look. He is stunned. I don’t know if he’s ever been turned down before. And Pip looks like fury incarnate.

On the other side of me, Kintyre raises himself from his indolent slouch and scoffs. “So I suppose it will be to Forsyth’s bed you go tonight, then?”

Pip goggles at him, eyes wide and mouth a scandalized ‘o’. “Hey, how about I go to nobody’s bed because, one, I am in pain because of you, you stupid behemoth, and two, because I’m not a prize that’s meted out at the end of dessert. Here’s a startling and revolutionary idea: maybe I just don’t want a fuck!”

Ah, so that’s what that expletive means.

“Maybe you’re just a frigid bitch,” Kintyre snaps.

Pip rocks back in her seat, stunned. “Oh my god! I cannot even believe I used to look up to you! You’re incredible! You’re nothing like Forsyth!”

“So that’s what this is about,” Kintyre snarls, his bright blue eyes snapping over to me. “Forssy’s already got his scrabbly little fingers and flaccid little prick into you.”

Pip pushes up to her feet and leans over me, her face puce with fury, to get up into Kintyre’s. “Don’t talk about your brother like that! He’s a good man! Better than you’ll ever be!”

“Oh, and now you let your woman talk for you, too, brother?” Kintyre sneers, rising to his own feet. “Perhaps she’s the man between you? Does she stick it to you? Do you think you’re in love, just because she hasn’t run away from you yet?”

I shrink down in my seat, too mortified to even get my tongue to stop fluttering against the roof of my mouth. I could never even make words like this.

“And is there something wrong with taking it up the arse?” Pip challenges. “Does it make you less of a man? Because Bevel seems to like it!”

Bevel and Kintyre both go pale and stagger. Bevel clutches at his chair. “How did you know?” he hisses.

“Silence!” Kintyre booms.

“Oh my god!” Pip says, exasperation written into every feature. “What does it matter what you two do together? Bevel’s disgustingly in love with you, you ridiculous moron! He always has been! It’s barely even subtext! He sets up threesomes for you just so he can touch you! Is that what all this macho manly shit is about? Cause there’s nothing wrong with loving who you love!”

“Nobody loves Forsyth Turn,” Kintyre snarls.

“Qu-qu-quiet!” I snap, standing and pushing Pip and Kintyre away from one another. “E-e-enough!”

“Not here,” Pointe snaps, his voice just loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that music keeps his words from reaching my guests. He crosses behind my chair to lay hands on Kintyre’s shoulders. “You’re not doing this here, Sir Kintyre. You’re drunk and shaming yourself. Master Bevel, get him into Forsyth’s study.”

But Kintyre is incensed. He is insulted. He pushes the Sword of Turnshire away and holds a hand out to stay Bevel. “I am shaming myself? Me? You’re the one shaming the Turn name, brother! You are pathetic,” Kintyre sneers. “Deciding that the first woman to show a grain of interest in you is actually infatuated with you? Look at you. What in the world could she find attractive about you? You saved her, that’s all. She’s being nice to you because you saved her, not because she likes you. And everyone here knows it.”

Faces frozen with shock all around us narrow and shut down. Nobody, not one guest, makes a sound in my support. Of course. They are laughing at me, silently, inside. Laughing at foolish Forsyth Turn, who thought he could make this woman fall in love with him.

“Now,” Kintyre says. “You are going to apologize and sit down and act like a proper lady, or I will leave you here to rot and never take you home!”

“I will not!”

“Kintyre…” Bevel starts, plucking at his sleeve, but Kintyre is embarrassed and feeling cruel and pushes him away hard enough that he slams into the table. Bevel turns hurt, dark eyes up at my brother and goes silent, biting so hard on his lower lip that the flesh turns white.

All the breath rushes from my body. Oh, incredible, Pip was right. Bevel Dom is in love with my brother and I never noticed. Poor Bevel. I hate the hedgehoggy little lackey, but to be in love with my brother and Kintyre so in love with women’s bodies… how cruel this Elgar Reed is. Poor, poor Bevel.

“Sit!” Kintyre repeats, pointing to the chair magnanimously, and Pip throws her own finger into the air, the middle one. It is clearly a rude gesture, but its exact meaning is unclear.

“I am not some docile dog you can order around,” Pip screams. “You are an asshole and a bully, Kintyre Turn, and I don’t want your help!”

The whole room falls into a screeching hush.

Kintyre goes very, very still. I can’t help the involuntary step back as his fingers twitch into a fist. It seems the survival instincts of childhood are still deeply ingrained.

“Good,” he grunts, fury in every line of his face. “As you will not be receiving it.”

“Kin!” Bevel squalls. “You can’t just turn down a maiden in distress.”

“I can and I have.”

“I’m not a maiden in distress,” Pip snarls, rounding on Bevel, who is utterly unprepared for his own tongue lashing and stumbles back into my brother’s arm. “I’m a woman and I am damn well capable of rescuing my own damn self, thank you very much.”

“Let us hope so,” Kintyre rumbles. “For your sake.”

And then he pushes past Pointe and storms out of the hall, Bevel quick on his heels.

Me and Untold Tale

Mine, all mine!

Today I Read…The Book With No Pictures

The Book With No PicturesToday I read The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak.

You might think that The Book With No Pictures is a terrible name for a picture book. Well, it is, because this book has no pictures, and how can it be a picture book if it has no pictures? So The Book With No Pictures is a bad picture book.

This book is a trick. A trick by clever children to make grown-ups say silly things. But I’m smarter than that! You can’t trick ME into saying “Boo-Boo Butt!”…what do you mean I just said “Boo-Boo-Butt?” I never said “Boo-Boo Butt.”…why are you laughing?

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I first heard about this book at the OLA Super Conference this year, when a couple of the panels I was attending recommended it. I found it in the OLA Store, and it was so funny I knew I had to buy it for my library. There are some books that you just know as soon as you read them they’ll be hilarious to read out loud at story time.

The Book With No Pictures is just that–it has no pictures, only words, and yet I’m still going to file it under Picture Books in my categories. The idea is that it is filled with nonsense that the clever kid has tricked the adult into reading, and the adult is reluctant to sound so silly. Simple, yet entertaining when read right. Kids always love pulling one over the adult’s head, and the “Boo-Boo Butt” line is always a huge hit with the kindergartener crowd. Seriously, say it to a five-year-old and dare them not to laugh, they just can’t do it. And they laugh harder if you repeat it incredulously. This book ended up being extremely popular after I read it to my story time classes, and afterwards was out just about every week. I started thinking about buying a second copy, and I might have if I wasn’t pinching my budget so hard.

It’s also a good example to use when you’re teaching older kids about narrative voices. There is the story itself, and then there are the interjecting complaints from the narrator about being forced to read silly things.

This book is clever and funny and fun to read. I think it was one of my favourites from story time last year.

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WARNING!

This book looks completely serious, but it is actually COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!

If a kid is trying to make you read this book, the kid is playing a trick on you. You will end up saying SILLY THINGS and making everybody LAUGH AND LAUGH!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

(from the back cover)

Today I Read…Here Come Destructosaurus!

Here Comes DestructosaurusToday I read Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Jeremy Tankard.

Destructosaurus! What a naughty monster you’re being today! Stop destroying the city and terrifying the people at once, or someone’s going to have a very sore tail!

Why is Destructosaurus rampaging through the city? Find out in this hilarious picture book that will sound very familiar to the parents of any toddler who has monster-sized tantrums.

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I found this one at my local public library, and I knew I wanted to write about it. This clever and colourful reimagining of Godzilla frames the terrible legendary monster as a toddler having a temper tantrum, and is told from the perspective of the frustrated and impatient. but ultimately well-meaning, adult civilian.

I love the satire, and my Tiny Niece is well into her Terrible Twos, so I can definitely sympathize with the Narrator and their efforts to get Destructosaurus to be a good monster. I may call Tiny Niece a Destructosaurus the next time she hears “Time to clean up and go home!” and interprets it as “Let’s empty the toy box all over the floor and run away so Auntie can’t put my shoes on!” Still, I think I’d hold off on reading it to her, despite the wonderful illustrations. She’s a little too young to understand the story. This book would be perfect for a teacher talking about appropriate behaviour and how to deal with frustration, and why parents sometimes get angry with what you’ve done.

I also really like that the Narrator apologizes for yelling and getting frustrated when they find out what Destructosaurus wanted. It shows that both of them were in the wrong–Destructosaurus should have used his words instead of destroying the city, but the Narrator should have asked what  wrong instead of just yelling.

Destructosaurus does have a reason for destroying the city, but I won’t spoil it here–go read the book to find out! The Narrator uses the usual phrases frustrated parents use and weaves them into the tale of destruction, such as “Don’t you take that tone with me, Destructosaurus! Whatever you’re saying must seem awfully important to you, but I could do without the attitude. Besides, everyone here is a little busy at the moment. Screaming. And running away. And stockpiling bottled water.” Or “What do you think you are doing, Destructosaurus? Stop throwing around buildings that don’t belong to you. You’ve been brought up better than that, you naughty monster! Look with your eyes, not with your claws.”

Jeremy Tankard does a wonderful job of making Destructosaurus an adorable ball of fire-breathing tantrum. The illustrations are large and bright, and a wonderfully child-like version of the classic Godzilla movies, complete with helicopters and biplanes trying to corral Destructosaurus.

I’d recommend this book for more like a kindergarten-grade 1 audience. Or for the annoyed parent of a toddler who will definitely recognize themself in the harassed Narrator dealing with a real monster having a bad day.

 

Destructosaurus p1

Today I Read…Every Day is Malala Day

Everday is Malala DayToday I read Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International. It won the 2015 Golden Oak award from the OLA Forest of Reading.

Malala Yousafzi’s story is well-known, as the young girl who was shot by the Taliban for trying to go to school. She is now the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has become a symbol of the fight for the rights of girls and women and all children to get an education. Every Day is Malala Day is an open letter to Malala from girls around the world, expressing their admiration and their thanks for her continuing advocacy of education and peace. With beautiful photographs of girls from around the world illustrating their message, this book is a wonderful introduction for Western students of the challenges some children face just for trying to go to school.

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Disclaimer first: I was on the selection committee for the 2015 Golden Oak award, and I did recommend it for the list of finalists, which was then read and voted upon by the as a public. The Golden Oak award is for adults who are beginning to learn how to read English, so while I do refer to Every Day is Malala Day as a children’s book in this review, it is suitable for and enjoyed by adults as well.

This is a terrific story and a great introduction for children to some of the barriers that women face in other countries. As a read-aloud, it is more suited to older children. I would probably recommend at least ages 8+, based on the references to Malala being shot and violence against women. However, it’s important to point out that this is something that is actually happening to children, and sometimes there’s a very fine line between protecting children and being honest with them. When I was coaching a children’s literature trivia team, I had to try explain the Holocaust and Nazi propaganda to grade 3s. Not easy, but they asked.

The story itself is based on a short video produced by the young people who took over the UN on the first Malala Day, July 12, 2013. The book also includes a brief description of what happened to Malala and part of Malala’s speech to the UN from that day, advocating for education for all children as a way to help lift them out of poverty and ignorance and warfare. While she isn’t really in the daily news right now, Malala is an important figure for our time and I am certain that we will hear from her again. This book is an excellent introduction to her remarkable work.

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“So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are out most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” -Malala Yousafzai, July 12, 2013

 

Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

Today I Read…The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyToday I read The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs.

Are you a newcomer to the wide world of fandom? Are you not quite sure what an OTP is, even though you know that Dean and Cas belong together? Do you plan your Halloween costume months in advance and hand make each piece? Do you know why the cake is a lie, and the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? And are you looking for someone just as passionately nerdy as you to talk to about your favourite nerdy things? Then, young fangirl padawan, you might need The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Chock full of interviews with prominent professional fangirls, invaluable tips for attending your first convention, a field guide to the more common geek groups, and much much more, this is a fantastic resource for those new to fandom, and a terrific refresher for the old hands.

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This was the book I wanted most for myself from the OLA Super conference this year, and I was so happy I got a copy. Sam Maggs is a fellow member of the Toronto fandom community, a former associate editor for fabulous nerd news site The Mary Sue, one of the outgoing Cineplex pre-show hosts, and generally, pretty cool. Plus, that title–how could I possibly resist?

Way back in the dim mists of history before the internet was a thing (okay, it was the 80s), I started my fangirl life, and I entered the world of fandom just at the start of web 2.0 and when interactivity was becoming the watchword. I would have LOVED to have a guide like this way back when I was convinced that I was the only person in my city who liked Star Trek, let alone the only person at my elementary school. It wasn’t until university that I met my first real fangirl, who became my best friend. One of the best parts of fandom is sharing what you love.

In a way, I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been personally challenged on my level of geek knowledge, just because I’m a girl. My experience of the Toronto fandom community has always had a strong mixture of boy, girl, and other nerds, with women making strong contributions to our community and with fan-run events. Girl geeks are pretty common, at least in the spaces I hang out in. But like all geek girls I’ve desperately searched for myself in the media I love–a heroine who doesn’t get fridged and isn’t there to be the token female, or worse, the one-dimensional love interest (or worst of all, all three). I’ve put up with the absurdly impractical and oversexualised superhero costumes, having to look in the boys’ rows of the toy store for action figures, and every bloody nerd girl shirt being pink. I ask you, when did Supergirl or Batgirl EVER wear a hot pink costume or a hot pink glittery shield? EVER? AND WHERE IS MY BLACK WIDOW MOVIE ALREADY??? Seriously, Marvel, *ten years* from the release of Iron Man it takes you to release a female-led movie, and it’s Captain Marvel instead of Black Widow, a character you’ve already used 4 times? /rant

Back on track, chapter 4 is about Geek Girl Feminism, looking for the best representations in media and pointing out that unlike the stereotyped antisocial teen nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement and can’t talk to girls (and his awful, AWFUL counterpart the mythical Fake Geek Girl), women make up a large part of fandom and we have the right to love what we love and to know that we are the heroes every bit as much as the guys are. (See Sam’s awesome Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism below.)

It can be intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit yet wildly diverse community like fandom can be, especially when you get nonsense like GamerGate giving nerdiness and gamers a bad name in the media. (Yes, it was nonsense, if you feel the need to dox and threaten to injure, rape or kill ANYONE in the name of your argument you are an asshole and you lose any modicum of respect for your argument and for you personally). That said, fandom can be an amazing place and you can meet amazing people who not only love what you love, but can share with you other amazing things that you will love. Fandom can enrich your life, give you friends and interests and sometimes even a career. Fandom is filled with smart, creative, hardworking people, and they can be very welcoming to newbies. If you want to jump into the deep end and sally forth to your first convention all on your own, go ahead– it’s how we used to do it (it’s what I did). If you want some great tips, this book is a great guide for how to venture in, both in person at cons and good online spaces to introduce yourself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sam made some great recommendations and I think I need to go hunt them down (and rewatch/reread any old favourites she listed). Hey Sam, any time you want to trade kickass-chick book lists, let me know. I have a feeling you would LOVE Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthology series. Two words: Amazon Comedy.

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The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist. I embrace the word “fangirl” with open arms. I don’t have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever. Whether I’m a comics noob, Or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, Or a hard-core gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (Not that I ever do that), No one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong. From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandom and ships As equally meaningful and important In our geek girl lives. Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (Even if I have to unfollow your blog). I can wear makeup and R2D2 mini dresses, Or a Chewie T-shirt and ripped jeans, And the world has to deal with it; Because a geek feminist looks however she wants And doesn’t apologize. I will support empowering, lady-created media, And amazing female characters That make me feel like I could be Batgirl, If I just had some yellow Doc Martens And a vigilante complex. I’m the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy, not Bella; Nobody’s sidekick, love interest, or token female. I’m driving this ship. I’M A FANGIRL, A FEMINIST, AND A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.

Fangirl's Litany

Today I Read…Bi-Curious George

Bi-Curious GeorgeToday I read Bi-Curious George: An Unauthorized Parody by Andrew Simonian.

George was a curious little monkey, and he was especially curious about the sexy man in the sassy purple beret who came to his island and promised to show him all sorts of things.   After a voyage with sexy seamen (seamen, ha!), George comes to the big city, where he meets firemen (who are not sexy like his calendar), prison guards (who are not sexy like porn), and the animals at The Zoo, a big club, who definitely ARE sexy and willing to satisfy all of George’s curiosity!

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I bought this one at last year’s Word on the Street Festival because it looked hilarious, and it is. The jokes run the gamut from blatant innuendo to just plain blatant. It is very much a parody of gay culture, and uses many stereotypes, but it’s still very funny. There are mentions of drug and alcohol use, and the odd swear word, and of course sexual situations on just about every page. This is NOT a children’s book.

Bi-Curious George page 1 picThe illustrations are just as funny as the text. They’re done in the style of the Margaret and H.A. Rey books, but changed to be…more appropriate to the book, meaning not very appropriate. I don’t think he’s eating the banana… They are full of entertaining details, like the ship full of seamen being named the S.S. Cher, or the man dangling from a window in his underwear while another cross-looking man can be seen inside the apartment, or that every able-bodied seaman looking for George seems to need to bend over.

This is a fun, fast read. Though I will note, on my copy the front cover says that this book is an unauthorized parody, while the spine calls it An Authorized Parody. Mistake or just someone…curious?

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This is George.

He lived in the jungle.

He was a straight little monkey but always very…curious.

One day George saw a man.

He had on a sassy purple beret.

And George got excited, despite himself.

The man saw George too.

“I’m always in the mood for some hot monkey love,” he thought.

“I would like to take him home with me.”

Today I Read…The Dark Lord & The Seamstress

tDL&tSToday I read The Dark Lord & The Seamstress written by J.M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. This is the product of the successful Kickstarter that I wrote about back in September.

Once upon a time there was a seamstress of unsurpassed talent, a woman of kindness and intelligence and beauty. The Dark Lord of Hell heard of her skill, and sent a messenger asking her to come and make him fine new suits of clothing, clothes worthy of his magnificence (and a little more modern in style). But when she arrived, something unexpected happened. The Dark Lord fell in love.

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With the recent rise in the popularity of adult colouring books (which is a great trend, because they’re super fun and besides my niece rarely lets me colour in hers–sharing is not a toddler’s strong suit), Frey has been marketing The Dark Lord and the Seamstress as an adult coloring book in verse. And her colouring contests have been fun, and artist Jennifer Vendrig’s illustrations are charming (though I still think my favourites are the chibi ones that she drew for the marketing and Kickstarter campaign–they’re just so cute! Especially the expression on the Seamstress’ face when she sees the Dark Lord’s dorky mismatched outfit!) Dark Lord

But it almost feels like the focus on the pictures is a bit of a disservice to the story, which is equally as charming. It’s a lovely fairy tale, very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, except that the Dark Lord is not cursed to his appearance, more misunderstood. When the Seamstress learns to look beyond his red skin and frightful job and his terrible taste in clothing, she sees that his love is true. He is never forced to change, while she uses her talents to help dress the inhabitants of both Heaven and Hell. Both angels and devils are clothed in love and blood, in something that unites them all.

This is a picture book, but one I’d give to an older child. The rhyming verses sometimes use some advanced and old-fashioned words that might need to be explained. That said, this would be an excellent story to read aloud to an older child who can already read, say grade 4 and up.

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Once upon a time, oh yes,

So very long ago,

There was of course a lovely girl,

Who came to learn to sew.

And as it goes, fair listener,

She learned to sew so well

That even the Dark Lord Himself

Heard of her talent, down in Hell.

Today I Read…Eye of the Crow

Eye of the CrowToday I read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, the first book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Born of a Jewish father and a mother disinherited from the gentry, and with the gifts of intellect and observation, young Sherlock Holmes is not a boy who fits in anywhere. Tormented by his schoolfellows, he prefers to spend his days reading the exciting police newspapers in Trafalgar Square, until one day when he reads of the shocking murder of a lovely young actress, and the arrest of the wicked Arab what done ‘er in. Justice served…or is she?

The young Egyptian, poor and dark of skin though he be, professes his innocence, and only Sherlock, condemned by society for being a half-mongrel Jew, believes him. But when he goes snooping around the scene of the crime, the detectives of Scotland Yard think he’s in on it!

Chased by the police, and with the true murderer lurking around every corner, young Sherlock must make new friends, treat with his enemies,and stretch his mind to its very limits to solve the crime and save himself, the innocent stranger, and someone else dearest to him.

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This series has been on my reading list for a while (I actually picked up a copy of the 6th book, Becoming Holmes, at the 2013 OLA Super Conference), but my to-read list keeps growing and my free time keeps shrinking. But now with my new job in a school library (yay! so exciting!) I can call it ‘familiarizing myself with the collection’ and delve more into the middle grades fiction and leave off the adult books for a while. So I grabbed the first book and devoured it today after school.

It’s definitely written as a modern mystery, even though it’s set in the Victorian era. It doesn’t have the distinct tone of the Conan Doyle stories, even though it does well with the historical details. That said, it works well for this story, being written for children–the more modern, familiar tone makes it a fast and easy read.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes will see elements of the great detective scattered through the book, in somewhat changed circumstances. Miss Irene Doyle, for example, is a most daring young woman, and the intelligent and dangerous Malefactor is almost a dark version of Holmes. There is no loyal Watson, which seems odd–a Sherlock should never be without his Boswell–but it is only the first book in the series, so I’m hoping an equivalent shows up in a further adventure.

Sherlock himself is not the same cold, calculating man of pure practical science that some readers may recall. He is a child–gifted, different, but still hurt by others’ disdain. He is angry at the world, for condemning him as a half-breed and dooming him to a life of poverty and struggle for the conditions of his birth–it’s not FAIR! His anger costs him dearly–he is forced to shut away his emotions to solve the case and save himself, showing the roots of the once and future great detective.

I like the book–I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoy rewrites of famous stories and characters, seeing all the different ways they can go in the hands of different authors. Peacock does a great job of going back to the beginning of such a famous and beloved character, and introducing him to a new generation. The book evokes the past Sherlock and his London while still being accessible to a young reader. Now, for the upcoming weekend, I think I need to borrow the rest of the series at school tomorrow…

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As the sun climbs, its rays spread light through the lifting yellow fog, filtering down upon a brown, flowing mass of people: on top hats and bonnets, heavy clothes and boots swarming on bridges and along cobblestone streets. Hooves strike the pavement, clip-clopping over the rumbling iron wheels, the drone of the crowds, and hawkers’ cries. The smell of horses, of refuse, of coal and gas, hangs in the air. Nearly everyone has somewhere to go on this late spring morning in the year of Our Lord, 1867.

Among those moving over the dirty river from the south, is a tall, thin youth with skin the pallor of the pale margins in The Times of London. He is thirteen years old and should be in school. From a distance he appears elegant in his black frock coat and necktie with waistcoat and polished boots. Up close, he looks frayed. He seems sad, but his gray eyes are alert.

His name is Sherlock Holmes.

Last night’s crime in Whitechapel, one of many in London, though perhaps its most vicious, will change his life. In moments it will introduce itself to him. Within days it will envelop him.

He comes to these loud, bustling streets to get away from his problems, to look for excitement, and to see the rich and famous, to wonder what makes them successful and appreciated. He has a nose for the scent of thrilling and desperate things, and all around these teeming arteries, he finds them.

He gets here by the same route every day. At first he heads south from the family’s first-floor flat over the old hatter’s shop in grimy Southwark, and walks in the direction of his school. But when he is out of sight he always veers west, and then sneaks north and crosses the river with the crowds at Blackfriars Bridge, for the glorious center of the city.

Londoners move past him in waves, each with a story. They all fascinate him.

Sherlock Holmes is an observing machine; has been that way almost since birth. He can size up a man or a woman in an instant. He can tell where someone is from, what another does to make his living. In fact, he is known for it on his little street. If something is missing – a boot or an apron or a crusty doorstep of bread – he can look into faces, examine trousers, find telltale clues, and track the culprit, large or small.

This man walking toward him has been in the army, you can tell by his bearing. He’s pulled the trigger of his rifle with the calloused index finger of his right hand. He’s served in India – notice the Hindu symbol on his left cuff link, like one the boy has seen in a book.

He walks on. A woman with a bonnet pulled down on her head and a shawl gripped around her shoulders brushes against him as she passes.

“Watch your step, you,” she grumbles, glaring at him.

An easy one, thinks the boy. She has recently lost in love, notice the stains around her eyes, the tight anger in her mouth, and the chocolate hidden in her hand. She is within a year of thirty, gaining a little weight, a resident of the Sussex countryside where its unique brown clay has marked the insteps of both her black boots.

The boy feels like he needs to know everything. He needs advantages in a life that has given him few. A teacher at his school once told him he was brilliant. He’d scoffed at that. “Brilliant at what?” he had muttered to himself. “At being in the wrong life at the wrong time?”

On Fleet Street, he reaches into a cast-iron dustbin and pulls out a handful of newspapers. The Times … toss it back. The Daily Telegraph … toss it back. The Illustrated Police News … ah, yes. Now there is a newspaper! Every sensation that London can create brought to life in big black-and-white pictures. He reads such scandal sheets every day, but this one, with a riveting tale of bloody violence and injustice, will reveal to him his destiny.