Monday's Muse, 74th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Aisling Song by Bruno Coulais [The Secret of Kells soundtrack].

The idea of Monday's Muse is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to one of several places, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:
Books that read like fairy tales

The Treasure at the Heard of the Tanglewood by Meredith Anne Pierce.

The scent of sorcery is sharp and sweet, like basil, and Hannah knows it well. She hears the voices ofthe magpie, the badger, and the three foxlets who follow her, but she does not know anything of her past, or why the townsfolk fear her even as they come for her charms and cures, or why the wizard deep in theTanglewood demands, each month, a draught made from the leaves and flowers that blossom in her hair. When a beauteous young knight comes on a quest, searching for his queen's greatest treasure, Hannah pins a lily from her hair to his breast and hopes he will survive. She names him Foxkith and later finds him wounded, but the wizard turns him to a fox before her eyes, and robs him of speech. Then Hannah leaves the place she knows, with her companion animals, in search of what will bring her Foxkith back to her. It's hard for her to notice that once she leaves Tanglewood, lush greenery springs up from what falls from her hair, then the gold of summer, and the russet of harvest, as she travels the land and brings the seasons back. Finely wrought and passionately imagined, it's a tapestry of words to hold the author's themes: the awakening of desire; the longing to know one's origins and one's place; the cherishing and defense of loved ones. A treasure indeed. --Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2001).

Holes by Louis Sachar.

Stanley Yelnats IV has been wrongly accused of stealing a famous baseball player's valued sneakers and is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention home where the boys dig holes, five feet deep by five feet across, in the miserable Texas heat. It's just one more piece of bad luck that's befallen Stanley's family for generations as a result of the infamous curse of Madame Zeroni. Overweight Stanley, his hands bloodied from digging, figures that at the end of his sentence, he'll "...either be in great physical condition or else dead." Overcome by the useless work and his own feelings of futility, fellow inmate Zero runs away into the arid, desolate surroundings and Stanley, acting on impulse, embarks on a risky mission to save him. He unwittingly lays Madame Zeroni's curse to rest, finds buried treasure, survives yellow-spotted lizards, and gains wisdom and inner strength from the quirky turns of fate. In the almost mystical progress of their ascent of the rock edifice known as "Big Thumb," they discover their own invaluable worth and unwavering friendship. Each of the boys is painted as a distinct individual through Sachar's deftly chosen words. The author's ability to knit Stanley and Zero's compelling story in and out of a history of intriguing ancestors is captivating. Stanley's wit, integrity, faith, and wistful innocence will charm readers. A multitude of colorful characters coupled with the skillful braiding of ethnic folklore, American legend, and contemporary issues is a brilliant achievement. --Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY, School Library Journal.

Chime by Franny Billingsley.

"I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please." From those arresting first lines to the very last word, readers will find themselves enthralled by 17-year-old Briony as she spins a tale of guilt, mystery, betrayal and, above all, love. Briony lives at the literal end of the line in the Swampsea with her developmentally delayed twin sister, Rose, and her clergyman father (her beloved Stepmother has recently died of arsenic poisoning—a suicide?). Mr. Clayborne, an engineer, who has been sent to drain the swamp so the railroad can go through, and his son, Eldric, who sports "a long, curling lion's smile," have just moved into the parsonage. The Boggy Mun of the swamp doesn't care to be drained, though, and he will exact his revenge. Billingsley takes the time to develop a layered narrative adorned with linguistic filigree—she is one of the great prose stylists of the field, moving from one sparklingly unexpected image to the next and salting her story with quicksilver dialogue. She sets the tale in a gently alternate turn-of-the-20th-century England in which Mr. Darwin, Dr. Freud, witches and the Old Ones coexist. Briony, hugely likable despite her dismal self-hatred, is devilishly smart and funny, and readers will root for her with every turn of the page. Delicious. --Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2011).

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.

In this grim debut novel, the Doyles hide the terrible secret that 16-year-old Mackie is a changeling who was swapped for their real son when he was a baby. In their town of Gentry, there is an unspoken acknowledgment that a child is stolen every seven years in an uneasy bargain for the town's prosperity. Mackie's struggles to go unnoticed are made more difficult by his severe allergies to iron and other metal, his inability to set foot on consecrated ground such as his minister father's church, and his tendency to become severely ill around blood. Now he is dying. When a classmate's baby sister is abducted and a Replacement left in her place, Mackie is reluctantly drawn into the age-old rift between the Morrigan and the Lady, sisters who lead the two changeling clans who live underneath Gentry. Mackie agrees to help the Morrigan maintain the unwitting townspeople's goodwill in exchange for a drug he needs to survive. Meanwhile, he and his friends plot to rescue Tate's stolen sister from the Lady. Yovanoff's innovative plot draws on the changeling legends from Western European folklore. She does an excellent job of creating and sustaining a mood of fear, hopelessness, and misery throughout the novel, something that is lightened only occasionally by Mackie's dry humor and the easy charm of his friend Roswell. The novel ends with a glimmer of hope, though the grisly and disturbing images throughout may overshadow the more positive ending. Still, teens who enjoy horror and dark fantasy novels will no doubt flock to the shelves for Mackie's story.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD, School Library Journal, (vol 56, issue 12, pg. 132. December 1, 2010).

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab.

This highly atmospheric debut crackles with tension and has a shivery horror tang.Lexi's late father taught her that witches are as good, bad and various as humans, so she trusts thewitch sisters who live at the edge of her village; unlike most of the sullenly insular villagers, she doesn't blame a lurking stranger when children start disappearing. Each night, a village child hears the wind singing a tune and climbs out the window to play on the moor, vanishing before morning. Early on, the text is highly descriptive of the setting, dedicating almost too many words to the heathery moor hills and the wind that "sang me lullabies. Lilting, humming, high-pitched things, filling the space around me so that even when all seemed quiet, it wasn't." Soon, however, the wind and moor descriptions become retroactively crucial, weaving themselves into the content of the plot. As a mob mentality unfolds in the village, tracker Lexi works harder and harder to defend the stranger and find the children. Part mourning and healing tale, part restless ghost story, the strengths here are Lexi's sophisticated characterization (strong, sad, fiercely protective) and the extraordinary sense of place.Set in an undefined past, this will appeal to fans of literarily haunting vibes and romance; readers who love it will go on to Wuthering Heights.--Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2011).

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.

This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century. Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Manhattan native Daisy, the novel follows her arrival and her stay with cousins on a remote farm in England. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. Daisy's candid, intelligent narrative draws readers into her very private world, which appears almost utopian at first with no adult supervision (especially by contrast with her home life with her widowed father and his new wife). The heroine finds herself falling in love with cousin Edmond, and the author credibly creates a world in which social taboos are temporarily erased. When soldiers usurp the farm, they send the girls off separately from the boys, and Daisy becomes determined to keep herself and her youngest cousin, Piper, alive. Like the ripple effects of paranoia and panic in society, the changes within Daisy do not occur all at once, but they have dramatic effects. In the span of a few months, she goes from a self-centered, disgruntled teen to a courageous survivor motivated by love and compassion.How she comes to understand the effects the war has had on others provides the greatest evidence of her growth, as well as her motivation to get through to those who seem lost to war's consequences. Teens may feel that they have experienced a war themselves as they vicariously witness Daisy's worst nightmares. Like the heroine, readers will emerge from the rubble much shaken, a little wiser and with perhaps a greater sense of humanity. --Publishers Weekly (vol 251, issue 27, pg. 56. July 5, 2004).

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl.

The Federation Anthropological Service would never officially have allowed Elana to be on this mission to the medieval planet Andrecia. If Youngling peoples found out that a supremely advanced and enlightened society like the Federation existed, it would irreparably damage their evolution. Stowing away aboard her father's ship, Elana suddenly becomes the key to a dangerous plan to turn back the invasion of Andrecia by an aggressive, space faring Youngling civilization. How can she possibly help the Andrecians who still believe in magic and superstition, against a force armed with advanced technology, without revealing her alien powers? Apprentice Medical Officer Jarel wishes that the planet the Imperial Exploration Corps have chosen to colonize didn't have a "humanoid" population already living on it. The invaders don't consider the Andrecians to be human and Jarel has seen the atrocious treatment the natives get from his people. How can he make a difference, when he alone regrets the destruction that is people bring? Georyn, the youngest son of a poor Andrecian woodcutter, knows only that there is a terrible dragon on the other side of the enchanted forest, and he is prepared to do whatever it takes to defeat it. In his mind, Elana is the Enchantress from the Stars who has come to test him, to prove he is worthy of defeating the dragon and its powerful minions. Despite both Elana's and Jarel's inner turmoil, Georyn's burden is by far the heaviest. Ultimately, he must pit his innocent faith in the magic of his Enchantress from the Stars against foes who have come from a world beyond his comprehension.

A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith.

Rhis, princess of a small kingdom, is invited along with all the other princesses in her part of the world to the coming of age party of the Crown Prince of Vesarja, which is the central and most important kingdom. When Iardith, the prettiest and most perfect of all the princesses, is abducted, Rhis and her friends go to the rescue.

What happens to Rhis and her posse has unexpected results not only for the princesses, but for the princes who chase after them. Everyone learns a lot about friendship and hate, politics and laughter, romantic ballads and sleeping in the dirt with nothing but a sword for company. But most of all they learn about the many meanings of love.

Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher.

Fletcher's inward-looking tale recreates the arduous journey of the Three Wise Men, as seen by a teenager in double disguise. After three years of hiding from the Persian king's soldiers by pretending to be both a boy and a beggar, Mitra, child of a rebellious noble, is swept up by the Magi along with her little brother Babak, who has begun to experience dreams that actually become reality. Impelled by the strange triple conjunction of two planets in the sky, the priests journey across the harsh desert toward distant Jerusalem. On the way, Mitra's dreamof being restored to her previous lofty state runs into one snag after another as Babak's health begins to fail, the hunt for her and her brother comes closer and her efforts to hide her sex are complicated by new, strange feelings for two young men she encounters. Fletcher focuses more on emotional than physical landscapes, pushing the historical setting well into the background; Mitra gets nary a glimpse of the baby Jesus, and though she's able to give advance warning of the slaughter of the innocents, that too is left offstage. Still, by the end she has given over her childhood, along with its fantasies, and found a true home. Absorbing. --Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2006).

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Bilbo Baggins, a respectable, well-to-do hobbit, lives comfortably in his hobbit-hole until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson.

Ibbotson's multi-stranded story begins in England at the start of World War II and ends six years later. Twelve-year-old Tally, a thoughtful and outspoken child, deeply loved by her widowed father and two maiden aunts, receives a scholarship to Delderton, a progressive boarding school. While at the cinema, Tally sees a newsreel about the small country of Bergania, whose King refuses to bend to Hitler's demands, so when Delderton is invited to Bergania for a dance festival Tally insists they attend. In Bergania the children witness the King's assassination. Horrified, Tally and her classmates help Karil, Bergania's young prince, escape from the now Nazi-occupied country to England. The third-person narration shifts among Tally, Karil and other key characters as they cope with the hardships of war. The book, based on the author's own childhood experiences, is a romantic tale of friendship, loyalty and heroism, and her fans will not be disappointed. --Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2008).

Mirrow Sword and Shadow Prince by Noriko Ogiwara.

Oguna is an orphan with a secret even he doesn’t know—he’s a prince and heir to a terrible power. His best friend Toko is a member of the Tachibana clan and a potential high priestess able to tame that power...or destroy it.

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Anne Sandell.

After her mother's murder, Elaine lives with her father and brothers in a British military camp during the time ofthe Saxon invasions and makes herself useful by mixing potions to cure all manner of ills. As in Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," she falls in love with Lancelot, but when Gwynivere, King Arthur's betrothed and the daughter of a much-needed ally, arrives, she, too, is enchanted by the beloved knight. Disgusted by Elaine's unmaidenly ways, Gwynivere spurns the girl, overcoming her haughty selfishness only when Elaine's life and Arthur's legions are threatened. The two then work together to help save the army—and the country—from destruction. In this verse novel of flowing, readable prose, Sandell successfully interweaves familiar medieval tales, keeping well-known characters and plot details but reenvisioning the denouement. Descriptive language abounds, and while the vocabulary is sophisticated, most meanings can be gleaned fairly easily from context. The protagonist is fully developed; other characters, however, are less well defined. Both Gwynivere and Lancelot, for instance, have too-rapid changes of heart, and the nicely sewed-up romance between Elaine and Tristan seems a bit pat after the many twists and turns of their earlier emotional travails. Although this reimagining follows the current trend of interjecting strong female characters into classic tales, some might argue that it stretches believability a bit too far to suggest that the Round Table couldn't have survived without Elaine's selflessness. Nevertheless, the adventure and romance will keep many female readers thoroughly captivated.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI, School Library Journal, vol 53, issue 8, pg. 125. August 1, 2007).

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

Readers will want to sail through these nearly 500 pages to find out what happens to young Jack and his sister, Lucy, kidnapped from their homeland by a Viking crew led by Olaf One-Brow. The two then travel across thesea where Ivar the Boneless, king ofthe Northmen, reigns with his half-troll wife, Queen Frith. The Bard, who fled from Queen Frith and has taken refuge on the boy's small island ("Nowhere in the nine worlds is safe for me as long as she is abroad," the Bard explains) takes in 12-year-old Jack as an apprentice. The old man manages to teach Jack some magic and some ofthe complex history ofthe Northmen and their enemies, the Jotuns or trolls, before Olaf and his men invade. The book brims with delectable details. Ivar the Boneless, for instance, "wears a cloak made from the beards of his defeated enemies" and Queen Frith's beauty dissolves when Jack begins to sing a tribute to her ("Her features rippled and twisted like the beasts carved on the walls"). Her rage at reverting back to her troll-like appearance prompts Jack's quest to seek Mimir's Well, in the heart of Jotunheim (troll country) in order to reverse the spell and save his sister, whom Queen Frith threatens to sacrifice if her beauty is not restored. Plotting and incidental players such as dragons and giant spiders in Jotunheim take precedence over character development here. But if the relationships are not as fully fleshed out as in Farmer's previous books, fans of Viking and adventure tales will still be up late nights to discover Jack's fate. --Publishers Weekly (vol 251, issue 29, pg. 162. July 19, 2004).

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as "an attempt—a flying jump of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it." When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor's wife's library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel's experiences move Death to say, "I am haunted by humans." How could the human race be "so ugly and so glorious" at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it's a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important.  --Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2006).


Meg said...

"A Posse of Princessess" is another hidden gem by Sherwood Smith! One of my favorites!

And "Song of the Sparrow" is absolutely lovely!

Thanks for more suggestions for the summer!