Read This Book (In Spite Of The Title)

Don’t be afraid, child
The stories are always there.
Truth rides the wind,
Listen and it will find you.
I will find you.

-The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

It’s called The Kiss of Deception.  I know.  Let’s try to get past that, shall we?  Because it’s a really fun read.


I won’t make any crazy claims here.  This is a book of its genre.  It’s young adult fantasy all the way.  Elaborate world building.  Some pretty obvious prophecy.  Lots of romance (but nothing icky or uncomfortably steamy).  I mean, let’s face it, it’s about a princess who runs away from home.  This is not ground-breaking stuff.

Still.  I read the whole thing in a day and a half, and it’s been a while since I was absorbed enough in a book to do that.

This book is fun.  It’s really straight forward, so even though the world (which is pretty clearly far, far, far in the future post-apocalyptic earth) is extensively developed, the fantasy elements don’t get in the way.  The characters are interesting people, with reasonable motivations which are only the tiniest bit contrived in places.  There’s enough of an element of surprise to the plot that you want to keep reading (though to be honest, the main twist in the middle was more jarring than helpful).

It’s  about a girl coming into womanhood while still being more interested in the mysteries she is uncovering than her own self-discovery.  That’s about the highest praise I can give a novel of this genre.  I’ve had enough of teenage angst.  It was nice to read about someone growing through their interaction with the world without endlessly belaboring their own feelings.

In fact, Pearson uses all the elements of this genre, and still manages to avoid most of the traps.  There’s the princess who is so much more than her pretty clothes, but as the world develops around her, you can see that there is a reason for this.  She’s not just a random special snowflake.  There’s a love triangle, but it isn’t really that dramatic.  There’s betrayal, but the plot eliminates the need for lots of hand-wringing about it.  Best of all, the hero and heroine are brought together in the end, but not in the way you expect.  It’s obviously leaving us hanging for the next book, but not in an unsatisfying way.  Just in a “when is she going to release the next dang book” kind of way, which is the best way for a book to make you feel.  The author has some other books out there, and her skill was such that I plan to check them out.

So there you go, my YA-reading friends.  A new book to try.  I promise it won’t make you cringe.  Even if you do want to cover to up the title.

NOTE:  Have I pointed out to you guys that if you ever want to trip over to Amazon and buy any of these books, you can do it through my store tab up there?  Just click the cover of the one you want, and you’ll be supporting me without paying a penny extra.  Thanks!

A True Tall Tale: We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson

“We look back and wonder, ‘How did we do all that?’ It’s simple.  We loved the game so much, we just looked past everything else.  We were ballplayers.  There was nothing we would have rather spent our time doing.”

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

It’s not very often that a work of non-fiction captures my attention.  It’s even more rare for a history to light me up.  A book about baseball?  Usually not even on my radar, except maybe as a gift for my husband.  This book.  This is the exception to all those rules.

It was the artwork that first drew me in.  I was trolling the internet for good books, as I so often do, and the faces just leaped off the screen at me.

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The whole book is full of these fantastic illustrations, painted by the author.  Many are portraits of players, others show bits and pieces of games, full of tension and just barely restrained motion.  I have flipped through the pages countless times, and the best word I can use to describe them is loving.  Each one is just infused with empathy and affection.

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And oh, the storytelling.  From the first line (“Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time.”) to the closing paragraph (“These guys stand on our shoulders. We cleared the way for them and changed the course of history.  And knowing that satisfies the soul.”) the whole book reads like a tall tale, a legend echoing out of the past, best told around a campfire or out on the back porch on a hot summer night.

I bought this book for my boys, my husband and my son, but unlike all the other sports books I’ve bought them, I read the entire thing myself.  More than once.  Which just goes to show you that the heart of a story is not in the subject matter, not in the what and where of the happenings, but in those who lived it.

This story is a story that was lived well.

 

Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

“You see, the land of Grimm can be a harrowing pace.  But it is worth exploring.  For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.

And, of course, the most blood.”

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz

There’s this wonderful little bookstore my daughter and I love to visit whenever we’re in Madison, IN.  If you ever make it to that tiny little town, you should drop in.  It’s called Village Lights Bookstore, and it’s one of those adorable spots with a fun nook under the stairs for kids to play and read in while parents browse new and used books.  There is art on the walls and a grand piano in the back room.  It’s a happy place.  It’s also where I found this book, which is just one more point in its favor.

I saw it on the shelf, and its cover intrigued me.

It reminds me of this awesome illustrated Jabberwocky my husband bought me a while back.  Love.

I picked it up and read the back, the first few pages.  I instantly bought it.  Because an adaptation of Grimm’s fairy tales with a sense of humor and lots of blood?  Yes, please.

My daughter stole it and read it first.  “Super weird, but good,” was her ringing endorsement.  Note: she read it in two days.  That doesn’t happen with just any book.

When she finally put it down, I got to read it myself.  Five days later, I’m still smiling.

Gidwitz takes real fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  He doesn’t clean them up.  So, yeah, ick.  And also, awesome.  Then he weaves them together to tell one big tale, in this case starring Hansel and Gretel.  I won’t give much away about the story, except to say that it IS weird.  Because Grimm’s fairy tales are bizarre.

This isn’t for everyone.  It’s bloody and it involves the cutting off of fingers and the murder of children and a visit to hell.  Thanks, Grimm boys.  So if you like to keep those kinds of things away from your kids, I won’t blame you for passing.  But if you want to know why I allow, and even encourage, my kids to read such things, see the quote at the top.

The beauty of this book is that in spite of the bloody contents, it is terrifically warm.  Every moment of the retelling is infused with his humorous but also strangely loving voice.  And from time to time, the author breaks into his own story with asides that are full of profoundly hilarious wisdom (the kind that isn’t annoying).

This book is about real children, about their courage and their selfishness.  It deals with the devotion of siblings, but even more importantly with the facing of your own mistakes and with the awesomely complicated relationship between flawed parents and their flawed children.  It has things to say about the true process of repentance and forgiveness that blew me away.  No kid gloves.  No platitudes.  No irritating preachiness.  Just brutal honesty of the smartest and most mature kind.

So.  Read it.  Please.  If you think it’s not right for your kids, then read it yourself.  We all have enough darkness in our lives to need a reminder of how to find the luminous wisdom in it all.

And we can also probably all use a reminder of the dangers of eating too much chocolate cake.

 P.S.  There’s a sequel, In a Glass Grimmly. The true tale of Jack and Jill, apparently.  I can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

Kick-butt Comics for Girls

I’m far from an expert in this field, and the more I read, the more I realize how ignorant I am, but in our on-going quest to totally nerdify our girls, we’ve come across a couple of great comic book series that my 9-year-old has DEVOURED.  As in read, then read again, then loaned to friends.  (That last one is the true test of pre-teen fandom.)

So.  This isn’t a list.  It’s the first step into a whole world which we are having so much fun exploring.  Want to bring your girls along?

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  • Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa – When my husband first brought this one home, I was a little iffy about the whole high school boy/girl drama aspect, so I read it before I gave it to my daughter.  Then I read all the other ones in the series.  You know, just in case it got worse or something.  They’re great.  Mary Jane is easily the best superhero girlfriend of all time.  Don’t even talk to me about Lois Lane (not that I don’t love her, but she just doesn’t have MJ’s vulnerability…or her red hair).  In this version MJ is smart and sassy and real.  She has problems without being whiny about them.  She tries new things, some of which work and some don’t.  The comic is super appealing to girls and it gets the tone of Spider Man just right.  It’s basically a gateway drug.

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  • Spider Man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa – This series continues the Mary Jane story.  It’s all basically of a piece, but I listed it separately so you won’t miss out on both parts.  I’m nice like that!

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  • Star Wars Legacy 2: Prisoner of the Floating World by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman – It’s been over a hundred years since Luke Skywalker took down the Emperor, and now his descendents (and Han and Leia’s) are still fighting to make everything right.  The first Legacy series is great, but this one centers around Ania Solo, and she’s the reason my daughter got into it.  Ania isn’t a Jedi, as far as I can tell.  She’s just your average scavenger and genius mechanic, traveling with her robot companions and being awesome.  What’s not to love?  To be fair, my daughter didn’t geek out about this as much as MJ, but I think it was mostly because it has multiple story lines, which made it a little harder to follow.  Still, she’s a Star Wars baby, and this is one of the few SW comics that’s clean enough for her age (as in, not so much on the scantily clad alien women).

So that’s our start, and we’re keeping our eyes open for more.  You have any comics to recommend?

(Ha! I had these comics out on my desk after writing this post.  My daughter came home from school and immediately picked them up and started reading again.  So I guess that proves my point…)

Classics for Kids

You may have noticed from our book lists so far that we lean toward the sci-fi/fantasy/fairytale with our kids.  So far, I haven’t been terrribly successful in interesting them in historical type stuff.  Even the American Girls series haven’t done it for my girls, and though my son will read anything about the history of baseball, he isn’t ready for anything else that isn’t all adventure and mystery.

My oldest daughter (who is nine and an avid reader) has tried out Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables, but never made it far.  Too much description.  Too little action.  That’s just the way she’s wired, and that will probably never really be her genre, but I’m not giving up.  I think I’ll try again in a couple of years when the sweet love story aspect is more interesting to her.  (Okay, that will basically be later this year, but whatever.)  I’m also going to hand her Little Women as soon as I think she’s ready.  Because every girl just needs that book.  (How much will she love Jo?  So, so much.)

In the mean time, though, the English teacher in me is proud to say that there are a few classics out there that have enough adventure in them to have already caught my kids attention, even as young as 8.  In a couple of cases, they’ve read the simplified children’s version, but I was thrilled that they were getting into the stories.  So.  If you’re thinking your kids are too young for the classics, here are a couple that might surprise you.

Classic Stories That Can Still Thrill An 8-year-old

  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – What is it about figuring out how to survive on a deserted island that is just so dang appealing?  Whatever it is, my son agrees with me that this book is the best.  I do recommend a children’s version of this to simplify the language a bit.
  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – From the moment that Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing the fence for him, my kid was hooked.  Tom is clever and funny and his adventures are exciting.  Mark Twain totally understood what it was like to be a boy.
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is the first classic my daughter got into.  We did a children’s version of this one to cut out some of the lengthy descriptions, but the friendship aspect of this book is so wonderful that it drew her in right away.
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – Definitely in the same genre as Anne and Laura Ingalls, but this little book has some more exciting action to it that got my daughter’s attention in a way that the others didn’t.  She got a little bogged down in the middle, but she made it through and in the end told me that it was great.

Okay, just a few to get you started.  I’m sure there are a lot more out there that we haven’t explored yet.  Too busy reading Harry Potter, I guess.  We’d love to hear any suggestions from the rest of you.  What are your kids favorite classics?

Sunday, Aug. 3:  HA!  I knew it.  After I posted this on Friday, I recommended to my 9-year-old that she try reading These Happy Golden Years, starting her on the Little House books with the love story.  Sure enough, she finished that in 24 hours and wants to read the others.  It’s all about strategy, people.  And about trying to remember what it felt like to be nine.  I’m not the best at this, but I’m getting better. 

Playing with Time: Three Books Just For You, Mom

Okay, moms…and overly busy women everywhere…I’m going out on a sexist limb today to say that these ones are for you.  Find a few minutes when the kiddos are playing with friends or, gasp, watching TV, or tucked into bed and go curl up with your own book.  If it were me, I’d start it with a long, super-hot bath and a cup of tea.  You do it your way.  If your way involves ice cream, that’s even better.

Don’t feel guilty about this.  You want your kids to see you reading.  You want them to see you enjoying books for yourself.  The example you are setting will go farther toward making them strong readers than any number of library trips where you  never leave the children’s section.  Check out Common Sense Media’s report on “Children, Teens, and Reading.”  One of the things they found is that the few kids out there who are reading frequently are very likely to have parents who are readers.  (You can read the full report here.)  That’s data to backup your need stretch out by the pool with one of these books.  This is what good parents do.

I already gave you a list of books to make you a better person.  These ones are just to enjoy.  No lofty goals.  Nothing but relaxation.  These books are romances, but not the kind that make you stutter over the title or hide the cover.  These books take you backward and forward through time, but their nods to science fiction are brief, and you won’t get lost.  These books will pull you in and help you lose yourself for while, but they aren’t total cotton candy.  All three are thoughtful, so your brain can feel good as well as your heart.  Let’s start with the one everyone’s heard of, just to get it out of the way, and finish up with one that no one’s talking about but which blew me away from the first page.

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – This one is world-famous and about to be a new TV show, so if you haven’t read it, now is the time.  You could call it a time-travel romance because it is, but once the main character travels back from 1945 to 1743, it’s really just historical fiction for the rest of the book.  This is a LONG book.  It’s gritty and real.  The time travel element adds serious interest to the dilemma that Claire, our out-of-time heroine, faces.  The romance is solid, but the book is just as much about Claire’s journey and about the history of the time and place (pre-uprising Scotland).  There are seven books in this series, and the time travel plays into the others even more than this one.  I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like the other books nearly as much.  But you should read Outlander all by itself, even if you don’t want to go on.  It’ll satisfy the part of you that wants to wander the Scottish highlands.  (Oh, please.  Don’t pretend you don’t have that part of you.)
  • The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – This one is also a bestseller (and 10 years old, which is making me feel ancient), but I’m still surprised how many people I meet who haven’t read it.  Please read it.  Then watch the lovely movie.  But read it first.  If you don’t know, it’s about a man who has a disorder that makes him involuntarily travel through time.  It goes back and forth between the point of view of the husband and wife and handles the complexity of their relationship so beautifully.  It will make you laugh and cry and sigh and cheer and then cry a little bit more.  So basically, it’s perfect.
  • Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – I’m guessing you haven’t heard of this one, and I almost don’t even want to tell you what it is about because I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Okay, here we go, no spoilers: Shelley and Max are young and happily married, when Max is unexpectedly killed.  Three years later, a young man shows up at the widow’s door looking very like her dead husband and bringing information that will lead her on a search through Europe and through her life.  This is a wonderful love story.  It is warm and thoughtful and builds on itself as it takes you back and forth through history in a way that won’t let you put it down.

Go read!  It will make your day better.  I promise.

Review: The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee

“Outside, the forest looked suspiciously adorable.
Cute little brownish squirrels were playing through the trees, and the birds sang and sang. But I thought: Claidi, you know this doesn’t mean much. Around the next artistic bush may lurk some hulking THING. This is what my utterly silly life has taught me so far.”
Wolf Queen, Book 3 of The Claidi Journals

With so much talk about the need for really truly strong heroines in young adult fiction, I can’t believe I’ve never heard anyone mention these books. I came across a volume of the first three books in the series at a discount book store a few years back and picked it up on a whim (and because it was cheap). It was love at first read.

First, the basics: The Claidi Journals consist of four books, Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing. (I’ve read the first three a couple of times and just uncovered the fourth, so it’s in the TBR pile.) Claidi is a slave/maid to a spoiled princess in an isolated “House” surrounded by wasteland. Her life is miserable until a stranger appears and is captured and one of the old princesses of the house chooses her to help the strange prisoner escape and get home. This, of course, is the beginning of her many adventures, a sheltered girl in a foreign world.

It’s a very standard premise, but nothing else about these books is standard. The world she encounters is funny and weird and her adventures are unexpected, almost jarringly so at times. Tanith Lee (who is a prolific and accomplished writer) blends science fiction and fantasy seamlessly and has an imagination that verges on the bizarre. It’s weird, but weird in a quirky and super-clean way. I just read the series again to make sure my memory was accurate. Yes. True love, of course, but nothing remotely sexual. Nothing dramatically violent (just a few punches and such). Nothing inappropriate at all. I am itching to pass this book on to my almost 10-year-old. She will love it.

She will love it because, Claidi. As fun and interesting as the world is (full of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy element: a variety of interesting cultures and culture clashes), the star of the show is Claidi. From the first page, you just love her. She is rebellious but good-hearted. She is sarcastic and original and unintentionally funny. She is strong-minded though naive. She is incredibly brave but not stupidly so. She is a delight in every way. And she is REAL. She doubts herself and criticizes herself and is weak at times and makes mistakes and doesn’t understand what is going on around her and has fluctuating emotions and is just trying to figure it all out. She reminds me of my daughter. She reminds me of me (so now you know I think I’m a delight). These are her journals, so it’s all in first-person, in one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read. Tanith Lee is a person I wish I could have a conversation with. Anyone who can invent a character like this is my kind of person.

I don’t do rankings and I can’t put numbers to things, so no 5-star system here. This just gets an “I super recommend it!” I’m handing it off to my daughter. That’s the highest compliment I can give something. Check it out, for your own kid, or really for yourself. It’s a fun read.

I’m off to research more books by Tanith Lee. I’ve heard there are a ton, and I can’t wait to find them.

Manga Classics: A New Reason To Give Your Kids Comic Books

Not that you should need new reasons to buy your kids comic books. Comics are one of the most amazing forms of storytelling ever. I didn’t grow up on them, but I wish I had. The form has limitations, like anything else, but the visual nature of telling stories in comics, the way even the arrangement of the frames can communicate and move the action along, can give kids an instinctual feel for the structure of storytelling. Sometimes we worry so much about our kids becoming good readers that we dismiss things like comics as fluff that isn’t “real reading.” But learning to love story, well-told tales in any form, is the true foundation for being a good reader.

How was that? Did I convince you that there’s an adequately intellectual reason to sit down with a good comic book?

If not, try these on for size. UDON Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing Limited has a new line of books which adapts classic literature into manga editions. (If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, manga is a Japanese style of comics.)  Right now they have Pride and Prejudice and Les Miserables available for purchase, but I understand more are in the pipeline. Which we will be buying as soon as they are out. Because they are awesome.

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My husband picked these up a couple of weeks ago when he was working the ALA conference, and my 9-year-old devoured them both in two days. Then my 7-year-old picked up Pride and Prejudice. Then the next thing you knew, we were watching the BBC mini-series and my children were quoting a hysterical Mrs. Bennet in hilariously atrocious British accents. Then my English teacher heart swelled up and burst.

They love these stories, you guys. Because, come on, these are some of the best stories ever told. And the simplicity and beautiful artwork in these books gave them access to something that would otherwise have been years away (if they ever read them at all because, be honest, how many of you have actually READ Les Miserables?)

If you care about such things, these are also a great intro to manga as an art form. They are beautiful. And they each come with a fun little “how to read manga” page that walks them through the dizzying nature of reading right to left. That aspect of the whole thing was also really fun for them.

So what do you think? Classic literature definitely makes comic books intellectual enough, wouldn’t you say? If not, we can call them “graphic novels.” I’ve heard that helps.

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Quick note for parents: These are kid safe. Even the desperate Fantine portions of Les Miserables are handled nicely, which is to say that it shows her desperation and is gut-wrenching, but when she sells herself, there is nothing remotely explicit. In fact, it’s handled so obliquely that I’m pretty sure my kids didn’t even know what had happened.

You Could Totally Do This

Happy Fourth, everyone!  Keeping it small and simple today, because I know you’re all celebrating one way and another.

This week’s book recommendation list is all about picture books.  It’s not a comprehensive list of our favorites.  I’m guessing our taste is common enough that you’ve already heard of them all anyway.  Nope, today we have just three picture books you should absolutely buy and absolutely read to your kids and also absolutely use to build your confidence to tell more of your own stories.  Books to inspire you!

Picture Books to Make You a Better Storyteller

  • A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown – This book couldn’t be simpler.  “Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor.  On the moor there was a dark, dark wood.”  On and on it goes just the same, leading you through the dark, dark world to a tiny little surprise ending.  My kids loved this book at a wide variety of ages.  It’s wonderful.  But here’s the thing, guys.  It’s all in how you read it.  You just drag out the words “dark, dark” in your most ominous voice, letting the suspense build as they hang on your every word until the anti-climactic ending seems hilarious.  YOU COULD TOTALLY DO THIS.  You could make up a story that didn’t even have a plot or anything, and if you infused your voice with enough drama and paced it nice and slow, your kids would be on the edge of their seats.
  • Bark, George by Jules Feiffer – You’ve probably heard of this one.  It’s a genius little book.  George has an eating problem and tends to talk like whatever he’s eaten.  Very fun and very funny.  Your kids are guaranteed to like it.  What I think you should see is that this is just one very, very fun idea.  What would happen if a dog made the sounds of things it had eaten instead of barking?  Then with some expert use of repetition (and sure, some awesome drawings) it’s a wonderful, entertaining book.  This is basically just our four step storytelling method in action.  The character: George.  The weirdest thing he could do? Make noises of things he’s eaten.  Obvious problem caused? Mom freaks out.  Obvious solution? She takes him to the vet and has things removed.  YOU COULD TOTALLY DO THIS.
  • My Lucky Day By Keiko Kasza – My kids still really love this book, which is about a pig who is “captured” by a fox and then bathed, fattened, and massaged before slipping away.  In the end we find out the pig arranged the whole thing and it’s his lucky day, not the fox’s.  I’ll post soon about the topsy-turvy method of inventing a story.  This is a great example.  You just take a really ordinary concept (in this case, the big animal capturing and eating the little animal) and turn it on its head.  It’s not as hard as you may think.  It’s a world where you eat dinner in the morning and breakfast at night or a mouse who chases a cat who chases a dog.  YOU COULD TOTALLY DO THIS.

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If You Liked The Lord of the Rings (My Top 5 Fantasy Reads)

There is nothing (NOTHING) like The Lord of the Rings.  I am absolutely in no way implying that anything else on this list is going to have the depth of world building and language and culture development and beautiful writing and moving characters and complete and utter wonderment of Tolkien’s work.  Just wanted to get that out of the way, so you would know that I am a quality person of sound mind.  I am also in no way implying that I am an expert on the fantasy genre.  I’m not (more on this later).  I’m just passing on some things that make me happy.  Things that you might want to enjoy and that you might want to expose your kids to along the way.

Just in case you were wondering what place this list has on a blog about storytelling for kids, I was seven (and my brother was nine) when my dad first started reading The Hobbit to us.  I remember that we had this little storybook version of it, and we were talking about it when he asked us if we wanted to read the real thing.  As soon as he finished that book, we jumped straight into The Lord of the Rings.  Hours and hours of lying in his bed or on the floor next to it, listening and listening while he did all the voices and plowed through each and every one of those songs.  (Yeah, my dad is awesome.)  Those are some of my best memories.

As soon as I was old enough to tackle something that long, I reread the whole series on my own.  I was probably 11 or 12.  After that, I pretty much reread it every year until I went to college to study literature and had no time for reading.  When my husband and I got married right out of college, I heard they were making LOTR movies, and I forced him to read all the books before the first movie came out.  As I recall, I read some of it out loud to him as we drove across the country on our honeymoon.  More great memories.

Somehow, bizarrely, in spite of my obvious love for Tolkien’s world, I never really delved into much other fantasy writing until about 10 years ago.  I guess I didn’t run with the right crowds to be introduced to the good stuff.  I’m doing my best to change that.  For me.  For my kids.  And for you.

I’ve tried quite a few things along the way, and rejected many of them for various reasons.  Some had terrible writing (Eragon, anyone?).  Some got a bit too rapey, and I couldn’t dig it (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones).  Some just didn’t let me in. (The legendary Earthsea series, by Ursula LeGuin, is one of those for me.) These five, though, are the ones I lost myself in (and that’s all I ever really wanted).

If You Liked The Lord of the Rings (because obviously you did)

  • The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (First book is The Eye of the World) – This series is 14 books long, so you’ve been warned.  Length does not daunt me, but I also didn’t know what I was getting into when I started.  It’s a pretty basic premise: young men set out on a journey to save the world, realizing along the way that they have special powers.  The basic premise barely matters, though, since it’s the wonderful characters and extensive interplay of cultures that I loved.  This really requires a lengthy review.  Let me just say that first book is great, which helps you buy in.  It’s 14 books, so yeah, it wanders and drags along the way (and there is a lot of braid tugging and sniffing…just read it and you’ll see what I mean).  The author actually died before finishing it, but he left extensive notes and Brandon Sanderson came on board to finish out the last few books.  Those last ones are fantastic.  I really, really liked the ending.  And I was so invested in all the characters.  Just really, really great.
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – I started on his books after reading his work on WOT.  There are many and all very original for the genre.  Mistborn is by far my favorite.  The whole world works and is enough different from anything else to be captivating.  There are people with special powers, but they’re different from what you’ve seen before and follow very logical rules.  There is an evil lord to overthrow, but even that isn’t what it seems.  It has a female protagonist, which always works for me, but there isn’t a female sensibility to it, which also works nicely.
  • The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier (First book is Daughter of the Forest) – This one is an Irish mythology creation, which drew me in right away but may not appeal to those looking for strictly new world building.  More strong amazing female characters here but with equally strong male counterparts. Some harsh life reality but without dwelling on it in that voyeuristic way you sometimes find.  There is a love story element to each book, but the main focus is home and family and protecting that.  I look forward to my daughters reading these some day.
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – An unfinished trilogy!  I was completely swept up in the first two books and so disappointed that I would have to wait for more.  There’s nothing terribly original in the world building here, but the writing is strong and the main character is completely compelling.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings (First book is Pawn of Prophecy) –  A friend recently put me on to this one (Thanks, Mike!), though it’s been around forever, and I haven’t finished yet, so I can’t speak to the ending, but I am completely in.  It also has a fairly tired premise (boy is special and doesn’t know, is taken on journey by powerful people to save world), but none of that matters while you are enjoying the warm and witty writing.  More great characters (can you tell that depth of characterization is my favorite thing?), but really it’s the writing style that makes me want to just sink in and let the pages flip by.

One last thing about The Lord of the Rings.  If for some reason you find yourself here and you haven’t read it, just walk away from this right now and go get started.  I mean, really.  Don’t even tell me you’ve seen the movies and haven’t read it.  Don’t even tell me you’ve never read anything that long.  Just do it.  And for the record, I’m reading it to my kids (9,7,and 5) right now.  It’s taking us a loooooong time and we’ve taken breaks along the way, but I’m doing my best to do all the voices and I’m steadfastly withholding the films until we get to the end.  Remind me sometime to tell you the story of the moment they realized (SPOILER) that Gandalf was really alive.  Let me just say, this is totally paying off in more really great memories.