Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash coverClassic fairy tales have become ubiquitous in pop culture, from TV shows and films to comic books. Published in 2009, Malinda Lo’s debut novel predicted the current popularity of fairy tale adaptations. Her re-telling of Cinderella is an exploration of loss, wonder and courage. Particularly the courage to be yourself.

Lo includes the familiar evil stepmother, boorish step-sisters and magic, but she adds darker elements which provide welcome relief from the saccharin cartoons you are likely most familiar with. Ash is a real teenage girl with complex emotions pulling her in different directions: “She wanted to kick the gravestone; she wanted to tear the earth beneath which her mother lay and pull the body out of the ground and shake it until it gave her an answer” (p 121).

Ash has lost both her parents, and her closest companion is a brooding Fairy named Sidhean who initially warns Ash away from the temptations of Fairy life, but ultimately binds her to himself with magic. Life among the Fairies is far from magical for the humans trapped there, yet compared to her life of drudgery even false glamour is appealing.  It is Sidhean, not a fairy god-mother, who provides her trip to the ball. The delightful twist is that while the Prince is enthralled with her, Ash only has eyes for the king’s Huntress.

Ash’s path to self-understanding is believable and sympathetic. Lo’s prose is beautiful and her descriptions perfectly compliment the shifting mood of her story. Anyone who has ever wished that Cinderella’s happy ending featured a Princess, not a Prince, will love this novel. It is published by Little, Brown specifically for young adults, and would especially appeal to lesbian teens. However, anyone interested in fairy tales or classic fantasy will find much to enjoy in this novel.

This interview style review from the Bitch magazine YA Book Blog features the diverse opinions of three readers. Aaron Hughes at Fantastic Reviews also provides his perspective.

Take a look at the book trailer:

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress coverThis is a classic quest/good versus evil fantasy tale starring two seventeen year old girls, Kaede and Taisin. Both are students at The Academy, a school for aspiring sages. One of them is highborn and the other is not. Though they barely know each other, they are chosen to travel together to the fairy city to meet with the mysterious Fairy Queen in an effort to stop whatever evil force has thrown the world out of balance. The night before they are told about this quest, Taisin has a frightening premonition which sets up the emotional tension of the novel.

These are very familiar elements to any fan of fantasy fiction, yet Lo’s beautiful writing and skill at emotional exposition make this story rewarding and compelling. For example:

“Why are you afraid of your feelings?” she whispered. Taisin bit her lip. She looked away from Kaede; she looked down at her hands; they twisted together as if she were trying to weave a rope around her wrists.”

Lo respects both her characters and her readers by avoiding predictable outcomes and giving each character depth. I love that the cover art makes it clear that the characters in this tale are Chinese, and elements of Chinese culture are present throughout the book. Lo brings new possibilities to a genre that is all too often bogged down in restrictive tropes and endless description, and not just because the heroes are young Asian lesbians. Her characters are not stereotyped: they learn from their experiences, work through their fear, and fall in love. They save the world and it doesn’t take 600 pages. This engaging book will appeal to readers who like quest fantasies, or stories about girls discovering their strengths and having adventures.

Watch the book trailer at the Malinda Lo blog. Read a review at Bookishcomforts, or one by Brit Mandelo at Tor.com.

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

Tommysaurus Rex coverWhat if you discovered your very own pet dinosaur?

When Ely’s dog, Tommy, is accidentally killed in a car accident on his morning walk, Ely is overcome with grief. To help him deal with his loss, his parents send Ely to spend time at his grandpa’s over summer vacation. One day he sees a plastic T-Rex model and thinks, common sense aside, how cool it would be to have a pet T-Rex. He is soon in for a big surprise when he wanders into a cave — and meets a real T-Rex! But this is no ordinary dinosaur: he follows Ely around like a dog, and can do tricks like a dog, too. As they spend more time together, the bond between them grows stronger. Ely decides to name the dinosaur Tommy, and people flock to see the T-Rex. They even hold a show to raise money to help fund his care.

But not all are in support of Ely and his dinosaur. Randy, a local bully, can’t stand to let Ely get all the glory as the popular kid. No one can anticipate what happens next when he tries to take things into his own hands.

TenNapel’s graphic novels share an overarching sense of darkness, both in storyline and illustrations, but there are also strong themes of hope and family love. The number of kids and parents who have sought out his works at my library got me hooked, and I am glad of it. Tommysaurus Rex is anything but a light read: within a mere 137 pages, TenNapel addresses love, loss and bullying. I teared up more than once, but found the story’s resolution heartwarming.

Curious to find out more?

Take a look at other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review.

You can also read more about Tommysaurus Rex at Great Books for Kids and Teen, where you’ll also find links to TenNapel’s blog and website.

Mini Arthurian

Editor’s Intro: We’ll wrap up our Classics Retold project with a handful of mini blurbs from Rei. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose discovered some new books to add to the TBR list this month. Thanks for following along with us!

Christmas in Camelot coverMagic Tree House: Christmas in Camelot written by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca
Among their many adventures with their time-traveling Magic Tree House (said to be the property of “Morgan le Fay”), is a story of how the main characters, Jack and Annie, travel back in time to Camelot where they meet King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table. Something is amiss though — Sir Galahad, Sir Percival and Sir Lancelot, having ventured on a magical quest to the Otherworld, have not returned for many weeks. Travel alongside Jack and Annie as they help find the knights and try to unlock the mystery hidden in the Otherworld.

King Arthur coverKing Arthur by Marc Brown
In this Arthur chapter book, Arthur, Buster, Francine and their classmates from Lakewood elementary are on a field trip to a medieval park to win the Golden Gryphon. Competing against them is Glenbrook Academy. The challenges include maze walking, a tug of war, food eating contests, getting the sword out of the stone and more. During the competitions, Arthur hears some bad news — if they didn’t win at least one of the challenges, they risk getting different teacher — a teacher more strict than Mr. Ratburn. Will Arthur and his friends be able to save their teacher?

Time Soldiers Arthur coverTime Soldiers: Arthur by Kathleen Duey
Book 4 in the Time Soldiers series is Arthur, the story of six neighbourhood kids who can time travel when a time-portal opens in their backyard. In the past, they’ve seen dinosaurs and pirates. This time, when the portal opens, three kids venture into the time of Merlin and Arthur just before his crowning. Instead of having the chance to pull the sword out of the stone right away, fate intervenes and Arthur is put into a jail cell. Can the Time Soldiers help Arthur get out of the cell so that he can fulfill his destiny?

Ten: Lost Things

Another of the best known Arthur stories is the search for the Holy Grail. This week’s Ten highlights other stories which focus on the search for something lost.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Sometimes things get lost on purpose.
Ella lives in a town founded by the creator of the famous pangram, “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog.” When letters from the pangram start falling off the founder’s statue, the town leaders decide that any letter no longer appearing on the statue will also be removed from the town’s vocabulary. Continue reading

Ten: On a Mission

The legends of King Arthur’s knights are inseparable from the idea of questing: to slay or capture or rescue. In this week’s Ten, we share some other stories centred on a mission. The quests below vary from the weighty — a quest to save a life, or answer an important question — to the silly, and even the every day. The stories demonstrate that approaching a task as a mission can help to turn fear to determination, tedium to adventure, and entertainment to challenge. May we all do more questing!

Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie’s quiet life in a frontier village takes a surreal turn when she is sent out alone to obtain medicine for local children dying of diphtheria, and finds that nearly everything she thought true about her life is an illusion. Continue reading

The Melancholic Mermaid written by Kallie George and illustrated by Abigail Halpin

The Melancholic Mermaid cover Simply ReadBoth Tony and Maude were born a little different. He has webbed fingers; she has two tails. The latter, at least, seems like a good thing at first. Double-tailed merfolk have a tendency to make history. Unfortunately, the extra speed and agility that allows them to do so also makes Maude unpopular with the other merchildren — she’s way too fast to be any fun for games and races. Tony, too, has trouble with the other kids, who tease him relentlessly.

Tony and Maude meet one another as fellow circus performers. Tony was turned over to the circus by his concerned and trusting parents, who hoped that the Ring Mistress was right when she told them Tony would be happier there. Maude was caught by a fisherman’s net, and sold to the circus for a mint. When neither act proves profitable, the Ring Mistress decides to recoup her losses by having the stage-frozen Tony train the despondent Maude. But Tony realises that he and Maude have a thing or two in common, and he devises a different plan entirely.

The Melancholic Mermaid is its own kind of different. There’s the story, which brings together imagined mermaid lore, bullying, show business, and adventure. There’s the format, which crosses picture book with chapter book. And there are the pictures, which are full of sea colours and personality and just…wonderful. Because of the length, the story would be a great choice for a more confident reader who still loves lots of pictures, or as a read-aloud for a mixed-age group. Make sure to read to the end – the epilogue is the best part!

Read several more reviews collected on the publisher’s website

Check out an interview with Kallie George and Abigail Halpin at Cynsations.