My Top Ten of 2013

One of the best parts of working on Lemon-Squash has been the excuse it provides to read. A lot. While I try to share all of the really good books I discover with you, there are a few that have stood out as particular favourites. If you know me in person, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve already insisted that you read these. For those who don’t (and those who need a refresher), here are my top ten kids’ and YA reads from 2013.*

*These are titles I discovered and loved this year, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. That said, at least a couple have sequels released this year or due to come out in 2014 that you should watch for, too.
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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:

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?

Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Seeing Stone coverArthur de Caldicot is surrounded by crossing places. There’s the year, 1199, which promises the mystery of a new century. There’s his home, perched on the border of England and Wales, and his family, which blends the traditions and sensibilities of both. There’s the death of Coeur de Lion, and the rise of King John. And there’s Arthur’s seeing stone, a gift from his mentor, Merlin, which give him glimpses into another life strangely parallel to his own.

This first book in Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy introduces the Arthurian legends through the eyes of a medieval teen convinced that knighthood is everything he wants. Short chapters alternate between detailed images of life in a medieval manor, and vivid scenes from King Arthur’s beginnings, from his strange conception to the much-contested drawing of the sword from the stone. Between the two, the later Arthur’s story moves almost imperceptibly forward. Though there is a central conflict and, ultimately, a kind of resolution, there is a sense that for the most part, the reader is trusted to draw meaning out everyday life. Arthur asks questions and makes choices, observes and discovers, worries and determines who he can and will trust. Having experienced all of this with Arthur, the reader is ready to recognise the full weight of the conclusion — and to reach eagerly for the next book.

I highly recommend The Seeing Stone for readers who enjoy historical fiction that provides a faithful window into another culture, and for those interested in the Middle Ages more generally. The series is also a great place to start developing a deeper sense of the Arthurian legends, as the short, memorable scenes provide plenty of entry points for understanding a more advanced work like Le Morte d’Arthur down the road without conflicting with those more traditional tellings.

Continue the series with At the Crossing Places and The King of the Middle March.

Read other reviews from Publishers Weekly and, from a writer’s point of view, Miss Reading.

Visit the author’s website to find out how his Arthur trilogy came to be, or head over to The Guardian for an interview with Crossley-Holland on the occasion of his Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

*Apologies for the delayed post!

A Tale of Two Castles written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Greg Call

A Tale of Two Castles coverWhen Elodie sets out on her own at twelve, she knows that it will be at least ten years before she sees home again. The only apprenticeship her family can afford is the kind that Elodie will purchase with ten years of service. It’s a long time, but Elodie has a plan to make it pass in a flash: though her parents believe that they are sending their daughter away for a weaving apprenticeship, Elodie intends to apprentice with an acting troupe, and fill her years with adventure.

Unfortunately, Elodie learns too late that the ten-year apprenticeships have been abolished. In order to find a home and work for herself, she’ll have to either convince a master to take her on for a much longer apprenticeship, or find a way to pay for a shorter one. Enter Meenore the dragon, who needs an apprentice to announce ITs detective skills in the market, and perform other sundry tasks around the lair. Their first big case comes from the unpopular owner of one of the story’s two castles, the ogre Count Jonty Um, whose dog has disappeared. Though Jonty Um is kind and hospitable, the villagers hate and fear him, and the Count worries that something terrible has happened. When Elodie movies into the castle under the guise of a servant, she discovers that there is far more going on than the loss of an animal. Between Elodie’s acting and observation skills, and Meenore’s detective savvy, the pair soon has a list of suspects, from the handsome cat trainer in the village to the dreadful king who owns the second castle. But they may already be too late.

A Tale of Two Castles is a clever and satisfying story recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy-laced mysteries and twisted fairy tales.

Read other reviews at Miss Print and The Reading Fever.

Revisit the fairy tale that inspired A Tale of Two Castles (it may surprise you!).

Watch the trailer:

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso

Knights of the Lunch Table coverArtie King may be new to Camelot Middle School, but he’s already made friends, ticked off Joe and his Horde, and fulfilled a prophecy that sort of makes him king of the school. Artie’s locker assignment sticks him with the one locker on campus that no one has ever been able to open. In fact, a prophecy has grown up around it: whoever gets the locker door open will thereafter rule the school. In need of a place to leave his books, Artie gives the combination a try — and the door opens easily. When lord-of-the-hallways Joe fails to replicate the feat, Artie’s fame, and Joe’s hatred, are fixed.

Artie’s new friend Percy has the perfect solution: Joe’s Horde and Artie’s newly-christened Knights of the Lunch Table will play one game of dodgeball. Whoever wins the game, wins the throne (figuratively speaking). Artie’s a shoo-in — assuming he actually has amazing dodgeball skills everyone thinks he does. And if he doesn’t?

The Knights might be in more trouble than they thought.

This first graphic novel in Cammuso’s Knights of the Lunch Table series introduces an impressive collection of references to the King Arthur legends in an accessible, relevant, and entertaining story. Artie’s knights are awkward middle schoolers eager to play their part in their friend’s accidental challenge to Camelot’s social order. Gwen(evere) abandons the sidelines to claim her own place in the saga – I can’t wait to see more of her in later books! Mr. Merlyn is an odd-but-wise teacher always ready with a bit of advice. And of course there’s Artie’s Excalibur – er, locker – available only to him, and mysteriously stocked with just the right thing at just the right time. Let the adventures begin!

Find other reviews and learn more about the series as a whole at 100 Scope Notes, Guys Lit Wire, and Stacked.

Play Dodge-a-Rama on the Graphix website.

Ten: Vying for the Throne

Arthur demonstrated his claim to the throne but pulling Excalibur from a rock. Others’ paths to a throne (or its equivalent) have been a little more complicated. This week’s Ten looks at how a variety of characters have approached the challenge of winning a place at the top, whether facing curses, usurpers, or strings of bizarre tests.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
Prince Khemri’s one of ten million princes responsible for keeping the Empire humming. Though his first experiences as an adult prince quickly teach him to moderate his opinion of himself, it turns out that Khemri is indeed a favourite of the Emperor, picked out as a top candidate for the throne. The job of proving himself the best suited of a galaxy full of princes raises questions, though, and leaves Khemri wondering whether the system he’s been raised to benefit from is really so great after all. Continue reading