Category Archives: Book stuff

Blog Tour: A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Today I am so pleased to welcome Diane Zahler, author of The Thirteenth Princess, to The Cazzy Files. Diane is journeying around the blogosphere to celebrate the publication of her new middle grade fantasy, A True Princess. Thanks for stopping by, Diane!

Can you tell us a little about your new novel, A True Princess?

A True Princess is the story of Lilia, a girl brought up by a shepherd and his family. She leaves the farm to travel north to find her family, and her two friends, Kai and Karina, make the trip with her. Their journey takes them through the dark and dangerous Bitra Forest, where they stumble into the kingdom of the evil Elf-King and his beautiful daughter. When Kai is taken prisoner by the elves, Lilia knows that she must find a way to save him. Her quest takes her to a castle in search of a magical jewel – but another search is taking place at the castle, a search for a true princess.

How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

A True Princess is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Princess and the Pea,” and its dangerous elves were inspired by Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King.” It also includes Nordic myth, heroic falcons, fierce wolves, a dog who was based on my own dog, and a touch of romance. I’m a fan of heroines who take charge of their own destinies, and Lilia does just that. As the story begins, she doesn’t know who she is or where she is going, but as her quest progresses she discovers more than that: she learns the extent of her own strength.

Jennifer at Jean Little Library asked the question foremost in my mind, about the Scandinavian influences in the story. Follow the link to read more about how the setting, the fairy tale, Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King”, and Norse mythology all came together in this enchanting novel.

Given the focus on Scandinavian literature, what prompted you to include Hansel and Gretel in your story?

“Hansel and Gretel” is a German tale, but I’ve found that Scandinavian and middle European folklore overlap a lot. The Elf-King story, for example, which I first heard in Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King,” is originally from a Danish folktale. And I think that the themes of many fairy tales are nearly universal – they appeal to the deepest fears and desires of children. Those themes tend to cross cultural boundaries. The idea of children lost in the wilderness can be found in tales from many different countries, so I thought such a story might not be unknown even to children in a fantasy world.

Which scene in A True Princess was your favorite to write?

Oh, definitely the scene where the main character, Lilia, and her friends Kai and Karina first encounter the Elf-King. I wanted to make him and his daughter both mesmerizing and creepy – like the poem that was my inspiration for them – and describing the scene and finding their voices was great fun.

What is your favorite princess story (other than your own?)

I’m a huge fan of Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. Both of these writers create worlds that are at once magical and completely believable; their graceful writing is a joy to read.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

I love “Beauty and the Beast,” a story with layer upon layer of meaning, and “Rapunzel,” which I find endlessly strange and fascinating. I hadn’t realized until just now the similarity in the plots: in both, a stolen plant results in the loss of a daughter!

Wow, I hadn’t realized that either!

Okay, last question. You describe the aurora borealis so vividly. “The horizon, where it met the mountain peaks, had turned from the deep blue of early evening to green, and it was pulsing lightly. I watched as the green color moved upward and shaded into teal, then inky blue, blue-purple, violet, lavender. The whole sky now was bathed in vivid colors, and it pulsed like the world’s heartbeat (p. 136, ARC)”. Have you ever seen the Northern Lights yourself?

Yes, I have. I was in my hometown of Ithaca, New York, walking late at night in winter, and suddenly the sky began pulsing with waves of green light. It was terrifying and beautiful, and I had no idea what I’d seen until I read about it in the newspaper the next day. The multicolored aurora is much rarer; I’d love to see that in Scandinavia someday!

Ooh, I’m envious! Well, you have certainly added a new destination to my travels. Between the Northern Lights and the beautiful landscapes described in the novel, Scandinavia is a must-visit for me!

Thank you, Diane, for sharing your insights with us!
The final two stops on the blog tour are Sonder Booksand Bookscoops. To see the rest of the blogs participating in the blog tour, visit Diane Zahler’s website. And stay tuned for my review of A True Princess!

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What I learned from the POC Challenge

In the past, if I read a book that included a character who was a person of color (POC), it was random, not intentional. Just looking for a good story. Most of those books were historical. Some examples that come to mind are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor or Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. More often than not, any POC characters in books I read were secondary characters.

I joined the POC Challenge for a few reasons: my sense of injustice over the whitewashing of covers, the diverse population I serve in my middle school, and my own curiosity about other cultures and places – the same curiosity which drives me to travel.

As a white reader, I felt uncomfortable at first, as though I were infringing on someone else’s territory, but I didn’t know where the border was. Did I have the authority to speak on authenticity? Can I relate to the characters? If I’m critical, will people think it is because I am white? What if I don’t “get it”?

After reading and writing my first post, I realized all books contain the same components: character, plot, theme, setting, pacing. My lifetime of reading, my years of teaching English, and my training as a librarian more than qualified me. What is authenticity? It means that the book rings true, and books do that by writing vibrant characters, engaging plots, relatable themes, and vivid settings.

My awareness of the scope of POC literature has widened. Dramatically. I seek out books featuring POC characters, and will definitely continue to do so. My sense of injustice has expanded to include the dearth of POC literature for young adults. Yes, it is growing. But now that I am aware of it, I am frustrated that it is not growing faster.

I am happy that through the posts of other POC Challenge readers, as well as the authors I am exposed to via social media, I am finding literature that goes beyond “urban lit”. My readers are more interested in romance and fantasy, and just plain coming-of-age stories. They are bored with historical (sorry, but true), and urban lit is on the fringe of their life experiences. It is still part of my collection, but it is no longer the only reading experience they can have within the multicultural/multiethnic spectrum.

As I enter my second year of the challenge, I have many reading goals. Authors I want to read include: An Na, Sharon Draper, Malinda Lo, Justina Chen Headley, Neesha Meminger, and so many more! I am very interested in fantasy, science fiction, and realistic fiction that feature POC. While I have a long list of recent and forthcoming novels to read, I also feel like I need to read many titles from the past, such as The Skin I’m In, The Indigo Notebook, Before We Were Free, Monsoon Summer, and Jason & Kyra (maybe not earth-shattering fiction, but hugely popular with my students).

So much reading, so little time! And as I look at the covers I included in this post, I realize all of these stories are about female characters. I think I need to look deeper for some POC fiction with male characters, too!

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POC Reading Challenge: 2010 final reviews & 2011 Pledge


In late January 2010, I committed to reading between 7 -9 books featuring POC main characters. I am happy to say I met the minimum of 7 books. So, I give myself a grade of 90% for this challenge.

This was my first reading challenge, and I am pleased that I read 7. Yet 7 does not feel quite so high in comparison to everything I have read in 2010, and so I will be participating in the 2011 challenge. Only this time, I am taking on a Level 4 challenge: read between 10-15 books by December 31, 2011. I like even numbers, so I am setting my goal for 12 books. That’s one per month, and I know I can do it.

Before I can start my new challenge, I need to write my last reviews. Check them out below.


Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Published: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2009
Source: school library

Why I chose to read

As the book that initiated the POC Reading Challenge, Magic Under Glass was on my TBR shelf. Then I had the opportunity to meet author Jaclyn Dolamore during ALA in Washington, D.C., and I was further motivated to read it. When it finally arrived in my library, I snagged it before putting it on the shelves.

Summary

Nimira immigrated from Tiansher to Lorinar to seek her fortune, but has been reduced to perform in seedy halls for unappreciative audiences. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry offers Nim an opportunity to sing with his automaton, she jumps at the chance to escape her current situation. Little does she know the intrigue and heartbreak she will face.

What I enjoyed

  • Nim. Strong character, big heart.
  • Flashback technique used to fill in Nim’s background. It worked really well to develop Nim’s character and provide information about Tiansher and Nimira’s universe in general.
  • The romance between Erris and Nim. It builds slowly, and the reader is aware of it before Nim is.
  • The conflict between the fairy world and the human world. Great set up for all kinds of plot points!
  • Women rule in this book!

What diminished my enjoyment

  • The pacing is inconsistent. Some parts race, some drag, and there are jumps.
  • Some plot points seemed a little too convenient.

Related reads

Jane Eyre-esque / Victorian Gothic atmosphere
Jane by April Lindner
anything by Victoria Holt


And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman

Published: Point, 2009
Source: publisher copy provided for committee

Why I chose to read

Nominated for PPYA “Thrillers & Killers” list.

Summary

Delia returns home from an afternoon of surfing and is informed that her mother is missing and presumed dead. Although Delia knows that T.K. would never do something as disorganized as disappear, she is promptly shipped from California to New York City into the custody of two aunts she has never met.

What I enjoyed

  • Delia is consistent in her belief that her mother is alive, and is an easily relatable narrator.
  • Charley’s obsessions with clothes and ice cream, and her snarky nicknames.
  • The “bad boy” isn’t really bad, just a stereotype.
  • Never sure which characters to trust.
  • Nerd love in California.
  • Engaging mystery.

What diminished my enjoyment

  • Bad cover. Really bad.
  • Bad title.
  • Too many stereotypical characters. Charley breaks through a little, but most are flat and predictable.
  • The psychic. Surely the story could have been written without her in it?
  • Unrealistic – for example, being able to pay $2,500 with a couple of hours notice. The story would be even cooler if Delia’s mother were not wealthy.

Related reads

New York setting
Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
Jinx by Meg Cabot

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Bibliotherapy for losing a pet

 

This past weekend, my husband and I made the painful decision to put down our cat Isabelle. Although she was fifteen years old and sick for the past nine months, she went downhill in a matter of days. Losing her has been painful, and as I struggle to deal with my grief, I keep waffling between two extremes. Do I indulge my sadness and read books that provide an empathetic reaction? Should I distract myself by escaping into a scary or humorous book?

Unfortunately for me, I have no option but to work and do homework for my graduate classes. However, I know there are teens out there that have lost pets and are struggling with the same questions I mention above. For them, I provide the following suggestions.

Pet Stories: Books in which the relationship between the protagonist and pet is an important feature of the story.

The Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting: William has the perfect dog. But because Riley chased and injured a neighbor’s horse, Oregon law states that Riley must be put down. Can William find a way to save him?
Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko: Ant deals with her dislike for her family with creative lies, volunteerism, and loving her dog Pistachio.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech: As he records his distaste for poetry, Jack slowly develops his own poetic voice and begins to deal with a personal tragedy.
Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan: The “world’s worst dog” eats couches, howls incessantly during thunderstorms, and inspires the love of his family. An adaptation of the adult book Marley and Me.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: Mia worries she is crazy because of her undiagnosed synesthesia. Thankfully she has Mango, her cat, to keep her centered.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains, Billy buys two coon dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, with the hopes of raising them to be a top-notch coon-hunting team.

Humorous stories: So funny you forget your loss for a while.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar: Scott has such hope when he begins ninth grade. Then he falls in love with Julia on Day 1, his older brother is frustratingly absent, and his mother reveals that she is pregnant. As the year progresses, Scott becomes sleep-deprived and desperate.
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger: Told alternately by T.C., Augie, and Ale, this is a witty and heartwarming story about family, friendship, and choosing who you will be. (Come on, isn’t the title enough?)
Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen: The narrator is sent to live with relatives on a farm. However, one of those relatives is Harris, who creates mayhem and drags the narrator into his wild schemes. A quiet story of farm life it is not.
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck: The indomitable Grandma Dowdel is up to her old tricks, causing Mary Alice no small amount of embarrassment and pride. One of my favorite chapters involves an outhouse on Halloween.
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (Georgia Nicolson series #1) by Louise Rennison: Georgia is the teen version of Bridget Jones. She is burdened with a slightly loopy four-year-old sister and Angus, her cat.
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka: The escapades of author Jon Sciecska and his five brothers. Warning: includes cat yakking.

Scary stories: You’ll be too busy looking over your shoulder and holding your breath to think about anything else.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: Classic true (?) story of the Lutz family’s month of terror in suburban Long Island in 1975. This was much more than just a haunted house. I must have read this 10 times when I was in middle school.
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan: Four teenagers commit a crime and then cover it up. Someone knows their secret, and wants revenge.
(Truly, anything by Lois Duncan will work. IKWYDLS is not my favorite from her. Check out Stranger With My Face, Daughters of Eve, and The Twisted Window, too.)
Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters by Gail Giles: When a letter arrives from Sunny’s dead sister Jazz, she knows something isn’t right. When “Jazz” returns, Sunny is suspicious and scared. Who is this imposter?
Acceleration by Graham McNamee: Duncan finds the journal of a serial killer in the lost-and-found of a subway station. With the help of two friends, he sets out to stop the murderer from continuing his killing spree.
Killing Britney by Sean Olin: Someone is killing everyone close to Britney. They say popularity has a price, but is this really what Britney deserves?
Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci: In a New Jersey suburb, two women die of brain aneurysms within twenty-four hours. Now the government suspects terrorists have unleashed a deadly biochemical agent. With each glass of water they drink, the people of Trinity Falls are poisoning themselves.

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Reading Challenge: Persons of Color


Given the recent controversy regarding the cover of Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass, a lovely individual named Pam has created a PoC (Persons of Color) Reading Challenge.

I am excited about this challenge, because I want to do my part to expand awareness of excellent YA and middle grade literature featuring persons of color.

I especially want to focus on books that feature PoC in some genres they rarely appear in, such as fantasy and science fiction. I want to stay away from historical fiction, if possible, not because I don't like (I love it!), but because so many books that feature POC are set in the past – especially Native Americans.


Update: After reading this post by Ari of Reading in Color, I feel I need to clarify the statement above. It is not that there are so many historical fiction books that feature PoC – it is the way they are portrayed. Most of the time, the setting is either the Civil War or the civil rights movement for African-American characters, colonial period through Westward Expansion for Native Americans. And I can't even generalize about Latino or Asian characters! In these stories, the characters are frequently victims or appear in stereotyped situations. I don't want to read any more of those.

I am committing to a level 3, which means I will read between 7-9 books in 2010 that feature people of color. I would commit higher, but I know that some of my other reading obligations need to be met as well (committee work).

I will be tracking my reading for this challenge on my Challenges page, and posting reviews here. Now the fun begins: choosing which books to read for the challenge!

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