"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} wonder-full

Just in time for a baby shower gift, one of my favorites (I have a print on my wall) came out with a new book: not that I wouldn’t have gifted the recently released board book version of Dream Animals (my review).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin 

Random House, 2015.

Emily Windfield Martin’s latest opens with:

When I look at you

And you look at me,

I wonder what wonderful

Things you will be.

before the narrator begins to speculate what this new child will be. Later in the book, the reader will wonder aloud as to what the child will do:

This is the first time

There has ever been a you,*

So I wonder what wonderful things

You will do.

There are some things that will go without wondering. There are some things the narrator knows about the child, can anticipate.

I know you’ll be kind…

and clever…

The sentiments are more than wonderful and I had a customer (an aunt buying for a niece) admit to becoming verklempt before hugging it to her chest and walking toward the registers with it. Natalya is still in a stage of deep-sighing when I hand her sentimental things like this to read. Fortunately, there is humor; also, she has a fondness for Martin’s art as well.

I love love love the words and pictures on the spread where a boy sitting at a sewing machine holds up tiny pants for a squirrel. Natalya recommends the one below, the one with the band (which Martin admits is a favorite).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a page that reads:

When nights are black and

When days are gray—

You’ll be brave and be bright

So no shadows can stay.

The image is a girl in a red coat, hood back, contemplating the red balloon stuck in the branches of a tree at the edge of a wood.

I think the endpapers are pretty sweet, too.

I mentioned the male tailor, but Martin always features a diverse population unusual to most picture books. I adore the details and I love the charmingly peculiar she includes in her books, though it makes sense if you consider successfully writing for an audience with such charming peculiarities within their own imaginations. Martin is well-suited to picture book creating.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a lovely, serious yet playful addition to the family library. You can’t start too young with this one, nor can you out-grow it.


of note: Martin fans will recognize and smile at the appearance of the Kitten Bandit among others. also, fans, check out RandomHouse’s cool little option to send e-cards!

If I’d done some real planning, I would have hunted down a red/white striped footie-pjs to pair with the book.

*a line reminiscent of Nancy Tillman books of the same genre. I’m pleased to have word-choice and image aesthetic options in these books.

{All images are Emily Winfield Martin’s; do check out her work at ‘the black apple’. You can see great spreads of the book here.}


"review" · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series · wondermous

{book} not in the least beastly or dreadful

Months later (deep, regret-filled sigh) a post on one of my favorite new books.

“A marvelously funny mystery that feels refreshingly original while yet channeling the best of Dahl’s characters and Grimm in storytelling.”-my staff rec at work.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Random House, 2015.

Hardcover, 294.

Wondering what could possibly follow the genius who is Kazuo Ishiguro and his novel The Buried Giant, I was slumped into Picture Books and puppy-like Juvenile Fantasies. I was contemplating the cure-all (Calvino) when I shelved The League of Beastly Dreadfuls.

“Warning This book is chock-full of DREADFUL things (Calamity! Evil plans! Attack poodles!) and is NOT suitable for Nice Little Boys and Girls. Take my advice…practice your posture instead. –Miss Drusilla Jellymonk, Etiquette Expert.” –Back Copy

“Anastasia is a completely average almost-eleven-year-old. That is, UNTIL her parents die in a tragic vacuum-cleaner accident. UNTIL she’s rescued by two long-lost great-aunties. And UNTIL she’s taken to their delightful and, er, “authentic” Victorian home, St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

But something strange is going on at the asylum. Anastasia soon begins to suspect that her aunties are not who they say they are. So when she meets Ollie and Quentin, two mysterious brothers, the three join together to plot their great escape!”–inside Jacket Copy.

Have you noticed how difficult it is for an author to pull off the Dahl-esque; especially American authors? Holly Grant is marvelously Dahl-esque in The League of Beastly Dreadfuls. But that isn’t the only reason to pick up your own copy. Grimm came to mind, for instance. But for all the fond reminiscence of favorite childhood storytellers, Grant demonstrates an originality all her own. That expansive imagination proves rather daring (e.g. the mice are genius, as is the tragic flatulence). The pacing both in action and humor is perfect, and the narrator not too clever for its own good. You must read this one aloud.

You know those scenes where the protagonist overhears the villain murmuring about their impending demise and they fail to confront said villain about it? There is a glorious moment (on page 67) where Anastasia asks an Auntie about a strong inference muttered under the breath. Anastasia is rightly terrified by this point–and so was I, thus my pleasant surprise when Anastasia quite forcefully inquires after just what did Prim mean. The author does not imperil her protagonist comfortably and the escape attempt will have all sorts of horrible inconveniences. “Saint Agony’s Asylum for the Deranged, Despotic, Demented, & Otherwise Undesirable (that is to say, criminally insane)” is not some quaint Victorian fixer-upper. And Anastasia is not in the least casual in her observation that “every day at St Agony’s Asylum was perfect funeral weather” (59). The contemplation of the photographs of past children was chilling. And despite those delicately sipped cups of tea, the ‘weirdly dentured’ old ladies are blood-thirsty.

so good.

I’m not sure which is more deliciously wrought, the adrenaline or the ridiculous humor; maybe it is the characters (who manage to generate both). The old ladies are entertaining, in their own horrid way. The Manly Baron aka Mouse Destroyer makes me sigh, and not because of his manly presence. It’s that he is silliness incarnate. I found him and that whole plot twist charming. And the boys, with their Ballad of the Lovelorn Beluga are amusing, to say nothing of awesomely gifted.  But Anastasia is the star: clumsy and resourceful and capable of keeping her wits about her.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is easily one of my favorite books this year, and I’ve enjoyed some fabulous reads. I found myself laughing aloud and reading huge swathes of it to the daughter. I’m sure I read the “looney gardner” scene (in chapter 4) multiple times to multiple friends; and I may have referenced the line “Podiatrists are, in general, the most dashing of all doctors” (281) a time or three, even though too few have yet to read the novel. Friends were updated at regular intervals and subjected to the mysteries of the novel: plenty of which remain unsolved. Like who is Anastasia and why have her captors taken such a keen interest in her? It quickly becomes apparent that it isn’t just because Anastasia is orphaned by a tragic vacuum incident.

The lovely problem the reader will come to realize is that the author’s imagination could originate any sort of possibility for our increasingly mysterious Anastasia. The reader also comes to the conclusion that they won’t mind terribly much when the author artfully puts off a few questions there at the end. The reader is going to want to read book two (The Dastardly Deed).

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is the kind of smart and entertaining everyone needs off the shelf and in their hands and reading to their favorite human (or mouse).


recommendations: if you love Grimm, Dahl, Ellen Potter’s Kneebone Boy, and/or Adrienne Kress’ Ironic Gentlemen. if you like peril, laughter, and clever narrators. To be read aloud to any and all grade-schoolers (whether they suffer from tragic flatulence or umbrating-related nudity*).

*yeah, you have to read the book.




"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · Tales · wondermous

when you haven’t Peter Pan…

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Thirty: Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey

by Emily Winfield Martin

Random House, 2013.

dream animals cover

Furred, finned, or feathered, your dream animal is waiting.

Snuggle up. Open this book.

And get ready to go to your dreams. (jacket copy)

I own two of Emily Winfield Martin’s art prints (so far) from her TheBlackApple shop on Etsy, so I was really excited to hear she had a picture book in the works. Of course, not all artists a picture book author/illustrator make. So maybe I was a little worried, too. This is where I reassure you that Dream Animals really is quite wonderful. You should expect great things.

As the jacket copy recommends, this is a book to snuggle up with for the bedtime precursor to dreaming whilst asleep: dream whilst having story time. The opening end-pages show children with their inspirational animal preparing for bed with a bath and tooth brushing and yawning. These children at the closing end-pages are tucked in their beds (or comfy chair) asleep. In the pages between, the children are those carried to their dreams by their animal transport/guide.

dream animals page too

Martin employs these deep and warm concoctions in blues and greens, reds and golds, that I absolutely love in her work. The night skies and dreamscapes are full of color, detail and texture. They breathe. The pages rendering “real life” are inked lines and washes in indigo on a soft blue tinged expanse. There are little hints (besides their stuffy, nightlight or mobile) in the children’s room that follow them into the dreamlandscape. Notice how many of them are lovers of books. From the very opening (end-pages) Martin is building the characters of these little boys and girls. Of course, they are merely illustrative of the kinds of adventures children have when their dream animals take them to dreamland.

dream animals page

The story is shared in gentle rhyme. I like the last child’s piece in particular: “Or will you sail on moth wings/ To the edges of the blue… / To find the very moon and stars/ Are waiting just for you?” Hers is an artist dream. Others are feasts (see above), a woodland faerie gathering, a tea party under the sea, flight on a bicycle with wings. Everything about the story and its illustrations are wonderfully imagined. The ideas and images are lovely to linger over, and lingering is invited. Dream Animals is unhurried. It is a lullaby and perfectly suited for that snuggle time together before tucking yourself off to await your own dream animal.

There is another part of the crafting of this book I want to remark on: a turn of that end-page at the opening reveals not just one of my favorite colors, but a “This Book Belongs to” imprint–you can’t miss it. It is a beautiful touch. The book asks to be personal (owned) and a part of child’s dream-life as well. I imagine that it would be delightful to snuggle in, begin turning the pages in which you know your name will be read, the time and its sentiments dedicated in part to you.


{images belong to Emily Winfield Martin}

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #357: Featuring Emily Winfield Martin

Carrie McBride chats w/ Emily Winfield Martin about the picture book, etc.

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book

{book} penguin’s hidden talent

DAY 19

Penguin’s Hidden Talent by Alex Latimer

Peachtree, 2012 (originally published in GB w/ Random House, 2012).

ages 4-8.

I promised it would only take a few minutes in the Picture Book section of the Children’s Library…This one was face-out atop a shelf and I thought it looked fun. It does doesn’t it? I tucked it away without even reading the synopsis. I figured it was one of those talent show books. It is and it isn’t. And by the way, it is fun.

The Big Annual Talent Show is coming up and Penguin can’t think of anything special talent he could perform. His friends try to help him with ideas, but really he just isn’t talented in the ways they are—eating giant fish whole, juggling appliances, or burping the whole alphabet. Even if he cannot be on stage, maybe he can help with the planning of the actual event. Eventually, Penguin does discover that he truly is gifted. What is cool is how it is a gift that doesn’t necessarily put him in the limelight, center stage, and adorned in medals, but he is appreciated nonetheless and by story’s end he’s properly celebrated (even if he did have to help plan that too!).

If I had been younger the sound would have been less a chuckle and more a giggle. The humor Alex Latimer brings to his penciled characters is ridiculously cute. His sequences, his spare reliance on text, works in a story form that should be using its visual medium as a narrator. The placement of image and text create the narrative in the subtle ways a well-designed picture book will; depending on the order, one understates the other. Some pages are just images who speak for themselves and I like the kind of participation that requires. It isn’t hard. It’s fun. And really, Latimer’s work here in Penguin’s Hidden Talent is organized in a way that should feel familiar to readers of comics.

The illustrations are uncluttered as the story, and as humorous—seemingly effortless all the way around. And the penguin isn’t creepy. Really, after Wallace and Gromit, they kinda freak me out. Penguin’s Hidden Talent is inspiring as well. It’s been awhile but can I manage to burp the whole alphabet like I used to? Penguin’s Hidden Talent is a good friendship story, too. Penguin wants to participate and finds a way to do so without begrudging his friends their skills. Sure, he is sad he doesn’t get a medal, but then it is his friends’ turn to support him. It is really sweet the gifts they think up because if you remember Penguin’s living room near the start, it shows how well his friends know him. In the end, it is they who recognize and reveal to Penguin what his talent is. They are able to help Penguin discover his hidden talent after all. I appreciate that not once does Latimer spell it out in words (narrative or dialog) the ‘everyone has their own abilities’ lesson, but leaves its evidence throughout—I mean, who else can pull themselves out of a magician’s hat? And who else could organize the kind of talent show that involves fireworks, jets, mice on stilts, a special appearance by the King of Norway, and top it all off with a musical performance by The Jolly Llamas!

{all images belong to Alex Latimer} Alex Latimer has another picture book called The Boy Who Cried Ninja—I cannot wait to see this one. Another author/illustrator to keep on the radar.

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} seraphina

Seraphina (bk 1) by Rachel Hartman

Random House, 2012.

hardcover, 451 pages + “cast” & “glossary”. own copy.

  Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.—publisher’s comments

The enthusiasm surrounding Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina may worry some readers. I certainly didn’t want to be disappointed, and I tend to be extra critical of an absence of negative reviews. But, as is often the case, it is the recommendations of certain reviewers that sway us. I, who never buys a book without having read it at least once, bummed a few dollars off the daughter and she let me carry it home. I wasn’t disappointed.

There are several words that become overused in writing about a book and “entralling” is one of them. The overuse dulls the effect, despite the sincerity. However, there are few better words for the fascination Seraphina continually held for me.

I was cooking dinner on day two of the read and I was trying to figure out why I could not put the book down. Sure one chapter draws you into the other, but not always with cliff-hanging devisement or other. This is where “thrall” came to mind. I was absolutely drawn into the world Hartman created; a story, thank the Lord, that wasn’t about setting everything up before launching into story. Perhaps it was my impatience (a virtue of mine) but she was a breath a way of frustrating me with the truth about Seraphina (I’d forgotten the jacket copy, is there a clue in there?). And this is one of the things Hartman does well: her decisions about what to conceal and reveal, and when. She throws things in and you are aware of a detail you should store for later, but you have to surrender to the story and you won’t mind it. Hartman has a gorgeous story-tellers imagination and what’s worse is she is able to translate it to the page. She doesn’t drown you in prose, or overwhelm you with youthful angst. You may get a bit giddy by all the big words. She carries you off and away and it feels effortless because the writing is that refreshingly good.

I have to admit, too, it was the garden of the grotesques that won be over completely. Okay, her introduction to the dragon lore bit (which she unfurls wonderfully throughout) probably played a key role there at the beginning, too.

Back to the refreshment-track. I do not read a lot of Teen or YA or YA-crossover (which this feels like) primarily because I’ve a daughter whose 12, and because originality is so hard-won. It just isn’t the formula I like to set on rerun, so Seraphina is a joy. A few reasons why (w/ possible spoilers—sorry):

–book one and how many following? Seraphina could stand alone. but there is a set up. The only time I mentally pulled away from the text was this Seraphina as Professor X image near the end there. Anymore, I reflexively cringe: can we not have a ya book that will please just start and finish in 450 pages or less?! I am looking forward to book 2 (and not for redemptive purposes). Thank you, Ms. Hartman.

–the first person Ask N, First-Person narratives are another reason I do not read much YA, but I have to share: Hartman does not overdo the I. There are some moments I slipped into the comfort-feeling I get with 3rd-omniscient. I think more authors of Teen/YA should make a study of Seraphina.

triangles: not two guys and a girl, but two girls and a guy. And the other girl isn’t a horror; I kept waiting for it, and I suppose I am spoiling it here, but she just isn’t. This isn’t to say there aren’t a few close moments of “really?”, but it all plays into how painfully consistent Hartman is with her characters. Goodness knows Seraphina has her moments, too. Anyway, I expect complications will be just as heartbreaking into the next book…sigh.

the bad ass heroine. Seraphina reminds me a bit of Caragh O’Brien’s heroine in Birthmarked. And perhaps it is because they are both females dealing with marks against their beauty and femininity. They are also both very intelligent and act courageously against all normal impulse: “I did sound pretty crazy, when he put it that way; only I knew how scared I’d been” (252). I think others try to create characters like Seraphina, but it just doesn’t carry off convincingly enough. Seraphina begins as someone rare and special, but not in a way that guarantees her a role as hero, nor is she the overwrought victim. Her rarity, paired with the impetus of her courage, propels her into the role of hero, and it is so nicely done that when the Prince lists the brave things Seraphina has done to earn his awe (well into the read), you are with Seraphina in realizing that maybe she is this badass heroine.

swoon-worthy boy. Kiggs is a bit Sherlock Holmes (if Holmes could be distracted by girls) meets Prince Charming. The Holmes-Charming combination makes him a danger to Seraphina, which is a nice conflict to have. He is honorable and a blush, and tormented just enough to make him a heartbreaker. So I guess, not much differs there, except Hartman has yet to give them an easier way.

absent yet haunting mother. The circumstances here, and her role in the story ages Seraphina in lovely ways; not painlessly, but appreciatively. I would love to hear the mother’s story in a volume; but I suppose we do, in a way, through Seraphina.

“I scrupulously hid every legitimate reason for people to hate me, and then it turns out they don’t need legitimate reasons. Heaven has fashioned a knife of irony to stab me with” (124).

Seraphina has to find a way to deal with who she is and what (and whom) made her that way. “I opened my eyes. The clouds had parted; the moon shone gloriously across the snowy rooftops of the city. It was beautiful, which only made me hurt the more. How dare the world be beautiful when I was so horrifying?” (276). There is this low moment where she hurts herself and she realizes, “I could not live, hating myself this hard” (277). Something had to give, she had to find a way to deal with all the emotions, all the grotesqueries sentient living things have to deal with. The book is fraught with these kinds of conflicts, of finding a way to live both in the body and mind, in the emotional and intellectual. Seraphina is a bridge; and on both sides we see characters struggle. She is hardly alone. And not being alone is a necessary message in the book. Those who’ve come before have experienced similar, if not the same; others in the present struggle as well. “Once I had feared that telling the truth would be like falling, that love would be like hitting the ground, but here I was, my feet firmly planted, standing on my own. We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful” (450).

“Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily” (239).

Orma is one of my favorite characters. He threatens to overtake Seraphina as the most intriguing and most beautifully developed. If you are a character-driven reader, Hartman will not fail you, and if a cleverly strung plot is your spiked cup of tea, Seraphina will be a pleasure as well. Seraphina may prove difficult if you never mind an author slipping in an inconsistency to smooth the way for a tidier passage. Hartman follows courses you may desire to see averted. Seraphina’s decisions to lie or tell the truth wasn’t only a conflict her own. As a reader, I wasn’t sure how I would advise her. The complications engage the reader in empathic ways, and leaves the moralizing to whom? Compassion appears to be the better part of valor in Seraphina.

“The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now” (128).

I mentioned the garden and the grotesques. Hartman transports the reader into a variety of venues and populates these places with both the familiar and not. The saints, musicians, and philosophers are an inclusion not to be missed. (If you adore Frances Hardinge, like I do, you will like Hartman). Other authors came to mind at various points but in an affectionate way. Seraphinais like a breath of fresh air. A story this beautifully conceived and well-crafted should stand the test of time. Readers of fantasy or no, dragon lore or no, you’ll find this storyteller worth your time, just mind the hour Hartman begins to tell you about this girl named Seraphina and her world…or have a flashlight on hand.


Deanna at “Polishing Mud Balls”: review.

Steph at “Steph Su Reads”: review.

Grace at “Books without any Pictures”: review.

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, & Other Fatal Circumstances

A cure for those hours steeped in academia ala textbooks and essays? Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho. I’ve been intrigued by the title for awhile, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances, so when I saw it face-out on the Library shelf I brought it home. This is the fourth book in a series that I’ve been assured will continue with a fifth in 2013. I picked up the other books from the Library today. Yes, I adored my first treatment that much.

Let’s face it. When it comes to death, everything is scary. Especially if your name is Alvin Ho and you maybe, sort of, agreed to go to a funeral for your Gunggung’s best friend (who was your friend too).

Alvin’s all freaked out, and here’s why:

  1. He starts seeing bad omens…everywhere.
  2. People are telling him creepy things, like how a dead body cools one degree a minute until it reaches room temperature.
  3. The dead body might wake up, like in the movies!
  4. He has to dress special for the funeral (including clean underwear!)
  5. He has to be brave. He has to look death smack in the eye.

But being brave is hard. What if Alvin’s not ready to say goodbye to someone he loves?

–inside jacket copy.

Alvin Ho is an anxious 2nd grade boy. I don’t know what is going on with him, but he seems frightened by most everything (real or imagined); which, of course, is the greatest source of the reader’s angst and amusement. The sweet comes from Alvin’s ability to articulate his anxieties with childlike brilliance (you know, that coincidental poignancy young people often express in their language).

“My vocal cords grew hair.

And the hair tangled into a hairball.

I gagged silently.

Everything in the room faded to gray.” (81)

Look has a great way of describing things.

The story surrounding a serious topic takes on the morbid curiosity and fantastic imagination of the young. For example, their living in Concord, Massachusetts, the local kids think the Historic House tours are led by the ghosts of the celebrity occupants. The story takes unexpected turns that remain consistent with the characterization—I realize this should be a given, but it feels especially organic in this instance.

 “I love it when he calls me that. Son. I love it more than my own name. I love it so much that hearing it could make me cry. So I did.” (157)

I must add my adoration for the family and friends.  Alvin has loving parents and grandparents; and his siblings are sources of frustration and affection, in other words, familiar. (Man does big brother Calvin sound like my two older brothers combined.) The school staff seem to get Alvin, and I absolutely love Flea. (“She’s a girl and she was all dressed up like a girl too, which, as everyone knows, is horrible, especially when it makes her look clean and shiny like a new car.” 179) Characters have their quirks without running risk of being cute. The father and his cursing in Shakespearean had me laughing out loud. There was a lot that had me laughing. The novel was punctuated by a deeply felt smile. Look has an excellent sense of timing. And her hand with suspense isn’t too shabby either.

 “Deep breathing helps when the heart falls out of your chest. I learned this from the psycho who is my therapist, but I could never remember to do it, until now.”(43)

I was so thoroughly charmed by this read. I don’t know how well it goes over with the young (intended) audience, but reading these with a child would be no chore what-so-ever.

The Illustrations have as much personality as the words. And LeUyen Pham does not skimp on the quantity. They are a really nice company and I think they free Look to spin lovely similes and metaphors. Want to cultivate a young writer?–or Illustrator? [check out Pham’s site.]


recommended: for any young grade-school reader (or learning to read), and even older elementary because they can probably laugh a bit more easily (having survived the earlier grades); for those who prefer books you may learn from but is not heavy-handed (obvious) with the messages. Look/Pham offer a light-hearted treatment of the subject Death and Dying without losing gravity.

of note: I noticed what seemed to be references to earlier books, but I was not lost or deprived of enjoying the read.

The different cultural responses to Death and burial (or non-) are nicely sewn in and very interesting. Not only would this make a fun read for a family, but a source of great conversation as well. Allergic to Dead Bodies is a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) suggestion that will help you include the younger members of the family.


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances

By Lenore Look, Pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011.

187 pages, hardcover. Pages 189-197 “Alvin Ho’s Deadly Glossary”

Ages 6-10.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series

city of lies

City of Lies (Book 2: The Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

w/ Illustrations (inside) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2011

Hardcover, 278 pages. Juvenile Fiction

12-year-old Goldie, impulsive and bold, relies on her skills as a liar and a thief to try to rescue her captured friends from the child-stealers running rampant in the City of Spoke.~Publisher’s Summary.

Goldie isn’t the only accomplished Liar and Thief to return in this sequel to Museum of Thieves. We get to experience a whole City of Liars. Shoot, even the City is a Liar. I adore the author of this children’s book series, I really do.

Lian Tanner’s sequel to the brilliant Museum of Thieves is among the better of Book Twos that I have read. In City of Lies Tanner sets us right back down into the City of Jewel and Goldie’s life. It is only a short while after the ending of Museum of Thieves and everyone is still reeling from the effects of Book One. Tanner reminds the reader a bit of the first, but not a great deal. A few interspersed notes by the 3rd person narrator and we are off on this new adventure.  There is a diverting cleverness in bringing the Reader into this new twist swiftly and with such immersion—Tanner needs the Reader to be present in the now of the book. And besides, you’ve read the first book. You have, haven’t you? Because you really should.

The shine of the first story’s victory has taken some tarnish. One, Goldie is unwilling to become the Fifth Keeper of the Museum of Dunt as she is meant to be. Two, Jewel’s parents are still adjusting to having independent children and the absence of the Blessed Guardians. Yes, the change is a good thing, but it is so different from how they were raised. The indoctrinations are not easily shrugged off and when accidents begin to occur a murmuring begins. Three, the Fugleman has returned—and is “a changed man.”

Goldie claims her reason for refusing the appointment as Fifth Keeper is that her parents are sick. And they are. Their time as prisoners of the House of Repentance was traumatic. The parents are also rather clinging (3). Theirs is a chain of a different sort than the first book’s. But they aren’t the only ones holding Goldie back. While their worry is infectious, Goldie herself is a problem—specifically that voice that so infamously led her to triumph in Museum of Thieves.

Goldie has come to believe that the voice only brings her trouble; which isn’t a lie. In part, Goldie longs for a normal childhood, a boring one. This inevitably wars with her more adventurous and independent side that has a daring job to do using her unusual and oft socially unacceptable skill-set. She decides to ignore the voice while undertaking her search for Toadspit and Bonnie in the foreign City of Spoke. In addition to sorting out who she should and will be and whether the voice is worth listening to, Goldie must also navigate a strange city amidst their Festival of Lies where everything is turned inside out and upside down. How does one tell a lie in order to find the truth, and how does one find the already hidden when everything is to be masked?

In the kind of imaginative turn that I adore with Frances Hardinge’s stories, Lian Tanner creates this marvelous Festival of Lies. Everyone must speak in lies and the City itself participates by telling a few Big Lies to the lucky few. Yes, City of Lies maintains the idea that magical (and metaphoric) possibility exists not only within a person or creature, but within Place as well. Beside the focus of a lie-celebrating City of Spoke, the novel returns us to the strange Museum of Dunt occasionally, a Place that has revealed its own consciousness in Museum of Thieves. As in the first book, the state of unrest is linked to the state of the City and the children—Goldie and Toadspit in particular. The Places externalize anxiety and create a fun sort of tension in the novels. In City of Thieves a terrifying beast in on the loose and on the hunt in the Museum, in the City of Jewel, and in the City of Spoke. There are all sorts of dangers and only the daring need apply.

I read an article recently about leading women in Romantic Comedies and it remarked upon how the flaws the writers must give them are, in actuality, trite. She can’t not be beautiful, so let’s make her a klutz. I don’t think Romantic Comedies have cornered the market on this kind of characterization. If not negligibly flawed, many an Adventure Heroine is formulaic enough to undermine (or even nullify) the conflict. Tension is muted because the flaw is hardly considerable or easily overcome by the perfections. Goldie’s flaws create serious conflict, and ones that are identifiable enough within the Reader that adrenaline and worry surface.

Goldie’s abilities put her at odds with her society. The risks in using her beliefs and skills to create change are significant. Entering the second book, we know that those risks have some reward and consequence, but we feel victorious and that Goldie is capable. She might fumble a bit, but she had come into herself in book one, had she not? But in City of Lies, Tanner creates a separation for the character and Reader. Goldie falters and is somewhat immobilized by responsibilities, distrust of herself, and –let’s face it—weariness. Enter Goldie No One, a reinvention of a self in order to free a self. It is the masked ball, the move to a new city, an opportunity to overcome the limitations pressed upon her by circumstance and expectation—it is a Festival of Lies. Goldie is back to a different kind of beginning, and the conflict of being able to trust who she is still becoming. Should she trust that voice in the back of her head?

Tanner has created a complex character ever in the state of changing, of becoming more. Goldie No One is an aspect this protagonist must address; throwing her into a Festival of Lies is a brilliant move. She has to find her friends, (while without knowing it) find herself, and she has to discern what is mere diversion and what is true and real. Who and what are sincere? Do you create your destiny or do you run blindly along with it—or is there a state in between? How do you interpret the signs?

Who might a young girl become when unencumbered, or, even, encumbered by someone else? Inhabiting the dreams, the adventures of others is a nice move in an Adventure story rife with intrigues. And I enjoy the idea that a person is a place; a museum, a collection of historical fact and figures; that the character might not only inhabit another’s history/adventure, but that they might in turn inhabit the character—whether the character be an actual building or city, or a different plane, or a person or creature. The present can be affected by the past, as well as the lies, in positive and negative ways, tangibly or intangibly. [Those black/white messages of children’s early years become more gray–a lovely lovely shade of gray.]

Despite the disguises, the essence of who someone is appears to remain much the same. This can be infinitely reassuring, or a terrible prickling up the spine. The Lies can be fun, but they can be quite deadly. Little is as it seems, and City of Lies is rife with uncertainty.

City of Lies is everything I want to see as a Book 2 of 3. It bridges to a third and final book with the promise of a great denouement. It also holds an arch of its own: introducing great new characters, providing a mystery to solve, and creating, developing, and gifting a sense of resolution. It doesn’t really stand alone, nor does it apologize for the fact. I am satisfied by good story, by great writing, and I wait longingly for the third book.


If you like Frances Hardinge or Adrienne Kress, you will like Ms. Tanner’s The Keepers books (and vice versa). For boys and girls alike; ages 9 & up (likely to 12/13); lovers of Utopia/Dystopia fiction and/or of fantasy; and especially for those tired of romances in every book they read.

My review of Museum of Thieves.

Ms. Tanner’s website. Sebastian Ciaffaglione’s blog.