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Tales from Mother Russia

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-56-45-pmWe’re back from a few days of rest, travel, and so much family, with yet another double post — always, as the year draws to a close, the double posts, because the good books just keep piling up. Today’s books in many ways have nothing in common — one historical fiction, absolutely realistic despite some stylistic flourishes that point to fairy tales, and the other contemporary fantasy. One is set in Russia and Sweden and England and a few points in between; the other in only a few square blocks of Brooklyn. One stretches over years, even decades when the framing narrative is considered, and the other takes place over three nights — although they are long nights, it’s true.

So what ties these two — Vassa in the Night and Blood Red Snow White — together? They share a mythologized love of Russia. They grow from Russian fairy tales, in one case because the protagonist has written a collection and in the other because everybody’s favorite wicked witch, Baba Yaga, is running a murderous convenience store that entraps our intrepid heroine.

Neither of these is a portrait of the true Russia, but both of them demonstrate the deep love affair people have with Russia, the fabled Mother Country, regardless of actual Russia, the political and geographic entity making front page news.

[Read more…]

Egg & Spoon

Egg & Spoon, Gregory Maguire
Candlewick Press, September 2014
Reviewed from final copy

What an ingenious little (okay, big) book this is.

Maguire is at his best when he’s being sly and subverting tropes and expectations; he did it to genius effect in Wicked, which remains one of my favorite novels, and while his overall body of work is uneven, when his writing shines it’s positively lustrous.

This is him at his best.

[Read more…]

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

The Family Romanov book coverThe Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia, Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade, July 2014
Reviewed from ARC

Six stars.

It seems like everyone is talking about The Family Romanov*. Let’s set aside those stars though, because a discussion of what it means when a book earns full marks, ahem, stars, should be its own post. (Okay, here’s the TL;DR version: six stars last year were the prelude to Caldecott gold for Brian Floca’s Locomotive but weren’t so predictive for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saintseven though we wanted them to be.)

The more interesting awards discussion surrounding this book is actually about audience. Is Fleming more likely to be in the running for a Newbery or a Printz? And yes, that last sentence assumes that The Family Romanov is a serious contender for one or both, because really, if it isn’t, I’m going to have seriously re-think everything I know about the world. [Read more…]