Monday, August 4, 2014

Humor Book Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Kontis, A. (2012). Enchanted. New York, NY: Harcourt

Plot Summary: Sunday Woodcutter is one of seven daughters born and named from the different days of the week.  Despite her strange family and even stranger relatives, Sunday finds solace in writing stories.  One day, Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks her to tell him her stories and soon their friendship develops into something more than either of them could imagine.  Sunday is in a hurry the day she kisses her frog goodbye and misses him turning back into a prince.  Unfortunately, Prince Rumbold has yet another obstacle in winning his true love. Now a man, the prince must find a way to convince Sunday that he loves her and change the hearts of her parents who have come to blame him for the death of their son long ago.

Critical Analysis: Enchantedby Alethea Kontis is a vividly imagined tale of a girl name Sunday, who is miraculously the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She is also a mixture of some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales. According to Courtney Jones from Booklist, “Arilland is a delightful blend of original world building and traditional fairy tales. And Sunday herself is a greatest-hits mash-up of different princesses and fairy-tale heroines, including, of course, Cinderella.  Jessica Miller from School Library Journal also agrees with Jones and writes that Enchanted has, “Fanciful bits of almost every classical fairy tale dance through Sunday's story, leading readers into an effervescent new world. The twists and turns, the nod to genre classics, and the emotional depth of this novel will captivate readers.”  Kontis’ novel is not only a unique mix of classic fairy tales, but it’s also filled with humor, romance, and plenty of fantasy.  Kevin Beach from VOYA writes, “Patient fantasy readers will undoubtedly enjoy the sometimes confusing mash-up of these famous stories, spiced with comedy, romance and magical powers.”

In the book Enchanted, Kontis does an excellent job of weaving in aspects of many different fairy tales.  The most obvious tale is the story of The Frog Prince, but there are many other fairy tales referenced throughout the story, such as Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, and a few others.   For example, the author references Rapunzel when she writes, “We owe our current livelihood to Monday.  Her bride gift was a tower at the edge of the Wood that had no door” (p. 19).  In another part of the book, the story of Sleeping Beauty is mentioned when Sunday tells her little brother that “There is a cursed spinning wheel somewhere in Arilland, but there’s no way to know for sure if it’s the one” (p.102).  In another example, Sunday’s brother Trix sells the family cow for “magic beans” (p. 38), referring to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Kontis is a master storyteller and is able to create an interesting world along with quick humor, romance, and plenty of fairy magic.  Not only is Sunday’s godmother her aunt, but she is also an actual fairy. Because of this family heritage, Sunday has special powers of her own which she must learn to control by having “lessons to awaken something that had lain quietly ignored inside her for almost sixteen years” (p. 97).  Sunday is not the only family member with fey powers, such as her mother who can make things happen just by speaking the words.  In addition, “Friday’s an empath. Thursday a seer.” and “Peter’s a sorcerer” (p.94).  Along with plenty of fantasy and magic, Kontis creates a heartwarming romance between Sunday and Prince Rumbold.  At the beginning of the ball, Rumbold sees Sunday and thinks, “He wanted to laugh, to cry, to scoop her up in his feeble arms and take her back to the Wood, back to their well, back to where they had fallen in love” (p. 155).  Humor is also added throughout the tale, such as when a friend tells Rumbold, “Come on, lover boy. We’re needed to save an innocent barrel of wine from a lecherous duke’s son” (p. 208).  

Readers who enjoyed Enchanted will also like Hero by Alethea Kontis (book 2 of the Woodcutters series) and Entwined by Heather Dixon. This book is recommended for grades 9 and up.


Beach, Kevin. (2012, Feb.). The first YA novel from a published picture book author, this fantasy tale is a clever reworking. [Review of the book Enchanted, written by Alethea Kontis]. VOYA. Books in Print. Retrieved from|36322809|36207018&mc=USA#

Dixson, Heather. (2012). Entwined. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Jones, Courtney. (2012, Jul. 1.). In the land of Arilland, Sunday the seventh daughter of a seventh son. [Review of the book Enchanted, written by Alethea Kontis]. Booklist. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from

Kontis, Alethea. (2013). Hero. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Miller, Jessica. (2012, Jun. 1). Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and as such she finds that her stories have great power. [Review of the book Enchanted, written by Alethea Kontis]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from|36322809|36207018&mc=USA#

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Non-Fiction: The Dark Game by Paul B. Janeczko

Janeczko, P. B. (2010). The dark game: true spy stories. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Plot Summary: From George Washington’s intelligence network to invisible ink and code talkers, the art of espionage is something that has been around for centuries.  These true spy stories explain how George Washington out-spied the British during the Revolutionary War, the role of many female spies during the Civil War, and even the cyber espionage of today.  Packed with mystery and intrigue, these historical accounts of intelligence gathering is full of special people, secret missions, and unsuspecting traitors who dared to risk it all playing this dark game of espionage.

Critical Analysis: Janeczko’s The Dark Game does an excellent job of providing true accounts and details of spy stories starting with George Washington and the Revolutionary War to the cyber espionage of today.  Kelly McGorray from School Library Journal writes, “Each chapter covers a historical era and chronicles the maturation of spying, while primary-source photographs are interspersed throughout, lending an authentic feel to each section.” Not only does Janeczko’s book offer great historical accounts, but it also presents these true spy stories in an intriguing and understandable way to children and young adults.  According to Gillian Engberg from Booklist, “A few portraits and reproductions of code charts illustrate, but this title relies mostly on Janeczko's graceful, exciting storytelling to draw kids' interest.”  Heidi Hauser Green from Children’s Literature also agrees with Engberg when she writes, “…a series of captivating profiles and insights that explains elements of history neglected by typical school curricula. Janeczko's skills as a storyteller shine in his accounts of George Washington's establishment of an intelligence community and Benjamin Franklin's efforts on behalf of the rebel cause.”  Filled with exciting history, intrigue, and dark secrets, Janeczko collection of true spy stories will satisfy readers who love the art of espionage.
One important aspect to mention about Janeczko’s, The Dark Game, is the writing style of the author.  In his book, Janeczko not only uses facts but also writes these true accounts as an unfolding story.  In one example, Janeczko writes, “The group’s most significant decision came when it named George Washington as the director of the fledgling intelligence.  So the man who would become the ‘father of our country’ can also be considered the father of American espionage” (p. 7). His writing flows from one account to another and gives details about how the spies in the book carried out their secret intelligence gathering.  For example, Janeczko writes, “If Culper Sr. saw a black petticoat hanging from the line, he knew that Caleb Brewster, a rough and adventuresome Patriot, had arrived in his whaleboat and was waiting to carry any intelligence across the Devil’s Belt (now known as Long Island South) to Tallmadge Connecticut” (p.13).  

In addition to great storytelling, Janeczko also formatted his book in a very appealing and organized way.  The book is told in chronological order from George Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War to the cyber espionage of today.  Janeczko also provides subtitled sections that showcase some of the different forms of espionage that were used, such as “From Clothes Lines to Balloons” (p.58) and “Invisible Ink” (36).   Others special parts of the book include mini spy-related biographies of important people such as “Benjamin Franklin (p. 18), “Elizabeth Van Lew” (p.44), and “Rose O’Neale Greenhow” (p.64).  There are also sections examining the roles of other key groups such as “African Americans” (p.78) and the “Choctaw Code Talkers” (p. 118).  The end of the book also includes a “Source Notes” (p. 232) section as well as a full bibliography starting on page 238.
Readers who enjoy books like The Dark Game will also enjoy Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit and Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Right Movement by Rick Bowers. Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Bowers, Rick. (2010). Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement.Washington, DC: National Geographic.  
Engberg, Gillian. (2010, Sept. 15). Best known for his award-winning poetry titles, Janeczko has a long-held fascination with the shadowy world of espionage. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. Booklist. Books in Print. Retrieved from|29630119|28685628&mc=USA#
Green, Heidi H. (2010). Award-winning poet Paul Janeczko turns his attention to espionage in this thrilling expose. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from
McGorray, Kelly. (2010, Aug. 1). Since the Revolutionary War, espionage has created fascinating scenarios. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from|29630119|28685628&mc=USA#
Reit, Seymour. (2001). Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Historical Fiction: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Gier, K. (2011). Ruby red. New York, NY: Scholastic.  
Plot Summary: Gwyneth Shepard has spent most of her life waiting for her cousin Charlotte to travel back in time.  Charlotte is the “gene carrier” in the family and has been training for years on mastering different languages, acquiring many talents, and even learning “the mysteries” of her families’ secret society heritage.  Unfortunately, it was Gwyneth who was thrust unexpectedly into the past, not Charlotte.  Now, Gwyneth has no idea what to do and has more questions than anyone is willing to answer. To make matters worse, she has to travel into the past with an arrogant and obnoxious boy who constantly gets on her nerves – and whom she can’t stop thinking about.

Critical Analysis: Translated by Anthea Bell from German to English, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier is the first book in a series of three novels.  A Booklist starred review by Ilene Copper writes, “What makes this such a standout is the intriguingly drawn cast, stars and supporting players both, beginning with Gwen, whose key feature is her utter normality” A School Library Journalreview by Kimberly G. Giarratano also confers with Cooper when she states that, “Aside from her special abilities (she can also see ghosts), she is every bit the typical teenager who bickers with her family, snoops with her best friend, and crushes on the snooty Gideon.” Not only are Gier’s characters well developed and likable, but the story itself will keep readers interested and wondering what happens next. Emily Griffin from Children’s Literature writes, “Gier works to create intrigue and suspense during an exposition heavy first novel.” Although following the time-traveling timelines can be a bit hard to keep up with, Gier does an excellent job of keeping the readers thoroughly vested in finding out what makes Gwyneth special, who the Guardians are, and cheering for Gwyneth and Gideon through their adventures back in time.  

In Gier’s novel, readers will find Gwyneth to be charmingly normal even when she travels back into the past.  She never really tries to be someone she’s not and can’t help but be a twenty-first century teenager.  On one occasion in the past Gwyneth is left in a room to speak with some gentlemen from 1759.  Here she tries to explain to them the concept of a photograph using her cell phone.  She says, “I shook my head and held the mobile up so that Lord Brompton and Rakoczy appeared on the display. ‘Smile, please. There, that’s it.’ There hadn’t been any flash because the sunlight was so bright, which was a pity.  A flash would surely have impressed the pair of them” (p. 230).  Gwyneth is also humorous even when her life has just turned upside down.  One example is when she is waiting to travel back to the future and stumbles upon an old letter that took some time to arrive to its destination.  She says, “Nine weeks for a letter to arrive! Okay, so I seemed to be in a period when letters were still delivered by carrier pigeon. Or, maybe snail mail – using actual snails” (p. 143). Fortunately, Gwyneth is not the only character that is well developed into the story.  Lindsey, Gwyneth’s best friend and only “normal” person who knows about Gwyneth’s time traveling lineage, adds quite a bit of comic relief to the story as well.  With a passion for investigating mysteries by “Googling,” Lindsey keeps Gwyneth grounded and helps her to try and understand some of the information she has learned from the Guardians and from her travels back in time.  According to Lindsey, “Investigating mysteries must be in my blood. Maybe I’ll study history too and specialize in old myths and ancient writings.  And then I’ll be like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code. I’ll look better of course, and hire a really hot guy to be my assistant” (p. 264). 

Intrigue and suspense start from the beginning of the novel to the end of the book, which by no means is the end of the story itself.  However, readers will enjoy learning the mysteries behind the previous time travelers, the cryptic visions of Aunt Maddy, and the meaning behind the “Circle of Twelve.”  For example, Gwyneth’s mother tries to explain some of the mystery when she says, “Twelve numbers, twelve time travelers, twelve gemstones, twelve musical keys, twelve Zodiacal ascendants, twelve steps in the alchemical process of making the philosopher’s stone…” (p. 110).  Of course, none of this makes sense to Gwyneth (or the reader) and but both will slowly learn about what some things mean as the novel progresses.  Another intriguing aspect is that the leaders of the secret society don’t even know some of their own “secrets.”  For example, one of the leaders explains to Gwyneth, “The Secret of the Twelve will be revealed when the blood of all twelve time travelers has been read into the chronograph. That’s why the Circle has to be closed.  It is the great task that we must perform” (p. 170).  What happens after the Circle is closed is anyone’s guess, since no one seems to know – which adds to the great mystery surrounding the actual purpose of the time travelers in the first place.  For Gwyneth, her part in this mystery is also cryptic.  For example, her stone is the Ruby and her piece in this puzzle is explained as, “Projectio! Time flows on, both present and past, Ruby red is the first and is also the last” (p.110). 

Filled with suspense, mystery, and romance readers will find Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier a fun and exciting read from beginning to end.  Readers who like Ruby Red will also enjoy other historical fiction books such as The Luxe by Anna Godbersen and Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore.  Readers who enjoy time traveling novels will enjoy After Eden by Helen Douglas and Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston.  This novel is recommended for readers in grades 7 and up.

Copper, Ilene. (2011, Apr. 15). It is supposed to be Charlotte. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. Booklist. Books in Print. Retrieved from|32499368|35807910&mc=USA#

Dolamore, Jaclyn. (2014). Dark Metropolis. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Douglas, Helen. (2013). After Eden. New York, NY: MacMillan

Giarratano, Kimberly. G. (2011, Jun. 1). Gwyneth Shepard, 16, was born into an offbeat English family. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from|32499368|35807910&mc=USA#

Godbersen, Anna. (2008). The Luxe. Saint Louis, MO: Turtleback Books.

Griffin, Emily. (2011). The first title in German author Kerstin Gier’s “Ruby Red” trilogy. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. Children’s Literature. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from

Livingston, Lesley. (2011). Once Every Never. New York, NY: Penguin.