Cupcake Cousins

I won Cupcake Cousins from the 48 Hour Book Challenge – many thanks to Kate Hannigan, and to Tiffany Gholar, the artist who designed the tote bag that was also part of the prize package. I read Cupcake Cousins almost as soon as I got it, despite my large TBR pile, using the excuse that the other book I was reading at the same time was maybe a little too dark for bedtime reading.

Cupcake CousinsCupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan. Illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes. Disney*Hyperion, 2014.
Cupcake Cousins tells the story of a summer family get-together with wedding in Saugatuk, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan, focusing on the friendship and trials of the 9-year-old best friend cousins Willow and Delia. Willow and her parents, older sister Violet and younger brother Sweet William are from Chicago, while Delia and her parents and older sister live in Detroit. Delia’s father is African-American, making this a family with cousins of different skin colors like that in which my children are growing up.

These cousins are mostly concerned right now because their mother’s younger sister, Aunt Rosie, is getting married. While Violet and Delia’s big sister are being called junior bridesmaids and get to wear lovely dark purple dresses, Willow and Delia are stuck being flower girls and wearing fluffy pink dresses more appropriate to four-year-olds. Willow and Delia, who have been used to doing the baking on the annual family vacations, hope to convince Aunt Rosie to let them bake cupcakes for the wedding instead. But when they arrive there, they find bigger problems – the owner of their cottage has hired a caterer, Cat, who doesn’t want pesky children in her kitchen. Even worse, Delia’s dad is unemployed, and it’s been going on long enough that the kids can tell it’s affecting Delia’s parents’ marriage. In the midst of trying to solve everyone’s troubles and have a good time, the girls are often assigned to Sweet William duty, and he has a habit of wandering off and getting into usually adorable trouble. Can our nine-year-olds save the day???

Well, ok, it’s maybe a tad bit unrealistic that they would be able to solve everyone’s problems and pull off baking feats that challenge many adult bakers. I was having far too much fun to care, however, and I doubt that young readers would care, either. It’s filled with sweet line drawings, and has several yummy-sounding recipes as well. My only slight issue with it was that the cover and the mood seem appropriate for third- or fourth-grade readers, and it’s just a little on the long side for average readers in that range. That hasn’t kept it from going out quite well already here at the library, and I loaned my copy out to a confident almost-fourth grader who looked very excited about it. This is perfect summer vacation reading, with a lovely and much-need depiction of a loving multi-racial family for today’s children. I’m looking forward to my own daughter being old enough for it.

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Hunt for the Hydra

Pirates are good, but pirates in space are even better! This one was recommended by several people, including Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library and Stephanie at Views from the Tesseract.

Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the HydraHunt for the Hydra. Jupiter Pirates Book 1. by Jason Fry. Harper Collins Children’s, 2014.
The year is 2893. Twelve-year-old twins Tycho and Yana Hashoone are midshipmen aboard their mother’s spaceship, the Shadow Comet. Captain Diocletia runs a family ship, where other crew members and officers include her husband, First Mate Mavry; her father, the extensively cyborg Grandpa huff, and her older teen son Carlo, as well as assorted unrelated crew members whose families have a history of serving aboard the Hashoone’s vessels. They are privateers, with a letter of marque from the Jovian Union that gives them the right to go after enemy ships, which in their case are mostly those from Earth, as relations between Earth and its former colonies on Jupiter’s moons are not entirely peaceful. All three of the kids on board are in training. competing to see which one would make the best captain in time, which is why the story opens with Tycho in charge of a boarding party onto a potential prize ship.

As nervous as Tycho is about his first boarding party, the real snag comes when a rough-looking man on board the ship claims to be a diplomat, making the ship immune from being taken. Tycho and Yana just know there’s something wrong, a puzzle for them to put together. At the same time, their family takes a job investigating another unsolved mystery, a bunch of missing spaceships. Could the two puzzles be related?

This is a fast-moving and very fun adventure, with strong characters to appeal to both boys and girls, and a setting that’s a nice mix of future space travel and 18th-century piracy. We are so protective of children right now that often in order for children to have any agency in their own stories, the parents have to be done away with somehow, either by dying or being taken captive or some such. While I can’t deny loving a good orphan story, it’s refreshing to have a family where the parents are very much present and competent, but with good reasons for giving their children a lot of independence – even if the two youngest are going even beyond that in their investigations. There’s a lot about the family relationships along with all the outer space and seedy port town adventures, making this appealing for fans of character-driven fiction as well as the more obvious plot-driven fiction fans. At 241 pages, it’s still a little long for my own son to read to himself, though he would love it, but definitely a nice, nonthreatening length for the confident middle grade reader. Book 2, Curse of the Iris is due out in December, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

This series would pair very naturally with the steampunky space series Larklight by Phillip Reeve.

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The Goblin Emperor

This is the adult fantasy I’ve been hearing the most about this year, and well worth the buzz.

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Tor, 2014.
Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for Sarah Monette, whose Melusine I read and enjoyed back when it first came out, though I never went on to the other books in the series. (Why the pseudonym, when she’s already made a name for herself in the same genre, and isn’t keeping it a secret? Inquiring minds want to know…)

In this book, Maia is the despised and exiled fourth son of Varenechibel, Emperor of the elves, by his equally despised third wife, a princess of the goblins. His heritage is clearly visible in his skin, a grey shade in between the white of elves and the black of goblins. Maia’s mother died when he was eight, and his father assigned him an out-of-favor courtier as a guardian, who gave him minimal education.

And then the Emperor and his three older sons are all killed in the crash of the airship the Wisdom of Choharo. Maia is now the emperor, and though no one including himself has ever wanted him to be emperor, he knows that he must claim the throne decisively or be killed. He’s thrust into the various factions at court literally overnight, trying to figure out who might be convinced to be on his side, what the various factions are, and needing as well to arrange his own marriage. We are as confused as Maia as he learns that he must have nohecharei assigned to guard him and edocharei to dress him – and this is just the beginning of his new daily routine. The only thing that Maia is certain of going in is that he will not be his father – he is going to at least try using kindness and justice to keep his crown and his head. Addison never makes him unbelievably, flawlessly good, however – he still loses his temper with his servants, and while he’s clearly interested in lessening the discrimination by race, gender, and class that’s prevalent in elven society, he makes no effort to overcome his prejudice against homosexuality.

This is such good fantasy! We have the traditional elements of very detailed world-building and culture, given a lovely twist with the goblins portrayed not as evil, but a different people and culture historically at odds with the elves. While political fantasy often turns me off by assuming that I want to spend my reading time writing down lists of character names and their loyalties, Addison keeps things a little simpler by telling the story only from Maia’s point of view. The combination of good characters, world building, plot, and depth make for a book that will appeal to a broad range of fantasy fans. I really, really enjoyed it.

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This is the audiobook I started so long ago for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge, a teen dystopia with diversity.

legendLegend. Book 1. by Marie Lu. Read by Steven Kaplan and Mariel Stern. Penguin Audio, 2011.
Legend is the first book in a dystopian trilogy for teens. It’s a deliberate retelling of Les Miserables, with the two main characters roughly modeled on Javert and Jean Valjean. I was obsessed with Les Mis myself in high school, keeping the cassette running in a loop in my room, which piqued my interest in Legend. In whatever future year it is, the United States has been divided. The west is now the Republic, which has been at war with the eastern Colonies for as long as anyone can remember. In the Republic, children train to undergo the Trials at age 10. The test covers academic, physical, and psychological aspects, and determines whether children will be receiving moderate or high levels of education – or just sent off to labor camp. It’s a theoretical meritocracy, though in reality, people born into the labor classes don’t get sent on the Academy. The Academy itself trains the best and brightest to become soldiers.

June, our Javert character, is the only person on record to achieve a perfect score in her Testing, and at just 15, is the youngest ever to graduate from the Academy. She’s aiming to join her brother Matteas, a young officer on his way up. Though her parents died in a car accident years ago, they’ve never wanted for money and live in a luxurious apartment building with meat to eat on a regular basis. Her counterpart Day was born in the slums and failed his trial, but ran away afterwards. Only his older brother still knows he’s alive – he’s kept his existence a secret from his mother and younger brother. Now he’s the most wanted criminal in Republic City, stealing from the government both to thwart its goals and to give to the poor.

June and Day cross paths indirectly when Day learns that his younger brother has come down with the Plague that runs through the poor districts on a regular basis. He breaks into the hospital without his usual careful planning to steal medicine. The sloppiness winds up with Day badly wounded, without a cure, and with Matteas, on guard duty at the hospital, lying dead with Day’s knife in his heart. June is assigned to track down her brother’s killer and find out if he really is the notorious Day. Backing her up behind the scenes is Matteas’s protégé Thomas, who’s clearly also interested in a romantic relationship with June.

I picked this up looking in some desperation for a speculative fiction title on audio with diverse characters that I hadn’t already read. I’m sure there are more out there, but this was one that one of our pages with similar reading tastes recommended. While the characters are diverse, it’s not made into a thing at all. Day is described as blond and blue-eyed, with somewhat prominent eye folds. June finds out halfway through the book, as she’s digging into his background, that his genetic background is primarily Mongolian. June has a dark ponytail and dark eyes, and it was only in an interview with Lu that I found online that I learned that she’s mostly Native American – though at this point in history, all ethnicities are very much mixed.

This has all the required elements of a teen dystopia, including the ruthless government, the learning of dark secrets about said government and the Shattering of Illusions, the love triangle (not so annoying here as sometimes due to June’s lack of brooding over it), forbidden love, and young people pushed into violence. It also includes Sherlockian observation skills used by both main characters, parkour, illegal street fights, and nonstop action. It was more violent than I prefer, with lots of innocent people killed right in front of us, family members as well as strangers, but I still found myself sucked in and thinking about it constantly. It’s told from both June and Day’s points of view, with two narrators on the audiobook. This works really well with stories told this way – I’ve very much enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s books on audiobook done this. Here, Mariel Stern does an especially fine job with June, who starts out a not very likable, overly self-confident character – very noticeable in her voice as well as the text. Day doesn’t need to undergo the same kind of transformation, but Kaplan does well at making him sound like his character – confident and good-looking, but still only 15. I don’t know that this is one to convert people who don’t like dystopians, but for those who already are or who would like to try the genre, this is a compelling start to the series. It continues with Prodigy (2012) and Champion (2013).

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Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain

We have a soft spot for superhero books at my house, which is why I was happy to accept this review copy from the author.

Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a SupervillainPlease Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts. Curiosity Quills, 2014.
Middle schooler Penelope Akk is the daughter of two super heroes, Brian Akk (aka Brainiac) and Beebee Akk (now retired.) She’s just waiting for her own superpowers to develop, as are her best friends Claire (also from a superpowered family) and Ray, who isn’t, but is hopeful. When Penelope goes into a trance and wakes up with a self-powered lizard/machine/bracelet thing, everyone is ecstatic. Her parents warn her, though, that superpowers often come for a bit and then go away for a while, especially when they’re first developing. But after Claire is rejected by the school’s popular mean girl, Penelope is able to make a super cheerleader serum for her, which gives her super strength, speed, and irresistible cuteness. Then, Ray is furious when Penelope’s invention is thrown out of the school science fair, while Mean Popular Girl’s equally impossible for normal humans project is given the award. When he sneaks in to the gym with the projects to get back at her, with Claire and Penelope trying to stop him, they’re caught by a young teen superhero and labeled as supervillains.

Now the plot, up until then somewhat tediously focused on the science fair, picks up. Now all three have superpowers, and having been labeled as villains already, decide that it might be fun just to try being mild supervillains, just for a while. Nothing really violent, just causing a little innocent mayhem and maybe looting the dump for parts for Penelope’s inventions. Someone else names their team the Inscrutable Machine, and they name themselves individually Bad Penny, E-Clair, and Reviled. It’s all fun and games, including lots of on-line playing of Teddy Bears and Machine Guns, and inventions inspired by the game for a while. But when they come to the attention of the powers that be in the supervillain world, they’ll have to abide by the official rules of the game – including doing work for the local boss supervillain. Will they be able to keep to their simply mischievous goals? And will Penelope be able to keep her parents believing that her powers aren’t fully active yet?

The book had an episodic plot that was a little frustrating at first but makes sense in the context of the superhero story, if I thought of it more as a written out graphic novel series than a novel. It’s very cool that Roberts has written a girl with a super-science power! This is written more as magic than as actually explainable science, but that works just fine for me in context. I couldn’t quite believe that Penny’s parents were as blind as they were –the superhero names alone are only slight changes from the regular ones – but whatever. All of the activities – the school dynamics, social and educational, seemed more like it was about high schoolers that middle schoolers – including some not-quite-sexual activity that would have made middle school me very uncomfortable but would be fine if I imagined the characters three or four years older than they were described. The line between good and evil stays ambiguous through the whole book, which is likely to make some mindsets uncomfortable as well. On the whole, though, this is a lot of fun, and especially recommended for fans of superhero fiction.

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All Joy and No Fun

I’d heard enough about this that I snagged it off the new book cart and read the intro. That got me hooked enough to ask for an audio copy.

All Joy and No FunAll Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior. Read by the author. HarperCollins, 2014.
There are lots and lots of books on how to parent children and the effects of parents on their children. Here, though, Senior synthesizes a lot of existing research, as well as going across the U.S. doing some good old-fashioned journalism, to find out how children affect their parents. I’ve gotten some strong negative reactions to the title of this book from people who are appalled at the idea that anyone might be suggesting that children aren’t fun, but the reality of the book is a lot more nuanced. Now we that we can choose parenthood, as Senior quotes more than once, children are “economically worthless but emotionally priceless”, a big change from the historical reality. These days we have children because we think they will be life-fulfilling, and we hope that our children will grow up to be happy. Both of these sound simple and straightforward, but as Senior point out, they are new goals from a historical standpoint, as well as being nebulous and – let’s face it – high pressure.

The book is roughly divided into the stages of parenthood, with looks at the challenges and joys of each stage – the loss of independence, sleep, and “flow” with infancy, the vastly increased housework load, the over-scheduling of middle childhood stemming from the difficulty of preparing children for any future, and the life assessment that teenagers trigger in their parents. Along with the woes, we see the joys, the purpose, and the meaning, and the delight parents take in their children.

This is an impressive book – did I mention all the research, from a wide variety of areas? All tied together and brought to life with stories of real families? My librarian heart loves things like this. From the parent standpoint, Senior’s approach is highly validating. She knows that parents love and cherish their kids, while being very upfront about saying that parenting is tough. There was a risk of the book turning into a litany of woes, but Senior keeps an upbeat and engaging tone throughout. She does a great job of reading her work, too, breathing life into the statistics and personality into the families she’s sharing with us. Whether in print or on audio, this is a great book for every parent.

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5+1 Picture Books

Before I forget, the new issue of Middle Shelf Magazine is out, and I’ve got a review in it! Please go take a look!

Here are five new picture books and one older one from our recent library hauls.

boomsnotBoom Snot Twitty by Doreen Cronin. Illustrated by Renata Liwska. Viking, 2014.
This quiet picture books shares a day in the life of three very different friends: Boom the bear, Snot the snail, and Twitty the bird. They wake up, make plans for their day, prepare and react to a rain storm, and come back together afterwards before falling asleep. The words are few – mostly one-or-two word utterances by the characters – and the soft pictures have lots of open space. But for all its simplicity, it tells a deep story of friends getting along and thinking about each other even when they’re not doing the same things. This is a real testament to the power of simple picture books, one my daughter went back to look through on her own many times.

dancelikestarlightA Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey & Floyd Cooper. Philomel Books, 2014.
A young African-American girl in 1950s hangs out in the ballet costume shop, trying on the costumes her mother sews and doing the ballet steps behind the scenes. She’s not allowed to take the classes with the white girls, but the dance master notices and praises her efforts. Then comes a life-changing event: her mother uses her savings to take them to see Janet Collins, the first African-American dancer to be on stage at the Met (a real historical event). Now the girl knows that she could really have a future as a ballerina. The beautiful pastel illustrations and slightly oversized pages work together with the text to capture the emotion and the romance of the ballet, making this is a gentle introduction to racism perfect for younger children. My own ballet-obsessed four-year-old loved it.

exceptifExcept If by Jim Averbeck. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011.
I chanced to find this book on the library shelves, and took it home because we enjoyed Averbeck’s Oh No, Little Dragon! so much. This book starts like this: “An egg is not a baby bird/but it will become one… [page turn] except if” There’s one unexpected change after another, as the egg looks like it’s hatching a baby bird, which might instead be a snake… or a lizard… or even a dinosaur! The words are brief, the illustrations also minimalist, with thick outlines and simple fills. The story is simple enough for two-year-olds, but clever enough that both the four-year-old and the nine-year-old were intrigued.

queenvictoriasbathingmachineQueen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan. Pictures by Nancy Carpenter. Simon and Schuster Kids, 2014.
I read this aloud to my kids’ summer camp, and had to explain about Victorian-era clothing and modesty – the queen shouldn’t be showing anything but her face! Even when swimming! This tells in hilarious rhyme, the true story of how Prince Albert built a bathing machine for Victoria so that she could go swimming without parading across the beach in her bathing dress. Here’s a sample of the rhymes:

“’My dear,’ said Prince Albert, ‘If it is your wish
to dabble and splatter and swim like a fish,
there must be a way to transport you with ease,
while keeping the populace from glimpsing your knees.
I’ll give all my genius and all my attention
To devise a device, to invent an invention.”

The ink and watercolor illustrations’ subdued colors give a sense of the propriety of the era, but are crowded with expressive details, including Victoria and Albert’s many children, that show the liveliness and humor as well. This has been a hit with everyone from kid to adult.

soosbooboosSoo’s Boo-Boos by Tilda Balsley. Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. Tiger Tales, 2013.
This is a short, sweet story for the younger picture book audience, featuring what looks like a Korean-American family. In short, rhyming text, Soo catalogs her 10 different kinds of boo-boos to her mother, who fixes each of them. When she’s all better, Soo heads out to play on her scooter again (my daughter was shocked that Soo was allowed to go on the scooter without a helmet!) This features counting forwards and backwards, with a reassuringly loving message and bright, cheerful watercolor or guache illustrations. This was a hit at our house!

thisisamooseThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Little, Brown and Co., 2014.
Someone is trying to make a movie about a moose. But while Moose is fine with being in a film, he doesn’t want to be in a nature documentary – Moose wants to be an astronaut. While the director tries and tries again to get Moose to cooperate, Moose’s friends and relations turn up with their own ideas. This is a hilarious book, told with regular text, movie boards, speech bubbles, and lots told just in the pictures. Behind all the silliness is a message about how everyone needs to follow their own calling, not what they’re told to do – and the foolishness of judging other people’s choices.

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The Amazing Thing About the Way it Goes

This is the latest book by one of my very favorite bloggers, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot.

The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goest The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Andrews McMeel, 2014.
I think I’ve been reading the Yarn Harlot for almost ten years, just about as long as she’s run the blog. I’ve even managed to see her a time or two when she’s come to the Ann Arbor District Library. So I was deeply thrilled when I found out that her new book, rather than being just about knitting like her previous books, is a book of general essays. Of course I love knitting – that’s why I started following the blog in the first place – but a book of essays about life means that my non-knitting friends now have something to read to understand why all the knitters are so crazy about her. Also, it meant that for the first time ever, I could buy the book for the library myself instead of requesting that a colleague buy it, since essays are in the Dewey 800s, which is one of my collection areas. I bought two copies, because I knew we would need them.

Pearl-McPhee writes with a whole lot of humor and even more heart. There are stories about her trying to learn to ride a clip-in bike and her many, many falls, in her efforts to participate in PWA’s Rally for Life in support of AIDS research. (She’s doing the ride from Toronto to Montreal for the third time this year, and I can’t express the depths of my respect for this kind of effort. ) She writes about parenting teens – her husband’s secrets (threatening to take off his pants works better than direct commands!) and hers, including how her high school physics lessons are essential with teens, and not in the way you’d think. There’s an essay about the power of snapshots and how she learned to let people include her in the pictures, one about why she can watch asteroid apocalypse movies with pleasure but can’t get over the impossibility of zombies, and fearful drop in self-esteem that comes just before she gets sick. I come out of reading her books laughing out loud and feeling like a better person – not like I’ve been preached to, but like I’ve just sat down with a spell with someone who’s been through it before and come out of it with at least her sense of humor intact. If you’re a fan of the Yarn Harlot, you won’t want to miss this one (even if it has somewhat less yarn in it than usual). If you haven’t met her before, The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes is a great starting point.

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A Tale of Time City

The late and much lamented Diana Wynne Jones is popular enough in fantasy lit circles that she’s often referred to only by her initials as DWJ, much as my scifi geek friends talk about JMS. She’s written so much that I’m chipping slowly away at her library of books at the rate of one or two a year. This one I picked up because Stephanie at Views from the Tesseract recommended it, and because it’s not part of a series.

A Tale of Time CityA Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones. Greenwillow Books, 1987.
It’s 1939, and young Vivian Smith is on a train filled with other London evacuees, headed for her unknown aunt’s house. Then, at the train station, she’s kidnapped by two boys, clever and pigtailed Jonathan and butter pie-obsessed Sam, and taken to Time City. Time City (if I understand it correctly) is built outside of regular time on its own unmoving bit, but oversees all the various Eras and tries to keep them from going unstable. Jonathan and Sam are convinced that Vivian will one day become the famous Time Lady, and that by catching her at a critical younger moment, they’ll be able to stop Time City itself from becoming unstable.

Vivian of course doesn’t believe she is, but now she’s stuck in Time City, pretending to be their cousin Vivian, who should already know how Time City works. There are elaborate ceremonies, the funny pajamas that everyone wears, robots, school, and the complicated stretch of history centuries before and after anything she’s learned of before. Everything is bewildering, but it looks like Time City is really in danger and none of the adults will believe it. Vivian, Jonathan and Sam need to figure out what’s going on and who’s behind it before Time City falls apart and all of history is altered forever, stranding Vivian apart from her parents.

As usual, DWJ writes vivid characters in a detailed world, with a plot that started fast and got faster. I liked that the major family in Time City, to which both Jonathan and his cousin Sam belong, are Lees of Asian extraction, now diluted with much mixing to indeterminate coloring with vaguely Asian eyes. However, the structure of Time City and the eras that so confuses Vivian was pretty confusing for me, too – maybe it’s just my chronic lack of sleep, but I’d need to reread this and try harder to get a grasp on everything. It’s not really necessary to understand it all the way to enjoy it, though, and I’m guessing that kids would be a little more flexible in their thinking than me. I’d say this is good for middle grade through middle school, and especially good for those who’ve outgrown the Magic Tree House books and want something more sophisticated with the same element of travel to lots of different periods in history.

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This is one I’d been wanting to read since it first came out, and just now got around to.

ScarletScarlet by A.C. Gaughen. Walker and Co., 2012.
This extra-dark Robin Hood retelling features a cross-dressing Will Scarlet with a haunted past. Robin’s band is very small, consisting of just Robin, Little John, Much and Scarlet, while Tuck is a helpful barkeep rather than a friar. They are the only ones who know that Scarlet really is just Scarlet, not Will Scarlet – but not even Robin just calls her Scarlet for the scarlet ribbons she ties on her throwing knives. As always, trouble comes Robin Hood’s merry band increases their efforts to cover the costs of the sheriff’s raised taxes. In retaliation, the Sheriff brings in the famed thief hunter Guy of Gisborne, someone who will recognize Scar’s distinctive moonstone eyes. The sheriff in this version is evil enough that he’s ready to kill children to protest not being loved enough, and Gisborne is of course even worse.

Gaugen tells the story in Scarlet’s own decidedly lower-class voice, and adds a love triangle to the traditional story. Robin, of course, has his own piles of demons, and both he and Scarlet are unwilling to share their own pasts yet frustrated with the other for not trusting the other enough to tell the truth. They torture each other in many ways, both deliberately with words and accidentally, by valuing the other’s life more than their own. Meanwhile, Little John offers an uncomplicated affection that’s hard for the emotionally battered Scarlet to ignore. I noticed a few anachronisms – a poor couple bottle-feeding their infant was the one that stuck out most painfully (where would they get a bottle? what would they put in it? how would they pay?)– and I wasn’t sure that even their mutual scars excused the verbal abuse between Robin and Scarlet. On the whole, though, this is a darkly seductive version of the story, with lots of passion and violence but no sex, good for teens and up who like Robin Hood stories but want more active female characters. And now I want to go back and reread Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood.

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