Round 2, Match 3: Mine for Keeps vs. The Penderwicks in Spring

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Judged by Hallie • Find her on Goodreads


This year I got quite lucky in the four possible books for my match-up, as all were, in a sense, family stories. I’d have thought this was evidence of Beth’s arcane criteria for bracketing, back in the days before I learned how she actually chose brackets. There was even a little bonus happy because they broke down as an old book against a very recent one in each first round pairing; serendipitous symmetry is the best. Of course, I spent a lot of time thinking about this, somehow managing to forget that A Ring of Endless Light is both for older readers and more fantasy than not, although I’d still consider it to be more of a family story than many YA novels. The grouping, less perfect than I’d originally thought, was only of any relevance to me, anyway, as I was reading my bracket books and waiting to hear which two I’d get. It is significant, all the same, that yet another MG family story, Binny in Secret, was the first book I read for this year’s Battle, because it was in my head (as a practically perfect book of its type) while I read Mine for Keeps and Listen, Slowly, and reread all four Penderwicks books

I’d heard of Jean Little, of course, but knew nothing about Mine for Keeps before I read it. A dog (as long as it’s not included for the multiple-tissue value of its death); a kid with a disability learning to fit into a new school; family – sounded great. It did have a lot of charming elements, not limited to the dog, or multiple dogs, as it turned out. Sally is much braver than she or others realise, and the adult reader can marvel at how she’s expected to adjust while going from a boarding school for children with disabilities to living at home and going to the local public school, with very little help. It’s rather fascinating to see how things have changed regarding disabled kids in public schools, something I also appreciated in last year’s Izzy, Willy-Nilly. It’s very obvious that the author had a strong knowledge of cerebral palsy, and manages to get in good explanations of what a disease like that can look like, with even a few laughs along the way. Sal’s younger sister is given the explanation by the doctor but doesn’t fully understand and tells her dad to be careful so he doesn’t ‘break [Sal’s] brains more’. That said, I was thrown quite badly out of the story early on, when Sal’s mother behaved in a way I found hard to understand. On Sal’s first morning home, her mother, knowing Sal wouldn’t be able to dress herself in clothes with zips or buttons, which is all she’s ever had, tells her to get dressed by herself and leaves her to have a meltdown. After Sally has lost it completely, frightened and overwhelmed and feeling abandoned, her mother comes in and tells a story about how the family had christened her ‘Scarey Sarey’ when she was four and too scared to go into the lake. Only then is it revealed that her mother has got her new clothes that are easy to put on without the help she has always needed. So, set your kid up to feel overwhelmed and helpless and then mock her – if gently – and then show there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of, so she can learn the lesson about independence being within her grasp. Why not just tell her before making her feel so helpless? Similar things happen several times, with both parents acting very Mother/Father Knows Best, but actually being far less wise and teaching far less useful lessons than they’re supposedly doing.

The other, related problem I saw was the way the narrative handles the bullying that occurs in the story. The mysterious Piet actually hits kids much younger than himself, including Sally’s brother Kent, but that’s glossed over. When Kent bursts out, ‘I don’t care, he doesn’t have to pick on kids half his size!’ their father calls Kent‘s behaviour ‘babyish’, because he didn’t ‘think of the other person’s point of view’. What Sally experiences in school is also horrible, and it all happens under the eye of her kindly and wise teacher, who never does anything to stop it. In fact, his only action is to tell Sally – essentially – that she has to take it because Elsje had had ‘the saddest face’ a year ago, when she first came to the school. This is so many kinds of wrong. It’s wrong to give the lesson that compassion for someone who has had a hard time should make you accept whatever that person does. It’s wrong for a teacher to allow any child to be excluded and bullied, let alone a child with a disability who’s been dumped into a mainstream school for the first time in her life. And it’s so wrong that Elsje forces another child to behave in a way she knows is wrong, because things hadn’t been great for her in the past. This is quite a didactic book, and I felt the lesson imparted here was not the one it purported to teach: that kids should try to understand other people’s behaviour, no matter how unkind or unfair. Sally, who has a serious disability, can become an independent adult so it’s fair enough to chide her into expecting very little help with these terrifying new situations. On the other hand Elsje and Piet, who had arrived in Canada from Holland a year before, are treated as if this were a handicap from which they couldn’t recover, so shouldn’t be expected to behave decently. That wasn’t a lesson I found useful to anyone, no matter how positive the message about a disabled child’s being capable of becoming independent is in theory.

I mentioned the mental comparison that was going on with Binny during my potential bracket reads, and this was an instance of particularly clear contrast. The bullying Binny receives in her new school is upsetting, and the fact that no adults step in and smite the wrongdoers (in an appropriate manner, of course! I’m not looking for Dahl. Ever) makes it more upsetting. There is a real difference between the two instances of bullying, however, and the difference lies in the fact that the narrative excuses the bullying Sally receives, while it doesn’t excuse what happens to Binny at all. We’re so firmly in Binny’s head that we understand how she gets knocked, both literally and figuratively, senseless to the point that she doesn’t just apologise to Clare for ruining her presents for her mother. Binny is so miserable and full of dread about her new school that finding Clare there is the final straw and she can’t make it right then by apologising either. So Clare thinks she doesn’t care and Binny says the awful thing about Clare’s mother and Clare turns everyone against her and crucially, Binny decides not to tell her mother because she doesn’t want to worry her (more). No adults see, so nobody can stop the bullying, and it’s awful, because bullying is. But does that mean that only awful people are capable of bullying behaviour? No, and McKay does a wonderful, painful job of showing how it can happen without excusing the behaviour. Clare’s eventual acknowledgment of how badly she’d treated Binny is ultimately more satisfying than her being punished would have been.

In contrast to the new-to-me Mine for Keeps, the Penderwicks are old friends. I had the time, and miraculously happened to find the first three books (this is the second Battle with my books in boxes, and I am so ready to be living like a normal human being again, surrounded by my books!), so reread them before getting to my reread of Penderwicks in Spring. The things we do for Beth, right? It was almost as much fun as reading them for the first time, although seeing the chaos to come was, in places, more painful than when it happens with a degree more surprise. I was interested to see the subtle hints of Skye’s terrible misunderstanding about Batty’s role in their lives right from the beginning, although I’d missed them completely on the first read. And ‘Marianne doesn’t like flannel’ has now permanently gone on my mental list of all-time great lines. (It’s in The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure.) I was tempted to keep up the old friends analogy, and talk about how you can love them dearly with all their flaws and imperfections, while seeing those clearly, but it’s probably a mistake. The flaw is something I didn’t spot at all while reading the book, utterly immersed in poor Batty’s misery, and desperately worried for her. It wasn’t until Stephanie Burgis pointed it out in her Goodreads review that I saw it, and I’m not pleased with myself about that. Birdsall gives us a superb depiction of a child’s inability to reason or question when hearing her sister say that she was unwanted, and the cause of their mother’s death. Whatever causes that vulnerability to self-blame, and indeed, to the combination of childish egocentricity and inappropriate taking of responsibility, some kids have it, and Batty is one. The problem, however, is that her father later says that Skye ‘needs to think about that too – how banning [Jeffrey] affects the rest of us.’ Later again, when Skye talks to Batty, she says she has to apologise ‘for making Jeffrey go away’. Unpack the heart-breaking scene at the centre of Batty’s crisis and you’ll discover it makes no sense at all. Skye insists she has to tell Jeffrey what happens ‘when people fall in love’, but what it actually is is what happens when a mother is pregnant and has cancer. This, of course, is utterly irrelevant to Jeffrey’s insistence on ‘talking love’ to Skye when she’s told him she doesn’t want him to. It’s a bit of authorial manipulation that is less noticeable because the consequences of the scene are depicted brilliantly. All the same, it does seem that a more logical reason for Skye to tell someone that she blames their mother’s death on Batty could have been found.

A family book like this is a slightly unusual thing; for all it’s ‘realist’ and indeed, sometimes painfully grounded in the harsh world in which mothers die of cancer and people are stalked and parents (or mothers) act with inexcusable selfishness, there’s a sense in which the world is slightly fantastic as well. (Melissa gets credit for saying this first, in our pre-Battle discussion!) This slight unreality is seen most obviously in the occasional whopping great coincidence (the next-door neighbor at the beach in Penderwicks at Point Mouette) or extreme convenience (Iantha’s turning up next door with an equally tragic, but baggage-free, loss of spouse, at just the right time for both to be ready for marriage #2) or just-too-perfect-to-be-true characters (Iantha. Also Martin, but really. Iantha). It’s also a world in which everyone is pretty extraordinary. Jane is destined to be a great writer; Skye will probably follow Iantha into astrophysics, if there’s nothing more rocket science for her than that; both Jeffrey and Batty are exceptional musicians. Even the dogs are extraordinary examples of canine perfection, and while Hound was much missed, weren’t Duchess and Cilantro fun? That’s fine and often delightful, but is a problem when a character who has been presented as just about perfect is supposed to be speaking wisdom and is very much not. In this case it’s Martin (the father), and while nobody could blame him for not catching Skye’s misunderstanding of the circumstances around Batty’s birth and her mother’s death, I do blame him for saying that Skye should have thought of the others before sending Jeffrey away. If Jeffrey doesn’t hold to his promise not to be pestering her with romantic talk, Skye has the right to send him away – or at very least to expect the father who wants her not to, to protect her from being pestered. The scene in which everyone is in the kitchen for Skye’s birthday and Iantha sorts them all out, including firmly telling Nick to stop teasing Rosalind about Oliver, makes a good contrast. (On the other hand, Oliver’s behaviour to two-year-old Lydia is quite horrible, and I’d have expected either Iantha or Martin to have looked at that more seriously.)

This strange way in which the family blames Skye for not thinking how the rest of them will miss Jeffrey instead of blaming Jeffrey for not keeping his promise (‘you’re so beautiful, you know’ is NOT an excuse for anything when the person doing the beauty has told you ‘no’, very clearly), recurs, though perhaps less problematically. Rosalind and Tommy’s break-up wasn’t as a result of Rosalind cheating or anything; in fact, she says that it was Tommy’s idea. But Jane says that they all miss Jeffrey and wish Skye would ‘do something’ with Rosalind chiming in that she simply can’t ‘make him stay away for ever’. Ben then says that Rosalind ‘made Tommy stay away forever’, which Skye agrees is true. If Tommy is incapable of remaining friends with the other Penderwicks after a non-acrimonious break-up, I’d say that was his fault, not Rosalind’s responsibility. I’d be happy enough to see Rosalind and Tommy end up together eventually (NOT ditto for Skye and Jeffrey), but it should be because they want to be together, not so the family can keep Tommy as honorary-brother: a status that Nick manages without a romantic pairing with a Penderwick girl, and why wouldn’t he?

This criticism is very much in the backhanded compliment camp: because I love the book so much, I mind a great deal when it veers off true. Certainly there was never any doubt which book I’d be putting forward. The Penderwicks in Spring is a wonderful, warm and deeply moving MG family book. It’s not perfect, and I really hope that the final book pulls back from some of the directions it has gone in, but I’m still awaiting that final book with great eagerness. If there’s another big jump in book-time, I’m expecting amazing things from Lydia. (First pre-teen translator for the United Nations? First teen president of the United Nations??) There’s sadness at the fact that it’s the end of the series, and yes, some unease, but whatever happens, it’s a series I love, and this is a book I love. Battle on, Oh Penderwicks!


Congratulations to The Penderwicks in Spring, which moves on to round 3!

Round 2, Match 2: The Goblin Wood vs. Jellicoe Road

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Judged by Andrée • Find her on Goodreads


For whatever reason, it feels like there are a fair number of polarizing battles this time around. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s no different than previous years, but it does seem to me that there have been more than a couple of battles where it wasn’t even close. This is one of them.

Unexpectedly, Jellicoe Road and The Goblin Wood are weirdly similar. I know (I know), but they kind of are. They’re both pretty much lightning rods of tragedy, they both feature stubborn and isolated heroines who are determined to go it alone, and they’re both very meticulously structured – though I’d argue that Goblin Road contains two stories running in parallel, while in Jellicoe Road the stories run in parallel, before converging and coming full circle. I was really impressed with the plotting of both. They’re both extremely well laid out.

The Goblin Wood is fast-paced and very clever. As I mentioned, it tells two simultaneous stories. The first is Makenna’s, who after witnessing her mother’s murder, becomes the saviour of the goblins against a common enemy. She just wants to create a safe place for them all. She’s clever and resourceful and tough, and absolutely devoted to protecting those who depend on her from the powerful priests who view their very existence as a threat. Makenna is a great character – a brilliant tactician, but also a bit cold and closed off to all humanity because of her responsibilities and how cruelly she’s been hurt in the past. She’s allied herself with the goblins, and is determined to save them, even if it means hurting (or killing) a few human settlers along the way.

And then there’s Tobin, a disgraced knight who falsely confesses to crimes he did not commit to save his brother’s life. His only chance at salvation is to kill Makenna, because the safe place she’s building for her goblins is also the only safe place for Tobin’s people, who are in turn desperately defending themselves against barbarians further south. The reality is that there isn’t enough land. The book provides perspectives from both sides of the planned invasion, and demonstrates that while Tobin and his people are invading the goblin wood, they themselves are also being invaded and (like the goblins) are just trying to find a safe pace. You understand both characters’ choices and why they make them every step of the way, as they both struggle with how far they’ll go to protect those they love. The parallel structure is interesting, and one of the strengths of the book.

Jellicoe Road is harder to describe. Like Makenna, Taylor, the protagonist, has had some truly terrible things happen in her past. Her father’s dead; her absentee mother’s a drug addict; her childhood memories are fragmented, and she doesn’t really trust anyone enough to let them get close to her (not the girls in her House at school, not her guardian, not anyone). And to top things off, she’s essentially appointed general in the “territory wars” between the kids from her school, the local Townies and the Cadets. In much the same way that Makenna is the Goblin’s general, Taylor’s students are her responsibility. Of course (it is YA after all), she also shares an intense past experience with the leader of the Cadets, Jonah Griggs. But Taylor’s isn’t the only story going on – her story is profoundly affected by what happened at the school 20 years earlier.

Jellicoe Road isn’t a perfect book. As Roslyn said in her review, you do wonder about some of the choices the adults in Taylor’s life make to keep her so in the dark. Plus, the reader is dumped in the world with no warning, or explanation, and while it’s 95% effective, sometimes at the start I had trouble figuring out who people were. I especially had trouble keeping the characters in the flashbacks straight. The flashbacks feature a group of five close friends, but they’re also fairly short in length, so I think I never really figured out exactly who was who until 100+ pages in (and even then not all the time).

Jellicoe Road is a book with a lot of characters, and most of them have absolutely heaps of personal trauma. The school itself is clearly a place where a lot of troubled kids, or kids with nowhere else to go, find a community. I meant it when I said both books are lightning rods of tragedy. But Jellicoe Road (magically) manages to tell the stories of its characters without becoming soul-numbingly depressing. It’s emotional; the reader invests and empathizes, but I never felt like I was, I don’t know, drowning in teenage angst. The book just tells the story of its characters. It captures their stubbornness, their humanity, their anger, and their loyalty. And if it shows you the cruelty in the world, it shows you the good in people to.

I think that’s where Goblin Wood falls down for me. It’s really, really cleverly plotted, and there are so many things about it that objectively I should have loved (fun fantasy premise, strong female lead, PARALLELS, Cogswhallop becoming Makenna’s deputy, etc.). But my expectations going into this battle were completely overset. Unlike a lot of people, I would have expected to be biased in favour of MG fantasy (lack of romance isn’t an issue in that genre for me) over potentially overwrought teen angst. Goblin Wood is not a bad book by any means, but I didn’t enjoy reading it. I found it upsetting, and not in an effective way. Maybe I need a bit of light mixed in with my tragedy, or maybe I just need a slower build. Goblin Wood (I assume for suspense-building reasons) bounces from crisis to crisis, pinging back and forth between the two main characters and their drama, without pausing for breath. It felt like the characters were constantly in impossible situations.  I was stressed out reading it. I needed the narrative to breathe. I needed the relationships to be given time to feel real. I buy the individual growth of each character, but I don’t buy the growth of their relationships.

Tobin sacrificed everything for his brother, but paradoxically I never got the impression that they were that close based on their (brief) interactions. And given that one of the main points of Makenna’s narrative is her realizing that she doesn’t always need to go it alone, I think it’s a problem that I don’t buy Tobin’s final decision where she’s concerned. I needed them to interact more.  And I expected a book about goblins to be just a bit more… fun. Instead, it’s dark and full of tragedy. And the sadness, while making me anxious, also didn’t resonate with me. It felt superficial. I think I agree with the people who commented after the first round that they wanted it to be almost more YA. I think the book is at times missing the depth that it might sometimes need given the subject matter.

In contrast, Taylor slowly letting people into her life was beautifully done. All of the relationships felt genuine, and all of them are constantly in flux (as real relationships often are). I feel like Jellicoe Road is a very emotionally true novel (mild spoilers ahead for the rest of the paragraph). I actually disagree with Roslyn about the degree to which Taylor’s past experiences are hidden from her and its plausibility. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a justifiable as a course of action, I really feel like I understand the character who would do it, the same woman who as a little girl sat perfectly still for hours so that her baby brother didn’t have to see his adored mother dead.

Jellicoe Road isn’t a novel that had me sending a frantic private message to Beth because I was completely emotionally overset, but it is a novel that I will love quietly, about a community and a family I will remember. I really, really enjoyed everything about it. I choose Jellicoe Road, no contest.


Congratulations to Jellicoe Road, which moves on to round 3!

Round 2, Match 1: Crown Duel vs. First & Then

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Judged by Katie • Find her on Goodreads


Confession: I didn’t really want to re-read either of these books. I like them both, but I’ve already read them and there are so many books out there competing for my attention! But I also didn’t want to judge them without re-reading them, especially as I had no idea which book I was going to choose. Fortunately, I did enjoy my re-reads! And I’m finding my decision both surprising and surprisingly easy.

You see, I think both books are rather messy with flashes of brilliance. Like a lot of my friends, I really struggled with the first half of Crown Duel only to fall in love with the second half. And First & Then feels a little incomplete, but wow, does it pack some emotional punches.

So that’s where I was at heading into my re-reads.

I re-read Crown Duel first and the first half of the first half (I could say “first quarter” but that actually feels less clear!) worked better for me, but I grew pretty impatient with Mel as the first half went on. She’s so misguided and stubborn. And, sure, I can appreciate that in an intellectual way, but my life is kind of stressful right now, and I just wanted to get to the fun romance!

And then I did! I prefer the court setting of the second half. I’d be all for more fantasies than are about court, not battle. And I like how determined Mel is to improve herself and figure out what’s right. And, of course, the courtship by letters.

However, I could’ve done without the plotty aspects. I had to go back and re-read (re-re-read?) some of the ending because my brain isn’t up to following much right now (on the plus side, I also got to re-read the ring reveal twice!). It was hard to follow who was involved in which plot to take the crown and what exactly said plot involved.

By contrast, First & Then was such an easy, breezy re-read. Some of what bothered me on my first read didn’t bother me this time through, particularly the constant Jane Austen references at the beginning. (There is a whole lot of “if this were Jane’s time…”) Devon referring to the freshman as “prostitots” still makes me cringe a lot, but at least she seems to somewhat learn her lesson.

And, you know, as much as I’m sad that there are so many unexplored stories here (Marabella! Emir! Rachel!), I will GLADLY take that over the bland minor characters that populate most books. (Crown Duel, let me take a moment to say, does not fall into this category. However, some of its most minor characters did blur for me a bit.) Everyone feels like a real, distinct person. And then there’s Ezra. Wonderful, misunderstood Ezra. And Foster being so wonderfully himself and he and Devon forming a real, loving, realistic relationship.

And, oh, the moments of brilliance in this book. Ezra’s counting to 300 is something that’s really stuck with me. And all the people who showed up at the end! It reminded me of how wonderful people really can be.

In short, First & Then was the book I needed to read right now. I don’t think I would pick it against Crown Duel every time. In general, I love fantasy more than contemporary fiction, but at this particular point in my life, the political maneuvering and plottiness of Crown Duel were a little too much for my poor overworked brain. First & Then is a simple story in a lot of ways, which makes it easy to follow. Add that to the compelling characters, and it drew me in and let me forget about my life for a little bit. And that counts for a lot.


Congratulations to First & Then, which moves on to round 3!

Round 1, Match 8: The Two Princesses of Bamarre vs. The Wrinkled Crown

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Judged by Debbie • Find her on Goodreads


First of all, I’d like to say how chuffed I am (dead chuffed) to get to be part of this battle. I got to know Beth on GoodReads by eavesdropping on last year’s battle and other conversations between her and my long-time reading friend Hallie and other mutual friends. So, when Beth approached me this year asking if I’d be interested in being one of the judges, I jumped at the chance. What fun!

Funnily enough, when Beth gave me the assignment to read The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, and The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, I had just finished reading an ARC of Karen Cushman’s latest book, Grayling’s Song, which has a lot in common with these two choices. All three concern a young girl, one who needs to prove herself or to “find” herself, setting out on an adventure in the Wide World, despite her own misgivings, in order to save someone close to her: a sister, a friend and a mother, respectively. So I was almost judging between three books, but you’ll be glad to know that I think I would have rated the Cushman third of the three, as much as I admired its craft and poetic writing. So, now I have to choose between two superficially similar but in many ways very different books.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is the first book I’ve read by Gail Carson Levine, though, for what it’s worth, I have seen the movie of Ella Enchanted. It introduces us to a fairly generic medieval-ish “fairy tale” setting, a castle-studded land of princesses, dragons, wizards and ogres. As if fending off magical beasties were not enough, the people of Bamarre are in constant danger from the Grey Death, a plague-like illness that is always fatal. The “Two Princesses” of the title are Meryl, the older one, who is learning to be a hero in order to rid the world of the plague that killed their mother, and Adelina – Addie – the narrator, who relies on her sister to protect her from all the things in the world that terrify her. Soon after the book begins, Meryl falls ill with the Grey Death, and it is up to Addie to save her, with the help of a handsome young apprentice wizard named Rhys. There is a mysterious prophecy about the way the Grey Death can be overcome, and Addie has to overcome her own fears and follow clues in the national epic of the hero Drualt, if she is to save her beloved sister.

This is a thoroughly delightful story that I would have loved when I was a child. There isn’t a formal genre of “cosy fantasy,” but if there were, this would be in it. It has all the trappings of a fairy story without any real darkness or ambiguity; this may be one of its strengths, depending on what you are looking for in a book, or one of its weaknesses perhaps in comparison with the other book in this match-up. Addie is a charming, resourceful girl whom we root for all the way along. The story is extremely suspenseful, and the final few chapters keep you gripped to the page – I stayed up far too late finishing it.

Although overall I found the world-building a bit generic, with a somewhat vague sense of geography, there are some flashes of genius. For example, I loved the description of the way wizards are born. Wizards are born when lightning strikes marble. The lightning and the marble combine into a flame, and within the flame is the sorcerer:

He would look about him for a moment. Then he would look inward and learn what he was. In a burst of joy he would rocket into the sky, in the storm, showering sparks.

This is wonderful, and I wish we had learned more about them, their community and their powers.

I loved one whole section where Addie is captured by an eloquent, lonely dragon – a whole different book could have been written about this dragon and her relationship with her victims. The way this particular plotline was resolved was a bit of a disappointment, and left me feeling let-down.

I really liked the way the “epic” of the hero Drualt is inter-woven into the story. It adds some depth and resonance to the fairy-tale culture, and Levine captures a very authentic Beowulf-like tone in the poetry.

I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the first-person narrative, particularly in terms of how we are meant to see Addie overcome her own fears. It felt to me that we knew Addie was scared of things because she told us so, and each time she has to face her fears that facing seemed a bit easy. There is a charming love story, but that, too, seemed a little too easily resolved and we seem to lose sight along the way that Addie is only twelve.

Linnet – Linny – the heroine of The Wrinkled Crown is also twelve, or just about to turn twelve at the opening of the book. Lourka, where Linny has grown up, is a small world within a bigger one, consisting of the village, the forest and the hills. If you wandered too far downhill you might never come back, although occasionally one or two people might wander in from the outside world; among those was Linny’s mother. There are drifts of magic – wrinkles – in the world, and some people have gifts of wrinkles. Linny’s is “humminess” inherited from her father, and the power of never getting lost that she gets from her mother. Everyone knows that girls must not touch a lourka – the musical instrument that gives a name to their world – before their twelfth birthday, or risk being carried off to Away. Because of her gift of “humminess,” Linny’s family and her best friend Sayra, whose gift is making things out of silk, have tried hard to prevent Linny from touching a lourka. Linny has secretly not only touched a lourka, she has built one for herself and taught herself how to play it. When the birthday arrives, however, it is not Linny but her beloved friend who is taken by the Voices, so it is up to Linny to find some way to bring her home. She heads off, accompanied by “that lummox” Elias, a boy who also loves Sayra, to the Broken City, where her aunt lives, and where she might be able to get some medicine that will cure Sayra. The main action of the novel takes place in the Broken City, a land split between those who respect and use the “wrinkles” (magic), and those who rely on technology and want to destroy the wrinkles entirely.

This is such a merry, rollicking, complex and wondrous book. It’s the first of Nesbet’s books I’ve read, but if her others are like this I want to read them. The writing is robust and colourful; Linny is an impulsive, curious, quick, clever and thoroughly delightful girl, and she remains thoroughly herself throughout the book, even as she learns that sometimes rushing into things isn’t the best way. The world of Lourka and the Broken City is inventive and reflects some political depths – things are ambiguous and not as clear-cut and simple black and white, right and wrong. The author that Nesbet reminds me of most is Frances Hardinge – especially those of her books involving Mosca and her goose. This is high praise.

If I have one complaint, it might be that there is so much to be contained in one book. There seemed to be plots and sub-plots and twists and turns, one colourful character appearing after another. I suspect and hope that there might be a sequel, one that will help to resolve some of the political loose-ends and tell us more about how the “wrinkles” work and whether the two sides of the Broken City can ever be reunited.

Both these books are well worth reading. I thoroughly enjoyed The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but The Wrinkled Crown took me somewhere I’d never been and kept me buoyed with colourful writing. For that reason, I choose The Wrinkled Crown to advance to the next round.


Congratulations to The Wrinkled Crown, which moves on to round 2!

Round 1, Match 7: Sorcery & Cecelia vs. The Trumpet of the Swan

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Judged by Tori • Find her on Goodreads


In the mid-90s my dad worked in Chicago.

What this meant for our family was that every Sunday night he would fly out, and every Thursday he would come home. As as eight year old, I didn’t really understand what that meant for both of my parents–it was simply a part of life.

Aside from phone calls and postcards, my dad often went out of his way to leave us presents when he left or came home. In particular, he would frequently leave books for me, which was, in retrospect, the beginning of a lifetime bonding over literature. Frequently in my life there have been times when my dad and I didn’t have much to talk about, but we could always fall back on what we were reading.

One such present was a boxset of books by E.B. White, including The Trumpet of the Swan. The tale of Louis, a mute trumpeter swan, is an enjoyable one. He goes on many adventures in his journey to live with and adapt to his disability.

Although I have little memory reading it as a child, revisiting it as an adult has brought back a lot of nostalgia. Part of that feeling has to do with The Trumpet of the Swan being such a great book for an adult and child to share together.

The language is simple, but arresting and often laugh out loud funny. The story is cute and outright silly at times, but that’s what makes it makes it fun. I particularly enjoyed the way the text engaged the reader directly, through questions at the end of Sam’s journal entries. The book ends on one such question, asking what “crepuscular” means. This neat little piece of meta gives the reader (child and parent) a chance to learn and grow together, and to continue the conversation even after the book is finished.

As an adult it was a quick and easy read, one that brought back a lot of childhood feelings for me, and made me want to go and give my dad a hug and thank him for sharing this book–and many others–with me.

By contrast, I came to Sorcery and Cecelia, Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer as a brand new reader.

I could tell from the summary alone that I would enjoy this book. A regency epistolary tale with magic? Sign me up! But then the novel goes ahead and throws in an engagement of convenience and I was immediately sold.

Kate and Cecelia, cousins and childhood best friends, are separated for the first time as Kate makes her society debut in London. As told through their letter correspondence, it’s the story of Kate and Cecelia sorting things out for the men in their lives who think they know better.

As with The Trumpet of the SwanSorcery and Cecelia speaks to me strongly as an important book for young readers. Although of a different genre, it gave me much of the same feelings I had as young adult, reading the books that were the most important to me. Had I read fifteen years ago, I’m sure the spine would have been well worn through multiple readings.

The relationship between Kate and Cecelia told through their own words is engaging, and reminds me of my own close friendships. The action is exciting throughout, but the novel gives the feeling of a conversation between two friends, sharing the important moments in their lives. The romances are compelling and often swoon-worthy, and the world building is exciting in the way it draws the reader in completely. It’s the kind of book with which you sit down and curl up, and walk away with a warm satisfied feeling.

Both these books spoke to me as formative childhood books, books that would help cultivate a love of reading. Both are engaging and fun to read as an adult, but in the end I just enjoyed Sorcery and Cecelia more, and for that reason it is my choice to advance to the next round.


Congratulations to Sorcery & Cecelia, which moves on to round 2!