Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jennifer's Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier is a fairy story, but it’s not the typical story one thinks of when imagining YA fairy stories. There are no wings, no ethereal beauties, no references to Oberon or Mab or Puck. For those who haven’t heard of Marillier before, she’s written many fantasy novels, many of which are based on old Celtic stories and European legends. (I fell in love with her writing when I first read Daughter of the Forest, which is loosely based on the Six Swans fairy tale with a heavy Celtic twist.)

As in her other novels, Marillier creates a magical world. The focus of the book is narrow: We follow the journey of 15-year-old Neryn as she journeys to a place only rumored to exist – Shadowfell. It’s supposedly a rebel stronghold, designed to oppose the king who strikes fear in the hearts of his people. Neryn, penniless and orphaned, knows Shadowfell is the only place she might find safety because she is canny – a term used to describe someone with special abilities. The spectrum of canniness varies wildly; a canny person might be able to sing extraordinarily well, to cook a bit better than others, or even to mess with minds. Along the way, Neryn makes friends in unexpected places, including a strange man known as Flint and some of the Good Folk (fey). Again, the Celtic influence shows in Marillier’s writing with mention of a Red Cap[1], a Urisk[2], a Brollachan[3] and more[4].  

Marillier is very descriptive, and it would be fair to say that the story moves slowly. We follow Neryn’s journey day-by-day, except for a period of time in which she’s indisposed. While I would find this tedious in many other novels, Marillier manages to enchant me with her lyrical language and detailed character building. No one Neryn meets is two-dimensional, from a witless minor character to the mysterious Flint. Filled with romance, magic and secrets, the world of Alban is rich and beautiful, and I eagerly wait for the next novel in the series. 

(Side note: I kept thinking of the book The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart-Thornton while reading this book. If you want your fairy books without the glitter and wings and Shakespeare references, it’s another great book to consider.)


[1] In most stories, a red cap is a type of goblin or dwarf that dips its cap in the blood of those it kills or injures. Marillier’s Red Cap, however, doesn’t seem malevolent and is actually quite heroic. The only resemblance to the mythology is the presence of the red headgear.

[2] A urisk is a type of brownie, often quite helpful with housework or farming, and is known for its overwhelming sense of loneliness. Marillier’s urisk is quite a pest – he doesn’t seem to be of the helpful sort. Rather, if you give him comfort for his loneliness, he’ll follow you for the rest of your days.

[3] A brollachan is a boogie man of Celtic myth. In some myths, he takes the form of whatever you fear most. In others he takes the form of whatever he rests upon.

[4] In many Celtic stories and fiction based upon them, fey beings are often categorized as seelie (good) or unseelie (evil). Marillier avoids these terms, and the fey are surprisingly helpful in Neryn’s journey. However, their tricky natures are often alluded to, and we’re led to believe that Neryn’s canny ability is why they aren’t out to trick her.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Travis' Book Review: Just Write: Here's How! by Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers has written or co-written over 100 books for teens and young readers, but in this offering, Myers expands on his role as a literary ambassador to young people. Just Write: Here’s How! uses a number of anecdotes from his own life and even adding pages from his own notebooks, Myers gives his audience a step-by-step description of the writing method he has used over the course of his career. He explains, “With these tools and a willingness to do the hard work of writing, you will be able to get to the end of a poem or a story or even a book.”


It is with a cool understanding of who he is as writer, that Myers defines the characteristics of the craft that brought success to him. He explains that he could have walked down the wrong path, the path of the many misguided young people he tries to reach, but instead focused his attention on books. It was the library that opened up the concept that there are others worlds outside of the streets he grew up on – an alternative path to walk. Myers tells his audience, “Read everything you can, looking for ideas that give you hope and expand your sense of what’s possible.” Unfortunately for Myers, while reading books, he also came to the understanding that there wasn’t a lot of literature meant for youth like him, so he started writing until he became the writer that he is today.


As prolific as he is, though, Myers feels that he is not a particularly talented writer because writing does not come easy to him. Writing is hard work, and he relies on structure and diligence to get to the end of a book. The methodology presented to the readers is easily understood and does not bog down the overall concept of the book. Myers’ tone is also one of encouragement, and his simple and direct writing makes a very positive impact on the reader, giving inspiration, as well as instruction. While he does express the hardship of writing, like rejection, the editing process, and constant rewrites, he also expresses the need of young writers to tell their stories because he is living proof that writing has the potential to save lives. Writing not only serves the story, but serves the storyteller.


It is Myers’ hope that his words do inspire young people to read and write, and Just Write should be read by all young people whether or not they intend to be writers. The beauty of the book is that while it is intended to be an inspirational guide to writing, it is also an inspirational story of a troubled youth that became a successful writer – even though that writer still posts magazine clippings of people over his desk to help him visualize his characters. Even through hardships that face the writer, Walter Dean Myers is a great success, but he judges his success on whether or not he is able to make a positive change in the lives of young people. Just Write: Here’s How! is a great example of the power of writing and will educate and inspire any young writer that just needs a push toward the right direction.


Myers even seems to speak for all of the book lovers in the world when he says, “I am grateful for you, an aspiring writer of book we’ll all read tomorrow.”

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Teen Winter Reading starts today!


Next year’s Teen Summer Reading program is still several months away, but never fear! Teen Winter Reading is here, beginning today and ending February 28th!


Teen Winter Reading is like Teen Summer Reading’s little brother who hasn’t grown up yet. To participate, read a book—any book, as long as it’s on your reading level—and then fill out a Teen Winter Reading review form telling us what you thought about the book! Reviews will be entered into weekly prize drawings, in which you could win fun beanies and great teen books! Entries will be accepted until the end of February, when we’ll draw for our grand prize of a new iPod Touch!

Review forms can be found at any SCPL branch or online at