Monthly Archives: June 2011

The FitzOsbornes in Exile

It’s hard to resist a great British family story. Those types of stories make me want to curl up on the couch, tuck my legs under a blanket, grab my cat, and read for hours. I may have actually hooted when The FitzOsbornes in Exile arrived at the library for me after so long I’d forgotten about it completely (love it when that happens!). Michelle Cooper’s first book in The Montmaray Journals, A Brief History of Montmaray, was wonderful. It swept me up. The narrator, Sophie, had such a believable and engaging voice that she came to life for me completely. I loved discovering that book because when I read it, I knew instantly that it was a book I would have adored when I was about fifteen. This made me savor it all the more. I had high hopes for the second title in the series. I think the second one is even stronger than the first.

In The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Sophie and the rest of the royal family have had to flee to England to live with their aunt after the dramatic Nazi invasion of Montmoray. Sophie is both terribly homesick and a little thrilled to be in London. She and her cousin Veronica are expected to make their debut in society, and it seems like nothing is destined to work out properly. Her little sister Henry is wreaking havoc and refusing to submit to a governess. Toby is still not buckling down at school or acting anything like the King of Montmaray. Veronica is getting caught up in politics, making enemies, and generally behaving in a very unladylike manner. Will they ever find a way back to their beloved home? I’m not telling because there’s too much pleasure in the journey for me to spoil it for you.

The family dynamic is brilliant here again, as it was in the first book. There’s just the right balance between love and frustration as the siblings struggle to find some kind of comfort in this new situation. It works well how the unsettled position of the family mirrors the events unfolding in the larger political arena. Cooper succeeds in creating a book that is serious and sad in places and then is funny and charming in others. I think she’s able to manage it because of the eccentric cast of characters. They are memorable and complex. A wholly satisfying read. Lucky you if you haven’t read the first one yet. Find a couch and a cat and an afternoon and get started!

The FitzOsbornes in Exile is published by Knopf.




Ashes, Ashes – Plague & Pestilence Blog Tour

I’m very happy to be hosting Jo Treggiari on the Shelf today for a stop on her whirlwind “Plague and Pestilence” Blog Tour in celebration of her fab new dystopian YA novel, Ashes, Ashes.

Welcome Jo!

What was it like taking yourself to such a dark place every time you sat down to write? Did you have a happy-making antidote to all that post-apocalyptic intensity?

It was hard. I submerge myself so deeply into the story when I’m writing it, that it affects my real life. I almost have panic attacks. My antidotes are long walks with my husband, play time with my kids who always make me laugh, and lots of chocolate and red wine.

Why do you think this genre is so appealing to so many readers?

I actually was surprised when the whole dystopian/post apocalyptic genre exploded. I wrote Ashes, Ashes a couple of years ago and it was still all about sexy vampires at that time. I think that people are always looking ahead, worrying about the future. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction takes those fears and maximizes them, gives us the worst case scenario. Maybe the situations we face don’t seem so bad in comparison. Or maybe we just enjoy fictional disasters on a massive scale.

If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?

*Books. There are so many that have inspired me. Even the bad ones teach me something about writing. My favorites include A Wizard of Earthsea, The Golden Compass, The Hobbit, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Hunger Games, Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, The Wind Singer by William Nicholson, & The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. But there are many, many more.

*My friends are a huge inspiration. I have the best friends in the world.

*I think a lot about morality, the difficulty of making choices especially when they affect others, bravery, being a good person.

*Travel has been a huge inspiration. I’d love to be involved in global student exchange programs. I think so many problems arise when people don’t have a world-view and aren’t exposed to other cultures.

*It’s a toss-up between art and nature. But they’re sort of the same thing, aren’t they? Mother Nature just does it better.

I used to work at a great bookstore, and one favourite topic of conversation was: “What special and essential skill could you offer if you lived in a post-apocalyptic community?” (Mine was baking cookies, by the way, because we all know there would be chocolate chips after the apocalypse, right?) So, what would be yours?

I trained as a boxer for 5 years and I know how to drop a big man with one punch. Also I know how to skin a rabbit.

What is something you learned through writing this novel (about writing, about the world, about surviving the end of the world…)?

I learned that the most important rule of writing is to get your butt in the chair. There is no secret trick to writing a book. You have to show up and you have to work. And then you have to revise and revise and revise and….

If you had to choose a motto to guide you in your writing journey, what would it be and why?

I used to have a post-it above my desk which said “Trust the little voice”. That’s the voice that whispers to me to keep going when all the louder voices are telling me that I suck and to give up.

Of all the ways the world could end – and I’m sure you’ve spent time imagining many of them – what way frightens you the most?

Nuclear war.

Now that is a cheery way to end an interview! Thanks for being here Jo.

FYI, you can listen to Chapter One of Jo’s novel here, and you can listen to an interview with her here. For the complete schedule of stops on Jo’s tour, click here.

Ashes, Ashes is published by Scholastic.

Ashes, Ashes

Ah the apocalypse. Will we ever get tired of reading about you? These days, you can’t turn around in the YA section of the bookstore or library without a posse of post-apocalyptic tales vying for your attention. “Hey, check me out! I’m tough! I’m thrilling! I’ll give you all the doom you’ve ever dreamed of!” Jo Treggiari’s new novel, Ashes, Ashes, is likely to find its way into the hands of doom-lovers, and I doubt they will be disappointed.

Treggiari’s story gets in just about every nasty end-of-the-world scenario you could imagine: epidemics, floods, and droughts have combined to deliver the end of the world to just about everyone. 99% of the planet’s population is gone. Lucy, our heroine, is one of the few survivors. She has been living in what used to be Central Park, barely making it by foraging and hunting. Events conspire to pull her from this isolated existence. She joins with a group of other survivors and soon after, it becomes apparent that they are not safe. A mysterious army known of “Sweepers” is coming after many of those left behind, stealing them away to an unknown fate. Lucy and the others must fight to find their way towards some kind of future together.

This is the kind of book you’ll read in an afternoon if you have the time. It pulls you in. Treggiari is strong at plotting, and really outstanding at describing this post-apocalyptic setting. You can see it and hear it and smell it. This is a very visual read, which I always enjoy and I think is challenging for a writer to achieve consistently from start to finish. I felt that the author really took the time to imagine this world and to create it for us. In some ways, I felt that the characters were just vehicles for the action, and I might have liked to sink into their thoughts and histories and perspectives a bit more throughout the narrative. Not all of the characters came to life for me in the same way as the setting did. There is a bit of everything in this book. It’s a survival story, a post-apocalyptic portrait, a wilderness tale, a mystery, and all this with a hint of romance. Yet it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be or to do too much. It’s satisfying. It’s fun. (Can I say that about a book about plagues and tsunamis and the end of the world? Well, I just did). It’s like a fabulous summer action flick that you are very happy to discover actually has substance. I’ll be reading whatever Jo Treggiari writes next.

Ashes, Ashes is published by Scholastic Press.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys lit Wire)

It’s a miracle! One-word reviews!

It’s been pretty darn quiet on the Elf front lately. Sorry folks. I cannot seem to work, plan a wedding, blog, and exist. Things are probably going to get even patchier here on the shelf as the big day / honeymoon in paradise approaches. I’m just warning you. I’m reading – honest – but I don’t have a lot of brain available right now for the critical thinking part.

I am now going to impress you with my amazing one-word reviews!

Here is my review of this:


And this:


And this:


Perhaps once my brain has stopped obsessing about whether or not I must have one of these:

or fixating on how long it will take me to punch out a kazillion heart-shaped confetti bits from my old copy of this:

I may once again be able to present respectable reviews on a regular basis.

Have patience.

The Elf will return.



Guest Post: Uma Krishnaswami

Welcome to Uma Krishnaswami, who’s here with a guest post today for her blog tour in celebration of her book, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. She’s hear to share her thoughts on…

Dreams and Dreaming in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

“Marjorie Coughlan of PaperTigers wrote: “I have to admit, I did try looking Swapnagiri up on a map and I couldn’t find it. Is Swapnagiri a real place or did you invent it?” The question made me happy, because it meant that the town in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything felt real even though I’d made it up. And that’s the most basic and the most important work of a writer of fiction, to create a dream that the reader can enter into.

In some ways this story is all about the rainbow-colored spaces between reality and dreams. The name of the town, Swapnagiri, translates to Dream Mountain, a point that isn’t lost on our Dini. People seem to come to this place bringing their dreams. Dini has hers, of course, but Dolly too is chasing a dream, and so, it turns out, are several minor characters. Dini’s mom moved the family here in pursuit of her professional dream. The place is practically a vortex that pulls dreamers in. That’s the structural part of dreams in the story, the way they ended up being placed right into the motivations of characters and the events that follow from them. They’re not just an overlay or an afterthought. I don’t think there should be a single story element that’s just tacked on. It should all belong.

There is only one actual dream sequence in the book–the one where Dini’s really exhausted. She dreams she’s chasing after Dolly in the tea garden but she can’t catch up with her. Not a pleasant dream, which makes the point that you can’t always count on your dreams to soothe and comfort.

A single choice of name can have all kinds of domino effects when you write fiction. Pick a word and your mind begins to play with that word, making associations that you don’t realize until suddenly you’re writing them down. A few months after I’d begun working on this story, “Dreamycakes” popped into my mind as the name for the bakery, which had already gone through a couple of drafts just being called “?? Bakery.” As the name settled into place the character of the baker grew, so that his dream began to play a role in the story. It causes the place to be closed at one point when Dini really needs a taste of chocolate. It also causes the baker’s silly and irrational fears. That’s the part I love about writing fiction. Make one word choice and three or four days later it might lead to a larger story choice–a plot turn, a reversal, an action on the part of a character. I love it when I put something down on the page and find myself thinking, Wow, how did that get there? Did I know that all along? Did I dream it without realizing it?”


Finally, if you are interested, there is a giveaway being offered. Here are the goodies:

And here are the details:

A Grand Giveaway! Three lucky Grand Prize winners will each receive one copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING along with a starry assortment of bangles and trinkets that Dolly Singh, famous famous Bollywood movie star, would adore! An additional 3 runners-up will receive a copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING. To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you’re under 13, submit a parent’s name and e-mail address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.