Category Archives: Crossover Books

The American Heiress

What is a girl to do while waiting for Season 3 of Downton Abbey? (Because it’s going to be a looong wait people… a long wait). Well I have something that might make the time pass a shade more quickly. Daisy Goodwin’s debut, The American Heiress, could not have come at a better moment. I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey enough that the hubs will have nothing more to do with it. The American Heiress is made for pining Downton fans, and it is deliciously rich in historical detail, drama, and romance. It oozes atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, I think this review could use a little background music:


(I must mention that I recently entered the 21st century and got an iPhone. Do I need to tell you what my ringtone is? Let’s just say that Downton imbues even the most ordinary phone call with serious drama. It’s important to make your own fun in this life).

Goodwin’s book introduces us to Cora Cash, an incredibly wealthy American heiress whose mother will stop at nothing to get her daughter married to a Brit with a title. She imagines Cora as a duchess and she soon finds a way to make it happen. After a courtship so speedy it’s nearly indecent, Cora gets married to a handsome and highly eligible duke and becomes the Duchess of Wareham overnight. Naturally, hers is far from a simple marriage and everything quickly turns messy and secretive and page-turny. Cora discovers that her money can accomplish a great deal but it cannot secure happiness. She must depend on her ingenuity and American spunk to navigate the tricky waters of English society.

It’s a pleasure to read a book that is in the end, all about fun. It reads like Goodwin had a good time writing it and you feel like you are meant to just soak up the stylish details and the scandal and enjoy being entertained. It’s lush and evocative. You can really see the world that Goodwin describes. I’d say that it’s light on the downstairs drama, which sets it apart from Downton in one respect. However, there’s plenty of betrayal and many hidden agendas upstairs to keep you interested, so not to worry. With such a strong sense of place and a main character who is spirited and complex enough to be memorable, I’d say that The American Heiress will more than satisfy your longing for a little more Downton. Perfect reading when your hubby has gone out for the night and you are home alone with a cat and a box of bonbons. Seriously, I speak from experience.

The American Heiress is published by St. Martin’s Press.



First off, good news! My pooch is home. He was home for Christmas. He has spent the bulk of the past five days sleeping in front of the tree (good boy!) in his fleece-lined doggy hoodie, being patted and whispered to and told that he is wonderful and wise and brave. The other day the tree nearly fell on him (good thing he had the quick reflexes to leap out of the way at the last moment), which was scary, but otherwise, it’s been a quiet Christmas. He needs some serious fattening up, so we’re working on that, one tiny liver treat at a time.

Having my hound back home again providing premium contented background snores has cheered me up for hours of happy holiday reading. Matched is the first book I finished and the last before moving on to my Christmas books. I’d say it is the perfect curl-up-on-the-couch-and-go-nowhere book because you’re pulled quickly into the dystopian world and the love triangle at the heart of the story.

Cassia has always been a good girl, a rule-following member of the Society, trusting and happy to have so many of life’s most important decisions made for her, like who she will marry, for instance. At her matching ceremony, Cassia is thrilled to learn that her match is Xander, her long-time friend. It makes sense and it feels right. But when another boy’s face flashes on the screen for a moment before it blacks out, Cassia does not know what to think. Is the other boy, Ky Markham, her true match? This so-called “glitch” changes Cassia’s perspective forever, leading her to wonder what it would be like to have the freedom to make her life her own, to read whatever she wanted, to go where she wished, to write the words she keeps inside her head.

I’d say that anyone who liked Divergent should enjoy Matched. There’s less action and more romance, but it’s just as compelling and the dystopian society is immediately intriguing. I liked how Condie weaves in Dylan Thomas’s poetry without making this element seem forced or emo. My only quibble is that it is perhaps too focused on the Ky + Cassia romance, with Cassia swooning over Ky fairly constantly, which I found tiresome in a few places. However, I suppose it makes sense that she is completely focused on love and her romantic future at the time in her life when she is being matched. (Also, try not to mind the weirdly squished green girl in the bubble on the cover. I get the symbolism, but I’m not loving the design). I am curious to see where Condie takes this story in the second book, which I believe is told from both Cassia and Ky’s perspectives.

There’s a website devoted to the series. I’m expected Crossed to show up sometime in the next six months at my library, given that I’m 126 out of 400 people waiting for it. I’ll be excited when it’s my turn.

Matched is published by Penguin.

Scribbling Women Blog Tour: Marthe Jocelyn

I’m thrilled to be a stop on Day Two of Marthe Jocelyn‘s “Scribbling Women” blog tour. Marthe is celebrating the release of her latest book, Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives, published by Tundra Books.

In Scribbling Women, Marthe introduces readers to eleven tremendous and inspiring women, all of whom happen to be writers. They come from across the world, span centuries, and all had unique motivations for writing. I confess I had heard of only a few of these women before reading this book. Part of what makes this a satisfying and thought-provoking read is that it makes you wonder how many other women there must have been through history who wrote, for themselves, for others, for pleasure and other purposes. Jocelyn’s book is a window into the thoughts of extraordinary women, with such diversity of experience and perspective. And spirit – they’ve all got a lot of spirit. You cannot close this book without feeling overwhelmed by the gutsiness of these women, who prove that writing can be as bold and world-changing an act as almost anything you could think of. Each of the snapshot chapters moves at an engaging clip. Jocelyn includes a lot of research in a short space, and succeeds in making you curious to learn more about each of her subjects.

I think that it is definitely a book more for a reader in her early twenties, or very late teens, than for anyone much younger. The tone is accessible, but the language is sophisticated. I imagine that a particular interest in history would be required for a younger reader to pick it up. I think it would be the perfect high school (or university) graduation gift for a young woman who is considering what she wants to accomplish in her life, and the direction she wants to go next. You can tell that this book was a labour of love for Marthe, and that it was written by a woman who possesses a hugely curious mind, who loves to learn and is excited by the rich, story-filled expanse of history. It could very well make you want to pick up a pen and scribble a little yourself.

I asked Marthe to share her response to a question I had after reading her book: Considering what you’ve learned about your subjects through writing SCRIBBLING WOMEN, and your own experience as a scribbler yourself, describe the perils / rewards / challenges / motivators that many woman writers experience.

Here’s what she had to say:

“Being a writer as well as a woman used to arouse suspicion, dismissal, or even downright danger. There is no need, for instance, to designate a Men’s History Month, because their opinions and statistics dominate the records. Women’s history, until perhaps the last few decades, was traditionally hidden or subversive; quiet accounts locked in drawers or passed along as told stories.

But I have to admit that in my experience – in the comfort of contemporary North America – writing is no longer a perilous or audacious occupation. I do, however, have an aspect of a writer’s life to rant about… There is the commonly held belief that creating books for children is ‘adorable’ or ‘fun’. Writing a book is tremendously challenging, no matter who the audience. But a child reading a book, discovering a fact or a character or a world for the first time, is far more likely to be imprinted and inspired than anyone beyond his or her teen years. How foolish to suggest that such a responsibility is adorable. If we, the kid-writers, can snag a child’s imagination, we will provide the ‘grown-up’ writers with readers for life.”

Don’t you love that? There’s a rant I’ll stand behind. Thank you Marthe!

For more information about Scribbling Women, for the rest of the Scribbling Women blog tour schedule, and for details about how to enter an amazing giveaway where you could win a giant collection of Marthe’s books, visit Talking with Tundra.

Never Let Me Go

If I tell you that this is the first adult book I’ve read in months and it is also the best adult book I’ve read in a while, does that mean that you won’t take me seriously when I tell you I haven’t read an adult book that blew me away like this for a long time? Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is one beautiful book. I know it’s not new, but the film just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, so it’s getting a second round of attention, and let me tell you, it deserves it.

I confess. I picked it up for the cover. (I would like to have a fall outfit in exactly the muted, rainy day shades of this book). I’m sort of a sucker for movie tie-in remakes of covers. I admit it. The story itself matches the mood of the cover to perfection. It’s quiet, understated and wistful, full of longing and atmosphere. It’s sad. It made me think. It pulled me in.

And it’s really hard to review without giving important plot points away. In the vaguest of terms, it’s about three friends who grew up at an elite school in the English countryside. The students at Hailsham have a special and terrible destiny, and much of the novel presents them as they begin to come to an awareness of what their futures hold. The rest is about what happens once they know. A big part of the brilliance of the work is how Ishiguro gives just hints of the devastating reality of the characters’ world. So when it is revealed, you had an idea of what was going to happen but it’s still awful to have it finally brought out into the open. The relationships between the three main characters are memorable and complicated.

I think it has crossover book written all over it. I’m sure teens will take a lot away from it, and it would be an ideal book club choice, because of the ethical questions it inspires.

Exquisite and affecting and highly recommended.

(P.S. Don’t watch the trailer for the film until you’ve read the book. It gives everything away in under 30 seconds).


Lynne Cox is the sort of person who makes you feel like you need to do more with your life. Not only has she set records for open-water swimming all over the world (beginning at the tender age of 14), she’s been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and in her free time, she’s written two remarkable, best-selling books. One of them is Grayson. It is a thrilling adventure, a dear fable, and a remarkable true story, and it kind of makes me wonder what other tremendous things have happened to Lynne Cox that she just needs to write down.

Grayson isn’t a long book, which makes it perfect for reading in one sitting. (I did, and I think you will too). In the opening chapter, Cox describes a training swim she completed very early one morning when she was 17 years old. It was no ordinary swim because something was in the water with her, swimming close by. Something big. Turns out it was a baby gray whale who had lost his mother somewhere in the vast Pacific. The whole of the book focuses on Lynne’s experience swimming with Grayson, as she tried to help him to find his mother. It’s magic. Really. If you are at all inclined to enjoy an animal story, or you’re up for some brilliantly evocative nature-writing, this book is exactly what you need.

I was surprised by how suspenseful the first chapter was, given that I obviously knew what was swimming with her. It’s the strength of the writing. The author’s simple but flawless style and often poetic descriptions make you feel like you are right there in the ocean with her, seeing everything she saw, feeling it all. It is unbelievable that someone could have the mental and physical endurance to stay in 50-degree water for that length of time. You’ll be left in no doubt that Cox is a crazy/gusty individual, truly one of a kind. If you really want to get a sense of Cox’s unusually bold (some might say insane) sense of adventure, you have to pick up her first book, Swimming to Antarctica, another real eye-opener.

This great book will make you want to go swim in the ocean, or the less adventurous might choose to visit an aquarium. Grayson is an ode to nature’s mysteries and majesty, a moving small-scale portrait of the connection between humans and other creatures on Earth.

Grayson is published by Harcourt.

(This is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

Calpurnia Tate – absolutely brilliant

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly is certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It really got me. It’s not a sad book, but there is something about this story and the central character that made me feel full of emotion when I turned the last page. It is a story to make you feel full, that’s for sure, as you’ll be spoiled by the language and the attention to detail in characterization. After reading reviews from some of my favourite bloggers (like this one, and this one), I bought a copy a few months back, but I’ve been saving it for my holiday to enjoy every page properly.

And there is so, so much to enjoy in this novel. It would be a crime to read it quickly.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is the story of eleven-year-old Calpurnia (Callie Vee), the only girl in a family of seven children. It’s 1899, and Callie is a thinker and a dreamer – qualities not exactly practical for a girl growing up at this time in a sleepy Texas town. She knows her own mind, and she likes to investigate things. After being given a notebook by her beloved older brother, Callie befriends her eccentric and forbidding grandfather and he teaches Callie how to become a naturalist. The two study the natural world around their home, and in the process, Callie builds a close relationship with her granddaddy and discovers her true passion for science.

I’ve read a few reviews in which the reviewers comment that they found the book slow in places, particularly at the beginning, and they also wondered about the intended audience of the book. I did not find it at all slow. In fact, I was surprised at how a book rather episodic in its structure held me completely captivated throughout. Each chapter is like a short story, zeroing in on a small moment in this one year in the Tate family, drawing out the events so perfectly that even the smallest thing turns out to be full of drama and meaning. As for audience, I’m in agreement that I don’t think it will be a book that will work for every child reader, but then, what book does? The extensive descriptions and sometimes elevated language might turn off some readers used to more plot-driven, action-packed narratives, but then these qualities will likely be exactly what makes the book appealing to others. I’ve seen the book labeled as Middle Grade, and Young Adult, and I think that it could work for readers in both groups.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that towards the end of the novel you will truly yearn for Calpurnia to be able to have the opportunity to pursue her dreams of scientific study and inquiry. Kelly conveys brilliantly how intensely her character feels the injustice of being limited in her future simply because she is female. I’ve read a lot of books set in this period about young women characters who wish for more than the typical future of marriage and motherhood, but they are not always as convincing in portraying the frustration and sense of hopelessness of the protagonist.

I sincerely hope that Calpurnia takes her place among the most memorable girl characters in children’s literature. She belongs there. And the ending. It is one of the most understated yet emotionally powerful endings I’ve read in a while. Just perfectly done.

Read Hip Writer Mama’s excellent recent Winter Blog Blast Tour interview with Jacqueline Kelly here.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is published by Henry Holt.

Lost Worlds

I wasn’t really sure how to tag Lost Worlds by John Howe: Middle Grade? Picture Book? Illustration? Crossover? Adult? Nonfiction? Bottom line? This book will appeal to all sorts of readers.

I can tell you one thing, whatever category you slide it into, it’s one beautiful looking book. It is shouting, “Give me to someone this holiday season! Give me to someone!” Especially give me to someone who has a hankering for history or fantasy or outstanding artwork.

Lost worlds is a collection of research, theories, photographs and illustrations about numerous worlds “abandoned in time, buried and forgotten… and the ones that live in the imagination” (from Howe’s introduction). You’ll find pages on Eden, Thebes, Pompeii, Persepolis, Teotihuacan, Camelot, Faerie and many more. Then there’s an appendix of more lost worlds at the end. For those non-Tolkien types, Howe was one of two lead concept artists for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The guy knows fantasy. He even managed to snag Sir Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf from the LOTR movies), to write a foreward to this book.

The illustrations inspire spine-tingles in their epic style, strong sense of mood, and their dramatic detail and colouring. (I’m not kidding. I have goosebumps right now as I’m staring at the illustration of Morgan Le Fay holding Arthur on the boat bearing his body to the isle of Avalon. Wow). In fact, the artwork is so strong, that it’s kind of hard to even take your focus away for long enough to read the text. This is the kind of book I would look at first, and then read. The text is packed with history and legend, and I liked the way that photographs of actual landscapes, sites, and ancient relics are blended with Howe’s pictures. This really adds to the overall richness of the content.

Here’s John Howe, talking about the book:

I must mention that the design of the cover is, in a word, awesome. It will bring to mind the “ology” books (Dragonology, Egyptology etc), which will certainly pull in fans of those titles. The window reveals only a glimpse of the stunning illustration of Atlantis that you see when you open the book. So dramatic. You’ll stare at it for a long time before you even want to head into the rest of the text. That’s exactly what this book will do to a reader: stop you in your tracks, again and again. This is one to linger over, to browse through for hours. Give this to a fantasy-loving kid (or grown up) this holiday and you probably won’t see him/her for the rest of the day. They’ll be lost – in a good way.

Lost Worlds is published by Kingfisher.

Perfect Witchy Combo


Saturday is one of the best nights of the year in my neighborhood: Halloween. It’s the best because my street is one of the premium attractions in the city (in my unbiased opinion) due to the fact that six houses down from us is a full-on Halloween-inspired musical production staged on the front lawn. Each year it’s a different theme, but the show always has lights, sound, costumes, a stage, backdrop and usually a giant screen attached to the front of the second storey of the house. A bunch of families on the street get together to put on the show, so there are kids and adults involved and it’s always hilarious. They do about 4 shows throughout the night and the street is basically shut down to traffic the crowd gets so big. Since we’re so close, we get a lot of trick-or-treaters. A lot. Like 250+ a lot. It’s great. For us it’s pizza and mini chocolate bars on the porch with friends who bring pumpkins so that we end up with a whole bunch glowing up and down our front steps.

Inspired by the year’s spookiest holiday, I present two witchy reads that I delighted in over the summer: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, and Witch Child by Celia Rees. I had read Rees’ book before, and loved it, so this time I thought I’d get the audiobook for something different. Can I tell you how excited I was when I found out that it is narrated by Jennifer Ehle? (If you don’t know why that is exciting, then I’m guessing you’ve never watched this, say, 5 times. Go. Watch). I ended up listening to the one while reading the other, which was perfect, and I highly recommend this approach if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all-things witchy this Halloween.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is an adult title, but I think it has some crossover potential with the right, academically-inclined sort of teen. It has a past/present structure that I often find appealing, when it’s handled well. In the present the story centres around Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin, who is just about to choose a subject for her doctoral dissertation and then spend the summer researching. Her mother asks her to take care of selling her grandmother’s old house close to Salem, and when Connie arrives at the run-down place, she finds herself falling under its spell. She discovers a key hidden in an old Bible and inside the key is a small piece of parchment with a name written across it: Deliverance Dane. Connie begins investigating and as she learns more about this mysterious woman she wonders if there are ties that bind her to Salem in ways she had never imagined. She begins hunting for a book that she believes belonged to Deliverance – a physick book containing secrets, both medical and spiritual, of days long gone. Set against the present day narrative is the story of Deliverance and her family and their struggles as they get caught up in the witch trials of the 1690s.

This is a good book to cosy down with on an afternoon when you don’t have anything to do (because I know we’ve all got lots of afternoons like that, right?), preferably a chilly afternoon involving a couch, a blanket, a cat and a cup of tea. It will draw you in and Howe creates an atmosphere of mystery right from the start. The descriptions of the grandmother’s old house, almost completely closed off from the world by vines and ivy and garden, are especially vivid. I thought it was an interesting and innovative idea to approach this oft-used historical period from the perspective that witchcraft may indeed have been real, just not in exactly the way you might imagine. Two tiny complaints in an otherwise completely enjoyable read. First, the sections of the book set in the 1680s and 90s felt outweighed by the narrative in the present day. At times, I was frustrated that more attention and length wasn’t given to the plot thread in the past, since it was sometimes more compelling than the events with Connie. I found myself flicking ahead to see when the next “past” section was coming up. Also, I felt like it took too long for Connie to find the physick book, almost to the point that the tension dissipated. I can see why Howe might have chosen to delay, but there was some lag in the momentum about 3/4 of the way through the book. Overall, a moody, semi-suspenseful look at a popular historical period, with a new angle that will make you rethink the witch trials.

Witch Child is the perfect teen warm-up for Deliverance Dane, in the way that it presents witchcraft as a real practice, but not a devilish one. Mary Nuttall witnesses her beloved grandmother hung as a witch and then a mysterious and beautiful woman whisks her away from this nightmare to safety. The woman has arranged for Mary to travel to the New World, where she will become a part of a community of Puritans. Too bad those Puritans aren’t any keener on witches than the English folk Mary left behind. It really is too bad, because Mary is a witch. She admits to it. When she arrives in the New World she ends up in Salem and she learns that keeping her power secret is as difficult and important as ever. I found Witch Child to be completely gripping (you might say, bewitching… ha ha). It is in diary format, bringing you right inside Mary’s thoughts and point-of-view and Rees’ writing is evocative. I like it when you find a character in historical fiction who feels somehow contemporary in her perspective and concerns, but who remains true to the period. I suggest reading it and then listening, the way I did. Jennifer Ehle’s performance is exceptional. Too bad she hasn’t recorded the sequel.

There is a sequel to Witch Child, called Sorceress, but I haven’t read it for some time. Maybe I’ll get my hands on it before tomorrow. Perfect reading for when the candy runs out and we close down shop for the night.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is published by Voice. Witch Child is published by Candlewick (paperback edition).

Author/Illustrator Interview: Matt Phelan

stormI’m honored to have the amazingly talented Matt Phelan visiting Shelf Elf today for an interview about his upcoming graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn. His book is already snapping up many glowing reviews all around the kidlitosphere (right here, educating alice, Reading Rants, Welcome to my Tweendom) and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it’s on a fast train to Awardsville. This is a book to buy and linger over and read again and again. Welcome Matt!

How would you describe The Storm in the Barn to a potential reader?
The Storm in the Barn is a graphic novel set in the Dust Bowl about a boy who discovers a sinister figure hiding in the neighbor’s barn. It is part tall tale, part historical fiction, and part supernatural thriller.

What are you most proud of in this upcoming book?
The story was first and foremost in my mind. I wrote it first as a very detailed script, describing each individual panel. I started to worry about how it would look only after the story was set.

When you were working on this book, which came first, images or story?
Although I wrote the script before I began drawing, the initial inspiration for the book was visual. I was very influenced by the WPA photography of that time and it was those images of the Dust Bowl that started me thinking. Also, the villain of the story originated as an offhand doodle that I once made during a meeting at my old copywriting job.

In what ways do you think a typical urban kid in 2009 can relate to the experiences of Jack Clark, a kid growing up in the Dust Bowl?
I think Jack faces some universal challenges of being a kid: bullies, a feeling of uselessness, the desire to impress his father, the desire to save his family. I think most kids can relate to that feeling of being powerless yet wanting desperately to make things better.

The Wizard of Oz is an important element in The Storm in the Barn. Why did you choose to bring this text into your book? What did you hope it would add to the fabric of your story?
I wanted the book to be an American fairy tale and to incorporate elements of folklore and myth. The Jack Tales were the first stories I wanted to include, but since the story is set in Kansas, I naturally gravitated to the Oz books. They had been around for many years by the time this story takes place (1937) so I knew that these kids would be familiar with them (especially if you are a young girl in Kansas named Dorothy). Reading Ozma of Oz, I found some passages that I thought would work nicely as a sort of commentary on what was going on in my story. So I had Jack or Dorothy reading these passages out loud in two scenes. Continue reading

The Uninvited

timSpooky and summer go so well together, don’t you think? If you’re in the mood for a thriller to sink into while lounging on the dock, I can’t think of a better recommendation than Tim Wynne Jones’ latest, The Uninvited. Sure to spook your socks off, the story captivates in true Tim Wynne Jones style.

Mimi is desperate to get away, somewhere quiet and remote, somewhere far away from her mildly-stalkerish NYU professor/boyfriend. So she drives north, to her father’s cottage in Canada. It’s been years since he’s used the place, and when Mimi shows up she is shocked to discover there’s someone already living there. That person is Jay, a young musician who is using the rundown cottage as a space for writing his latest composition. When Jay first sees Mimi, he thinks she is the weirdo who is responsible for leaving strange and freaky things around the place – a dead bird and a snakeskin and other odd tokens. It doesn’t take long for the pair to realize that someone else is watching them both, someone who seems to want to frighten them, or worse.

I’ll read anything Tim Wynne Jones writes. His stuff is literary but never self-consciously so, and he creates characters that I always wish I could keep company with just a little bit longer. This is exactly the case in The Uninvited. Jay and Mimi and Cramer, the third main character, are so well drawn that I believed in them completely. Their motivations are complex and their histories messy. Tim Wynne Jones should know a thing or two about writing suspense. His first book, Odd’s End, was a prize-winning thriller, and he’s done a bunch of much-praised suspenseful novels for young people since then. Everything in this latest book is woven together in ways you don’t see at first, and then slowly, you begin to put the pieces into place.

The Uninvited is more than just a straightforward page-turner. It’s about creativity, family, lies and isolation. Oh, and the setting just rises right out of the pages till you can see the sun dappling the river and hear the wind through the trees. Perfect cottage book – just make sure you’ve got company.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne Jones is published by Candlewick, 2009.