Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fantasy Novels In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a book blog meme that was started by The Story Siren and has spread so that more than two hundred blogs regularly participate. By joining the meme, bloggers are able to showcase books that they have purchased/received (not necessarily in the mail literally), before they actually read and review them. Basically, IMM is a forum for book bloggers to geek out about getting their hands on new books – because we all have to admit that we get really excited about new books. Concerned friends and family members might even say we get too excited, and it’s nice to share our elation with other book-lovers who understand.

I am excited that this past week, I received several beautiful editions to supplement my Focus on Fantasy Reading Challenge list. So without further ado, let’s get to it:

Redwall by Brian Jacques. This series is a classic Children’s series from the 80s/90s, but since I wasn’t really into genre fiction when I was a kid, I never read Jacques’s novels about heroic mice from Redwall Abbey and Mossflower country. I’m starting with Redwall, and if I enjoy the story, I plan on reading more of the series in short order. I bought a beautiful hardcover anniversary edition of Redwall, which has adorable illustrations of Matthias mouse wielding his sword over the nasty-looking rat Cluny, and I was excited to find when it arrived that it was a signed copy! The pictures are so cute that I have already eagerly dived into the first few chapters… so expect a review later this week.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate di Camillo. Another story about cute mice and nasty rats, both my husband and I LOVED di Camillo’s Newbery-winning novel the first time that we read it. That was several years ago, so I ordered a beautiful hardcover copy to re-read for Focus on Fantasy. The story is about Despereaux Tilling, a tiny but large-eared mouse who is a disappointment to his mother but becomes an unlikely hero to the young Princess Pea. I cannot stress how happy this book made me the first time around fanciful writing and adorable tale of Despereaux’s love… I’m really looking forward to the re-read.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Although I’m sure I saw the Disney version of Peter Pan when I was younger, it was probably only once – the version that I remember much more clearly is a filmed version of the stage play staring actress Mary Martin. I even remember some of the actors’ and actresses’ voice inflections as they performed certain famous lines. Honestly, though, I thought a lot of the story elements were kind of lame at the time – which may be the fault of seeing someone wearing a nightcap pretending to be a giant dog. There is, of course, the more sophisticated movie Hook, the Robin Williams and Julia Roberts version of the Peter Pan story. That I remember with slightly more respect, but not any particular fondness. Sadly, though, I never read the actual novel as a child! I ran across this absolutely gorgeous collector’s edition in the bookstore and felt inspired – the watercolor illustrations are so beautiful, the pages so thick, that I already feel as though I’ve been transported to another world just by picking up the book and thumbing through it. As I’ve started to read it, I’ve enjoyed the story a lot more – the whimsical, magical elements seem a lot more believable and even brilliant to me when communicated through text. I guess I was just too distracted by Mary Martin’s obvious suspension on wires to really fall in love with the story.

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Here is yet another book that I should have read as a child but didn’t. I loved Pooh and his friends from the Disney cartoons (but I don’t believe that I’ve even seen all the movies). I still have a stuffed Piglet and a stuffed Tigger… but it’s high time that I read the classic tales penned by A.A. Milne himself. I can't wait to find out what Milne's prose is actually like. I've heard that it can be fairly witty. I found this lovely little hardcover edition (now on sale! visit the Amazon link) with thick paper and gorgeous watercolors, and now I can’t wait for story-time at my bedtime.

Pegasus by Robin McKinley. Although I have long been a fan of both Newbery Winners/Honor books and Fantasy Literature, Robin McKinley has somehow escaped my attention until now. She has won the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword, both classics of YA Fantasy Lit that I will probably have to get my hands on now that I know about them. But Pegasus, her newest novel, caught my eye in the bookstore and I had been thinking about buying it for a while. I am intrigued by the idea of humans being tied to their own Pegasus, being bound in friendship to a creature with whom they cannot actually communicate. Although I have read a few other bloggers’ comments that Pegasus isn’t as good as McKinley’s older works, when I found the novel on sale for half off, I couldn’t pass it up. If I enjoy Pegasus, I’ll know that reading her other books will only get even better.

The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch. This novel was recently published in March and caught my attention when reviewed by Khy at Frenetic Reader, so when I received a digital ARC for Atomic Weight on netgalley (one of my first!), I decided that I wanted to try to include this in my Focus on Fantasy, even though it doesn’t seem to qualify as High Fantasy. The novel is about five inventors’ extremely gifted children who are taken from their parents by the “men in black” mentioned in the alternate title, taken to an isolated farm in Dayton, Ohio and forced to complete a mysterious project that will have international implications. It seems as though this project has been in the works for some time, though, because the five of them have all been taught the same poem at a young age, yet no other rhymes or poems in their entire lives. The children are confused to realize these and other things about their mysterious upbringing, bewildered and frightened that their parents haven’t tried to contact them, and worried that their mothers and fathers might have likewise been kidnapped by the men in black. They feel that their only hope of rescuing their parents is to complete this mysterious invention, no matter what the other consequences. This sounds pretty fantastical in its own way, and I’m quite curious about the novel. So I thought I’d pair all the classics that are in my TBR pile with a new addition to the world of Fantasy/Science Fiction…

Have you read any of these classics of Children’s and Young Adult Fantasy? Do you have any fond memories of these stories? Share your memories and any Fantasy recommendations that you have in the Comments section. Thanks!


  1. A great selection! You managed to pick up great books this week, I hope you enjoy them all.

    Happy reading,



  2. I tried reading Redwall when I was younger but was never really able to get into it. Although I think if I tried to read it now I'd really enjoy it.

    And I used to love the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan. We must have had a copy of it on VHS, because there are certain parts that I must have memorized

  3. Fab set! I loved Redwall when I was a kid. I want to read Pegasus too.
    My IMM

  4. I highly recommend the Jason Isaacs version of Peter Pan. It came out like five years ago, and while there are still differences from the play, I think this one captures the essence of Peter Pan and Hook and better than the Disney one (And the Dustin Hoffman movie is really a different story altogether, so I don't really count that one!)

  5. +JMJ+

    I'm familiar with all of these except The Atomic Weight of Secrets (which is a freaking fantastic title!).

    In fact, my copy of Redwall is by my side as I type this! =P

    Peter Pan was one of the best books I reread last year. I saw so many wonderful things in it that I didn't see the first couple of times I read it.


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