Keelie Heartwood, her dad, and most of the folks who worked the Colorado Ren Faire in The Tree Shepherd's Daughter are now preparing for another fair, this time in New York State. She's spent five days crossing the country in her father's cozy (read: cramped) "Swiss Chalet on wheels" and she's feeling especially bummed out because her sort-of boyfriend Sean (who happens to be an elf) is in Florida at a different fair and her only girlfriend on the East Coast is currently interning in the city. She is, however, looking forward to a visit from her best friend from—and only real connection to—her old life in Los Angeles.
But life is never uncomplicated for a half-human/half-elf Tree Shepherd-in-Training: the trees at the new campground are extremely angry, there seems to be a sick unicorn in the woods, Sean hasn't written once, rotten Elia and her even-more-rotten father are up to No Good (again), she doesn't know how to (or even if she should) hide her new-found powers and identity from her best friend, and possibly worst of all, due to an impulse purchase, she's stuck as this year's Jill o' the Faire.
Into the Wildewood is very much the middle book in a trilogy, in that it mainly felt like the author* was gearing up for Book Three. There's a bit of catch-new-readers-up-to-speed at the beginning**, but then the book falls into a pattern much like the first: Keelie has comical problems working the Faire, Elia is nasty, Keelie finds herself in the middle of whatever's going on with the trees, her father doesn't want her to get involved but is unable to fix it so she has to disobey him, and we hear bits and pieces to pique our interest about the Dread Forest, where (I assume) the third book will be set.
That might make it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, but I did, and I'm certainly looking forward to the third one—especially because there were a few events towards the end of the book that might change things up a bit in Book Three. Keelie is a likable heroine and very easy to relate to, I love the Ren Faire setting, and while, yes, this book wasn't all that different from the first one, quite often, that's exactly what series-readers are looking for. I did find the environmental message a tad heavy-handed, but then again, the main characters are Tree Shepherds, so the message at least fits the storyline and the characters' concerns.
*Well, authorS. Gillian Summers is actually two people: Berta Platas and Michelle Roper.
**Enough that starting in the middle of the series shouldn't be an issue for anyone, but not enough to bother people who read them back-to-back.
Sort of relatedly, the president of our library's Friends group gave me a copy of Colin Watson's Charity Ends at Home because, according to her, no one would buy it except one of the two of us, and she'd already read it. She described Colin Watson as the anti-Agatha Christie, in that his Flaxborough novels are set in a quaint little English hamlet that is actually a Seething Den of Corruption and Vice. I AM SO EXCITED.
AVC: In 1997, you ended your run at the Voice and started focusing on writing and illustrating children's books, which is what you've mostly been doing since.
JF: It had nothing to do with giving up the strip. It had to do with giving up the theater. I always need an obsession, something that occupies me on long-term things. The strip is a day's work, or a day and a half at most. I need something that's going to make me think of character and events and storyline and what happens here, and if she does this, then what does he do? This makes me very happy, to do this kind of work. What happened was, a good friend of mine wanted me to write his children's book that he was going to illustrate, and then we had a difference of opinion, and I got so mad, I said, "Okay, fuck you, I'll write my own children's book, and it will be better than yours," and that's what I did.
Most of the children's book stuff is on the last page, but I found the whole interview interesting -- I loved the section about political cartoons. And what do you think about the upcoming musical adaptation of The Man in the Ceiling? Huh? Huh?
Fifteen-year-old Chloe Saunders spends a lot of time alone, as her mother died when Chloe was in first grade and her father is often away on business. She looks so young for her age that waiters still automatically hand her the kiddie menu, and she hasn't yet had her first period. The day it finally comes, everything changes, and not in good way.
She starts seeing people that other people don't see and hearing people that other people don't hear. Due to her (very understandable, at least to the reader) freakout at school, after a brief hospital stay she is whisked away to Lyle House, a group home for disturbed teens. It doesn't take her long to realize that the kids in Lyle House seem to have something in common other than being disturbed -- and that that commonality might have something to do with the secret history of the house...
The Summoning takes absolutely no work on the reader's part. It's an entertaining, quick and easy read. The storyline mostly kept me interested, but I was never fully engaged because the characters never felt all that well-developed. It's the beginning of a series, and it does have that pilot feel*, which, for me, gets old fast. I'm sure I'll read the rest of the series as it is released, but even with the cliffhanger ending, I'm not dying to know what happens next -- and a big part of that is that, well, it's been done. I'd like to make a list of books of this type, but just throwing the list criteria out there would be a big spoiler -- so I'll put that up in the comments.
Oh, and the necklace she's holding on the cover? If that's supposed to be the necklace her mother gave her... it doesn't even remotely resemble what was described in the book.
Regardless of my lukewarm-to-tepid meh feelings, I do think it'll be popular among teens who are enjoying the many, many urban and paranormal fantasy novels that have been appearing over the last few years and I think it'll also be a good pick for reluctant readers -- especially the ladies.
*Where everyone and everything has to be introduced.
This article about a challenge to Uncle Bobby's Wedding (Guinea pigs! In tuxedos!) led me to the blog of the library director who had to deal with the challenge. He's posted the letter he wrote to the patron who objected to the book -- it's well worth a read.
Do you think part of The Book Thief’s success was that it appeals to such a broad audience of both teens and adults?
The Book Thief’s success is still a mystery to me. I actually thought it wouldn’t get an audience at all. I thought, A 580 page book set in Nazi Germany, narrated by death…Who wants to read that? Maybe its success is in the very thing that people warn authors against - to risk being trapped in a kind of wasteland between YA and adult fiction. Maybe it’s actually a good place to be. If people are arguing over the right category for the book, they are at least discussing it. It might even lead to a discussion about whether the book is simply a good book, and that’s a positive thing too. After all, when someone loves a book, they never say that they loved that Young Adult Sci-Fi Comedy or that Adult Crime Thriller. They just say ‘I loved that book,’ and that, really, is my goal as a writer.