The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

In her very clever debut novel The Princess Curse, author Merrie Haskell recasts the classic story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses and comes up with a highly entertaining mix of of fantasy, history, snappy dialogue, plants, classical references, and intrigue. Once begun, this novel is almost impossible to put down.

The Princess Curse stars 13-year-old Reveka, an herbalists' apprentice in a cursed castle in 15th century eastern Europe, who shows fierce intelligence, wit and grit as she battles what she sees as “the stupidest curse in existence! So what if the princesses are sleepy during the day, and their slippers are holey in the morning? It’s a curse of shoes and naps.” Breaking it, however, turns out to be quite a challenge, even for extraordinarily plucky Reveka. On her quest to win a huge reward, she meets a shadowy stranger, travels to the Underworld, and encounters a terrifying "zmeu," a dragon with a human form. The book is for readers about age 10 and up.

Happily for us around Ann Arbor, the author lives here and “works in a library with more than 7 million books, “ according to the book jacket, “and she finds this to be just about the right number.” She recently did a local reading at the U-M Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. I hope she does more readings and writes more books.

When Popular Books Become Popular Movies

You’ve probably heard many folks say, “the book is always better.” I won’t speculate as to whether that is true or not, but there’s definitely chatter. Sometimes it’s quite fun to see how a book is translated into a movie. At times it’s pretty true to the book, while other times it seems like more of an adaptation with added elements for dramatic flare. Then there are the instances where the book gets butchered and we declare “what have they done?!” It’s quite common for Hollywood to take bestselling books and turn them into blockbusters. Two adaptations recently released on DVD include the love stories Water for Elephants and One Day.

Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is the story of a veterinary student and a circus performer who fall in love during the Great Depression while sharing an interest in an elephant. The film is not only a love story, but also the tale of the circus people surrounding the couple.

In One Day, Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) begin a friendship that spans two decades after spending one day together, July 15, 1988. We catch a glimpse into their lives every so often on the anniversary of that day. Over the course of ups and downs and many life changes, Em and Dex realize they were meant to be together.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs' first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is a sci-fi/adventure/fantasy novel as weird and wonderful as the cover, on which a young girl is levitating. As the story begins, 16-year-old Jacob Portman is lonely, alienated, and bored in coastal Florida, unaware he is a “peculiar“ with an undiscovered gift. He adores Grandpa Abe, the only member of his family to have escaped the Nazis, and spends hours listening to Abe’s stories about having lived among weirdly gifted children on an island.

When Grandpa Abe is murdered, Jacob comes mentally unhinged, is sent to a psychiatrist, and travels with his dad to the island off Wales where his family hopes he will learn there is no basis for Abe’s crazy-sounding stories. Instead, Jacob’s home life -- in which he is the sole heir to a chain of SmartAid stores -- fades fast toward a spectacularly strange and infinitely dangerous new one. Jacob befriends other peculiars suspended in a time loop, while learning the truth about Abe’s past and his own remarkable future.

The novel is fast-paced, darkly strange, entertaining, and filled with compelling characters and exciting scenes. I enjoyed the bewitching black-and-white photographs throughout, although the story would have been great even without them. The novel is recommened for teens and young adults.

Dance With This

After finishing George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth installment in the Song of Fire and Ice saga, my only thought was “I wish I had the next book in my hands right now.” The Song of Fire and Ice series is nothing short of fantastic (and this is coming from a staunch non-fantasy reader). If you haven’t started reading the books yet, begin with A Game of Thrones and get to it.

I hadn't heard of George R.R. Martin until the HBO television series, “Game of Thrones”, made its debut. The show was incredible, but left me with a sense that the story had been altered. I read the first book to get a sense of what was missing; the writing drew me in until I finished all five volumes.

What makes this saga different from the typical fantasy novel is its initial portrayal of a civilization similar to our own. There are no supernatural elements to consider. Politics have become irreversibly complicated. The government is ineffectual at best. Religious factions are in competition to recruit followers. Magic is non-existent in daily life. But, in Martin’s world, the magic is slowly seeping back into society. Each kingdom is feeling the metaphysical shift, whether through dragons hatching or fires showing the future.


Gasland, a film about Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize Winner and was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In 2009, filmmaker Josh Fox learned that his home was on top of a rock formation containing natural gas. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land to undergo Halliburton’s controversial extraction process of hydraulic fracturing. He questioned the safety of fracking, and wanted to dig deeper, leading him an a cross-country, truth-seeking mission to answer some questions: Is the process safe? What are the effects on humans and the Earth? Fox learned fracking has caused everything from illness to flammable water. The film is an educational journey that is both disheartening and warm-hearted.

As part of AADL’s ongoing series of Films & Discussions, cosponsored by the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program, Gasland will be shown at the Downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, November 17, at 6 PM. A discussion led by the faculty and students of MCSP will follow the film. The event is recommended for grade nine to adult.


After years of sailing through space, travelling from port to port, Avice Benner Cho returns to her hometown, a tiny human colony on Arieka, a planet at the edge of the known universe in China Mieville's Embassytown. Sitting in the midst of a much larger alien city, Embassytown is where the humans live peacefully side by side with the Hosts. The city’s equilibrium is destroyed when the capitol sends a new Ambassador who can speak the impossible language of the Hosts despite having grown up on a different world. As human and Ariekene society crumbles, Avice races to prevent war between the two groups while searching for a cure for the new affliction crippling the Hosts.

Miéville is a master storyteller. The undercurrent of espionage running throughout the story leaves the reader feeling unsure who to trust. Miéville knows that words have power, and that is never truer than in Embassytown.

The Criterion Collection’s Kes

The Criterion Collection has released a newly restored digital transfer of the 1969 film Kes. Based on the book A Kestrel For A Knave, by Barry Hines, the film has been named by the British Film Institute as one of the ten best British films of the century.

Directed by Ken Loach, Kes centers around a working-class 15-year-old named Billy. He lives in South Yorkshire, is bullied at home and at school, and learns about falconry as he begins to train a wild kestrel. Viewers can’t help but root for the troubled Billy in this coming-of-age tale as he goes from triumph to heartbreak, while struggling with daily life in his small town. The film is a bit dark, but also tinged with a warmth and humor within the melancholy.

A few things that help make Criterion editions of classic and contemporary films a more complete movie experience are the supplemental disc features and the informational booklets that come with the films. Reading in depth about the film and viewing the bonus footage make them an even greater experience, and that is definitely the case with Kes. The film is available at AADL on DVDand Blu-ray.

MINE!: Adorable pictures + meaningful messages

A friend who just read MINE! asked: "How does Shutta Crum write a children's book with just one little word . . . well, maybe two." I don't know -- but I, too, adored Shutta's latest book, a smart, gorgeously illustrated picture book about toys, territoriality, and what happens when a stuffed blue clown is tossed across the room and lands in a dog's water dish. The story starts calmly enough, with an older child, a younger one, a frisky dog, and eleven toys. Enough to go around? Of course not! In the ensuing chaos, readers learn (or remember) that "share" can be a very challenging word. Great fun is had -- and readers will enjoy keeping their eyes on the hilarious action, as conveyed by the text and illustrator Patrice Barton's beautiful, delicate digitized pencil sketches.

Shutta Crum writes books for kids and poems for grownups. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and has twelve previous children's books in print, all available at the library. She was inspired to write "MINE!" after watching her granddaughter at play. Visit Shutta's website at to learn more.

Indigo Notebook

Poor Zeeta, whose globetrotting mother Layla has taken them to live in 15 countries. As Laura Resau's teen novel Indigo Notebook opens, Zeeta laments, “It’s always the same, no matter where in the world we happen to be. Just when I get used to noodle soup for breakfast in Laos, or endless glasses of super sweet mint tea in Morocco, or crazy little tuk tuk taxis in Thailand, Layla gets that look in her eyes . . .“

Now mother and daughter are in the Ecuadoran Andes, and Zeeta is helping an adopted American boy, Wendell, find his Ecuadoran birth-father. Indigo Notebook offers lush scenes, adventure and romance, as well as poisonous plants and creatures, and more than a touch of danger and human cruelty. But there is also plenty of parental love and support and peer friendship. Resau -- rhymes with SEE-saw -- writes in the acknowledgments, “Ian, thank you for giving me the support that lets me dream and fly -- I suspect that's why my books tend to involve true love and happy endings.” Resau, who visited AADL in the spring, is a cultural anthropologist and award-winning novelist who once lived in Latin America. Her latest book, The Queen of Water, came out earlier this year.

Do you feel the burn?

It seems like every other person in Ann Arbor is off to yoga, pilates or a spinning class. For the exercise-reluctant, signing up for a class forces you to go -- which is a big motivator for action. But classes cost money, and sometimes scheduled time. Don’t panic when I mention the next few words: home exercise video.

We’re not talking Jane Fonda here. Yes, you’ll feel the burn, MAJOR, but it’s not Jane, it’s Jillian and her DVD, 30 Day Shred. Jillian Michaels, trainer extraordinaire from the hit TV show The Biggest Loser, has many DVDs to get you working out hardcore to get quick results.

The first time I heard someone say they were going home to shred, I had no idea what they were talking about. Then I learned of Jillian’s 30 Day Shred. The DVD features a 30-day plan that has three, 20-minute workouts that progress in intensity, and include cardio, strength and ab work. The exercises are tough, and you’ll barely have time for a water break, but if you stick with it (or any workout routine for that matter) you’ll see and feel the results. Other DVDs by Jillian Michaels also available at AADL include 6 Week Six-Pack and Ripped in 30.

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