I know, dear readers, that most of you who read me read because, well, you want good reads. I know because you've told me, so this one's for you:
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
This princess book is as cool and refreshing as its chick-lit counterparts are pink and frothy. Miri is a mountain girl who, along with all the other girls of the proper age in her village, are forced to attend Princess Academy. The Prince needs a bride, and his advisors have augured that she will come from Mount Eskel. Miri and her compatriots are treated like backwards idiots by the woman who runs the academy. Fortunately, they band together and outwit their oppressor. Unfortunately, bandits come to the mountain, and the princesses-in-training face mortal danger. All ends well in this magical story because Miri discovers the secrets of Mount Eskel's single export, linder stone, which in addition to being strong, light, and beautiful, is also capable of carrying the mountain dweller's thoughts to one another over long distances. Strongly recommended escapist reading for the holidays.
The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda
Leo inherits a music box from his Great Aunt Bethany along with explicit instructions about how to let it play. As he examines the box, he is struck by the impossibly intricate detail of the paintings on the box. Fortunately for the reader (but unfortunately for Leo), his cousin Mimi breaks the rules, and the two of them find themselves in the land of Rondo, where Langlanders like himself are considered characters of old folk stories. The Blue Queen holds Mimi's dog Mutt ransom, and their perilous quest to her castle is plagued with uncertainty as they struggle to determine whom they can trust of those who offer to help. The world of Rondo is brought to a twee and creepy kind of life with such details as the "dots," little gingerbread men who swarm like cockroaches on any unattended food. Sequels are sure to follow, and Rodda's next efforts will certainly be worth reading.