Runemarks and Skinned


I just finished a book so good I am mildly astonished that I've never heard of the author. She's apparently won many awards and published quite a few books, but slipped under my radar. Of course this is fantastic news for me, since it means I can now devour her backlist, but I'm still a bit miffed that I've been missing out all this time. (I have seen a film adaptation of one of her books, Chocolat, but I'm not sure that counts.)

Runemarks by Joanne Harris tells the story of Maddy Smith, a young lady who lives five hundred years after the end of the world, in a world where everyone is afraid to dream. All the inhabitants of her small village take care to sleep as little as possible, and to never let themselves be too comfortable, because they're afraid of what might creep into their dreams and out into the world. Maddy herself is already suspect as she bears a ruinmark on her hand and can do small magics, which she mostly uses to clear the goblins out of the cellar of her workplace. Maddy's only friend is an old peddler with only one eye, who is late for his annual visit to the village. The day Maddy's powers start to flare stronger than ever before is the same day One-Eye returns and an extraordinary adventure begins.

If you're at all familiar with the Norse God pantheon you probably already know the identity of One-Eye and have an idea what the ruinmark on Maddy's palm actually is. On Ms. Harris's website she says she was fascinated by the stories of Norse Gods from an early age but was disappointed by how few of the stories survived, so she starting writing her own. Runemarks is a big story, about the clash of the surviving gods and the monotheistic religion that has sprung up since the gods fell.

You can find a link to an excerpt about halfway down this page.

This is a fun book, fast paced, with wily characters, nearly all of whom have their own secret agendas. Maddy is a nice girl with a caring heart, which could make her a little boring or sugar sweet, but she's also brave and determined and has some tricks of her own. She does what she has to do; even when it's terrifying and has qualities that make for a good role model for the children who will pick up this book.

Last week we ran a one paragraph review about a book called Skinned by Robin Wasserman. I was intrigued enough to pick the book up and read it myself. It's a compelling read, quite dramatic and exciting but it's also very grim. It's the story of an extraordinarily privileged girl called Lia Kahn who gets into a terrible accident and wakes up to discover she's been downloaded into a cyborg body. But her new body isn’t the only change. Her former joys no longer please her. Her family treats her like a stranger and her boyfriend is freaked out by her new body, which doesn't look or feel much like the old one.

Skinned is an interesting, fast read, but ultimately I was disappointed. There were so many directions the author could have taken the story and the characters but instead of exploring her new abilities Lia behaves in a way I could only label whiny. Even when she vows to get her act together and be the winner she's always been, she still gets mired down in pettiness, mourning her lost status as the it girl, while making no attempt to get her title back.

The book is also missing a key ingredient; hope. Even one of the grimmest books I've ever read, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, has some hope, although you may have to squint a little to see it. Skinned starts out depressing and goes downhill from there. It's the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the author is planning to perk things up a little later but I'm not sure I'll be around to find out.

You can read an excerpt here.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Sarah W. who wrote in about the season finale of The L Word, saying, "The ending of the show was even worse than the Soprano's ending. I can't believe they disrespected us like that. It's just plain mean to ask us who killed Jenny and then not tell us." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at