My eleven-year-old daughter is a voracious reader and writer, always carrying a book in her backpack or a writing notebook in her purse.
And because she reads so many books, she is not deeply passionate about all of them. The girl is a discerning reader. Pride and Prejudice? Definitely a favorite! The Chronicles of Narnia? Two thumbs up! Black Beauty? Snoozeville…
So, when my daughter loves a story, she loves it with her whole heart—just like all bookworms do. The characters become part of her world, her extended family.
The newest members of this family are Jack, May, and Phillip, from James Riley’s Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time books. They have stepped off the pages and into my daughter’s life. She loves Jack’s sense of humor and quotes him often. She finds May to be someone that she’d love to befriend. And my daughter even has a soft spot for Phillip, who is perfect and princely—and a good person, one who merits respect.
The Books: Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time
To call the books part of a fairy-tale series is limiting. The series is more like the perfect merging of fairy tales and boys’ adventure books: playful, hilarious, melancholic, action-packed, and mysterious.
At the heart of the novel are May, Jack, and Phillip—all on an adventure to find out the truth about May’s family and help May discover who she really is. Feisty and sarcastic, May pursues the truth bravely because she needs to know her story. Jack is reluctant for an adventure, but his feelings for May push him beyond his comfort zone. And practically perfect Phillip is uber-fairy-tale prince, so he naturally desires adventure.
(If you want James’s own description, then here you have it. Who better to describe James Riley’s books than James Riley himself?)
My daughter read the first book, Half Upon a Time in October. The story of a boy training to be a knight who suddenly has a girl (wearing a “Punk Princess” shirt no less) fall out of the sky (literally, like really literally, not fake literally as people literally say) grabbed my daughter’s attention from the get-go. The girl, May, wasn’t a dreamy-eyed wimpy girl. Even after needing to be rescued, May determined her own course and plan to rescue someone else and find out more about her family.
With its captivating blend of humor, action, adventure, and homages to fairy tales, the book caught my daughter’s heart… (and mine, too).
The wait for the sequel felt interminable. My daughter had a countdown on her bedroom door. She would double-, triple- and quadruple-check Amazon to make sure James Riley wasn’t going to sneak in a copy early for true fans.
When Twice Upon a Time came out on April 24, we downloaded it to my Kindle Fire as soon as it was available (meaning: dawn).
The second book picks up on May’s journey to discover where she comes from, who she really is… and begins to explore more deeply the new questions regarding Jack. A page-turner, Twice Upon a Time is packed with action, hilarity, and moments of melancholy.
The last scene is sweet, sad… brutal. It lingers in the memory. And you just want to get your hands on the third novel now.
Just Tweeting (and Commenting) to Say We Dig You
After reading the book, I decided to reach out to James Riley via Twitter and let him know how much we enjoyed the book.
And to my surprise, he wrote back.
After I told my daughter about this exchange, she let out a squeal at the realization that she could actually talk directly to the author. “I’m leaving a comment on his blog! I’m going to tell him exactly how we feel about his book.”
“All right,” I said, watching her fire up the computer and massage her fingers. (Apparently, it was to be a long comment.)
“Do you think he’ll answer us? Do you think he’ll comment right back?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe. If you’re reaching out to an author, it should be to let them know that you’re thankful for their work. It’s to show how much you love the book, how much it means to you,” I reminded her. “That’s the heart of it. If they answer you back, that’s lovely. If not, that’s all right, too. OK?”
And so, my daughter and her friend wrote this comment to James Riley.
And you know what? James Riley wrote back.
You never heard such squeals from girls. Not weird “I just saw Jason Bateman at the mall!” squealing that I did as a kid, but a delighted, happy-to-be-talking-to-someone-they-deeply-admire sort of squealing.
The Hours of Conversation
If I thought the conversations about the books were burning up the phone lines, I had no idea how much fodder this short comment by James Riley would be. “What do you think he meant by ‘as far as Jack knows’?”
Still, I love listening to the girls talk about books, heroes, heroines, how to handle difficulties, how to decipher meaning, etc. How refreshing and delightful to see two girls love a book series this much.
The books were even on their mind as we spent a lovely day at the park…