books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 


I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot (ARC)

Magic Marks the Spot - Caroline Carlson

 Wanted: Pirate Crew

Established, respected freelance pirate seeking experienced crew members for upcoming voyage. Must be able to swashbuckle, swab decks, swill grog, fire cannons, and climb to the crow's nest. Successful applicants will sign contract for one round-trip voyage, with opportunity for further collaboration if merited. Voyage details to be divulged upon acceptance. Applicants trained in treasure location are of particular interest. Please apply in person to 25 Little Herring Grove, Wimbly-on-the-Marsh, at ten o'clock on Saturday morning.

Eye patches and hooks OK.

Please—no parrots.


Overall Recommendation: Maybe I am overexcited about this book, but upon first reading I think it’s pretty much a perfect middle-grade novel. I blazed through it, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.


What made me pick it up?

I actually was hooked immediately when HarperCollins tweeted Caroline Carlson’s post about the cover reveal months ago and I read that our heroine was a young lady desperate to become a pirate rather than attend Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. I was completely delighted, then, upon attending the Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz panel at BookExpo America, to discover that this was one of the selected books and that I could get an advance reader’s copy. The HarperCollins editor spoke so well of what made this book stand out that my excitement only grew, and I was not one little bit surprised to find that the book was as funny and adventurous as it promised to be.


What is there to like?

  • As the title and the quotation above and the name of the dreaded finishing school suggest, the book is clever and funny with just the right amount of silliness.
  • Similarly ridiculous and likeable characters
  • Gently satirical, poking fun at bureaucracy through its use of silly forms—one includes checkboxes for those wishing to sail for “business,” “pleasure,” or “piracy”—and rules—such as the VNHLP’s rules for using a treasure map; and at the obtuseness of those in privileged classes, through “man-on-the-street” quotes as reported in gossip magazines.
  • The romance is in the right place! That is, not between Hilary (the main character) and some romantic interest, but between two of the grown-up crewmembers. Moreover, the gargoyle’s liking for soppy romances makes rather light of romance in general, which I think is entirely in keeping with the feelings of the intended audience and quite endearing. I also think it might perhaps be even necessary, given the many stories for young people that end in “happily ever after.”
  • A cast of men and women, boys and girls, and the female characters are all strong. And it is worth pointing out that this novel does the rare thing of not denigrating the young ladies who choose to focus on becoming proper society ladies rather than pirates. So often in stories about girls who reject traditional gender roles, it turns into an animosity between the two. However, Hilary’s governess demonstrates what skills she has gained from her education, and her friend Claire explains quite well to Hilary what advantages she stands to gain by attending such a finishing school, and I get the impression that Hilary learns from both.
  • The plot is exciting and smart. The characters all have good backstories, the motivations are all clear, there is high-seas adventure, and some clever action on the part of the mysterious character whom Hilary and the rest of the Pigeon’s crew are trying to outwit. 


Similar To:

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdomsimilar tone of silliness and adventure and overturning conventions

Treasure Island—often alluded to in the book, and which I can now endorse heartily as a not-to-be-missed adventure story

The Felicity books—for a younger audience than this book, but Felicity is great about being more adventurous and brave than prim and corseted

The Leviathan trilogy—featuring a girl who wants to be a naval officer in a fantastic setting, defying her exclusion from the boys’ club, and lots of action. YA.