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The Vine: September 16, 2011

Submitted by on September 16, 2011 – 9:36 AM28 Comments

I'm hoping The Nation can help me find a book. When I was in late grade school, which would have been in the early 1980s, I had the reading skills to read fairly advanced chapter books, but I didn't really have the background (or mental development or whatever) to understand all of them. So I remember strange parts of a lot of books, usually the parts I didn't understand, without a lot of context. There are two books that have been particularly irksome — I remember very specific things about them, but not the books themselves.

The first was set in a contemporary era (I'm not sure specifically when). It was about a girl who had some sort of special connection with the Titanic. She would wake up in the morning soaking wet as if she herself had been drowning, and at least once she woke up clutching a gray wool blanket with some sort of letters stamped on it and another time she woke up with a footlocker that wasn't hers. At first she thought she was just waking up sweaty for some reason, then she thought she was having scary dreams, then it turned into a ghost story? or maybe a supernatural/paranormal story? or a reincarnation story? or something? I can't remember. At the time I read the book, I didn't even know what the Titanic was (this was long before James Cameron's movie came out), so whole swaths of the book made no sense to me. I'd love to be able to read the book again.

The second was set in what seems like the 1970s. It was about a teenage girl whose parents left town for a month (or perhaps longer). She was supposed to stay with someone — I don't recall who — but it didn't work out, so she ended up living by herself in her family's New York City apartment. She didn't have any money, so she got a job and tried to pay the bills and cook and take care of herself.

There are two parts that stick in my mind: (1) she bought a bag of apples, and as she was walking home she strayed into a shot of a movie that was filming. The apples fell out of her bag and rolled down the street. She found it very romantic and there's a long paragraph comparing it to a scene from a real movie. But of course the movie-people yelled at her. (2) She cooked onions on the stove to make the house smell comfy and homey, then something awful happened to her and she never cleaned up the pan with the onions and it molded.

Also, I remember that the book was called something like "The Rise and Fall of [Girl's Name]" or "The Rise of a Teenage Superstar" or something like that, but Google gives me nothing when I search on those (well, nothing I want anyway). I think the book was supposed to be romantic, but I was so scared for the girl the whole time (she wasn't with her parents! oh no!) that I didn't understand it. I really want to read the scene with the apples again!

I hope The Nation can help me! I'd really like to read these two books again.

Slow Starter


Hello: I'm looking for a trilogy of fantasy books. Or at least, I think it is a trilogy. I only got to read the middle book. The setting is your typical magical medieval setting. Judging by the events of the second book, the first featured a young woman who ended up becoming a page to a prince. She does so by pretending to be male. The prince doesn't seem to notice that she is in disguise.

The second book is all about her living as man and trying to become a knight. And she is totally in love with the prince. I think there was one person who knew she was a girl, another woman who might have been a castle maid, but they were friends. There was a magical test where she has to go into a magic room where anything that appears will become real. Sort of like Star Trek's holodeck. I think a monster would usually appear and if the page could defeat it, they became a knight. But for her, no monster appears. It's a scene of the prince dying and she goes bananas beating her hands against the stone wall trying to get to him. She passes the test, but her hands are bandaged from all the damage at the end of the book.

There is also a subplot about the local sheriff who takes an instant dislike to our heroine and is always trying to find out "his" secret. Meanwhile the sheriff is freaking out over his dreams. When he was a young farmer the previous sheriff arrested him and his wife. And then the sheriff raped his wife in front of him. Somehow he ended up taking over the sheriff's job. I don't remember how that plot point was explained away. But the experience was his nightmare for years, reliving it over and over. But lately, his dreams have changed. He is now the sheriff raping a poor farmer's wife. Dun dun duhh! I'd really like to know the title of this book, and also if there was a third book in the series.



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  • Amy says:

    I could be wrong, but the second question sounds a lot like the Alanna of Trebond series by Tamora Pierce – they're called the "song of the lioness" series. The main character takes her twin brother's place and trains as a knight though she also has innate magical powers that are developed throughout the series. There are 4 or 5 books in all, and the author recently did a related series called "daughter of the lioness".

  • Faye says:


    Would those be the Tamora Pierce books, the Song of the Lioness series. I loved those as a kid.

  • Margaret says:

    The gender-bending fantasy sounds, in the first half, exactly like Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet. I am absolutely positive that's where the test scene described is from it. There are four books, starting with Alanna: the First Adventure, ending with The Song of the Lioness. But the subplot mentioned sounds like nothing in any of those books, and I know them pretty well. Is it possible that bit is from somewhere else?

  • Kate says:

    Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! I know the first one, Slow Starter! It's called "Ghosts I Have Been" and it's by Richard Peck. My sixth grade teacher read it to us, along with another of his novels: "The Ghost Belonged To Me." I remember liking them so much that I got them from the library to read for myself over and over.

  • avis says:

    I know one! The first bool Slow Starter is asking about is Ghosts I Have Been and is part of a series by Richard Peck! Available on!

  • HC says:

    Hello, HC here. Why didn't I think up an interesting name? Oh well. Song of Lioness sounds good, but I don't think it was the book. The sheriff subplot was woven through the story. Once or twice the female knight discovers that the sheriff is staring at her. And IIRC, there was a scene where he growls at her, all "I'll find out your secret!"

  • Katxena says:

    Oh wow! I'm Slow Starter! Thanks so much for the answer to my first book! I just bought it at Amazon, and am looking forward to reading it. I'm a bit embarrassed to learn that the book was YA, since I didn't understand it when I read it at that age. Oh well.

  • Aimless says:

    Slow Starter, the second book you are looking for is "The Rise and Fall of a Teenage Wacko."

    I remember the trick about cooking onions too, and I think the main plot had her stumbling into the set of a Woody Allen movie. She thought this would be her ticket to superstardom, and was crushed to learn that her scene had been cut. Strange as it may sound, I seem to remember a scene where she tracks Woody himself down in a bar and tipsily tries to convince him to keep her in the movie. There was also a big floppy hat, which she wore because it fit her romantic notion of being alone in NYC, and something about Serendipity hot chocolate?

  • Lynda says:

    Oh my goodness, Late Starter, I found the second book for you! I knew I knew it, I just couldn't remember the title. Umteen searches on Amazon later:

    "The Rise and Fall of a Teen-Age Wacko" by Mary Anderson! I remember those rolling apples myself — and wasn't it a Woody Allen movie that she interrupted?

  • Flora says:

    The Lioness series is totally the second description. And Pierce's Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen about Alanna's daughter are particularly good.

  • Carrie says:

    The subplot with the sheriff sounds really familiar, but I think it's part of another series. The rest of your description, especially about the holodeck-esque room is totally the Tamora Pierce Lioness series. There are 4 books about Alanna, 2 more quartets about other characters in that kingdom (one is about the first girl who trains to be a knight without hiding her gender) and then 2 about Alanna's daughter. The first 3 were written very early in Pierce's career, so if you're re-reading as an adult, don't be discouraged. The books get progressively better.

  • amanda says:

    Yes, Ghosts I Have Been! I LOVED those books so much! That part is kind of towards the end of the book, and she travels to England and goes to the wax museum and has a tentative, young-teen type romance with a boy form her school.

  • Maggie says:

    Second one is definitely Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. But the subplot about the sheriff is an entirely different book! Don't know what it is, but what a fascinating thing for your young mind to combine.

  • Kriesa says:

    avis is right about the first book — I loved "Ghosts I Have Been", and probably read it a dozen times. I think it's the second in the series, chronologically, but it could stand alone, easily. I read the first and third books quite a few times, too, but I had no idea there was a fourth book. It must have come out after I was "too old". I think I might have to revisit the series!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Yes! Ghosts I Have Been! Blossom Culp is one of the best young girl characters around!

    The second is Rise And Fall Of A Teenage Whacko. I don't know the author, but I remember she wandered into a shot of a Woody Allen movie, while wearing a vintage dress she called her "dream dress." Woody wanted to use the shot so she signed a release and was all excited about being in movie. Then she somehow heard he was going to cut the scene and went frantic, even invading a jazz club where he was playing to try to get him to change his mind.

    …so, no memory of trigonometry or half my college education, but rando scenes from kids' books? I'm your gal.

  • Morgan says:

    In the Song of the Lioness series, there is a subplot about an evil Duke who is trying to figure our the knight's secret. He was always staring at her and trying to figure out her secret, even using magic at one point.

  • Rachel says:

    I did not know that Ghosts I Have Been was actually part of a series. HOW did I not know this? I read that book TO PIECES when I was 8 or 9.

  • Elizabeth says:

    In the second sentence of this letter, I misread "grade school" as "grad school," and that MADE IT GREAT.

  • PollyQ says:

    Like everyone else, apparently, I LOVED "Ghosts I Have Been". I haven't read it in at least 30 years, and it's still vivid in my memory.

  • HC says:

    I will check out the Lioness series then. It is strange how you can remember odd things like half-read book plots. And then forget your purse on top of your car. And then drive off.

    Thankfully, I only went halfway down the street.

  • JT says:

    The scene with the sheriff and farmer's wife sounds an awful lot like a subplot of the 2-book series Mordant's Need (Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through). The story (mostly) takes place in a medieval world where the leader of the army, Castellan Lebbick, suspects the main character of plotting against his king. The Castellan had repeating nightmares of his new bride being raped by a leader of another army, and these nightmares turn into him doing the same to the main character.

    Unfortunately I haven't read the Song of the Lioness series. I might have to check them out sometime!

  • anotherkate says:

    HC, the sheriff subplot seems to be coming from The Mirror of Her Dreams & it's sequel A Man Rides Through, by Stephen R. Donaldson. The character Lebbick is the Castellan (ie sheriff & major domo) of the castle of Orison. His wife was raped in front of him by an enemy garrison commander when they were young newlyweds. Eventually Lebbick becomes the castle's head of security. His wife has died and when the heroine of the books appears, Lebbick has nightmares of raping her just like what happened to his wife. I just reread the two books recently and they hold up pretty well, although I wanted the shake some sense into the main character for most of the first book.

  • Rai says:

    For once, I knew most of these lost books, since Blossom Culp and Alanna were two of my favorite characters growing up. And frankly, as far as I'm concerned, their books still hold up. Re-read and enjoy, people!

  • HC says:

    Thanks everyone! A Man Rides Through must be it. I wonder if I read one of the Lioness books and a Man Rides Through at the same time?

  • Carra says:

    HC – it also might be a title similarity – A Man Rides Through and Woman Who Rides Like A Man (the 3rd book in the Lioness quartet) aren't too crazy far off, and I've definitely done that before. Have fun! :)

  • KTB says:

    Count me in "How did I not know that 'Ghosts I Have Been' was part of a series?" I LOVED that book growing up, and I knew the description sounded familiar.

    Clearly, I must spend some more time at Powell's. Darn.

  • Jo says:

    HC, could the fantasy book series you're looking for be Squire from Pierce's Protector of the Small series? amazon link. the Magic room could be the Chamber of Ordeal. Do you remember how old you were when you read this book?

  • Stephanie says:

    I don't have too much to add because it looks like all the books have been identified, but I loved reading HC's description of the 'book' she was searching for because I LOVE both the Alanna quartet from Pierce and Mordant books from Donaldson. Before I read the comments I knew it was the Alanna books and I knew the sheriff plot sounded familiar but had no idea where that would fit in. I think this was the first time I've ever read these 'what book is this' posts and knew which book(s) it was!

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