Archive for June, 2013

Review of Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

Magic, Mystery & a Very Strange Adventure

by Lissa Evans

Sterling Children’s Books, 2012. 270 pages.

Here’s a truly fun story with a magical twist on being the new kid in town. Stuart Horten — S. Horten — Always called “Shorten” — is very short. His parents are extremely clever, but not very sensible, and they move to a new town right at the start of the summer, so Stuart doesn’t have any chance to make new friends. They move to Beeton, the town where Stuart’s father grew up, and in town are the ruins of the old factory where Stuart’s great-uncle Tony manufactured magic tricks — before he disappeared.

Stuart turns up a puzzle from Great-Uncle Tony that leads to a mystery that leads him all over town. Tony was a fine magician, and Stuart can’t help but wonder what really happened when he disappeared.

The big strength of this book is the quirky characters: Stuart’s father, who always uses big words; the identical triplet girls next door who see themselves as investigative journalists; and the people in the town whom Stuart meets along the way. The puzzle is engaging and keeps you going.

Now, I wasn’t quite believing in the ending, or that the puzzle would have survived the passage of years as well as it did. But I think I’m probably a more difficult audience on that front than most kids, and the story-telling itself was outstanding. The book reminded me of my beloved Edward Eager books — ordinary kids spending a summer tinged with magic.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/hortens_miraculous_mechanisms.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Spirit Seeker, by Gary Golio

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Spirit Seeker

John Coltrane’s Musical Journey

by Gary Golio
paintings by Rudy Gutierrez

Clarion Books, 2012. 42 pages.
Starred Review

I admit, I was hoping I’d see this book mentioned in the Coretta Scott King awards, if not the Caldecott.

This picture book biography is written for elementary school readers. The story of John Coltrane’s life talks about how his love of music combined with his spiritual quest to produce something beautiful. His grandfather was a preacher and his father was a musician. Both those men died when John was still a boy, and he lived the rest of his childhood in poverty. But he’d already gotten a foundation of music and of faith.

The book doesn’t flinch from some side trips that Coltrane took. Here’s the text on one of the double-page spreads:

Moving back to Mama’s house in Philadelphia, John saw his world come to a sudden stop. His body was sick, and his pockets were empty.
Now he had to choose, between the dead end of drugs or a life rich with music.
Waking one morning, John remembered his grandfather’s words — the promise of Spirit, and of healing. He asked Mama and Naima for help.
With nothing to eat and only water to drink, he stayed alone in his room, resting and praying, as the drugs slowly left his body. It was painful, but John felt that he was being cleansed — made new again.
When he came out, a few days later, he was free.

But I haven’t talked yet about the paintings!

The illustrations here are what transform this from an excellent, serviceable biography and good story into a stunning work of art.

Much of the text talks about spirituality and music, and the expressionistic paintings put that on the page. The mood of each page matches the text, and you can almost hear the music. The pages give us a wide variety of colors and scenes, but all express a feeling.

But it’s hard to talk about pictures, when you can check out this book and in a few moments grasp the power of these paintings to make you feel what the words are telling. This one’s worth taking a look at.

I’m posting this review today in honor of Nonfiction Monday, hosted today at Shelf-employed.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/spirit_seeker.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Exploring Eldritch City

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. I’ve always found phrase books funny. Imagine situations where you really need to say those things. So, why not start with a situation, a story, in fact, and look at how they would translate?

Today, for the first time, I’ve brought my laptop out on my balcony, and I’m enjoying all the bird song. Life is good!

Today it’s back to the book that inspired Sonderling Sunday, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, that is, The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy. You do not have to have read the book to enjoy this unusual “phrase book.” In fact, it might be extra fun to try to imagine a story that uses these phrases. I bet you can’t come close!

It strikes me that it would be really fun to make a language learning recording (or podcast) with these phrases. But I think it would be much better with a native German speaker reading the German. Any volunteers?

This week, we’re beginning Chapter 14, Kapitel 14, which begins on page 169 in English, Seite 214 in the German edition. Jo is exploring Eldritch City, so we’ll need to learn some handy phrases for a tourist.

“soaked” = durchtränkt (“through-drank”)

“the wet breath of plants” = dem feuchten Atem von Pflanzen

“the sweat of strangers” = dem Schwei? von Fremden

“brackish seawater” = fauligem Meerwasser

“rotten cheese” = verschimmeltem Käse

“melted manure” = geschmolzenem Dung (Aren’t you glad you know how to say that now?)

“the sweet fruity thrill of ten thousand flowers” = dem sü?en, fruchtigen Duft von Zehntausenden von Blumen

“thronged” = wimmelte

“centipedes” = Tausendfü?lern (“thousand-footers”)

“shimmering pantaloons” = schimmernden Hosen

“chromium walking sticks” = Gehstöcke aus Chrom

I like saying this:
“precariously tall hats” = gefährlich hohe Hüte

“tipping” = lüpften

“swampy bottom of the mountain” = sumpfigen Fu?es des Berges

“gray eel-like creatures” = aalartige graue Kreaturen

“twitching worms” = windenden Würmern

“propped up by scaffolding” = gestützt von Gerüsten

“variety” = Vielfalt (“much-diversity”)

“boisterous” = lärmende

“peephole” = Guckloch

“kicking around hairy, jeweled animal skulls”
= haaarige, juwelengeschmückte Tierschädel herumkickten

“hide-and-seek” = Versteckspiels (“hiding games”)

“whale-god” = Walgottes

“floating mountain” = schwebender Berg

“incense” = Weihrauch (“Christmas-smoke”)

“notoriously clumsy flame-spurting double-sided lance”
= berüchtigten, etwas sperrigen, zweiseitigen, Flammen spuckenden Lanze

“weapon of choice” = Lieblingswaffe

“ostrich” = Strau?

“old haunts” = alten Spielgründe (“old play-grounds”)

“swamp neighborhood” = Sumpfgebiet

“flower-dripping” = von Blumen übersäte (“with flowers over-sowed”)

“stilt legs” = Pfahlbeinen

“most distinguished eelmen” = respektabelsten Aalmenschen

“bubbling iron pot” = blubbernde Eisenkessel

“sweaty, fish-smelling smoke” = muffigen, fischigen Rauch

“throbbing” = hervorstehenden

“delighted gargles” = entzückte gurgelnd

“brittle” = spröder

“blobs” = Knubbel

“declared” = deklamierte

“boiled cabbage” = gekochter Kohl
.
“flared her nostrils” = weitete ihre Nasenflügel (“widened her nose-wings”)

“weight-lifter” = Gewichtheber

That’s the end of a section. Now I challenge you to use some of these phrases in a sentence! May you be blessed this week with dem sü?en, fruchtigen Duft von Zehntausenden von Blumen and not with dem Schwei? von Fremden or even gefährlich hohe Hüte. But if you’re ever in Germany and you want to describe sweaty, fish-smelling smoke, you’ll know how to do it!

Review of The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

The Unseen Guest

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

by Maryrose Wood
read by Katherine Kellgren

Listening Library, 2012. 6 hours, 46 minutes on 6 compact discs.
Starred Review

I love this series. It’s written for children and at a child’s reading level, but there is plenty for the adult reader to enjoy and that children will enjoy along the way. The main character isn’t so much the Incorrigible children of Ashton Place, three children raised by wolves, as it is their governess, fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley.

I only started the series a couple weeks ago, and I didn’t hesitate a bit after finishing Book Two to start in on Book Three. I was wondering if Book Three would tie up all the dark hints we’ve been getting in the previous books. Well, it doesn’t. In fact, we get all sorts of new questions and new hints of deep dark connections. In this book, the series switches from a possible trilogy to an ongoing Saga, with more wild adventures at each step.

Now, you can tell by simply reading the first book if you will enjoy the series. If you will enjoy the series as much as I do, you will be quite pleased that Maryrose Wood is not stopping with three installments. The wild nature of the new adventures (Hunting an ostrich! Riding on wolves!) juxtaposed against the prim and proper Victorian society, far from making the stories so unlikely you don’t want to read further, is exactly what makes them so much fun you enjoy every moment.

Penelope is gaining a little wisdom along the way, but her naivete, her sweet admiration of her “friend,” Simon Harley-Dickinson, her pride in being a Swanbourne girl, and her earnest efforts to educate her pupils are all so endearing, you simply can’t help but like her. The narrator’s tendency to go off on a tangent and to define certain expressions and then use them again and again, far from being boring, tedious, dull, and uninteresting, will have you laughing with delight.

I recommend starting this series at the beginning. That will tell you if you like it enough to want to go on. Yes, it does get a bit more wild as it goes, but if you like the beginning, you will enjoy the continuation.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/unseen_guest.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

48-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Look at that! While I was finishing Wednesdays in the Tower, the 48 hours ended. I’m going to write up my finish line post and then take a NAP!

And I did it! I actually spent a full 24 hours and 35 minutes out of the last 48 reading and blogging!

Okay, 20 minutes were unpacking boxes of books, but that’s still more than 24 hours on officially sanctioned activities.

I finished 3 novels — Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier, reread Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, and just this minute Wednesdays in the Tower.

I’m a little disappointed in Wednesdays in the Tower. I rather wish I hadn’t reread the first book, or I think I would have liked it more. But the magic of the castle didn’t seem to work the same way — but most of all, the story isn’t finished. It didn’t tie up nicely like in the first book. Anyway, I’ll save it for a review.

Here’s how my time was spent:

13 hours and 55 minutes reading. I read 933 pages, 267 of which were various nonfiction books, the rest of which were the three novels.

2 hours and 25 minutes were spent listening to The Plantagenets by Dan Jones.

2 hours and 15 minutes were spent posting previously-written reviews.

5 hours and 40 minutes were spent writing reviews or blog posts or recording times.

20 minutes were spent unpacking 3 boxes of books. (Not an official activity, but I thought it should count if I only unpacked boxes of books.)

And now it’s time to sleep!

Sonderling Sunday – Peterchen Hase

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

I’m doing the 48-Hour Book Challenge this weekend. If I can keep from napping for another 4 hours, I will have more than 24 hours spent reading and blogging over the last 48! Before anything else, I’m going to write my weekly feature, Sonderling Sunday, where I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

I do not believe you need to know German to enjoy Sonderling Sunday. The idea is to discover a slightly different way of looking at everyday things, to let melodious and appropriate sounds roll off your tongue, and to learn handy phrases.

By the way, I just finished listening to David Sedaris’ audiobook, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and he talks about the pitfalls of phrasebooks. Delightfully, Pimsleur sent a “Bonus track” of what would be on their Japanese instruction CDs if David Sedaris were the one writing the phrases. Think of what follows as what you’d find on a German instruction CD if I were the one writing it — using handy phrases found in children’s books.

While I was moving, I discovered that I have a small Dover edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, translated into German: Die Geschichte von Peterchen Hase: Ein buntes Märchenbuch von Beatrix Potter, illustriert von Anna Pomaska. That’s “The Story of Petey Rabbit: A colorful storybook.” A note in the front says, “This Dover edition… contains a German translation by Meike Werner…. For this edition the artist, Anna Pomaska, has created new illustrations based on selected images by Beatrix Potter.” I’m guessing there was copyright trouble with the original images. What do you think?

Anyway, the reason I had to feature this book is on the very first page. You probably know how the English tale starts:

“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits,
and their names were —
Flopsy,
Mopsy,
Cotton-tail,
and Peter.”

This translates to:

Es waren einmal vier kleine Häschen, die hie?en —
Flopsy,
Mopsy,
Kuschelschwänzchen
und Peterchen.

I’m sorry, but every time I read Kuschelschwänzchen I can’t help but laugh. Yes, it means “Cotton-tail,” but it just doesn’t have the same lilt to it, does it?

Though when you see a -chen on the end of the word, that’s a diminutive. Like Cotton-tailet or Cottony-tail Apparently one can’t translate a story about little rabbits without inserting a lot of these. (At least they didn’t call the first two Flopchen and Mopchen.)

Here are some more phrases:
“underneath the root of a very big fir-tree” = unter der Wurzel einer riesigen Tanne

And I simply must quote Mrs. Rabbit’s entire warning speech:
“you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

ihr dürft auf die Felder oder den Pfad hinuntergehen, aber auf keinen Fall in Herrn McGregors Garten: euer Vater hatte dort einst einen schlimmen Unfall. Er landete schlie?lich in Frau McGregors Pastete.

My literal translation of that: “You may on the fields or the path go down, but under no circumstance in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Your father had there a bad accident. He landed finally in Mrs. McGregor’s pastry.”

I like schlimmen Unfall for “accident.” It sounds very schlimm indeed.

“Now run along, and don’t get into mischief”
= Nun lauft und gebt gut acht, da? ihr keinen Unfug macht.
Literally: “Now run and give a good eight, that you no Mischief make.”
(“Mischief” = Unfug)

“She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.”
= Sie kaufte einen Laib braunes Brot und fünf Rosinenbrötchen.

And I love any sentence with Kuschelschwänzchen:

“Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries.”
= Flopsy, Mopsy und Kuschelschwänzchen, die artige kleine Häschen waren sprangen den Pfad hinunter, um Brombeeren zu pflücken.

“But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”
= Das ungezogene Peterchen aber rannte direkt zu Herrn McGregors Garten und schlüpfte unter dem Gartentor hindurch!
Literally: “But the naughty Petey ran directly to Mr. McGregor’s garden and squeezed under the garden gate!”
(“squeezed” = schlüpfte)

“ate” = knabberte This gives more the idea of “nibbled.”

“rather sick” = ein bi?chen übel

“parsley” = Petersilie

“cucumber frame” = Gurkenbeetes

“young cabbages” = jungen Kohl

“waving a rake” = Er fuchtelte mit dem Rechen herum

I like this one. It’s hard to imagine him actually calling this out.
“Stop thief!” = Stehengeblieben, du Dieb!

“Peter was most dreadfully frightened.”
= Peterchen hatte fürchterliche Angst.

“unfortunately” = unglücklicherweise

“gooseberry net” = Stachelbeernetz

“got caught by the large buttons on his jacket”
= sich mit den gro?en Knöpfen seines Jäckchen darin verfangen hätte”
(“caught” = verfangen)

“shed big tears” = weinte dicke Tränen

“sparrows” = Spatzen

“sobs” = Schluchzen
(I’ve heard of choking with sobs, but saying “sobs” in German makes me choke.)

“implored him to exert himself” = ermunterten ihn, sich mehr Mühe zu geben
Literally: “encouraged him, more effort to give”

“pop upon the top of Peter” = über Peterchen stülpen

“toolshed” = Geräteschuppen

“can” = Gie?kanne

It’s always fun to see how onomatopoetic phrases are written:
“Kertyshoo!” = Hatschi!

“trembling with fright” = zitterte vor Angst

“had not the least idea” = hatte nicht die geringste Ahnung

“damp” = aufgeweicht

“wander about” = herumzustreifen

“lippity lippity” = hoppel di hopp

“no room” = keine Ritze

“squeeze underneath” = durchdrücken (“through press”)

“running” = sauste (Google: “dashed”)

“stone doorstep” = steinerne Schwelle

“carrying” = schleppte

“puzzled” = durcheinanderbrachte (“through-each-other-brought”)

“pond” = Teich

“the tip of her tail twitched” = zu zuckte die Spitze von ihrem Schwanz

“hoe” = Hacke

“scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scratch” = kr-r-ritz, kratz, kratz, kritz

I enjoy this almost-rhyme:
“Peter scuttered underneath the bushes.”
= Peterchen huschte in die Büsche

“he came out” = kroch er gleich wieder hervor

“climbed upon a wheelbarrow” = kletterte auf einen Schubkarren
(“climbed on a thrust-car”)

“peeped over” = spähte

“black-currant bushes” = schwarzen Johannisbeerbüschen

“was safe at last”
= fand schlie?lich Schutz

“scare-crow” = Vogelscheuche

“to frighten the blackbirds” = um die Amseln zu erschrecken

“flopped down” = niedersank

“rabbit-hole” = Hasenhöhle

“One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time.”
= Einen E?löffel vor dem Schlafengehen einnehmen.

“But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.”
= Flopsy, Mopsy und Kuschelschwänzchen aber bekamen Brot und Milch und Brombeeren zum Abendessen.

Ah. That one just makes me happy. And now, if you’re ever traveling in Germany, you know what sound to make when you sneeze. Hatschi!

Gesundheit!

Review of The Hidden Gallery, by Maryrose Wood

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

The Hidden Gallery

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book Two

by Maryrose Wood
read by Katherine Kellgren

Listening Library, 2011. 5 hours, 57 minutes, on 5 compact discs.
Starred Review

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place simply make me laugh and laugh. For Book Two, I started listening to the series on audio, and I found myself chuckling on the way to work and had to tell my co-workers about the series. Listening always slows me down, and in this case it made me smile throughout the day.

Now, for most of the CDs, the narrator’s voice is lovely to listen to, a nice proper English voice, and perfect for the series. She gets awfully shrill when she’s doing some of the voices, particularly Lady Constance, and the children are a bit hard to make out when they’re howling. But overall, the reading is so good, I can overlook some shrill moments. (And they are totally appropriate for Lady Constance, I must admit.)

Okay, the plot of the books is getting yet wilder. Governess Penelope Lumley is making great progress in teaching her three pupils who were raised by wolves. In The Hidden Gallery, they go to London. Many strange and mysterious things are hinted at and there is a scene of uproar at the end. Most of the fun is found along the way, and Penelope’s naive but earnest approach to governessing and the big city makes a truly delightful book. In this book, she meets a young man, a playwright, who lives in a London garret, and Penelope’s making a “good friend” adds a heart-warming element.

Even though I listened to the book, I decided to check out the print version so I could include at least one of the delightful diversions.

If you have ever had the misfortune of getting lost in a crowded city, you are no doubt already acquainted with a surprising and little publicized fact: The greater the number of people who might potentially be asked for directions, the more difficult it becomes to get someone to actually stop and help.

Scientists who study human behavior call it the Who, Me? syndrome. For example, if you should have the truly awful luck to get a sliver of sparerib stuck in your throat while dining alone in a restaurant in which there is only one other customer, your fellow diner, although a total stranger, will almost certainly leap up and start performing the Heimlich maneuver as soon as you make the universal sign for choking. (If in doubt as to what this sign is, please refer to the informative poster on display in the dining area; this is assuming you are still conscious, of course.)

Whereas, if the same incident takes place in a bustling restaurant full of people, by the time you draw attention to your plight you may have already turned blue and fallen to the floor. At that point you are truly in a pickle, for instead of swift action there will be a lengthy discussion as onlookers try to determine which of them is best qualified to assist. Some will suggest mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, while others will strive to recall episodes of medical television dramas that may or may not be relevant to your case. A few will phone for help; others will panic and require medical assistance themselves; and many, alas, will simply be annoyed that their dinner was interrupted and will tip their waiters ungenerously as a result.

Knowing this, in the future you might well choose only to dine in unpopular restaurants. Penelope did not have this option. London was crowded, and there was no getting away from it. Each new street she trudged down with her three weary charges in tow seemed more packed with unhelpful people than the one before. After an hour’s aimless wandering she knew that she and the Incorrigibles were lost, but all her attempts to ask for directions went unanswered in the din and rush of the crowd.

I do recommend reading these books in order. There’s suspense slowly building, and questions about the children’s background and about Penelope’s background, too. A mysterious gypsy tells the children, “The Hunt is on!” and there are other ominous indications that they may be in danger.

I do know that if Maryrose Wood’s sense of humor appeals to you — and it fits mine exactly — then you will definitely want to read these books from start to finish. This episode deals with children raised by wolves in the big city, coming face-to-face with “culture.”

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/hidden_gallery.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

48-Hour Book Challenge: Saturday Progress

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Wow! I might actually be able to hit the 24-hour mark in the 48-Hour Book Challenge! Even though I worked.

I am now posting this simply to keep myself awake. Once I stop, I need to go straight to bed.

But I’ve already done 14 hours and 35 minutes of the challenge! So if I can fit in 9 hours and 25 minutes, even though I’m going to church, I can hit the 24 hour goal. The big question: Can I keep from taking an afternoon nap?

Here’s how it’s broken down:

I spent 3 hours and 45 minutes blogging and writing reviews, not counting
1 hour and 35 minutes posting reviews.
I spent 7 hours and 45 minutes reading, not counting
1 hour and 50 minutes listening to an audiobook.
I’ve spent 10 minutes unpacking books.

I haven’t done any networking so far, except what I did in between customers when working at the library reference today. I learned that my sister Marcy is participating in the Challenge!

I have completed three books, though two of those were nonfiction books that I only had the last chapter left to read. I read many, many nonfiction books at a time, rotating piles. I don’t recommend that method to anyone, but it does keep me from getting bored.

The third book was Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier, which I also only had to finish. Tonight I’d had enough “productive” time spent. I wanted to have the fun of reading! So I went out on my balcony (pictured in the Starting Line post) and finished the book. I’m so happy with the balcony! Birds were singing loudly the entire time. On the grass, I watched a squirrel, and later a bunny. It just felt so nice to sit out there enjoying a book.

My page total is 369 pages. That doesn’t seem like very much with 7 hours and 45 minutes spent reading, but shuffling around the nonfiction books goes much slower than settling in with fiction. For that matter, the Heart’s Blood pages were long ones.

Anyway, I’m really drooping and need to get to bed. Can I do 9 hours of the challenge tomorrow without skipping church? We shall see….

Review of Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Heart’s Blood

by Juliet Marillier

A Roc Book (Penguin), 2009. 402 pages.
Starred Review

I love Juliet Marillier’s writing. She knows how to make characters from fairy tales seem like real people with their own complex emotions, set in a real historical time.

Heart’s Blood is a modified version of “Beauty and the Beast” set in Ireland at the time Normans were invading and taking land for themselves. But Heart’s Blood removes all the abusive elements from the fairy tale. In fact, Caitrin is fleeing from abuse. Her father never goes to the “Beast’s” castle. In fact, Caitrin’s beloved father died not long before the story begins. A distant cousin and his mother took over the family home, claiming that it belonged to the cousin as the only male relative. But he is harsh and abusive and his mother convinces everyone that Caitrin has gone mad with grief.

She flees to a castle on a Tor that none of the people from the village will go near. The chieftain needs a scribe who can read Latin, and her father trained her as one. Besides, she needs a place to stay where her cousin can’t find her.

The chieftain is no Beast, just someone who’s features aren’t symmetrical because of an illness in his youth. But his family is indeed under a curse. His great-grandfather raised a host from dead souls to fight his enemies, only something went horribly wrong, and all generations after that chieftain must stay at the castle to keep the host in check. And his retainers are souls from the host.

Meanwhile, Caitrin works in the library, copying documents and looking for a counterspell. A magic mirror, enchanted by the great-grandfather, shows her the dark spells he used, but not a way to counteract them. She gets to know the souls from the host who live there with Anluan. There’s even a small child who turns to her for comfort. Meanwhile, the Normans threaten attack, but how can Anluan go down from the Tor to even meet with them?

Once again we’ve got ancient magic, a romance based on two characters knowing each other well, and a young woman with a good heart who wants to do good in the world. Another lovely story by Juliet Marillier.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/hearts_blood.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

The Fire Chronicle

The Books of Beginning, Book Two

by John Stephens

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012. 437 pages.

I’m reviewing this book not so much as a fan, but as a librarian. I’ll explain some of the reasons it’s not a personal favorite — but why I will be very happy to hand it to certain kids who often come to the library looking for more books to read. And I did enjoy reading it. Enough to review it even when I’m swamped and much choosier about which books I review, just not enough to think of it as a favorite.

I’m calling the niche this book fills Magical Adventure Saga books. I think of them as books after Harry Potter, books for kids who find the Eragon books or the Ranger’s Apprentice books. They are very often quest books. One thing after another happens and evil sinister sorcerers and their creepy minions are after Our Heroes and they find out they have special powers of their own, and they must stay ahead of the bad guys, and the fate of the world is at stake.

Now to really give The Fire Chronicle a fair reading, I should have started with Book One, The Emerald Atlas, and The Emerald Atlas is the book I will hand to the readers I think might enjoy this trilogy. (One more book is planned.) On the other hand, I read the first book of another Magical Adventure Saga, The Dragon’s Tooth, and by the time I finished it, I found I couldn’t bring myself to finish the second book. (Though I had read enough in the first book to also be sure that it will have eager readers.)

In The Fire Chronicle, Kate, Michael, and Emma have been discovered, and are chased right away by the evil and creepy Screechers that they encountered in the earlier book. In the process of escaping them, Kate goes back in time and gets trapped there. So Michael is in charge in the present of the quest for The Fire Chronicle, the second of the Books of the Beginning, about which it’s been prophesied that three children will bring them together.

In the quest for The Chronicle, Michael and Emma get into one breathless life-threatening adventure after another. Meanwhile, I enjoyed Kate’s more thoughtful adventures in the past. She has arrived just before the Separation, when the magical world is going into hiding, and all of us ordinary folks will forget that magic exists. But meanwhile she meets someone whose fate she may affect, and whom she’s met before — in the future.

I am not a big fan of plots involving time travel, or prophecy, and the magic-working seemed pretty iffy to me, too. I didn’t like how many different perspectives the author used and felt some of the soul-searching was overdone. But there were many moments I enjoyed. I found the budding romance wonderfully poignant, and the spell the elf princess casts hilarious. I also think there are a lot of kids not as detail-oriented and persnickety as me who will thoroughly enjoy this tale. I like that the kids are firmly kids. Yes, they grow, but this is a children’s book from start to finish, and even J. K. Rowling moved her series to young adult before she finished. I’m not sure I’ll go back and read the first book, and I’m not sure I’ll read the third book, but in a time when I’m swamped with books to read, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading this one until I’d finished. And I’ve already thought of a reader I’m going to recommend these books to the next time I see him.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/fire_chronicle.html

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!