Archive for January, 2018

Review of The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Encore (Simon & Schuster Audio), 2016. 9 discs.
Starred Review

While I’m reading lots and lots of children’s books for the 2019 Newbery Medal, during my commute I indulged in a thriller for adults. This book is so intense, I can’t promise that it didn’t mess with my driving.

We’ve got a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer, and she gets an opportunity to go on a luxury cruise on a small lavish ship while her boss is on maternity leave. But a few days before the trip, she suffered a break in, and she’s very much on edge. And then, yes, she had quite a bit too much to drink the first night of the cruise.

So when she wakes up suddenly in the night to the sound of a body thrown into the sea, we definitely wonder if that’s really what she heard. But there must be an explanation for the fact that before dinner, there was a woman in Cabin 10 who gave Lo mascara when she asked to borrow some, and didn’t want it back. After Lo hears the splash in the night and calls security, there is no one in Cabin 10, and she’s told that the person who booked that room never came on the cruise at all. So who did Lo see and talk with?

The security staff don’t believe her. The reader isn’t sure we should either. The ship keeps traveling on.

But some more odd things start to happen.

This book does a wonderful job of setting a puzzle which I not only couldn’t solve, but I couldn’t imagine how the author could possibly solve.

Let’s just say that the author did make the puzzle work – with plenty of life-and-death danger and suspense along the way.

The narrator was fabulous. Though I have to say that I’m easily pleased by anyone with a British accent – but she did a good job and was a delight to listen to. Lo’s precarious mental state was communicated often by the tone of voice, sounding somewhat desperate when called for, or bewildered, or simply exhausted.

This was one of those audiobooks I eventually brought into my house to finish, because I couldn’t stand waiting until my next commute. Highly recommended for a version of a locked-room mystery – at sea.

audio.simonandschuster.com

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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.

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Review of Swing It, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
with color by Lark Pien

Graphix (Scholastic), 2017. 220 pages.

This graphic novel is a pleasant sequel to Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s now starting middle school, which is tough, but most of the tension in the book comes from the difficulty of adjusting to her older brother being sent away to boarding school. When he comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole house is full of tension.

The story’s set in 1976, which was when I was in eighth grade myself. So I especially enjoyed the seventies’ touches such as Pet Rocks, seventies’ décor, and TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. The authors keep a light touch, mixing fun diversions – like a new next-door neighbor teaching Sunny how to swing a flag – with worries about her brother.

You’ll enjoy it a little bit more if you read the first book, since you’ll appreciate Sunny’s interaction with Gramps and her fondness for the alligator Big Al. But even without that, you’ll still have fun with this book.

It all adds up to a truly delightful and hopeful graphic novel.

scholastic.com/graphix

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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.

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Review of Heaven’s Doors, by George W. Sarris

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Heaven’s Doors

Wider Than You Ever Believed!

by George W. Sarris

Grace Will Succeed Publishing, 2017. 256 pages.
Starred Review

It’s true – I’ve started collecting books on universalism. I originally came to believe God will eventually save everyone by reading the writings of George MacDonald and then searching the Scriptures to see if it could be true. But George MacDonald doesn’t give a direct, organized defense of universalism.

Then I started finding more and more books that actually do defend universalism. My nagging doubts and questions all got cleared up. One of the most significant moments was when I learned that for the first 500 years of the church, while the leaders were native speakers of Greek, the most prominent teaching was that hell will not last forever, but is for the purpose of restoring and refining those who do not come to Christ while they are alive on earth.

This book, Heaven’s Doors, didn’t contain anything I hadn’t heard before, but I think it may be my new first choice for explaining universalist views to others. The author takes the Bible seriously – He would not have come to this view if he didn’t believe it’s what the Bible teaches. He also researched the teachings of the early church fathers.

But even though there is rigorous research behind his positions, he writes with a light and readable style. He even includes anecdotes at the start of each chapter.

In fact, he was an evangelical pastor before he came around to these views, and had to leave the church where he was ministering because he no longer agreed with their Statement of Faith. This makes me very, very glad that the church I’m attending right now doesn’t require members to sign a Statement of Faith – they just ask you to affirm that you’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of your life and desire to follow him.

The author has had close friends confront him as following heresy and label him a heretic. He comes to these views and beliefs at great personal cost. (It reminds me to go easy on folks who are ministering with evangelical organizations. Although I firmly believe God will save everyone and this glorious belief gives me joy – it’s going to affect their lives and ministries more than it does mine.)

I did like his section on answers to common questions – some of the answers there were well said and helpfully articulate why certain passages don’t rule out universalism.

He uses endnotes – more than 400 of them – and while that does help make the text readable, I would have preferred footnotes, because as it was reading the endnotes when I was all done with the book, I didn’t always remember what it referred to. But that’s a minor quibble.

Here’s a lovely summary at the end of the book:

Throughout this book I’ve tried to look honestly and carefully at the major historical and Biblical issues that relate directly to the concepts of heaven and hell. I personally have concluded that all the people God created will ultimately be in heaven.

Why? Because of who God is.

He’s not partial – favoring some over others. He doesn’t change – acting graciously toward sinners while they’re alive on earth, but then withdrawing His hand of mercy at death. He’s not cruel – able to save all, but choosing rather to consign most of the human race to endless, conscious suffering. And He’s not weak – desiring to save all, but ultimately powerless to do so.

God is good! God is powerful! And God is loving!

Hell is real, but not forever. Jesus Christ succeeded in His mission to seek and save what was lost.

Amen!

For an articulate, well-organized and well-researched explanation of universalism and the Very Good News, this book is a good place to start.

heavensdoors.net

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via amazon.com.

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.

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Review of The Snowbear, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Claire Alexander

Friday, January 26th, 2018

The Snowbear

by Sean Taylor
illustrated by Claire Alexander

words & pictures (Quarto Publishing), Lake Forest, CA, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Charming, sweet, and simple – this would be a great pick for a winter storytime. It’s from the point of view of two small children, and the words and pictures are realistically childlike.

When Iggy and Martina wake up to snow, they go out to play. Their mother warns them to be careful of the hill, because it’s too steep and slippery. So they make a snowman – but it ends up looking more like a snowbear.

“He looks happy to be made,” said Martina.

And it was true.

Then Iggy wants to slide down the hill on their sled. Oops! It really is too steep and slippery. They slide on and on, into the deep dark woods.

There’s lots of atmosphere:

Nothing moved except for one grey pigeon.

“I want to go home,” said Martina.

“So do I,” said Iggy.

He got off the sledge and tried to pull it back the way they’d come.

But Mom was right.
It was too steep and slippery.

Next, there’s a wolf staring at them through the trees. It’s a scary moment. But they hear something, and an entire spread is their open-mouthed faces staring in amazement.

The snowbear has come lolloping down the hill toward them! The wolf leaves, and without a word, the snowbear picks them up and carries them home. Then it goes back to where they’d made it, keeping its friendly smile all along.

The ending is nice and open ended. Mom says it’s a lovely snowbear, but only the kids understand what really happened.

The pictures and text work together beautifully in this tale with child-sized drama and danger – and wonderful coziness.

QuartoKnows.com

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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.

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Review of Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Seeing Things

A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs

by Joel Meyerowitz

Aperture, 2016. 74 pages.
Starred Review

This is a book about photography – and about becoming a better photographer by learning to see as a photographer does.

The bulk of the book is a series of great photographs, chosen by Joel Meyerowitz, who is a photographer himself. They are mostly not images I would have chosen – they aren’t necessarily pretty pictures – but they are consistently images that make you think and wonder, if you stop to take a second look.

On the accompanying page to each photograph there is some text pointing things out, but also asking questions. The author explains why each one is a great photograph and explores why it captures your attention so effectively.

The earliest photo in this book was taken in 1898 and the latest in 2014. There are a wide variety of subjects and styles. The selection alone is provocative and will get you thinking about what you would choose for a collection of outstanding photographs.

Here’s what the author has to say on the opening page:

I chose the photographs in this book with the hope that the things you discover in them will encourage you to open your eyes and your mind so that you can see the world around you in a new way.

These photographs, of people and animals, of landscapes and life on the street, are full of humor, mystery, and surprise and show that any moment of any ordinary day has the potential to activate your mind with a sudden flash of insight.

That moment of seeing is like waking up.

How lucky we are to be living in an age when making a photograph is available to everyone with a smartphone or a camera. The photographs that follow show the kinds of tools that photographers use, like intuition, timing, point of view, a willingness to wait, and the courage to move closer – tactics that make beauty and meaning, otherwise hidden, visible. All of these things are part of how you naturally see, but you have to be aware of them if you’re really going to see.

What you notice will reflect the way the world speaks to you, and only to you.

You may or may not be able to change the world, but the world can certainly change you.

This book calls itself a kid’s guide to looking at photographs, but anyone of any age who takes pictures will learn from considering the ideas in this book.

aperture.org

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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.

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Review of Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.com

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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.

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Sonderling Sunday – die Grollhütte

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

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.

Tonight it’s back to the especially Sonder-book, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, which is the translation of The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, we left off on page 327, in Chapter 24, which is Seite 415, 24. Kapitel, auf Deutsch. The first sentence is a choice morsel to translate. (You’ll certainly want to know how to say this if you ever go to Germany!)

“It was time for the final ritual before the duel: a tea ceremony at the Grudge Hut in Snerdsmallow, in which Jo and Fiona were required to read hundred-line poems insulting each other.”

= Es wurde Zeit für das letzte Ritual vor dem Duell, die Teezeremonie in der Grollhütte in Gimpelgarten, wo Jo und Fiona sich gegenseitig ein jeweils hundert Zeilen langes Gedicht aus Beleidigungen vorlesen mussten.

“distant” = weitab

This is pretty close to a direct translation:
“You can’t just blow it off.”
= Du kannst die ganze Sache jetzt nicht einfach abblasen.
(“You can the whole thing now not simply blow off.”)

This one they had to explain:
“Jo’s head was pounding.”
= Jos Kopf pochte vor Schmerz.
(“Jo’s head throbbed with pain.”)

“Don’t mention it.” = Nicht der Rede wert. (“Not a speech worth”)

I like the way these are one word in German:
“disturbing the peace” = Ruhestörung

“bomb threats” = Bombendrohungen

“foul mood” = übellaunig

“fumed” = schäumte

“our most splendid finery” = unserem schönsten Putz

“showering” = überschwemmen

And surely you’d like to be able to say this in German!
“Behold the glamorous Odd-Fish butlers streaking across the firmament, thoughtfully distributing signed portraits to fans and collectors!”
= Seht dort die glorreichen Butler der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, die über das Firmament gleiten und umsichtigerweise signierte Porträts an Fans und Sammler verteilen!

A nice long word:
“sympathy” = Mitleidsbekundungen

“but he didn’t touch a hair on your head”
= doch er hat Ihnen nicht das kleinste Härchen gekrümmt

“asylum” = Irrenanstalt (“Error-institution”)

“vanity” = Eitelkeit

“society pages” = Klatschspalten

“moping” = schmollen

“spilled” = verschüttet

“sour and scraped-out” = wund und wie ausgekratzt an

“earshot” = Hörweite

And that’s all for tonight! I haven’t been writing Sonderling Sunday for awhile, but next week I’ll know what to tell myself: Du kannst die ganze Sache jetzt nicht einfach abblasen.

Bis bald!

Review of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with illustrations by Erin Stead

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

by Mark Twain
and Philip Stead
with illustrations by Erin Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017. 152 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, this is such a lovely book! The story is based on 16 pages of notes discovered in Mark Twain’s papers. It was discovered by a researcher hoping to write a Twain cookbook – found because of the word “Oleomargarine.” Mark Twain House & Museum authorized Philip and Erin Stead to make a book from those notes, which were based on a story Mark Twain spun for his daughters at bedtime while in a Paris hotel.

The result is delightful. Philip Stead retained Mark Twain’s folksy style. He presents it as a conversation with Mark Twain – but where Mark Twain disappears right before the story ends. He includes some discussion between the two authors. Here’s a small example:

“How did she know she was a fairy?” I asked.

“Because,” answered Twain, “the woman in question was only four and a half inches tall. It was the scientific conclusion to make. Now, let’s try not to interrupt, shall we?”

The story turns out to be a gentle one – about a boy named Johnny who, through his kindness, receives the gift of understanding the speech of animals and gains a family of animal friends. The animal friends are observant and know what happened when Prince Oleomargarine disappeared, so they tell Johnny.

The story is presented in picture book format, with Erin Stead’s delicate woodcut illustrations on each spread, and many spreads with few words or no words at all. It’s a book to savor slowly and would make magnificent classroom reading or for reading aloud at bedtime for a sequence of nights (imitating the original creation of the story).

Okay, I was browsing through the book for the delightful language, and found a part I simply have to quote. This is supposedly what Mark Twain said to Philip Stead as he was relating the story, and is off on quite a tangent from the tale of Johnny. It started with a skunk who was the first to befriend Johnny.

“Of course,” he added, “I could have saved myself – and Johnny – from the silly prejudices of the unenlightened. I could have lied and said porcupine or kangaroo instead of skunk.

“But if I lie to you once, you will never trust me again. And if history is our guide, our entire undertaking will be lost –

“Napoleon,” he explained, “lied to his men at Waterloo. He said: We are going to have a great time! They did not.

“King Henry VIII lied to Anne Boleyn, and the whole thing caused nothing but headaches.

“There are other examples, too! –

“Consider George Washington. He made an awful stink about the nobleness of truth telling after the fact, but the sad reality is this – he looked that cherry tree in the face and told it: This won’t hurt a bit.

“History tells us these things. And we can trust history on the matter of lies because history is mostly lies, along with some exaggerations.”

Spend some time savoring this uplifting and ultimately very silly story.

Here are Twain’s notes: (Much better in this book form!)
http://admin.rhcbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Twain-fragment.pdf

randomhousekids.com

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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.

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Review of The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin

Friday, January 19th, 2018

The Four Tendencies

by Gretchen Rubin

Harmony Books, 2017. 257 pages.
Starred Review

The Four Tendencies is an interesting approach to motivation. It really does seem to work for me – though I’m the same tendency as the author. I was discussing it with friends on Facebook, and some think it’s a little too simplistic, but of course you’ll get more nuances if you read the book.

Here’s the basic idea: People are divided up by whether they meet or resist outer and inner expectations.

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.

Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations.

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Within this framework – which she definitely doesn’t claim is the last word on someone’s personality – she gives tips about how to motivate someone from that type.

I agree with the things she says about my tendency – an Upholder – but where the book is helpful is helping me see why what motivates me (“Just do it!”) doesn’t necessarily work on others. This book actually explains a lot about some things that went wrong in my interactions with my ex-husband, who I believe is the opposite type. And it sheds light on why the ways I tried to motivate my kids often didn’t work.

To identify our Tendency, we must consider many examples of our behavior and our reasons for our behaviors. For example, a Questioner and a Rebel might both reject an expectation, but the Questioner thinks, “I won’t do it because it doesn’t make sense,” while a Rebel thinks, “I won’t do it because you can’t tell me what to do.”

The main question this book is trying to answer is “How do I get people – including myself – to do what I want?” It’s a book about motivation.

Here’s a section from the first chapter:

Knowing other people’s Tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict. If we don’t consider a person’s Tendency, our words may be ineffective or even counterproductive. The fact is, if we want to communicate, we must speak the right language – not the message that would work most effectively with us, but the message that will persuade the listener. When we take into account the Four Tendencies, we can tailor our arguments to appeal to different values.

On the other hand, when we ignore the Tendencies, we lower our chances of success. The more an Upholder lectures a Rebel, the more the Rebel will want to resist. A Questioner may provide an Obliger with several sound reasons for taking an action, but those logical arguments don’t matter much to an Obliger; external accountability is the key for an Obliger.

The book isn’t long. It might give you some useful insights into motivating yourself or others. I think it’s worth a read, but the choice is yours. (There, maybe I’m learning – I didn’t order anyone to read it.)

gretchenrubin.com
harmonybooks.com

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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.

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Review of La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, Volume One, by Philip Pullman

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust, Volume One

by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 451 pages.

It’s no secret that Philip Pullman is a magnificent writer. His rich use of language, his astonishingly detailed, imaginative worlds are all marks of a master craftsman. So, yes, I was impressed by how well-written this book was.

But did I enjoy it? Not so much.

This surprised me. I enjoyed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. (Not enough to want to read them again, but I did enjoy them.) In this book, I liked the character of Malcolm tremendously – but not really anyone else.

This book is a prequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra, who is a young girl in those books, is now a baby – and a baby with a prophecy about her, a baby who needs protection. In the majority of the book, Malcolm is trying to rescue baby Lyra from danger in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, riding over floodwaters, pursued by one of the most horrific villains imaginable.

You don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this, since it is a prequel. (Knowing Lyra must make it does help make things a little less scary.) Maybe if I had reread the original trilogy I would have been ready for what seemed like out-of-place fantastical elements, including an encounter with faeries and traveling through some sort of mystical kingdom. I know it’s an alternate universe, but I had forgotten that they’re not really going with a scientific explanation of alternate universes, since the one Lyra’s in has lots of magic.

And I know – it’s magic – it’s an alternate universe – but this time the explanation of “Dust” as an “elementary particle” of a “Rusakov field” responsible for consciousness – seemed rather silly. That’s not really how elementary particles work. This Dust is also what makes the alethiometer magically answer questions. And that, too, seems a bit silly reading it afresh. If the author just called it “magic” and didn’t try to make it sound scientific, it would work better. (Ah! That’s the problem! When I read The Golden Compass, I just thought it was dealing with a world where magic existed, and I hadn’t read any pseudo-scientific explanation.)

All that aside, there’s a fair amount of coincidence. How does the monstrous villain keep following Malcolm? Now, to be fair, that particular coincidence simply makes the book all the more intensely frightening. But when the good guy happens upon Malcolm later, that seems a little more remarkable.

I liked that Malcolm wondered how baby Lyra’s daemon could know the shapes of various animals to take on that it hadn’t yet seen. I imagine someone complained about that in the first book, so now it’s something remarkable about Lyra’s daemon rather than an oversight by the author.

And I do love the daemons – an animal expression of a person’s soul that lives outside their body. Children’s daemons can change form at will, but adults’ daemons have a set form. An interesting thing is that no two people in the book have the same form for their daemons.

I never do like it when the Church is villainous, though I knew to expect it from the first trilogy. In this book, there’s an extra sinister effort to get children to turn in their parents to the forces of evil run by the Church.

All that said, La Belle Sauvage is an absorbing read. Philip Pullman’s world-building is full of intricate details and extremely atmospheric. You can see this by how the book begins:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

The inn was an old stone-built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the landlord’s wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire, and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

Those that have read His Dark Materials will almost certainly want to read this. If you haven’t yet – you might prefer to start with that one since you can read all three books in succession and won’t be stymied by those annoying words that end this book: “To be continued . . .”

philip-pullman.com

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

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