Archive for January, 2018

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.

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 Pink Umbrella, by Amélie Callot, pictures by Geneviève Godbout

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

The Pink Umbrella

by Amélie Callot
pictures by Geneviève Godbout

Tundra Books, Penguin Random House, 2018. Originally published in French in 2016 in Canada. 76 pages.
Starred Review

Ah! A wonderful 2018 children’s book for which I can post a review! Why? Because it’s translated from French and was originally published in Canada in 2016 – so it’s not eligible for the 2019 Newbery. I probably wouldn’t have read it, but it’s a picture book. I’m glad I did because I was enchanted.

The Pink Umbrella is the story of Adele, who runs a café called The Polka-Dot Apron in a small village next to the sea.

For the villagers, the café is a refuge,
a small lantern always lit.

It’s where everyone meets. Where they cry, laugh, yell, argue and love. The café is the heart of the village.

And Adele is the heart of the café. She is the village’s sun – lively, sweet and sparkling.

Adele is known for gathering people together. And her friend Lucas helps by supplying the café. But there’s something else Adele is known for:

The thing everyone knows about Adele is that she doesn’t like the rain.

When the weather is nice, she smiles, she whistles, she sings at the top of her lungs, she throws open the windows and props open the door….

But when it rains, Adele stays inside.
She can’t help it; she loses her spirit.
The rain is gray, cold and dreary.

However, one beautiful market day on Wednesday (the café has many uses besides being a café and Wednesday is market day), someone leaves behind two bright pink rubber boots with suns carved into the soles. They are just Adele’s size! She asks all week, but no one claims them.

The next week, someone leaves behind a bright pink raincoat. It, too, fits Adele perfectly.

But the next market day the weather is bad. Lucas and Adele are taking care of the market stall, but few customers come, so Lucas leaves early.

When the truck disappeared from view, Adele turned around to close the café, roll herself up in her quilt and wait for the sun to take the place of the clouds . . .

But she stopped short, stunned! In the entrance, under the coatrack, was an adorable umbrella.
It was pink . . . with polka dots!

And only one person could have left it there.

Adele smiled.

Because the day was done, because she wanted to, and because opening an umbrella inside is bad luck . . . Adele put on the boots and the raincoat and, on the doorstep, opened the pink polka-dotted umbrella.

There was only one step to take, and she took it with joy. She turned the key in the lock and went for a walk in the rain.

It really wasn’t so bad. The air smelled wonderfully of damp grass, and the rain played a pretty melody as it fell on the umbrella.

And yes, she sees her friend Lucas as she goes on her walk.

I probably shouldn’t have quoted as much from this book as I did, lest you think that’s all there is to it. I wanted to convey the charming language used. But the marvelous old-fashioned pictures are what completely win your heart. They are large and beautiful, cartoon-like but filled with atmosphere. Adele is beautiful and like a ray of sunshine indeed – but all the more so when she’s all dressed in pink, brightening up a gray day.

At first, I liked the book so much, I thought it was really written more for adults than for children. But then I thought about how very much fun it would be to read the book to my four- and five-year-old nieces. It’s a book about joy, and a book about love, and a book about getting out in the rain, and a book about the joys of wearing pink!

If I were doing a preschool storytime in February, I would enjoy using this book for a book with a theme of love where it’s not overtly stated. Yes, it’s on the long side – but even though there are many pages, most don’t have a lot of words, and the big beautiful pictures will keep their interest. But of course, more fun would be sitting down with a child who loves pink, or a child who loves wearing rubber boots in the rain – and reading it together.

penguinrandomhouse.ca

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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 One Last Word, by Nikki Grimes

Monday, January 15th, 2018

One Last Word

Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

by Nikki Grimes

Bloomsbury, 2017. 120 pages.

This book is a tribute to poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and contains fourteen poems by poets from that time. The poems are illustrated with artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

But the heart of the book is the Golden Shovel poems Nikki Grimes has written in tribute to the Harlem Renaissance poets.

The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…. Then you would write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words.

Nikki Grimes does this with the poems she’s selected and included. She either uses one line or the entire poem, and uses those words as the ending of the lines of her own poem.

For example, the first poem selected is “Storm Ending,” by Jean Toomer, and the first line of the poem is “Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,” and that first line is printed in bold. Then Nikki Grimes wrote a poem, “Truth” that uses these six words as the last word in each of the six lines.

It’s a lovely way of paying tribute to the original work. This book would be good simply as an anthology. But with Nikki Grimes’ poems playing off the original poems, and the work of this distinguished collection of artists, this book is something much more.

nikkigrimes.com
bloomsbury.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 Precious and Grace, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Precious and Grace

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2016. 9.75 hours on 8 CDs.

Here’s another book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, with co-directors Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi. The main puzzle of the book involves a Canadian lady who wants to find the place where she grew up in Gabarone and the lady who cared for her. But Mma Ramotswe senses there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Other plot threads involve a stray dog befriended by Fanwell and a business scheme which Mr. Polopetsi falls for. And guess who’s up for Woman of the Year? It’s Grace Makutsi’s nemesis, Violet Sepotho.

It’s interesting that this one doesn’t have a surprisingly amusing title, but boils the work down to a story of friendship between two interesting ladies, Precious and Grace. They have their difficult moments, but ultimately they help people solve their problems. The book is filled with the usual gentle philosophy.

I’m now enjoying listening to these in audiobook format, getting more of the flavor of the book, as well as correct pronunciation, with the skilled narration and lovely accent of Lisette Lecat.

There’s nothing really new in this installment. But if you’ve come this far, you’ll enjoy another installment of philosophy and friendship with Precious and Grace.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.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 Patina, by Jason Reynolds

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

Patina

Track: Book 2

by Jason Reynolds

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), 2017. 233 pages.

This is the second book in Jason Reynolds’ Track series, each one featuring one new member of the “Defenders” track team. Both volumes so far end with a race, but you don’t find out who wins until the next volume. (This is a little annoying. By the time I got to read Patina, I’d forgotten Ghost had left off in the middle of a race, so I wasn’t nearly as invested as I would have been if the end of the race had been the end of the book. Once the series is done, it will keep kids reading on in the series, though.)

The first book featured Ghost, who’s used to running from problems. This second book features Patina, who’s carrying a heavy load for her family. As in the first book, the track gives her insight about her life, this time it’s Patina learning to run a relay and be part of a team.

Patina’s father died years ago, and her mother has diabetes, with both her legs amputated and needing dialysis. So Patti and her little sister Maddy live with their uncle and aunt. But Patti feels very responsible for Maddy, and responsible for her mother, too, to some extent. On top of that, Patti’s going to a new school, a private “academy,” and is new on the track team.

I like where Patti describes her Sunday ritual of doing Maddy’s hair.

I do Maddy’s hair every Sunday for two reasons. The first is because Momly can’t do it. If it was up to her, Maddy’s hair would be in two Afro-puffs every day. Either that, or Momly would’ve shaved it all off by now. It’s not that she don’t care. She does. It’s just that she don’t know what to do with hair like Maddy’s – like ours. Ma do, but Momly . . . nope. She never had to deal with nothing like it, and there ain’t no rule book for white people to know how to work with black hair. And her husband, my uncle Tony, he ain’t no help. Ever since they adopted us, every time I talk about Maddy’s hair, Uncle Tony says the same thing – just let it rock. Like he’s gonna sit in the back of Maddy’s class and stink-face all the six-year-old bullies in barrettes. Right. But luckily for everybody, especially Maddy, I know what I’m doing. Been a black girl all my life.

The other reason I always do Maddy’s hair on Sundays is because that’s when we see Ma, and she don’t wanna see Maddy looking like “she ain’t never been nowhere.”

I like the way this series focuses in on each featured character. There’s always a story. Patina’s story isn’t quite as dramatic as Ghost’s, but Patti still has plenty to deal with in this book. And I like the way some things get worked out with the team.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Where the Animals Go, by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Where the Animals Go

Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics

by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 174 pages.
Starred Review

This is an amazing, fascinating, and eye-catching book.

This book is a set of maps and charts showing how animals move around the world. There are migrations diagrammed and feeding patterns and responses to wind currents. There are maps for every continent and every ocean, and there are maps for land animals, creatures of the air, and creatures of the sea. The format is extra large, and some pages pull out to be even larger. All the maps and graphics are beautifully done.

I thought I could read through this book quickly, because so many of the oversize pages are covered with maps. But there’s text to go with every map, and the print is tiny! So it took me longer than I thought, and it would take some time even to read just a map or two.

Here’s how the Introduction begins:

From footprints to fallen feathers, nests to droppings, the history of where animals go has been a history of physical traces. This book is about a new era, one in which the traces we follow are imprinted not in the earth but in the silicon of computer chips. And while the maps and studies we feature rely heavily on data processing, the desire to study animal movements with new inventions long predates the Information Age. In 1803, John James Audubon was tying threads to the legs of songbirds in order to prove that the same individuals returned to his farm each spring; a map from 1892 illustrates the month-by-month migration of seals in the North Pacific; in 1907, a German apothecary equipped pigeons with automatic cameras in order to document their journeys; in 1962, three scientists from the University of Illinois taped a radio transmitter to a duck; and in 1997, two of the world’s first GPS collars confirmed that elephants from Kenya sometimes cross the border into Tanzania.

The maps in this book show things about animals such as baboon troupes in Kenya, mountain lions crossing the Alps, elk inside and outside Yellowstone, pheasants in the Himalayas, pythons in the Everglades, information flow among ants, sharks around Hawaii, sea otters in Monterey Bay, bird migration paths, and density of penguin colonies.

Each page is packed with information – so it’s no wonder it takes a long time to read – but the maps are eye-catching and communicate lots of information quickly. You’ll be pulled in, then want to know more.

This book lets you in on new discoveries scientists are making about animals all the time – now that we have more effective ways to track them and learn about their worlds.

Once you open this book, you’ll have a hard time putting it away.

wwnorton.com

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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.

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Review of Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Gemina

The Illuminae Files_02

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
with journal illustrations by Marie Lu

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 659 pages.

Last year, I was a first-round judge for the Cybils Award category of Young Adult Speculative Fiction. We chose seven finalists, and the second-round judges chose Illuminae as the final winner.

Illuminae was a thriller with a high body count, a tense story of people fleeing through space when their illegal mining company was attacked by a rival corporation. And that corporation was chasing the survivors as they tried to reach the nearest “jump station” to get to a wormhole and then to the Core planets.

What I thought when the first book finished was that they’d get to the safety of the jump station and get to share the news. I thought there’d be some chance to catch their breath. Ummmm, No!

Because the evil corporation BeiTech doesn’t want anyone in the Core planets to hear about what they did. They’ve sent an elite force to take over the jump station and destroy their records – as well as to let through a fleet of drones that will destroy our survivors on the spaceship.

In this book again, the focus is on two teenagers caught in the carnage. Hanna Donnelly is the daughter of the station commander. At the beginning, we see her as a rich princess party girl. But we also learn that for fun, her father puts her through simulated combat scenarios. She’s ready to fight back against this elite force. Well, with a little computer help.

Other key combatants are Nik Malikov, part of a family supplying drugs to folks on the station, and his cousin Ella, a computer genius.

This book was every bit as thrilling and tense as the first one – but I was kind of tired of the drama by the time I read this one. I would have liked a little variation from bad guys trying to hunt our heroes down in an enclosed place. When there was even a zombifying threat – I laughed out loud (probably not the reaction the authors were going for). In Illuminae, there was a virus loose on the ship that turns people into zombies. In Gemina, there’s an alien worm loose that eats people’s brains (grown to produce a popular hallucinogenic drug – but forgotten about when its keepers are slaughtered). Because apparently you have to have a few zombies and monsters for proper space horror.

There’s also a big paradox with the wormhole, and some convenient ways it helped the plot – which stretched credibility.

But the fact is, there was no way I was going to quit once I picked this up. Okay, it’s long and I did manage to stop in the middle – but I did have it finished in a surprisingly short space of time. If you can handle the high body count, mortal terror, and gruesome deaths – I’m afraid this book is still a lot of diverting fun.

Mind you, both books feature couples who might have real problems if they were to try to live together for any extended period of time. But I can easily believe they’d have a strong bond after going through these harrowing adventures together.

And, yes, I want to find out what happens next – and how they all bring the evil corporation to account. Oh, and get back to civilization.

You’re in for a wild ride if you read these books. But once you start, you won’t want to stop, any more than you’d want to get off a roller coaster once you’ve started.

amiekaufman.com
jaykristoff.com
randomhouseteens.com

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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.

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Review of Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Grand Canyon

by Jason Chin

A Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press), 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #4 Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s a stunningly illustrated and meticulously well-presented story of the ecology, geology and history of Grand Canyon.

First, the book explains that there are different ecological communities in different levels of the canyon. Then it also talks about the many different rock layers in the canyon.

Then we’re taken with a father and daughter on a hike through the different layers and different ecological communities. All around the borders, we’ll see drawings of different animals and plants that inhabit that layer.

But the most striking part about each layer is a cut-out window showing a fossil or rock found today – and when you turn the page, you see that thing in its habitat when the fossil was formed.

For example, the girl sees a fossil of a Trilobite in a rock today, then turning the page takes her back in time, under the sea, where Trilobites roamed the sea floor. Later the girl sees fossil footprints, and then in the past, she sees a lizard walking over windswept dunes and leaving those footprints.

It’s an interesting and imaginative way of presenting the material and is striking and easy to understand. There’s a fold-out spread with a panorama of Grand Canyon, and 8 pages of more details at the back of the book.

This is a fact-filled, gorgeously illustrated book that will reward multiple rereadings.

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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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2017 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Announcing the 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

First, let me make it very clear that these are simply my personal favorites out of the books I read during the calendar year of 2017 (not counting advance reader copies of Newbery-eligible books to be published in 2018).

I am not making any claims that these books are more distinguished than the other books I read this year. I am not adjusting the list in any way to increase diversity or make it a better list for people I might recommend books to. No, this is simply a list of the books that stand out in my mind with fondness when I think back over my reading year. As such, it’s very personal. Talk with me about which books you might like best!

I like to post my Stand-outs on January 1st of the new year, but didn’t quite get to it this year, so I feel a tiny bit behind. My next step will be to post a page for the 2017 Stand-outs on my main website and to put the Sonderbooks Stand-outs seal on all of the review pages for these books. But first, I thought I’d say a little more about them here on the blog. You can follow the links for more detailed reviews.

And just to point out how big the competition was for these books, here are my stats for 2017:

I read 13 novels for adults
48 nonfiction books for adults
22 teen novels
53 children’s novels
142 nonfiction books for children (mostly picture books)
573 picture books
11 rereads (not eligible to be stand-outs – most of these were teen novels)

That comes to a grand total of 862 books – but approximately 715 of those were picture books, so only 147 others.

Just think – next year I’m going to *try* to read lots of books!

Children’s Fiction

I’ll begin with my favorite novel of the year: The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud. Hooray! This was the fifth and final volume of the Lockwood & Co. series, which I’ve been following for five years. In fact, ALL the volumes in this series have been Sonderbooks Stand-outs, and now numbers 1, 3, and 5 have been #1 in the category of Children’s Fiction. It’s a wonderful series – one of my all-time favorites – and Jonathan Stroud pulled off an exciting and satisfying conclusion in this book.

That brings me to the category of Children’s Fiction. My second choice was Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca. I don’t often choose an early chapter book – they can be good, but don’t tend to stick in my mind. This one, however, hit all the right notes for me. I think of this as a perfectly crafted book. (I know, I’ll have to practice explaining in more detail what I love about a book for my Newbery committee service next year. But this isn’t a committee – this is just me telling you which books I loved.)

Third in Children’s Fiction was The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis. I don’t have any illusions that this was a perfect book – even I can come up with a few quibbles – but this book just plain made me happy. It was good-hearted, with a happy ending for everyone, and it was a nice twist on the usual fantasy tale. I loved the food magic in that world combined with making chocolate, and I loved the dragon’s perspective as a human girl, and I loved Aventurine finding her passion.

My fourth choice in Children’s Fiction was The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, the sequel to my first choice last year. This one, too, had amazing detail and amazing writing. It didn’t hit me quite as hard as the first one, when Ada first deals with her life completely changed. But I was so glad to get to spend more time with her, a wonderful resilient character.

Fifth was The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, last year’s Newbery Medal winner. Yes, it was wonderful, and I’m happy that a fantasy book won the medal. I agree that it’s distinguished and is carefully and beautifully crafted. It didn’t win my heart quite as much as these other books I’ve listed first, but it was indeed a stand-out for me still.

Sixth I chose Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, who always has a paranormal element in her books. My co-worker booktalked this one in the schools before our Summer Reading Program, and she convinced me to pick it up, and I was glad I did. It’s a warm and friendly look at a kid who discovers a new species – an animal that eats plastic – and the repercussions of that.

Finally, my seventh choice in Children’s Fiction was Frogkisser!, by Garth Nix. I’m a big fan of Garth Nix’s much more serious works – but this one is just plain silly fun, playing with standard fantasy tropes in amusing way. (For example, I like it that the girls’ stepmother isn’t evil, she’s a botanist.)

Teen Fiction

In Teen Fiction, my favorite novel was Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M. T. Anderson. I think it’s even better than his novel Feed, which was my number one Sonderbooks Stand-out in Young Adult and Children’s Science Fiction in 2003. M. T. Anderson is good at science fiction that has implications for today’s society. This one is also short and compact with no extra words. I thought it was fantastic, and made me think about the downside of remarkable innovation. Can we make sure that all of our society benefits?

My second choice in Teen Fiction was the much anticipated Thick as Thieves, the fifth book by one of my very favorite authors, Megan Whalen Turner. That series, beginning with The Thief, is one of my all-time favorite series. This particular installment doesn’t have as much of my favorite characters in it, so wasn’t quite my favorite teen fiction of the year. But it’s definitely a stand-out, and its publication gave me a great excuse to reread the whole series. (Report: It’s still wonderful! I’ve taken Rereads off my Stand-outs lists, though, because it’s not fair to list the same books again and again.)

Third in Teen Fiction is Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, a novel set in a future earth where mankind has conquered death – but still needs to glean some people to keep the planet from being overpopulated. Lots of things to think about in this book, plus a compelling story.

My fourth choice in Teen Fiction is Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. This book is long – but it whiled away the time as I was driving back from seeing the total eclipse in South Carolina. Laini Taylor has an incredible imagination, and her world-building in this book, again, is like nothing I’d seen before.

Fifth was Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds. To be honest, when I first read this, I was moved, but then it slipped my mind. What really made it stand out was when I listened to the audiobook read by the author a couple months later. I heard the poetry as it was designed to be read, and it made an impact. Now I can’t forget what I heard.

I also listened to my sixth Teen Fiction choice, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. This book was about a black girl who goes to high school at a private school in the suburbs. She’s coming home from party in her neighborhood, and sees her unarmed friend murdered by a policeman who pulls them over for a broken taillight. Listening to the book I felt like I was hearing Starr tell her own story, and it was heart-wrenching.

Finally, my seventh choice was John Green’s latest book, Turtles All the Way Down. His earlier book got us into the head of a teen with cancer. This one helps us understand what it’s like to have OCD. Plus I always enjoy listening to John Green’s characters talk in their delightfully nerdy ways.

Picture Books

For my favorite picture book of the year, I can’t get past The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. The author read this to those of us at the ALSC preconference on Inauguration Day, the day before the Women’s March. Yes, the message in this book is needed – let’s not be quiet, despite bullying! But it’s also a marvelously and musically told tale. This book works on so many levels.

But my second favorite picture book was The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, by Drew Dawalt, illustrated by Adam Rex. I had so much fun booktalking it to elementary school classes before the summer started! I can’t imagine a more fun book to read aloud. It makes me laugh every time.

On a more thoughtful but joyous note, my third choice is Now, by Antoinette Portis. This picture book makes you think about what you have right this moment and be grateful for it. In fact, while I was reading it, it was my favorite book of all.

Baabwaa and Wooliam, by David Elliott and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is my fourth Picture Book Stand-out. A sheep who loves to read and a sheep who loves to knit! How could I not love them?

Fifth in Picture Books Stand-outs is The Fox Wish, by Kimiko Aman, illustrated by Komako Sakai. Those old-fashioned pictures and the well-told, magical tale – with a little self-sacrificial kindness coming from the child – won my heart completely.

My sixth Picture Books choice was A Different Pond, by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui. This is a serious book – an immigrant child going fishing with his father to catch food for dinner. It was the strong affection between the child and his father and the luminous pictures of their nighttime adventures that make it stick in my mind.

Seventh is the Picture Book whose title I love to say – Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, and Mike, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mike Austin. This book is SO FAB! I love to read it aloud and it always makes me smile. It reminds me that a good attitude can go a long way.

And I’m listing eight in Picture Books, because I couldn’t bear to leave off The Antlered Ship, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers. The pictures are lovely, but what really makes this book stand out for me is the philosophical fox who discovers the best way to find a friend you can talk to.

Children’s Nonfiction

In Children’s Nonfiction, for my favorite book, I had to go with Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir, Real Friends, drawn by LeUyen Pham. Maybe this was influenced by the sketch LeUyen Pham drew of me when she signed my Advance Reader Copy. But it’s also true that I love Shannon Hale’s writing – and this was a memoir about an imaginative girl in a large-ish and very religious family. Yes, I related to Shannon’s story.

My second choice in Children’s Nonfiction is really nonfiction for teens and I actually feel guilty putting it second because it’s so amazing and so powerful and has won so many awards. (Remember, this is strictly about ranking my personal favorites.) That book is also a graphic memoir, March, Book Three, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell. John Lewis’s life wasn’t remotely similar to mine – but he made a big difference in the history of our country. This story of trying to change things by using nonviolence against violence is magnificent.

Third in Children’s Nonfiction is a completely silly book by comparison – but I loved booktalking this book in the schools so much, I have to mention it. Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team by Daniel O’Brien, with illustrations by Winston Rowntree, is the funniest – and most memorable – book about the presidents that you’ll ever read.

Fourth is Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin. This one is so stunning in its beauty and so wide-ranging in the facts presented, it has to be included.

Fifth in Children’s Nonfiction, I chose Dave Eggers’ Her Right Foot, which gives interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty – and then draws inspiring conclusions for today from something I’d never noticed before.

Sixth I chose Moto and Me, by Suzi Eszterhas, about her adoption of an orphaned serval in Africa. This one, too, was super fun to booktalk. And that Moto is just so darn cute!

My seventh and final choice in Children’s Nonfiction is Dazzle Ships, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai. This one was striking but also surprising. It told a story about World War I that I’d never heard anything about – and the images alone make it memorable.

Now I’ll move to books for grown-ups.

Fiction

My favorite novel for adults that I read this year was easy to choose: While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell. Just plain good writing here! I loved this story – an almost straight historical novel playing off the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.

It was a lot more difficult to rank the rest of the Fiction. But second I decided to go with My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith. Quirky and cozy, it tells about a man who goes to Italy, and instead of a regular rental car, ends up renting a bulldozer.

Third I chose Provenance, by Ann Leckie. Though I wasn’t as crazy about the story of this science fiction novel as in some of her other books, I love Ann Leckie’s writing, her world-building, and her unique perspective on the universe.

Fourth in Fiction was The Simplicity of Cider, by Amy E. Reichert. Sometimes I need a nice romantic novel.

Fifth was The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst. This was the second in the series, but it was the one that dealt with a woman in midlife – so it was a little closer to my heart.

Sixth I chose The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova. If I were choosing by literary merit plus broad appeal, I might have chosen this one first. It’s got a mystery, flashbacks to World War II, and a chase across Bulgaria.

My seventh and final choice in Fiction was The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst, the predecessor to my #5 pick and an innovative fantasy novel for adults, which I almost always enjoy reading.

General Nonfiction

The General Nonfiction book that most stands out in my mind is A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, by Jen Waite. I related a little bit too much.

My second choice is Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook, which he reads himself – so you can hear all the African words pronounced correctly. Whether or not you agree with Trevor Noah’s politics today in America, this mesmerizing story deals with his growing up in South Africa with an African mother and a European father.

Third in General Nonfiction, I chose Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, the book behind the wonderful movie with the same name. A book about black female mathematicians at NASA in the 1940s through 60s. Who knew such a thing could exist and be so packed with information? There were a lot more than the three featured in the movie.

Fourth is a book I read for the sake of my job as a children’s librarian, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns, by Dana Suskind, M. D. The thirty million words in the title aren’t how many words a child needs to hear. They are how many more words a child in a language-rich family hears from their parents than a child in a language-poor family.

And my fifth and final choice in General Nonfiction is Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli, about the author’s experiences as a volunteer translator for teen immigrants who didn’t want to be deported. This is an eye-opening and deeply troubling book in the age of Trump.

Christian Nonfiction

I read so many Christian Nonfiction books this year that I loved, they get their own category.

My favorite had to be Angels in My Hair, by Lorna Byrne, who has been able to see angels all her life. I loved her perspective and her loving spirit – and her firm conviction that God is working in the world and His messengers personally care about each one of us.

My second choice in Christian Nonfiction is Flames of Love, by Heath Bradley. Yes, this is a book about Universalism – teaching that hell does not last forever, but is designed by a God of love to purify and restore. That, in fact, hell is almost nothing like the popular view of it. The book is well-written and persuasive, and I love to see what I believe laid out so clearly. It makes sense, and it is joyously good news.

Then my third choice takes on the theology of the cross – A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, by Bradley Jersak, speaks against theology that implies that Jesus came to save us from God. It presents a lovely view – and shows how it fits with Scripture – that Jesus revealed the Father’s love, that God is not mad at us.

Less theological and more personal is my fourth choice, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. It’s a book about community and a book about broken people showing each other grace.

My fifth Christian Nonfiction Stand-out is another book on Universalism, Christ Triumphant: Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture, by Thomas Allin, edited and annotated by Robin A. Parry. This book was written in the nineteenth century and updated for today’s readers, but it’s still dense reading. What I love about it, though, is that it is extremely thorough in laying out the reason that the heart of the gospel is that Christ will at the end of the ages restore all things, not suffering the defeat of even one soul left suffering in hell. The middle section belabors the point that this is what the followers of Jesus believed for the first five centuries, while they were still mostly native Greek speakers.

Sixth in Christian Nonfiction is Love from Heaven, by Lorna Byrne, the author from Stand-out #1 in this category, the lady who talks with angels. This book isn’t so much autobiographical, but applies what she has learned from angels. The main point is to love. And that you are loved. And this book is uplifting and inspiring.

And my final choice, seventh in Christian Nonfiction is The Day the Revolution Began, by N. T. Wright. This one’s another look at the theology of the cross. It’s another dense read, but got me thinking about Christ’s death in new ways.

And that’s it! My favorite books among those I read in 2017! My next step will be to make them a page on my main website and mark every review page with my Sonderbooks Stand-outs Seal.

And now my Newbery reading year begins! Next year, I’ll make a list of Stand-outs again – but I won’t post them until after the Newbery Medal is announced. It will be interesting to see what kind of overlap there is.

Also this coming year, I’m going to be reading lots and lots and lots of American children’s books – and I will write reviews of the best ones (before talking with anyone else about them, so you know it’s just my opinion), but I won’t post any of those reviews until after the Newbery Medal. Fortunately, I have about 200 reviews written that I have not posted yet – so this year I will try to catch up!

Meanwhile, I hope some of my readers try some of my favorite books! Every one of these books is highly recommended!

Happy Reading!

Review of Christ Triumphant, by Thomas Allin

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Christ Triumphant

Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture

Annotated Edition

by Thomas Allin

edited and with an introductory essay and notes by Robin A. Parry

Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2015. 345 pages.
Reprinted from the 9th ed. London: Williams and Norgate, 1905. (First edition, 1885.)
Starred review

This is a book from the nineteenth century that has been annotated and edited for today. It’s still in an old-fashioned style with very dense reading.

But my goodness! Thomas Allin lays out the case for Universalism unapologetically. Some authors confess to doubts. Not this one! He is completely convinced of the Larger Hope – and his conviction and enthusiasm is contagious and joyous.

The truth is, it’s wonderful to be able to believe that God’s love will indeed triumph and ALL the world will be saved – just like the Bible says!

He covers three arguments, mentioned in the subtitle:

Reason – this makes sense with everything we know of God.

In this section, he points out the logical fallacies in the teaching of a hell of unending torment after death. He goes into great detail and tackles many possible arguments. He points out the many logical fallacies of the belief in unending hell.

Mind you, he’s not saying there is no hell – only that it will not last for all eternity. If you look at the Greek, that’s not what the Bible teaches. But in using reason, he points out such things as the fact that if all sin gets the same punishment – unending torment – then the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. If punishment is designed to restore the sinner – it will be different amounts depending on the sin that needs to be overcome. Which makes a lot more sense, once you think about it.

But there are many other arguments than that one. Here’s an example, chosen somewhat at random:

Pursuing our remarks, I must also remind you of another feature of the popular belief that seems to present a great difficulty; it is what I must call its paltriness, its unworthiness of God. Let us for the moment not think of God as a good, loving, and righteous Being. Let us now simply regard him as great, as irresistible, as almighty. Viewed thus, how difficult is it to accept that account which the ordinary creed gives us of this Being’s attempt at the rescue of his fallen creature, man. An almighty Being puts forth every effort to gain a certain end; sends inspired men to teach others; works miracles, signs, wonders in heaven and on earth, all for this end of man’s safety; nay, at the last, sends forth his own Son – very God – himself almighty. The almighty Son stoops not alone to take our nature on him, but lower still – far lower – stoops to degradation; meekly accepts insults and scourging, bends to the bitter cross even, and all this to gain a certain end. And yet, we are told, this end is not gained after all, man is not saved, for countless myriads are in fact left to hopeless, endless misery; and that, though for every one of these lost ones, so to speak, has been shed the lifeblood of God’s own Son. Now, if I may be permitted to speak freely, it is wholly inconceivable that the definite plan of an almighty Being should end in failure – that this should be the result of the agony of the Eternal Son. God has, in the face of angels and of men, before the universe and its gaze of wonder, entered himself into the arena, become himself a combatant, has wrestled with the foe, and has been defeated. I can bring myself to imagine those who reject the deity of Christ as believing in his defeat; but it is passing strange that those who believe him to be “very God Almighty,” are loudest in asserting his failure.

The second section is called “Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Tradition” – the majority of the church fathers believed in universalism, that at the end of the ages all will be saved and all will be restored.

This section is even denser, and even harder to read – because Thomas Allin pulls out quotations from hundreds of ancient writings. If I thought nineteenth century prose was difficult to read – these are even harder. However, that said, all the quotations make his case so decisively, it feels like overkill.

He goes chronologically through the centuries, beginning with the very earliest church fathers and proves with quotations that many, many of the most respected pillars of the church clearly taught that God will save everyone at the end of the ages.

An important point I had heard before is that the Greek word aionian — which is translated as “eternal” in English didn’t really mean that at all in Greek. “Of the ages” or “age-long” is a better translation, though it’s not simple to translate – because we don’t really even have a word for it in English. But Thomas Allin makes the point that as long as the church fathers were native Greek speakers, the majority teaching of the church was that all mankind would (eventually) be saved, and that hell is restorative, not punitive.

Most of this is too dense to pull out short quotes, but here’s an example when he’s looking at the writings of St. Jerome:

If, he says, we see one falling into sin we indeed are sorry, and hasten to rescue him, but we cannot be saddened, knowing that “with God no rational creature perishes eternally” (Commentary on Galatians 5:22). “Death shall come as a visitor to the impious; it will not be perpetual; it will not annihilate them; but will prolong its visit, till the impiety which is in them shall be consumed” (Commentary on Micah 5:8).

Here’s part of the summary of that section:

There is another point, whose importance – in view of some modern teaching – seems to me very great: it is the teaching of so many, and such illustrious Fathers, that death is no penalty, but is, indeed, a cure; that it is, in fact, the great Potter remolding his own handiwork to restore it to its pristine beauty, and that the sinner’s destruction means but the destruction of the sin – the sinner perishes, the man lives. Such teaching would be significant even in a solitary instance; but here we have witness upon witness, to whom Greek was a familiar and a living tongue, repeating the same striking idea; teaching death to be no penalty, but the remolding of our nature by the Heavenly Artist, and designed to cure sin; teaching, too, that the sinner’s destruction by God is not loss but gain, is not annihilation, but conversion and reformation.

The third section is called “Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Scripture.” Here the author gets especially animated and joyful – pointing out an abundance of passages that, taken at face value, strongly support the larger hope. But those who support the popular view discount them or read into them things that aren’t there – without even realizing that’s what they’re doing.

Here’s one of the many passages discussed in that section:

“But I say, ’love your enemies.’” Will the advocates of endless penalty frankly tell us how that can be reconciled with the letter, or the spirit, of this text? Will they explain why God commands us to love our enemies, when he consigns his own enemies to an endless hell; and why he bids us to do good to those who hate us, when he means for ever to punish and do evil to those who hate him?

Here’s another question:

Is God in earnest in telling us that he reconciles the world? Does he mean what he says, or does he only mean that he will try to reconcile it, but will be baffled? This question often rises unbidden, as we read these statements of the Bible, and compare them with the popular creed, which turns “all” into “some,” when salvation is promised to “all,” and turns the “world,” when that is said to be saved, into a larger or smaller fraction of men.

There’s a whole lot more where that came from. I’ve been considering this for years, but Thomas Allin finds yet more verses I hadn’t thought of yet as teaching universalism – even though I already had noticed many.

The final section is the conclusion and summary of all the arguments that went before and firmly asserts that we can confidently believe in universalism – and a triumphant Christ.

With all earnestness, I repeat that our choice lies between accepting the victory of Christ or of evil, and between these alternatives only. Escape from this dilemma there is none. It avails nothing to diminish, as many now teach, the number of the lost; or to assert that they will be finally annihilated. All such modifications leave quite untouched the central difficulty of the popular creed – the triumph of evil. Sin for ever present with its taint, even in a single instance, is sin triumphant. Sin that God has been unable to remove (and has had no resource but to annihilate the sinner) is sin triumphant and death victorious.

Here’s the final paragraph, which makes my heart sing. Truly, God is loving, and God is good – to all humanity.

For my part, in this promise I believe – in the sole true catholicity of the church of Christ, as destined to embrace all mankind; in the power of his redemption, as something that no will can resist, to which all things must yield one day in perfect submission, love, and harmony. I plead for the acceptance of this central truth as the great hope of the gospel, that the victory of Jesus Christ must be final and complete, i.e., that nothing can impair the power of his cross and passion to save the entire human race. I believe that he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. And I feel assured that less than a world saved, a universe restored, could not satisfy the heart of Jesus Christ, or the love of our Father. I ask all fair and reasonable minds to reject as immoral, and incredible the picture of a heavenly Parent, who, being absolutely free and absolute in power and goodness, creates any children of his own, whom he knows to be, in fact, certain to go to endless sin and ruin. Therefore, in these pages I have pleaded for the larger hope. Therefore, I believe in the vision, glorious, beyond all power of human thought fully to realize, of a “paradise regained,” of an universe from which every stain of sin shall have been swept away, in which every heart shall be full of blessedness in which “God shall be all in all.”

Amen.

Amen, indeed!

I marked many, many passages in this book to post in Sonderquotes – but it’s going to be awhile before I get them all posted. However, you’ll find some, even from the day I’m posting this review.

This book isn’t easy reading. I read a little bit per day over a very long period of time. But its message is so joyful and uplifting. If you would like to believe in universalism but think the Bible or even the historic church teaches differently – I highly, highly recommend delving through this book.

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