Review of Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson

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Before Green Gables:  The Prequel to Anne of Green Gables, by Budge Wilson

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2008.  389 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-399-15468-3 

Before Anne Shirley, the red-headed orphan, came to Green Gables, no one wanted her.  She helped Mrs. Thomas, with all her children and a drunken husband, and then Mrs. Hammond, who had twins three times in succession, before she ended up in an orphanage.

Before Green Gables tells the story of Anne’s first eleven years.  I knew they were hard years, so I thought it would be a depressing book, but of course a hard-core fan of L. M. Montgomery can’t resist reading it.

Although the book didn’t quite reach L. M. Montgomery’s genius, there were moments when I did feel the author had captured Anne’s soul and given us insight into how she might have become the jewel we see in Anne of Green Gables.

I loved the picture Budge Wilson gives us of Anne’s parents, Bertha and Walter Shirley, two schoolteachers, very much in love with each other and with their new baby daughter.  She portrays how the cleaning lady was touched by their lives — enough to take in their baby even when her own house was full.

I like the side characters the author portrayed in Anne’s life, especially the Egg Man, who taught her to love words.  I like the teachers she encounters who feed her soul, so hungry for beauty.

Most of all, this book gave me a story of a girl who cherished transcendent moments and refused bitterness, in spite of a life of drudgery and hardship.  Anne relished beauty and found friendship, even if only in a reflection and an echo.

My own hardships seem small in comparison.  Oh, to be like Anne, finding moments of beauty even when doing so takes great imagination.

This book is a worthy addition to Anne’s legacy.

Link to the review on the main site:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/before_green_gables.html

 

Review of Madman, by Tracy Groot

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Madman
by Tracy Groot

Reviewed February 14, 2008.
2007 Christy Award Winner, Best Historical Novel
Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2006. 316 pages.

Cal, I don’t know how to say it, so I’ll say it. The League of Ten Friends is no more; the Decaphiloi have vanished, and the Academy of Socrates in Palestine is dissolved. Our little school has ceased to exist. Callimachus—it’s as if it never was….

Of the Decaphiloi, I give this present accounting—accurate or inaccurate as it may be, it is all I have, and that from the riffraff. Six members—whereabouts unknown. One member was murdered in a most horrifying manner; I shall not put it on parchment. One is allegedly a priestess in a temple of Dionysus—you read right, Dionysus. Don’t be alarmed: I’ve forsworn all things Dionysiac, you know that, Cal. Anyway, one member committed suicide.

And one . . . one is a madman.

This is what Tallis writes back from Palestine to Callimachus, his employer in Athens.

Madman is a historical novel based on an incident mentioned in three of the Gospels, where Jesus casts demons out of a man possessed by a legion of demons.

I’m not generally a fan of historical novels based on Biblical characters, but this was a perfect topic. There’s not a lot said about the demon-possessed man in the Bible, so there was plenty of room for the author to create his life story and a plausible, interesting background as to how he wound up in the tombs, out of his mind. The author worked in all the details, including explaining the second demon-possessed man of one account, the chains the man would break, and his fame throughout the region.

In all of the Gospel accounts, Jesus calmed the storm—a “furious squall”—just before healing the demon-possessed man. I thought the author was insightful in writing that squall as a demonic attack—the demons knew Jesus was coming and tried to stop him. The author helped me realize that Jesus cared enough to go across the lake to deliver that man—and indeed the whole region—from the evil that had overtaken him.

But that story is not the bulk of the book. Most of the story is about Tallis’s investigation of what became of the Socratic school his employer founded in Palestine. The answers are bound up in the horrible rituals of the Dionysian cult of the day. The author draws you in to the story about Tallis, as he discovers great evil, and tries to do his part to try to stop it.

A big thank you to Bethany for loaning this book to me.

This review is found on the main website at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/madman.html

Review of The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

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The King of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner

Reviewed March 5, 2006.
Green Willow Books, New York, 2006. 387 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Teen Fiction

The King of Attolia is a sequel to Newbery honor winner The Thief and its follow-up, The Queen of Attolia. All three of the books have surprises and reversals toward the ends of the books. So I’m afraid I can’t even tell you the situation at the beginning of this book—since it will give away surprises in The Thief and especially in The Queen of Attolia. I definitely recommend reading these books in order, since that will give you the fun of the surprises.

As soon as I learned from our library book rental brochure that this book was out, I ordered a copy for myself. The books are so good, I knew I’d want to own it and read it many times. When it arrived, I read through it, and then I began reading the first book to my son at bedtimes. Much to my delight, he doesn’t remember the plot from the time quite a few years ago when I read it to him before.

I have to say that in some ways these books are even more fun to read the second or third time. You can see all the places the author planted clues of what will be revealed later. You appreciate her genius all the more.

My favorite of the three books is still The Queen of Attolia. But this follow-up was also truly wonderful. There were a few plot threads left hanging—I very much hope this means she’s planning to write more about the adventures of Eugenides. I would definitely love to read more.

To quote my son, as we were reading this book, “Eugenides rocks!”

You can find this review on the main site at:  www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/kingofattolia.html

 

Review of The Canterbury Papers, by Judith Koll Healey

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The Canterbury Papers 

A Novel of Suspense

by Judith Koll Healey

Reviewed December 17, 2006.
William Morrow, New York, 2004. 353 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Romance Fiction

I loved this book! The subtitle says it’s a novel of suspense, but it’s also a historical mystery tale with romance, intrigue, and a smart, capable heroine.

The book features an actual historical character, Alaïs Capet, the daughter of Louis VII and his second wife, Constance of Castile. At a very young age, Alaïs and her sister Marguerite were sent to England to live with the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first wife of Louis VII.

Alaïs and Marguerite were betrothed to Henry II’s sons, Alaïs to Richard the Lionheart, and Marguerite to Henry Court Mantel. However, when Eleanor lost favor with Henry for plotting with her sons against him, he had her imprisoned in a tower and took Alaïs as his mistress. She never married Richard.

The book opens many years later. Richard and Henry are both dead and the younger brother John is ruling England, but doesn’t have a firm hold on the throne. Eleanor sends Alaïs to Canterbury to recover some letters which might hurt John’s power. Eleanor hints that she can give Alaïs information about a secret near to her heart, a secret she long thought was dead and buried.

The person in charge of Canterbury, William of Caen, once also lived in the court of Henry and Eleanor. He took his lessons with the royal children, including Alaïs, and was tormented by the princes, because he was their father’s favorite. Alaïs finds him quite changed since she last saw him. He also seems to know more than he lets on.

Alaïs is kidnapped just before she is able to recover the letters. She’s held in the same tower where Eleanor was once imprisoned. Now King John wants information from her—information she doesn’t have.

This story is full of action, suspense, and romance, and is highly enjoyable reading. I wouldn’t call it chick lit, because the historical background and political intrigue give it more weight than your typical light mystery. This is Judith Koll Healey’s first novel, but I hope there will be many, many more to follow!

This review is on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/canterburypapers.html