Review of Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier

cybeles_secretCybele’s Secret

by Juliet Marillier

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008. 432 pages.

This book says it’s a “companion novel” to the wonderful Wildwood Dancing, which is to say that you can read Cybele’s Secret without having read the earlier book. But as I have said about some other companion novels, why would you want to?

Cybele’s Secret follows Paula, the scholarly sister, as she accompanies her father as his assistant on a buying trip to Istanbul.

“We had come here to buy Cybele’s Gift, the fabled treasure of a lost faith. Somewhere amongst those steep ways clustered with shops and houses, mosques and basilicas, it was waiting for us…. The cult of Cybele had long since died out, but the legend of Cybele’s Gift survived. If the artifact fell into deserving hands, the owner and his descendants would be blessed with riches and good fortune all the days of their lives. As is the manner of such promises, the thing worked both ways. In the wrong hands, the artifact would bring death and chaos. This had not been put to the test in living memory, for nobody had known the whereabouts of Cybele’s Gift for many years. Until now.”

The first half of this book is rather slow-paced. It is full of atmosphere, and Paula has reason to believe inhabitants of the Other Kingdom are near at hand. She learns that she has a quest, but she does not know what it is.

I didn’t find myself truly believing Paula’s motivation to get into the situation that leads her to the fast-paced second half. But no matter, the book gets exciting after Paula blunders into danger. For then she learns her quest and can set about the challenges of carrying it out.

This book has a richly detailed setting and a story that ends up being intriguing. Paula also meets two men who are fascinating in very different ways. They both end up being an important part of her quest.

I think that fans of the first book will be motivated enough to happily get through the first half to enjoy the exciting finish.

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Review of Hello Baby! by Mem Fox and Steve Jenkins

hello_babyHello Baby!

by Mem Fox

illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Beach Lane Books, New York, 2009. 32 pages.

Okay, this one you simply have to look at yourself. Yes, again Mem Fox has created lyrical, soothing rhymes to share with a baby:

“Hello, baby!
Who are you?
Are you a monkey with clever toes?
Perhaps you’re a porcupine, twitching its nose.
Are you an eagle, exploring the skies?
Perhaps you’re a gecko with rolling eyes.”

But what makes this book stunning and unforgettable are the incredibly detailed cut-paper illustrations by Steve Jenkins. I’ve raved about his illustrations before, in my reviews of Actual Size and Dogs and Cats. They only seem to get better with each new book. When I saw Hello Baby! I had to pass it around to my co-workers to watch them marvel as well. He makes cut paper look alive.

These animals aren’t necessarily the traditional ones you’d teach your baby, including warthogs and geckos. But I’m sure the visual feast here will capture your child’s attention. There’s a final cozy question:

“Then who are you, baby?
Wait, let me guess–
Are you my treasure?
The answer is . . .

I like the way they made the hands reaching out to each other a range of colors, so you can see almost anyone’s hue there. That’s one place it doesn’t look as lifelike, because no real person’s hand has all those colors, but the use of mottled paper in that place works so that it could apply to anyone.

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Review of The New Codependency, by Melody Beattie

new_codependencyThe New Codependency

Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation,

by Melody Beattie

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009. 270 pages.
Starred review.

Those who have been blessed by Melody Beattie’s earlier books, particularly Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency, will be excited to hear that she has written a new book about codependency, called The New Codependency.

Her first book, Codependent No More, is the one that made the term “codependent” a standard part of recovery vocabulary, but she wrote that more than twenty years ago.

She says,

“I’m writing this book to clarify confusion, discuss new information, write about how codependency has mutated, address new support options, and remind us about what we’ve learned.

“Although I’ve changed significantly since writing Codependent No More, I still step in codependent puddles. I might get hooked into someone’s stuff, let their problems control me, over-engage, or start reacting instead of taking right action. I’ll let family conditioning affect me, neglect to set boundaries, or shut down emotionally. There are times I have to slam on the brakes, STOP, and remember to take care of myself. I don’t sink in the quicksand of life like I used to, but sometimes I revert to survival mode. That’s yesterday’s news.

“I don’t call that relapsing. Caring about people we love, feeling victimized when we’re betrayed, giving our all to people we love, or wanting to control people because we’re watching them destroy themselves and hurt us doesn’t mean we’re sick. These are natural reactions. Codependency is about normal behaviors taken too far. It’s about crossing lines.”

All in all, you can think of this as a book about healthy relationships, about setting boundaries, and about remembering to care for ourselves and let other people live their own lives. There are quizzes to help you examine your own issues and emotions, and there are many suggested activities to help you put these ideas into practice.

As with all of Melody Beattie’s books, this one is uplifting and encouraging. She concludes,

“Learn to love and take care of yourself. You’ll learn to love others better. Being healthy doesn’t mean being so tough we don’t care, or so hard-hearted nobody can hurt us again. The path we’re on might start with not giving so much or so compulsively but living and loving with an open heart — even when that means paying the price of saying goodbye too soon — is where this journey leads. Don’t stop until you’re there.”

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Review of the Audiobook The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

kingofattoliaThe King of Attolia

by Megan Whalen Turner

performed by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 2006. 9 CDs, 10.5 hours.
Starred review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already raved about the three books about Eugenides by Megan Whalen Turner. As with The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia gets better with each rereading.

In this case, I recently moved further from work, and have been listening to audiobooks on my commute. This is a wonderful way to force myself to savor The King of Attolia, as every other time I’ve read it, I wasn’t able to read it so slowly! I did find myself lingering in the car a few times, and was frustrated that my own copy of the book is in a box somewhere, so I couldn’t just read ahead.

Jeff Woodman does an excellent job reading, and you can easily follow the different characters.

I still don’t want to say much about the plot of any of these books. Megan Whalen Turner’s richly textured plots and subplots are what make these books better on every reading, as you notice details that escaped your attention the first time through.

The gods come into the story a little less obtrusively in this segment, urging Eugenides to face his destiny. The reader gets the sense that he will have an important role to play in political destinies of the entire continent.

I’ve started urging other adults to try this series. These books are among my all-time favorites, and go higher in my estimation with every rereading. Start with The Thief, and soon you’ll be eagerly waiting, like me, for a fourth book in the series. Don’t underestimate Eugenides!

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Review of Little Panda, by Renata Liwska

little_pandaLittle Panda

by Renata Liwska

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008. 32 pages.
Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #7 Picture Books

“Just the other day, Grandfather Panda was talking to his grandson.

“‘I am going to tell you a story of a little panda and the tiger that flew,’ he said.

“‘But that’s silly. Tiger’s can’t fly,’ interrupted the grandchild.

“‘How do you know if you haven’t heard the story yet?’ asked Grandfather.”

Here’s a sweet and gentle story about a little panda escaping imminent danger and learning to listen to his mother. The muted colors and round characters remind me of Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts.

I definitely will be using this book in a storytime or two. It’s short for young listeners, but has cozy time with Mama combined with elements of danger and a fun twist. And you can find out how a tiger can fly!

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Review of Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George

midnight_ballPrincess of the Midnight Ball

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2009. 280 pages.
Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #9 Fantasy Teen Fiction

I do love fairy tale retellings. Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” beautifully carried out.

This fairytale is one that features a hard-working common soldier, and I liked that aspect of the book. The book opens with Galen returning from the war. His father was a soldier before him, and his parents both died in the war. You can’t help but like Galen, and it’s nice to see someone deserving work hard to save the day and win a princess.

The reason the princesses dance every night is more sinister than meets the eye in the fairy tale. Their mother made an ill-advised bargain with the King Under Stone. And now her twelve daughters are paying the price, unable to tell anyone about their suffering.

And Galen is a knitter! He learned to knit his own socks and scarves during the war, and it comes in handy for binding evil. Two knitting patterns are included at the back of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the story.

Jessica Day George also does a good job giving the princesses distinct characters — not easy to do when you’re dealing with a family of twelve! She gives Galen some additional obstacles to overcome with the result a thoroughly satisfying tale.

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Review of The Complete Peanuts, 1971 to 1972, by Charles M. Schulz

complete_peanuts_7172The Complete Peanuts

The Definitive Collection of Charles M. Schulz’s Comic Strip Masterpiece

Dailies and Sundays

1971 to 1972

by Charles M. Schulz

introduction by Kristin Chenoweth

Fantagraphics Books, 2009. 320 pages.

I probably don’t really need to review these books as they come out twice a year, but I just love them and have to mention them. Fantagraphics Books is collecting every single Peanuts strip, and it’s delightful to watch the genius of Charles Schulz unfold as he developed the characters.

In this volume, Peppermint Patty’s clearly in love with Charlie Brown, but he’s obliviously still obsessed with the little red-haired girl. In fact, he goes to a carnival with Peppermint Patty and learns, as he tells Snoopy, “When you’re with a girl, it’s impossible to go through an entire evening without saying the wrong thing.”

In these strips, Lucy actually kicks Linus out of the house, but gives up when she gets a new baby brother, whom they nickname “Rerun.” Lucy continues her unrequited love for Schroeder and holding the football for Charlie Brown. She actually hits a home run when Schroeder promises a kiss if she does, but nobly turns it down in the name of women’s lib.

Featured on the cover, these strips have a lot about Sally and her hilarious, not-quite-right approach to schoolwork. Did you know that ten grams make a grampa?

Probably my favorite part is learning how much further Snoopy’s writing activities extended than just the “It was a dark and stormy night” novel. He undertakes a dramatic biography of Helen Sweetstory, author of the “Bunny-wunny” books. He tries magazine articles. He deals with writer’s block. He has much drama with his secretary, Woodstock. I especially like his two tries at a new novel titled, “Toodle-oo, Caribou! A Tale of the Frozen North.”

This Definitive Collection definitely makes delightful reading.

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Review of Resilience, by Elizabeth Edwards


Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities

by Elizabeth Edwards

Broadway Books, New York, 2009. 213 pages.

Elizabeth Edwards has had to deal with the death of her beloved sixteen-year-old son, having cancer, and her husband’s betrayal. Reading this book doesn’t give answers for dealing with issues of that magnitude, but it does feel like talking with a sister who’s been there. Comforting and reassuring, her words help you carry on, whatever your own issues are. Not because she seems so together, but because she’s open and honest about ways that she is not together.

She says,

“Each time I fell into a chasm — my son’s death or a tumor in my breast or an unwelcome woman in my life — I had to accept that the planet had taken a few turns and I could not turn it back. My life was and would always be different, and it would be less than I hoped it would be. Each time, there was a new life, a new story. And the less time I spent trying to pretend that Wade was alive or that my life would be just as long or that my marriage would be as magical, the longer I clung to the hope that my old life might come back, the more I set myself up for unending discontent. In time, I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and end of what I did, but it is only a small slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and, in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality. Each time I got knocked down, it took me some time just to get to acceptance, and in each case, that was only part of the way home.”

This book is a gentle exploration of that process.

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Review of Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck

Steering by Starlight

Find Your Right Life No Matter What

by Martha Beck

Rodale, 2008. 232 pages.
Starred review.

I do love Martha Beck’s books. Something about them speaks directly to my soul. Steering by Starlight is no exception, even though it is not autobiographical like Expecting Adam and Leaving the Saints.

Martha Beck is a Life Coach, and Steering by Starlight is full of techniques she has used to successfully help her clients find their right lives.

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling a need for direction when I read the book. I picked it up because it was by Martha Beck. My husband leaving me threw me into a new life, and I have learned from that experience to listen to God’s guidance, and to pursue the passions God has given me.

So instead of turning me in a whole new direction, this book resonated with the things God was already doing in my life.

I don’t think I’ll try to intellectually summarize the book. In this book, Martha Beck speaks to the Stargazer inside of you. She says,

“In one of my previous books, I used the phrase ‘your own North Star’ as a metaphor for your right life, in order to avoid using the word destiny and its mystical nuances. But since writing that book, I’ve worked with well over a thousand clients, and I’ve seen that once they commit to following their own North Stars, the word mystical is a tame description of what actually unfolds. I’m skeptical of religion and superstition, and I believe there’s a scientific explanation for everything. But I also know from much experience that current science can’t begin to explain the things that will happen to you if you begin steering your life by starlight.”

Her book covers a wide array of concepts. Here are just a couple that rang true for me.

Several books I’ve read recently have said that you need to question your underlying assumptions — the beliefs you’ve grown up with that you simply assume are true. (Like, “Good people don’t get divorced.” or “Things can’t go so well much longer.” or “There will never be enough.”) I like the way Martha Beck describes these beliefs as coming from your “inner lizard.”

“The entire purpose of your reptilian brain is to continuously broadcast survival fears — alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two categories: lack and attack. On one hand, our reptilian brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: We don’t have enough love, time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen. A predator — human or animal — is poised to snatch us! That makes sense if we’re hiding in a cave somewhere, but when we’re home in bed, our imaginations can fixate on catastrophes that are so vague and hard to ward off that they fill us with anxiety that has no clear action implication…. Every person’s fears are unique, but the themes of lack and attack are drearily repetitive.”

She has quite a few tips for dealing with your inner lizard, and I especially liked the one about finding the ridiculous side to the lizard’s fears:

“To the part of my mind that isn’t a terrified reptile, fear in the absence of an actual physical threat (such as, say, a grizzly bear) is always ridiculous because it’s not actionable — there’s nothing I can do about an imagined danger except develop ulcers and high blood pressure. Dealing with present dangers from a fearless place and letting go of all fears that can’t be addressed because they exist only in your fantasies is the only way to thrive.”

I also loved the section where she talks about how we grow from the painful experiences in our lives:

“Adopting the perspective of the Stargazer not only leads us toward our future best destinies but actually transmutes past unhappiness into treasure. This is because, in emotional terms, everything is made from its opposite. The raw material for joy is sorrow; the raw material for compassion is anger; the raw material for fearlessness is fear. This means that the very people who hurt you worst may turn out to have enriched you most. “Forgiveness” isn’t even an issue from the position of the Stargazer. Why would anyone bother to “forgive” someone who’d made them rich?”

I found this book packed with good concepts like that. I highly recommend it.

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Review of Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe, by Susan Patron

maybeMaybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe
by Susan Patron
pictures by Dorothy Donahue

Orchard Books, New York, 1993. 87 pages.

I love Susan Patron’s Lucky books so much (The Higher Power of Lucky and Lucky Breaks), that I wanted to read her earlier book.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe is a beginning chapter book that gently shows PK, a girl in between two sisters, dealing with big changes with grace. This story is not as deeply profound as the Lucky books, but you can see some of the same storytelling seeds. PK has some of the same quirky individuality as Lucky, which makes both girls seem true and alive.

PK’s big sister Megan is almost a teenager, is Gifted, is getting hormones, and is changing in so many ways. She no longer comes to listen to the stories PK tells to her little sister Rabbit while Rabbit sits in the bathtub getting clean and wrinkled. PK finds the stories in the hamper where they’ve rubbed off people’s skin.

But Mama says they need to move to a bigger place, a place that won’t have the built-in laundry hamper. How will PK find the stories? Even her friend Bike is upset.

Based on Susan Patron’s Newbery acceptance speech, there’s a lot of her own story in this tale. Perhaps that’s what makes it feel so warm and genuine. A nice beginning chapter book about dealing with big changes with grace.

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