Archive for May, 2013

Review of Greenwitch, by Susan Cooper

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Greenwitch

by Susan Cooper

Collier Books, 1986. First published in 1974. 131 pages.
Starred Review

This book is the third in the Dark Is Rising sequence, which I’m rereading in honor of Susan Cooper winning the 2012 Margaret A. Edwards Award.

I love that in Greenwitch the ordinary children from Over Sea, Under Stone get to come back into the story and have a crucial part. Will, seventh son of the seventh son, who’s discovered he’s immortal, doesn’t seem like he has as much challenge once he got his powers as an Old One.

But the grail that they discovered has been stolen from the museum. And I love that Jane, Simon, and Barney have a part to play in its recovery. They go back to Trewissick, meet a sinister stranger, and Jane gets to witness the making of the Greenwitch — usually only reserved for locals. Jane does a small act of kindness that has big repercussions.

In her Margaret Edwards speech, Susan Cooper talked about a sense of place, and that’s something she does so well here. You feel what it’s like to be kids in Trewissick, surrounded by ancient magic.

Here’s Jane, just arrived and looking out her window:

She was high up on the side of the harbour, overlooking the boats and jetties, the wharf piled with boxes and lobsterpots, and the little canning factory. All the life of the busy harbour was thrumming there below her, and out to the left, beyond the harbour wall and the dark arm of land called Kemare Head, lay the sea. It was a grey sea now, speckled with white. Jane’s gaze moved in again from the flat ocean horizon, and she looked straight across to the sloping road on the opposite side of the harbour, and saw the tall narrow house in which they had stayed the summer before. The Grey House. Everything had begun there.

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

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

Source: This review is based on my own copy.

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

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

48-Hour Challenges

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

So, I’m still in the process of moving in. I love my new home, but I am getting a shorter fuse regarding all these boxes. And annoyed with the things I can’t find. There’s no telling where my DVD remote is. And after watching Episode 1 of Downton Abbey, Season 3, I discovered that I can’t skip an episode or even fast forward without that remote. So I watched Season 1 of Sherlock instead, this time not shutting off the DVD player after I watched Episode 1. I hope I find the remote before my hold on Downton Abbey comes in again!

Yes, I’m trying for a box or two a day, but what I really need is some concentrated time. The first weekend here, I had to spend moving out of my old place. The next weekend, I bought balcony furniture and flowers (*So* worth it!).

And this weekend, I picked up my son from the finish of his first year at William & Mary and spent some time with him for Mother’s Day. Also totally worth it!

But I need some concentrated time! I was thinking about the 48-Hour Book Challenge that Mother Reader usually hosts the weekend after Memorial Day. Well, this year she’s not hosting it, but I think I will probably do it anyway, at least in a low-key way. I’d love to catch up on some reviewing, and it always is such a privilege to set everything else aside and say, “I can’t do that. I’m reading!”

However, I think next weekend, I will hold my own personal Unpack-a-thon. Or perhaps I’ll call it my own 48-Hour Unpacking Challenge. I’ll see how many hours out of 48 I can spend unpacking — and then see if I can match that number in the Book Challenge. Just to get some of it *done*.

For example, I can’t do Sonderling Sunday until I find my German books. I *think* I know which boxes they’re in, but I need to actually open those boxes.

So today, for Mother’s Day, after a nice nap, I will have my son take me out to eat, and then we’ll play the game he bought me, Twilight Struggle, a game about the Cold War. (The first time we played, I “won” when nuclear war started on his turn.) But next week, after my Unpack-a-thon, I’m hoping I’ll have some German books out and be ready to start up Sonderling Sunday again.

Review of Every Day, by David Levithan

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Every Day

by David Levithan

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. 324 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s an innovative and creative idea, executed well, the perfect vehicle for commenting on the human condition as it is expressed in teenagers.

David Levithan sets up the situation beautifully in the first few paragraphs:

I wake up.

Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It’s not just the body — opening my eyes and discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I’m fat or thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you’re used to waking up in a new one each morning. It’s the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp.

Every day I am someone else. I am myself — I know I am myself — but I am also someone else.

It has always been like this.

“A” borrows other people’s lives for one day at a time. He’s never been the same person twice. He can access certain memories from the person whose body he’s in, though he doesn’t like to overdo that, but needs to do enough to get by. He stays in pretty much the same area as where he went to sleep, and always someone the same age as him, which is sixteen during this book.

I’m using “he” for convenience. That’s the way I think of him since he wakes up as a boy at the start of this book. But he wakes up as a girl as often as a boy.

From living lots of people’s lives, A has all kinds of insights into what it means to be a teenager. That’s the brilliant part of this book that truly shines.

On only page four, A meets Rhiannon:

As I take Justin’s books out of his locker, I can feel someone hovering on the periphery. I turn, and the girl standing there is transparent in her emotions — tentative and expectant, nervous and adoring. I don’t have to access Justin to know that this is his girlfriend. No one else would have this reaction to him, so unsteady in his presence. She’s pretty, but she doesn’t see it. She’s hiding behind her hair, happy to see me and unhappy to see me at the same time.

Her name is Rhiannon. And for a moment — just the slightest beat — I think that, yes, this is the right name for her. I don’t know why. I don’t know her. But it feels right.

This is not Justin’s thought. It’s mine. I try to ignore it. I’m not the person she wants to talk to.

It throws off A’s carefully planned strategies when he keeps thinking about Rhiannon. He can at least e-mail her in every body. And then does he dare to hope that she is someone who might understand?

This book is full of great insights thrown in along the way. He talks about having siblings or not, being in a family that goes to church or not, relationships with family members, being able to tell his body is a mean girl by her friends’ surprise when he doesn’t make the cutting comment.

Here’s where he wakes up in the body of a drug addict:

There comes a time when the body takes over the life. There comes a time when the body’s urges, the body’s needs, dictate the life. You have no idea you are giving the body the key. But you hand it over. And then it’s in control. You mess with the wiring and the wiring takes charge.

That day it is all he can do to keep the body he’s in from going to get the drugs it so desperately wants.

Another day he wakes up in the body of a girl who’s written a suicide plan in her notebook, with a target date later that week. Here are his insights about that:

Some people think mental illness is a matter of mood, a matter of personality. They think depression is simply a form of being sad, that OCD is a form of being uptight. They think the soul is sick, not the body. It is, they believe, something that you have some choice over.

I know how wrong this is.

When I was a child, I didn’t understand. I would wake up in a new body and wouldn’t comprehend why things felt muted, dimmer. Or the opposite — I’d be supercharged, unfocused, like a radio at top volume flipping quickly from station to station. Since I didn’t have access to the body’s emotions, I assumed the ones I was feeling were my own. Eventually, though, I realized these inclinations, these compulsions, were as much a part of the body as its eye color or its voice. Yes, the feelings themselves were intangible, amorphous, but the cause of the feelings was a matter of chemistry, biology.

It is a hard cycle to conquer. The body is working against you. And because of this, you feel even more despair. Which only amplifies the imbalance. It takes uncommon strength to live with these things. But I have seen that strength over and over again. When I fall into the life of someone grappling, I have to mirror their strength, and sometimes surpass it, because I am less prepared.

I know the signs now. I know when to look for the pill bottles, when to let the body take its course. I have to keep reminding myself — this is not me. It is chemistry. It is biology. It is not who I am. It is not who any of them are.

But all those insights and observations are the frosting on the cake. A’s love story with Rhiannon is the heart of this story. And the question: Can he have a love story when he never knows which body he will be in the next day? How can he even make plans? Is this someone who can get to know him for who he truly is? But then, who is he, really?

I must admit that though the book is absolutely brilliant and beautifully executed, I thought the ending was a bit anticlimactic. In a way, I think David Levithan painted his character into too tight a corner. I would have liked a happy solution, but I can’t think of one myself. Now, I imagine a lot of teen readers will like this ending, and, actually, it’s a better ending than I probably could have come up with. So I’m not saying the ending is flawed — just warning readers it won’t necessarily leave you feeling happy.

Every Day does what great science fiction does best — lets you look at everyday life from a completely new perspective. Highly recommended.

davidlevithan.com
randomhouse.com/teens

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/every_day.html

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

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

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

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

Review of Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Falling Upward

A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

by Richard Rohr

Jossey-Bass (Wiley), 2011. 198 pages.

This is a book about spirituality by a Franciscan teacher, and about how our focus changes in the second half of life.

I’d like to think that I’m young for this book, but I also think that my divorce was a huge crisis right at midlife, so in some aspects, I’m on the other side, and it’s fitting for me to read about the “second journey.”

Here’s what Richard Rohr has to say in his “Invitation to a Further Journey”:

A journey into the second half of our own lives awaits us all. Not everybody goes there, even though all of us get older, and some of us get older than others. A “further journey” is a well-kept secret, for some reason. Many people do not even know there is one. There are too few who are aware of it, tell us about it, or know that it is different from the journey of the first half of life. . . .

I find that many, if not most, people and institutions remain stymied in the preoccupations of the first half of life. By that I mean that most people’s concerns remain those of establishing their personal (or superior) identity, creating various boundary markers for themselves, seeking security, and perhaps linking to what seem like significant people or projects. These tasks are good to some degree and even necessary. . . .

But, in my opinion, this first-half-of-life task is no more than finding the starting gate. It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey. It is the raft but not the shore. If you realize that there is a further journey, you might do the warm-up act quite differently, which would better prepare you for what follows. People at any age must know about the whole arc of their life and where it is tending and leading.

We know about this further journey from the clear and inviting voices of others who have been there, from the sacred and secular texts that invite us there, from our own observations of people who have entered this new territory, and also, sadly, from those who never seem to move on. The further journey usually appears like a seductive invitation and a kind of promise or hope. We are summoned to it, not commanded to go, perhaps because each of us has to go on this path freely, with all the messy and raw material of our own unique lives. But we don’t have to do it, nor do we have to do it alone. There are guideposts, some common patterns, utterly new kinds of goals, a few warnings, and even personal guides on this further journey. I hope I can serve you in offering a bit of each of these in this book.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this book. A lot of it doesn’t exactly fit the doctrine I was taught growing up. I’d like to think that the fact that doesn’t bother me, that I can see the wisdom, might be a sign I’m beginning the path of the further journey.

I did pull out many quotations from this book at Sonderquotes, which will give you an sampling of some of the writer’s wisdom.

Here’s how he finishes his “Invitation to a Further Journey”:

So get ready for a great adventure, the one you were really born for. If we never get to our little bit of heaven, our life does not make much sense, and we have created our own “hell.” So get ready for some new freedom, some dangerous permission, some hope from nowhere, some unexpected happiness, some stumbling stones, some radical grace, and some new and pressing responsibility for yourself and for our suffering world.

josseybass.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/falling_upward.html

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

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

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

Review of Tua and the Elephant, by R. P. Harris

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Tua and the Elephant

by R. P. Harris
illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2012. 202 pages.

Tua and the Elephant is a sweet book about a little girl in Thailand who finds a young elephant who is being abused and rescues her from the bad guys. The story is not, perhaps, absolutely believable, but it is wondrously detailed with the sounds and sights and tastes of Thailand, and definitely a heart-warming tale of a small child helping a creature who needs it and with a happy ending for everyone.

Tua doesn’t think hard when she feels the elephant beckoning her to rescue it from the cruel mahouts. But after she walks away with it, her thoughts catch up with her:

Where does one take an elephant — a fugitive elephant, at that — in the city of Chiang Mai? How does one hide an elephant? Elephants don’t fit into closets, boxes, or drawers. One can’t simply toss a blanket over an elephant and call it a job well done. Someone is bound to notice. Elephants, for better or for worse, draw attention to themselves. . . .

The very next thought that stumbled into Tua’s mind was: What am I going to tell my mother?

She imagined herself saying, “Mama, guess what I found?”

That might work with a kitten or a puppy, but it wasn’t going to work with an elephant. And how would she get it up the apartment stairs? Where would it sleep? What does an elephant eat?

Taking the elephant home was definitely out of the question.

This is a great choice for children around middle elementary school who have started reading chapter books. The book has twenty-nine short chapters, plenty of illustrations, and a definitely compelling story in a setting not often read about in children’s books. A lovely addition to our library’s shelves.

chroniclekids.com

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Dark Triumph

His Fair Assassin, Book II

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin, 2013. 387 pages.
Starred Review

When this book came in, it gave me the obvious excuse to reread Grave Mercy, which I loved as much the second time, appreciating some of the intricacies of the plot even more this time around. The second book, Dark Triumph, contained more detailed history you never knew and sinister political intrigue of medieval Brittany, with the same light touch of mystical gifts from the god of Death himself.

I do recommend reading these books in order. Technically, you could follow this book without reading the first, but you understand the political situation much better having read the first book, and it’s much easier to keep the characters straight. Once you’ve read the first one, it’s hard for me to imagine not wanting to read the second.

In Dark Triumph we find out what Sybella, the second novice from the convent devoted to Saint Mortain has been doing. Like Ismae, she’s been trained as an assassin, but her assignment is even more difficult than Ismae’s, as Sybella has to infiltrate a place where evil reigns. We learn more about Sybella’s background, which drove her to the edge of madness.

I don’t want to say a lot about the plot. It’s set in 15th Century medieval Brittany, with a young duchess who needs to form an alliance to hold back the French prowling on her borders. The main events are based on actual historical events I knew nothing about — with the insertion of the Daughters of Death going out to do political assassinations. The second book wasn’t quite as heavy on the political intrigue, but there was plenty of action and psychological intrigue to keep the reader anxious.

I love how Robin LaFevers puts it on her website, talking about Anne of Brittany, an actual historical figure:

Her substantial inheritance was complicated by two things. One, she was a woman at a time when traditionally women did not inherit kingdoms. Since the time of Charlemagne, Salic Law had been invoked to prevent women from becoming rulers. When Anne became Duchess of Brittany, it defied all the conventions of that time. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, not only was she unmarried, but her father had promised her hand in marriage to at least half a dozen European nobles, if not more. As he plotted and strategized, trying to keep his lands and title safe from the French Crown, he dangled his daughter (and her substantial dowry) as bait for the aid he needed from other princes and dukes. Consequently, when he died, she had been promised to more than one suitor.

To say that this created problems for her in keeping her duchy independent is an understatement. Which is why she needed the help of assassin nuns. What? Doesn’t everybody call for assassin nuns when they’re having political difficulty? If not, they should….

There’s romance in this book, just as in the first one. But the romance is a wholly different story, fitting with Sybella’s wholly different character. The two girls’ gifts from Death are different as well. The author builds character beautifully, as they act and think and love consistently with who she’s shown us they are inside.

The romance in this book is beautiful. Sybella’s deeply damaged, so we’re not surprised when she doesn’t easily trust love. But she’s still a strong character, able to easily kill a man. The man she falls in love with has his own amazing strengths, and they fit to help Sybella exactly where she’s damaged. We can believe in their love, and I found myself fully happy for Sybella. Yes.

I also loved the scene in both books where each girl meets Saint Mortain, their father, Death himself. I love his portrayal, not as a god who demands their dutiful, exacting service, but as a father who loves them no matter what. I didn’t expect to find such a beautiful portrayal of God in a description of the god of Death. I love the way each girl comes to understand and serve a different aspect of Death, even realizing he’s the same god.

It’s also well done in each book how the girls come to understand the gifts they have as Death’s daughters and how that doesn’t necessarily fit what they were taught at the convent.

There’s some ugliness in this book. Sybella’s past isn’t pretty, and she’s been sent to an evil place. But the story is rich and deep and I’m so glad at least one more book is promised, telling about the third fair assassin from the convent of Saint Mortain.

This series is another example of books written in present tense that I loved anyway. I noticed the present tense (in a negative way) occasionally, but only very rarely. The gripping story far outweighed that little annoyance, and I might grudgingly be convinced this was the best way to tell the tale. I am already certain this book, like its predecessor, will be a Sonderbooks Stand-out.

Here’s how the book begins:

I did not arrive at the convent of Saint Mortain some green stripling. By the time I was sent there, my death count numbered three, and I had had two lovers besides. Even so, there were some things they were able to teach me: Sister Serafina, the art of poison; Sister Thornine, how to wield a blade; and Sister Arnette, where best to strike with it, laying out all the vulnerable points on a man’s body like an astronomer charting the stars.

If only they had taught me how to watch innocents die as well as they taught me how to kill, I would be far better prepared for this nightmare into which I’ve been thrust.

robinlafevers.com
hmhbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/dark_triumph.html

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

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

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

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