Review of Stardust, by Neil Gaiman



by Neil Gaiman

Harper Perennial, New York, 2006.  First published in 1999.  250 pages.

Starred review.  (Stardusted review?)

My son was right.  I should have read the book before I saw the movie.

The fact is, I loved the movie.  One of my favorite movies ever.  A delightful experience to watch.

Yes, the book is wonderful.  A fairy tale story that’s truly diverting.  But can it be?  I liked the movie better.

Tristan Thorn grew up in the village of Wall, on the border of Faerie.  There’s a story about his birth that some of the older folks in Wall know about.

Tristan is trying to win the heart of his true love, when they see a star fall over in Faerie.  Tristan promises to get it for her, not realizing that in Faerie, stars are beautiful women, daughters of the Moon.  When Tristan finds the Star, she’s not happy about Tristan dragging her off to show his girl.

Other, more sinister forces, are also after the Star, whose name is Yvaine.  Tristan and Yvaine end up traveling a journey together with many perils.

I’m afraid I found the original story less satisfying than the story in the movie.  For the movie, there was a big climactic scene with a big showdown with everyone who is after Yvaine, and Tristan must defeat them.  In the book, they seem to escape from most perils by virtue of simple luck.

But the movie does show the same story — cleaned up a little.  (The book is for adults, and contains a few “mature” details, which are cleaned up in the movie along with the more unified plot.)  That story is truly delightful, in both its forms.

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Review of Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer



by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown), 2007.  629 pages.

This was my favorite book of the Twilight quartet, which is phenomenally popular now with teenage girls.  I read it at the same time as a co-worker, just in time to read the fourth book of the series, and we had a lot of fun discussing it.

If you haven’t read any books of the series, you definitely need to start with Twilight.  Once you’ve read that one, you will know if you want to keep reading or not.

Yes, they are vampire novels.  But these are not typical vampire books at all.  These books are for lovers of romance who don’t mind a little over-the-top plot situations.

Edward is not the typical vampire, dark and evil.  He and his “family” do not drink human blood, instead hunting large game animals.  (Having read Barbara Kingsolver, I think that they would run out of wildlife on the top of the food chain in a very short time.  But let’s not bring quibbles about reality into the story….)  These vampires stay out of sunshine not because it would harm them but because they are too dazzlingly beautiful for sunlight.  They are also super strong and super fast.  With this group not drinking human blood, where’s the drawback?

Eclipse explores more of the backstory of the vampires.  We learn more about their history and motivations.  Bella and Edward actually share some thoughts instead of just restrained passion.  We learn why Bella doesn’t want to be a teen bride and why Edward is reluctant to let Bella become a vampire.

They also explore more of Bella’s relationship with Jacob, her friend the werewolf.  I like the way the way the werewolves and the vampires end up needing to work together.

Here’s another fast-moving plot with plenty of tension, romantic and otherwise.  This story was more unified than the other books.  Instead of a crisis tacked on at the end, this one has a unified theme.  Some young vampires are terrorizing Seattle, and it appears that, as usual, Bella is in danger.  The entire book builds up to dealing with that danger, in a satisfying way.

I still believe that a lot of the intense romance of these books is built into the restraint.  Bella and Edward’s relationship is chaste, since to consummate it might kill her, but loaded with tension.  I hope teen girls don’t read this and think there are boys out there who’d be able to sleep with them every night and have Edward’s self-control.  But what a romantic dream — a strong, incredibly handsome, self-controlled, powerful protector whose love is for Bella alone.  Throw in vampires and werewolves, and you’ve got a tremendous hit!

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Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman



written and performed by Neil Gaiman

with original music by The Gothic Archies

HarperCollins, 2000.  3 hours, 3 compact discs.

Coraline is an exceedingly creepy story, in a delicious, shivery sort of way.  (I recently read an author interview where he said that parents find the book more disturbing than kids do.  I’m not surprised.)

There is a door in Coraline’s apartment that leads to a brick wall.  Once it led to another flat, but when the house was split into apartments, the door was bricked up.  However, one day Coraline follows a shadow through that door.  She finds there a woman who says she is Coraline’s other mother.  She wants Coraline to stay with her forever, and has some wonderful inducements.  But they turn out to be less and less wonderful.

Everyone on the other side has black buttons where their eyes should be.  Things look normal, but turn out to be seriously disturbing.

And leaving the other flat is not as easy as entering.

Neil Gaiman’s performance of this story is wonderful, enhanced by the incredibly creepy songs of The Gothic Archies.  I chose this book to listen to on our trip to Florida because I thought my 14-year-old son would enjoy it, too.  I do think I found the story creepier than he did.  But tremendously well-written and well performed.

Not for the faint of heart.

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Review of New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer


New Moon

by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown and Company), New York, 2006.  563 pages.

Starred Review.

Oh, these books are so bad to read if you’re planning to get any sleep!  I was good the first night, and stopped after about a hundred pages.  But the second night, I kept reading and reading, and by the time I’d finished the book, it was not so early in the morning.  And I had to go to work, too!  Yikes!

Stephenie Meyer is good with feelings.  Mind you, she’s got a nice complicated situation — Bella’s in love with a vampire who has an especially powerful thirst for her blood, but resists that urge because he loves her.  In New Moon, Edward faces the “reality” that he is not good for Bella, and Bella is not good for him.  So he leaves her.

Stephenie Meyer captures well how it feels to be left by the love of your life.  The unbelievable shock of seeing hard coldness on his face when he says he’s leaving.  The utter numbness that follows, wondering how to go on, how to face ordinary, day-to-day life.

I wouldn’t give this to a teenager going through a rough break up!  For that matter, it’s a bit hard on a woman in her 40’s going through a divorce!  But the author does capture the emotions involved, and you do feel with Bella and understand her.

Bella does find a friend who can help her escape her numbness and face life again.  His feelings for Bella are going beyond friendship, but he means a lot to her, so maybe that’s okay?  Now, there’s an added complication:  Back in the first book he’s the one who told Bella about legends of vampires, along with the legend that his tribe had a way of dealing with them, that his tribe and vampires are mortal enemies, who had worked out a temporary truce.

Bella’s not good at “moving on,” but how do you “move on” from the love of your life?

This passage gives you the feel of what Bella has to deal with in New Moon:

I thought about Juliet some more.

I wondered what she would have done if Romeo had left her, not because he was banished, but because he lost interest?  What if Rosalind had given him the time of day, and he’d changed his mind?  What if, instead of marrying Juliet, he’d just disappeared?

I thought I knew how Juliet would feel.

She wouldn’t go back to her old life, not really.  She wouldn’t ever have moved on, I was sure of that.  Even if she’d lived until she was old and gray, every time she closed her eyes, it would have been Romeo’s face she saw behind her lids.  She would have accepted that, eventually.

I wondered if she would have married Paris in the end, just to please her parents, to keep the peace.  No, probably not, I decided.  But then, the story didn’t say much about Paris.  He was just a stick figure — a placeholder, a threat, a deadline to force her hand.

What if there were more to Paris?

What if Paris had been Juliet’s friend?  Her very best friend?  What if he was the only one she could confide in about the whole devastating thing with Romeo?  The one person who really understood her and made her feel halfway human again?  What if he was patient and kind?  What if he took care of her?  What if Juliet knew she couldn’t survive without him?  What if he really loved her, and wanted her to be happy?

And . . . what if she loved Paris?  Not like Romeo.  Nothing like that, of course.  But enough that she wanted him to be happy, too? . . .

If Romeo was really gone, never coming back, would it have mattered whether or not Juliet had taken Paris up on his offer?  Maybe she should have tried to settle into the leftover scraps of life that were left behind.  Maybe that would have been as close to happiness as she could get.

I sighed, and then groaned when the sigh scraped my throat.  I was reading too much into the story.  Romeo wouldn’t change his mind.  That’s why people still remembered his name, always twined with hers:  Romeo and Juliet.  That’s why it was a good story.  “Juliet gets dumped and ends up with Paris” would have never been a hit.

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Review of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer



by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown), New York, 2005.  498 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008:  #4, Fantasy Teen Fiction.

I took a Resources for Young Adults class last quarter.  As part of the class, I signed up for a Listserv on which librarians serving teens discuss good books.  That’s where I heard about Twilight, as well as some of my classmates mentioning it as the best vampire novel they’d ever read.  I read an extensive article about the author, Stephenie Meyer, and I was intrigued.  She’s a Mormon, and promised that she would not include graphic sex in her novels.  It sounds like her values are similar to mine.  I was intrigued, so I put myself on the wait list for Twilight.

I have to say that the only thing I didn’t like about Twilight was how late it kept me reading!  I thought I’d read one chapter before going to sleep–and finally managed to close the book hours later.  But I have to admit, I like it when a book engages me that thoroughly.

Bella, the heroine, is everygirl.  She was easy to identify with, and I felt sympathy with her from the start.  Stephenie Meyer keeps you reading by not answering every question.  We wonder, along with Bella, why that handsome Edward seems so angry with her, after meeting her eyes once, that he stays away from school for a week, and she can’t help but feel it’s to avoid her.  Then, how does he move with superhuman speed, but deny it?  Why does he say he’s bad for her? 

I’m not giving anything away by saying this is a vampire novel, since it’s on the cover of the book and in any reviews.  But even knowing that, Stephenie Meyer manages to keep you guessing as to how Bella will find out and what, exactly, that means. 

I’ve never been a big vampire novel fan, but this book doesn’t have the usual feel of a vampire book.  Instead, it’s a powerful, sensual love story.  Since Edward has to be careful not to get to close to Bella, so as not to be tempted to taste her blood, the tension between them is extreme.  Today’s TV writers would do well to learn a lesson from this book.  Sometimes less is more when it comes to describing romance.  This is good clean fiction that packs a punch.

Twilight is hugely popular with teen girls, and I can see why.  43-year-old abandoned housewives find it wonderful, too!

My only complaint is that the vampires are a little too perfect.  They are more beautiful than ordinary mortals, have superhuman speed and strength, don’t have to sleep or breathe, and live forever.  Edward’s group has found a way to get around drinking human blood.  So what’s not to like?  I don’t see any compelling reason why Bella shouldn’t just become a vampire, too.  Sure, it would be tough explaining it to her parents at first….

I can’t wait to read the next two books!  In fact, I liked this book so much, instead of getting on the library’s hold list, I ordered the next two books from Amazon.  I have a feeling I’m going to be reading these books more than once.

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Review of Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock


Princess Ben

Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008.  344 pages.

Starred Review.

I dearly loved Princess Ben!  This is exactly my favorite sort of book — an original fairy tale, with princes and princesses and magic and danger and enchantments and adventure and romance.

Princess Ben is no damsel in distress who waits around to be saved by the prince!  (In fact, there’s a delightful fairy tale reversal toward the end.  I dare say no more!)

At the start, Princess Benevolence’s parents meet a dreadful fate, with circumstances pointing to assassination at the order of the neighboring, or rather surrounding kingdom of Drachensbett.  As in so many other princess tales, Ben must now learn to be a proper princess, under the stern direction of her aunt the Queen.

Naturally, there are also plans to marry Ben off in the service of diplomacy.  However, matters get complicated when Ben discovers a secret passageway to a magic room and a book of magic.  She begins learning how to perform magic and use it to serve her own purposes, like get some decent food.

But as in any fairy tale, before the end the fate of the kingdom lies in Princess Ben’s hands.  The reader can’t help but root for things to end Happily Ever After.

Ben’s a delightful character, a princess with spunk and a weight problem.  The plot is nicely twisted to keep things interesting.  Utterly charming and a whole lot of fun.  Not a book that’s easy to stop reading.

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Review of Ever, by Gail Carson Levine



by Gail Carson Levine

HarperCollins, 2008.  244 pages.

Starred Review.

Hooray!  A new book by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted and Fairest.  In Ever, the author takes us to a different sort of world.  Instead of magic and fairies, this world is inhabited by gods and goddesses.

Olus is a youthful god, the god of the winds.  He is curious about mortals, and so travels far from his own country and disguises himself as a mortal, a herder of goats.  He finds himself fascinated by the family of his landlord, especially Kezi, who makes beautiful weavings and beautiful dances.

Then, because of an unfortunate vow, Kezi’s life is to be sacrificed.  Can Olus find a way to save her?  Perhaps he can make her immortal like himself.  Only this will mean both of them undergoing a terrible ordeal.

Here is an enchanting story about love and fate, about uncertainty and awareness.

As with her other books, Gail Carson Levine again achieves a mythic quality to her story that I love so much.  We have a simple story with undercurrents of Truth.  Delightful!

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Review of Larklight, by Philip Reeve



Or:  The Revenge of the White Spiders!

Or:  To Saturn’s Rings and Back!  A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space!

by Philip Reeve

Performed by Greg Steinbruner

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. 400 pages.

Audiobook:  Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs, 8.75 hours.

Starred Review.

Imagine for a moment that outer space is not a black emptiness, but really the “aether,” and full of living things.  Imagine that there’s life on Mars, life on Venus, life on Saturn, and even “ichthyomorphs” floating in the middle of space.

Now imagine that instead of just discovering gravity, Isaac Newton used alchemy to figure out how to make spaceships.  Imagine that in the 1800s, the British Empire wasn’t just an earthly empire ruling the seas, but ruled the solar system.

Art and Myrtle Mumby grew up on Larklight, a large old house that orbited the moon.

At the start of the book, their house is attacked by space spiders the size of elephants.  Their father is captured by the spiders, but they manage to escape and land on the moon.  On the moon, their life is in danger from giant moths, but they are rescued by space pirates.  The captain of the pirates is a teenage boy, but the crew are all aliens.

The pirates don’t want to obey Myrtle’s demands and take them to a British Embassy, and the children’s adventures are only beginning.  The book presents narrow escape after narrow escape as Art and Myrtle travel the solar system and end up saving the world.

This story is indeed a “rousing tale of dauntless pluck.”  I was put off at the beginning because I hate the thought of giant spiders, but before long I was lingering in my car to listen.  Even though I knew Art would surely escape, several times I found myself wondering how on earth he would get out of the latest tight spot.

Once again, I was enchanted by the delightful accents of the British narrator.  This audiobook would be a fabulous adventure to listen to for a family traveling on summer vacation.  Although there are some fearsome situations, Art and Myrtle emerge unscathed from them all.  Great fun!

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Review of The Prophecy, by Hilari Bell

The Prophecy
by Hilari Bell

Reviewed June 1, 2008.
EOS (HarperCollins), New York, 2006. 194 pages.
Starred Review.

I loved this book! The Prophecy is exactly the sort of book I would love to write. A well-crafted, light fairy tale type story, it still packs a punch. I was completely charmed.

Prince Perryndon’s father is the forty-fifth warrior king of Idris. Perryn would rather study than learn to fight.

However, when the king is home from the wars with the Norsemen, the master-of-arms makes a show of teaching Perryn to fight. The show only makes Perryn look like a fool and a failure and makes his father despise him all the more.

Then, studying in the library, Perryn discovers something that he thinks can win over his father after all: A prophecy that tells how to defeat the dragon! All they need is a true bard, a unicorn, and the Sword of Samhain.

The king scoffs at the prophecy, and scoffs at Perryn for believing it. However, his work does get him some attention.

When Perryn asks a magic mirror to show him any more writing about the prophecy, it shows him Cedric, the master-of-arms, writing a letter. In the letter, Cedric tells the Norsemen that Perryn has discovered the prophecy. He writes:

The sword was lost long ago, but magic often finds a way to raise itself. The boy is too weak willed to do anything on his own, but if he convinces his father to go looking for that sword, the dragon might be killed. 

If Idris were prosperous and well manned, it would be almost impossible to conquer — it is proving hard enough, even with the dragon eating away their strength from within.

So I will kill the boy. It can be made to look like an accident.

Now, knowing that Cedric will kill him at his first opportunity, Perryn decides to prove he is not too weak willed to do anything. He will assemble the pieces of the prophecy himself. If he can kill the dragon, surely he can win his father’s approval.

I love the way Hilari Bell shows us a prince with plenty of strikes against him, yet who is desperate enough to find a way to do something and help his people.

A truly wonderful book. This is my favorite of all the books I read for this year’s summer reading program.

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Review of Seeing Redd, by Frank Beddor


Seeing Redd:  The Looking Glass Wars, Book Two, by Frank Beddor

Dial Books, New York, 2007.  371 pages.

In Seeing Redd, the sequel to The Looking Glass Wars, Queen Alyss’s Aunt Redd is again plotting to take over the queendom of Wonderland.  Now she’s in our world gathering a sinister army to join her.  Next door to Wonderland, Alyss’s neighbor King Arch has plots of his own.  Meanwhile, Hatter Madigan is finding out what happened to his family while he was gone.

This second book has a darker feel, with lots of time taken up showing the evil of those dedicated to Black Imagination.  There’s also lots of detail in the fighting and weaponry.  This trilogy (I believe it will be) will make an exciting movie some day with lots of special effects, but I had trouble visualizing the detailed weaponry, and wasn’t terribly interested in that part.

I am now quite interested in Alyss, so I will definitely want to read the third book when it comes out.  I hope she gets a time of rest at the end!

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