Books in Brief: Earthsea

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.

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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursala Le Guin.  Sparrowhawk had great magical talent but his reckless pride led him to tamper with magic beyond his training and he loosed a terrible shadow upon the world.  The tragic consequences of his actions sober him.  He applies himself to his studies and grows into a wise mage resolved to capture the shadow and send it back to whence it came.

LOVED this book.  A wonderfully told coming of age story.  A believable story of transformation.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursala Le Guin.  Believed to be the reincarnation of the last high priestess, a young girl is taken from her family and consecrated to the service of the Nameless Ones.  She is isolated and taught the dark rituals she is expected to lead.  Ged (Sparrowhawk) comes to the tombs in search of the lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe.  Arha (Tenar) discovers him and traps him, outraged by his sacrilege.  Her anger gives way to curiosity, however, and she begins to question everything she has been taught.

More horrifying than Ged’s coming-of-age story.  While Ged (Sparrowhawk) brought something terrible into the world, Tenar is ripped from her family when she is only 6 years old and indoctrinated into an evil cult.  And yet, despite this, she is still able to question what she has been taught and choose her path.

The Farthest Shore by Ursala Le Guin Magic is fading quickly from the lands of Earthsea and no one knows why.  Songs are being forgotten and people are going mad.  Archmage Ged (Sparrowhawk) chooses a young prince to accompany him as he searches for the cause.

Le Guin adds more detail to her wonderfully developed world of Earthsea.  She continues to introduce interesting characters.  That said, I struggled a bit with this story.  The Big Bad annoyed me — I think I expected someone Bigger and Badder.  And I didn’t quite get some of the motivations.  I didn’t like the ending — not that it should have ended differently, I just didn’t want it to end the way it did.

Tehanu by Ursala Le Guin.   Le Guin revisits the character Tenar, perhaps the only character more haunted than Ged.  It’s been years since she left the Tombs with Ged; she’s now a widow.  She takes in a severely injured child and names her Therru.  And Ged returns.  Immediately following the events of The Farthest Shore, the dragon Kalessin brings him to Gont, unconscious and near death.  Tenar nurses him back to health . . . but not to his former power.  That is gone.

This was an interesting departure for the series.  Ged has no power; his sense of self is shattered.  And he, Tenar, and Therru are targeted by another Big Bad who has ample magic.  The danger feels more threatening this time around.


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Books in Brief: Fantasy and Sci Fi

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.

 

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Parable of Talents by Octavia ButlerThe breakdown of communities within the United States has led to an upsurge in Christian fundamentalism.  The cruelty people inflict upon each other in the name of religion unfortunately feels all too possible.  Lauren’s small community, established in Parable of the Sower, is destroyed.  Her child is kidnapped and she is imprisoned;  she must find a way to escape and begin again.

Love Lauren!  And I mostly loved this continuation of her story.  My only quibble is that I don’t understand Larkin’s feelings about her mother.  She knew what happened.  She knew what the new fundamentalism was like.  She knew that Lauren had searched for her.  She knew that her uncle Marcus had kept her a secret.  And yet, she resented her mother.  I get it but I don’t get it.  If Lauren hadn’t been Lauren, maybe they wouldn’t have been separated.  But the world Larkin lived in would have been a far worse place.

Upside Down Magic:  Sticks and Stones by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins.  Strange things are happening at Dunwiddle Middle School, the kids in the Upside Down Magic class are being blamed, and there’s talk that they will be kicked out of school.  Nory’s tutor encourages her to join a sport and while things get off to a bumpy start, she and her teammates get to know each other and see other as individuals instead of stereotypes.

Fun!!!  What I love about this series is that it gives kids insight into what it feels like to be different — and it demonstrates that being different isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself.

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent.  Based on the title, I wondered if it was based upon Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.  Maybe influenced???  There’s no mention of Lauren Olamina but this is a story about the belief that humanity’s destiny is beyond Earth.  A space ship designed to think for itself is loaded with the history of human culture, as well as the genetic material to create new humans, animals, and crops.  It’s purpose is to create and prepare a new generation of humans for life on another planet.  Once it has a destination in sight, that is.

Eh.  I liked the premise but this story just didn’t work for me and I have no intention of reading its sequels, Farseed and Seed Seeker.  The character development felt off.  Sargent didn’t convince me of much regarding the relationships formed and choices made.  Not only were the characters in general somewhat flat, Sargent employed two narratives I particularly hate:  girls becoming infatuated with bad boys, and sudden transformations of character.  Can a bad boy change his ways?  Sure, but show me and make me believe it — don’t tell me and expect me to take it in stride.

 

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Books in Brief: Mystery

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.

 

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Kilmoon by Lisa Alber.  Merrit Chase leaves the States to travel to an Irish village to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, who has no knowledge of her existence.  Her arrival triggers events which lead to murder and she finds herself a suspect.  Everything eventually comes back to events from thirty years in the past.

Atmospheric, brooding and complex.  Merrit was not an easy character for me to connect with; her father even less so.  That said, it’s still a good read.  Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern stole the story for me.

Whispers in the Mist by Lisa Alber.  A strange fog has rolled in from the Atlantic.  Along with the fog comes tales of the Grey Man . . . and murders.  Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern is on the case.  Until the case strikes too close to home.

Sequel to Kilmoon by Lisa Alber.  While there are references to events which happened in the first book, it’s not necessary to read it first.  Of the two, this is the stronger story, I think:  Danny is a far more interesting character than Merrit or Liam.

Hidden by Karen Olson.   Nicole Jones abandoned her old name and her old life years before the book begins.  She’s been enjoying a quiet life on Block Island, living off of the grid.  When someone from her past finds her, she realizes that she will have to leave and find another place to hide.

What I liked best about this story was Nicole’s reinvention of herself from the girl she used to be.  I like the Nicole who gives bike tours and taught herself to paint beautiful landscapes.  Her past self, which is revealed as the story progresses, is less interesting.  The mystery is so-so.

Shadowed by Karen Olson.   Sequel to Hidden.  Nicole is now Susan McQueen and she’s living on an island in Quebec, Canada.  She’s trying to recreate the life she had on Block Island, living a quiet life, working as an artist.  She’s still off the grid but this time around she has not given up her computer.  The lure of the online chatrooms and the temptation to reach out to an old accomplice proves to be her undoing this time.  Someone else has been lurking in the chatrooms, and they know her well enough to find her, even though she’s using a different name.

Some things are too easy, some things are too hard, but it’s still a light, enjoyable read.  Someday I will have to re-read the first book to see if something that happens in this one matches up.  Someday.

The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy.  Two online friends, scheduled to meet in person for the first time, are murdered on the same night, two hours and several miles apart.  And north of Minneapolis, Lydia Ascher finds two dead men in her basement.  Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth connect the cases.  When an elderly, terminally ill man is kidnapped from his home and an Alzheimer’s patient goes missing from his care facility, a link emerges.  Leo and Gino team up with Monkeewrench to solve a mystery sixty years in the making and moments away from disaster.

It’s been several months since I read this.  I remember enjoying it — I love the Monkeewrench crew.  I also remember thinking some of it was too easy.  And that there was one really good twist.

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The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

family-plotBook Review:  The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Music City Salvage is struggling.  The small family business risks bankruptcy by purchasing the rights to the contents of the Withrow Estate days before it’s due to be razed to the ground.   The estate with its Victorian mansion, carriage house, and barn offers a big payday but the salvage will have to be done on the cheap.  Any expense that can be cut, is.  Instead of staying in motels, Dahlia and her small crew will stay in the house while they strip it of everything than can be sold.

Having a fondness for historic homes, Dahlia is dismayed when she walks through the home for the first time and realizes that while it’s been neglected, it could be saved.  She wonders at the owner’s decision to tear it down rather than restore it or sell it to someone who would.  As she acknowledges the certain profit to be gained from tearing out its most precious features, she also acknowledges that she will hate doing it.  She makes a promise, out loud, to treat the home with respect.  She’s startled when she senses a reply.  Startled, but not frightened.  Yet.

By the following morning, everyone will be on edge.  The house is undeniably haunted.  Dahlia has done this sort of work for years; this isn’t her first haunted house.  Not so for Brad, Bobby, and Gabe.  She stresses the importance of the job, the fact that they’ll be done by the end of the week, and establishes a buddy plan.  But of course things get worse.  There’s more than one ghost, and although three of them seem harmless, one is definitely angry.

With its mysterious owner, terrible family secrets, locked rooms, ghostly footprints, etc., this is a classic haunted house story.  The secrets aren’t terribly surprising but they don’t have to be — they are disturbing and so make the present-day haunting believable.  For the most part.  The little boy ghost didn’t really work for me once I became aware of his backstory.  And my patience was tested a bit towards the end when Dahlia was determined to push the boundaries of daylight on the final day.  But all in all, I found the story atmospheric, spooky and well-written.  My strongest criticism regards the last page of the book.  The book felt complete — and then Priest tossed in an unnecessary cliffhanger.  Because I enjoyed the rest of the book so much, I’m pretending that scene never happened.

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Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and UlyssesBook Review:  Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

“The story begins with a vacuum cleaner. And a squirrel. Or, to be more precise, a squirrel who gets sucked into a Ulysses Super Suction wielded by Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham. The rather hairless squirrel that is spit out is not the same one that went in.”  Booklist

Luckily for the squirrel, Flora has read every issue of Terrible Things Can Happen to You! and knows CPR.  She names her new companion after the vacuum cleaner that nearly took his life and intends to keep him as a pet.  She soon discovers that he’s been transformed from an ordinary squirrel, to one with superhero strength, the ability to fly, and a love for poetry.  And he’s just what this self-proclaimed cynic of a little girl needs.  She envisions that together they will conquer villains, defend the defenseless, and protect the weak.  Or something.  And they do.

DiCamillo takes a sad situation, two lonely children who have been let down by their parents, and offers something hopeful.  Flora believes that her mother loves a lamp more than she loves her — and she misses her dad who now lives in an apartment across town.  William Spiver’s mother has sent him to stay with his Great Aunt, Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham.  Ulysses brings the children together and helps them break down the protective walls they’ve each built for themselves.  And by the end of the book, he’s helped the adults see things more clearly as well.  He’s definitely a superhero as far as my daughter and I are concerned!

Endearing characters and a rich vocabulary make this a standout book.  The comic-style graphics which accompany the story complement it nicely.

Miss D and I hope you enjoy this book as much as we did!

Our favorite parts:

Becky:  The poem Ulysses wrote for Flora.  Quotes like “This  malfeasance must be stopped.”

Miss D:  Ulysses got superpowers after being vacuumed!  And it was a really cute story with lots of twists and turns.  The poem Ulysses wrote for Flora.

Discussion Questions:  http://www.floraandulysses.com/teacher.html , http://samanthagreenmysteries.com/src

Readalikes:

What We Found in the Sofa by Henry Clark, The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee.

Grades:  3 -6

 

 

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Rump, the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

RumpBook Review:  Rump, the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Twelve-year old Rump has been raised with the belief that his name is his destiny.  And while a name that seems to only be a playful term for butt doesn’t seem like it holds much of a destiny, he’s also always believed that Rump was not the full name his mother intended for him.  But how can he discover his true name when his mother was the only one who knew it and she died shortly after he was born?

When he finds his mother’s spindle, his life takes a dramatic turn.  He can spin straw into gold.  He’s thrilled at first, believing that he and his Gran will never have to go hungry again.  But then he realizes there’s a catch to his magic — he can trade the gold that he spins but he has to accept whatever is offered to him, no matter how unequal the trade.  No matter how repellent.  He doesn’t think his situation can get any worse but it can.  It does.

Spun gold is finer than the meager bits of gold typically found in the mountains and it captures the attention of the King who comes to village in search of its source.  For reasons of his own, the miller claims that his daughter is the spinner of the gold.  And Rump knows that he must spin for her or the king will punish her and the people of The Mountain.  But, because magic operates under its own rules, she must offer him something in return.  And unfortunately, Opal lacks imagination, locking both of them into an agreement neither wants.

Desperate to escape the terrible promise Opal has made him, Rump goes on a quest to find his mother’s family, hoping they know something about his magic that he does not.

My daughter and I loved this book!!!  Shurtliff offers a touching and believable twist on a familiar tale.  Every story has at least two perspectives, after all, and we enjoyed being given a glimpse of the “villain’s” side of things.  We also loved the hints about other fairytale characters alternate stories.  Gnomes who run messages, pixies who love gold, and trolls who want pets are just a few of the lighthearted details that make this such a fun read.

Discussion Questions:  http://lieslshurtliff.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Rump-Readers-Guide.pdf

Readalikes:   A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Half Upon A Time by James Riley, The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff.

Grades: 3-6

 

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Upcoming Book Reviews

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Until I actually write the reviews, here’s a preview of what to expect:

 

The Raft by Fred Strydom.  Slow but intriguing.

The Sorcerer’s Daughter by Terry Brooks.  Another disappointment.  Brooks needs to hire me as his editor NOW.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  Wow.  Just finished this one on my break today and plan to read Parable of the Talents this weekend.  Wow.

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva.  Gripping.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  Fun.

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