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Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede This is an older, but definitely still good one. I listened to the audio, an early full cast production by Bruce Coville. In the story, Princess Cimorene’s parents want to marry her off, due to her unfortunate tendency to study fencing, Latin, cooking, and anything else anyone will teach her. She runs away and volunteers to be the princess for the dragon Kazul. Between fending off would-be rescuers and dealing with the other dragons’ princesses, she discovers a plot by some nasty wizards to take over the dragons’ country. You can’t help but like the opinionated Cimorene, who refuses to let anyone tell her what to do. And Wrede’s humorous riffs on fairy tale conventions make the story laugh-out loud funny. If you’re a fan of fairy tales or fantasy, whatever your age, don’t miss this book. The audio version suffers a little from over-enunciation and inconsistent sound quality, but overall, the characters are convincing and hearing all the different voices makes the story come alive.
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Septimus Heap: Magyk by Angie Sage. Narrated by Allan Corduner.
Septimus Heap: Flyte by Angie Sage

This children's fantasy series got starred reviews when it came out a couple of years ago, and I just got around to it, listening to the first book in the series and reading the second. The story is set in and around the Castle, a walled city surrounded by wild woods and marshes, with what seems to be an advanced pre-industrial tech level but very well-organized society. As the first book opens, Silas Heap, a not-to-skilled Ordinary Wizard, is wandering through the woods looking for something to help his ailing newborn seventh son, when he comes across an abandoned newborn baby girl. He scoops her up and takes her to his wife, just as the midwife runs out carrying his own baby and yelling that he is dead. It's pretty obvious that little Septimus isn't really dead, what with the whole series being named after him and all, but never mind. Fast forward ten years to young Jenna's tenth birthday. We learn that she is the Princess, her mother the Queen having been assasinated at her birth. Jenna was rescued by the ExtraOrdinary Wizard and left for Silas and Sarah Heap to find, in the hopes that she would blend in with such a large family. Alas, she has been discovered. The ExtraOrdinary Wizard finds out only just in time. The rest of book is spend first running away from the usurpers and the evil wizard DomDaniel, and then trying to find a way to reclaim the Castle. On the way, they rescue a small Young Army Expendable, Boy 412. And of course, by the end of the book everyone knows who Septimus Heap is. The plot is a wee bit predictable, but we expect this of children's books. The writing is more modern in tone that I generally expect in a classic fantasy, but it works out well. The characters and the suspense keep the story entertaining. There are sailing ships large and small, dragons, and secret passages.

In the second book, Septimus Heap is now apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand. (As the seventh son of a seventh son, he has impressive magical abilities.) Jenna is openly recognized as the Princess and is living in the Castle with the rest of the Heap family. The only flies in the ointment are the disappearance of the oldest Heap boy, Simon, and the Shadow following Marcia. When Simon suddenly reappears in a black cape on a black horse and kidnaps Jenna, Septimus is the only one who believes that Jenna needs rescuing. Could the evil DomDaniel somehow have survived being eaten by the Marsh Brownies? A second solidly entertaining entry in the series. My only beef with the book version is that in the middle of otherwise contemporary-sounding text, magical terms are spelled archaically and bolded, as if they were vocabulary terms to be studied. Otherwise, the typeface is cute, the layout and illustrations attractive. I'll probably still read the third one once I get through the rest of my pile.


Jun. 3rd, 2006 04:33 pm
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I realized with less than a week to go that I had not even picked out the adult nonfiction book I’d said I’d review for the June Librarian’s Choice page. Oops. The adult summer reading theme (which we’re not really doing) is animals, so I thought I’d look for one of the nice narrative animal books which seem only to circulate as long as they’re on the new book shelf. I started with a book on the platypus, a favorite of mine, but soon put it down because I just couldn’t get into it – no good with a tight deadline. But on take two, we had a winner.

The Astonishing Elephant by Shana Alexander Who hasn’t been fascinated by the elephant, the largest of land mammals? Journalist Shana Alexander shares with us her life-long quest to understand the elephant, beginning with her attendance at the rare birth of a zoo elephant in the 1960s. She takes us on a journey through the history of elephants, their importance in Hindu and Buddhist religion, their often sad involvement in circuses in the United States and the excitement of recent breakthroughs in elephant communication. Elephants naturally live in a society which on some days seems ideal - matriarchal family groups, with visiting males. OK, maybe I wouldn't like the without males part. But the close communication, the affection - they seem to have figured out how to live together peacefully better than we have. They are difficult in captivity because they resent their lost freedom, and will only breed with a mate they like. Today, though zoo conditions have improved, the elephant is still in grave danger from loss of habitat in Asia and from poaching in Africa. The news may not be completely cheerful, but the wise and social elephant has never been so compelling as Alexander shows it to be.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott Two single thirty-somethings meet at a wedding. They are on the verge of an illicit coupling in the coat closet, when John pulls back. What if they let things develop at a slower pace rather than the certain death of a one-night stand? He talks the reluctant Jane into beginning a correspondence in which they will confess their failings, mostly in love. Though the set-up is a wee bit on the improbable side, the resulting letters beautifully chronicle the characters’ development from first high school relationship to the present, as well as their growing relationship. John and Jane are smart and sarcastic characters, no longer trusting that first flush of romance but not willing to settle for anything less than a life fully lived.

And here is the book which took me the better part of a couple of months to read, owing to my rather rusty German.
Tintenherz von Cornelia Funke Ich hatte dieses Buch auf dem Amerikanischen so gern, dass ich es auf dem originallen Deutschen lesen musste. Ja. Die Geschichte ist immer noch sehr schoen und spannend, aber es ist sehr gut das ich es schon gelesen hatte. Es war wirklich gut es auf Deutsch zu lesen, aber gluecklicherweise fuer meine Freunde, die kein Deutsch lesen, ist die Uebersetzung auch gut. Und wenn irgendjemand hier es auf Deutsch lesen moechte, kann ich meine Kopie ausleihen.


Mar. 29th, 2006 08:02 pm
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I'm feeling massively behind here - so the recent request to start doing a real journal will have to wait, as will reviews of the other books I've recently read. But here's a good book to tide everyone over. I know you've been waiting with bated breath for a new book recommendation.

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke This is the sequel to Inkheart, which loyal readers may recall I adored. I hopped happily into my car every morning to find out what would happen to Meggie, Mo and Dustfinger. The sequel is bigger, better, more grown-up and darker. A year after the last book’s events, Dustfinger is desperate to get back into the Inkworld, even though he knows that the author intended him to die. He finds a shady character who can read him back into the book. His apprentice Farid, whom Mo read out of the Arabian Nights, expected to follow him – but rouses from the spell of reading to find that Dustfinger is gone and he is still in our world, with Dustfinger’s nemesis holding a knife to his throat and threatening to follow Dustfinger into the book and kill him. Barely escaping, Farid runs to find Meggie, and Meggie is able to read both of them into the story. But things are not going as the author planned in the book. It will take everything that Meggie and Farid can do to protect Dustfinger and Meggie’s parents. As in the previous book, perspective shifts between many of the major characters, so that we experience Dustfinger’s awkward reunion with the wife he hasn’t seen in ten years, as well as Mo and Resa’s panic over their daughter’s disappearance. It’s high adventure with some pretty deep thoughts. Unfortunately, they got a celebrity narrator for the book this time, whose reading I didn’t enjoy nearly so much. I ended up finishing the book on paper, where I could also enjoy the illustrations by the author.
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The Secret of Castle Cant by K.P. Bath This is a delightful little fairy tale novel. I guess you could call it fantasy, but there is no magic involved. The Barony of Cant is a tiny little country in Europe, so tiny that it disappears into the fold of your map. In Cant, people still prefer to wear the clothes and use the technology of a century or so ago, even though the American Mission has been busily at work. Lucy is an orphan and maidservant to the Honorable & Adorable Pauline, heir to the Baronial Cap. She’s fond of her young charge, even if said charge is subject to Whims for which Lucy invariably gets punished, like launching wet bloomers from the catapult. But when Lucy hears something that sounds like a plot against Pauline, she joins the revolutionaries trying to rid the land of the scourge of chewing-gum and becomes a spy.

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner It was perhaps a mistake for me to listen to a book about four new mothers so soon after becoming one myself. I had thought that ten months would give me enough of a buffer, but I was wrong. This book, Breakfast Club-like, features four mostly dissimilar women who meet in pre-natal yoga class in Philadelphia. Becky is plus-sized, Jewish, a chef and cursed with the mother-in-law from hell. Kelly, trying to escape her impoverished New Jersey Catholic roots, lives in a too-big apartment with no furniture in the living room, until they can save up for the perfect brand-name items she’s book marked on-line. Ayinde, the biracial wife of newly traded ‘6ers player Richard Town, flounders as she tries to adapt to motherhood and a new city at the same time. Leah, watching only from the outside at first, who fled Hollywood in a fog of depression after the death of her baby. Though the characters seem like they ought to be too stereotyped to work (diversity mix? Check! Diverse parenting and birth styles? Check! Big problems? One per character!), they all ended up feeling very real, even in situations where I wanted to chuck the cd case at them. Their struggles coping with new motherhood felt disturbing familiar, the friendship that helped them all through it genuine and touching. And, being Jennifer Weiner, there’s a good dose of humor mixed in with the sleep deprivation and unfolded laundry. You just have to decide if you’re in a place to appreciate feeling the pangs of new parenthood four times over.


Aug. 29th, 2005 04:17 pm
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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke Yay, children’s fantasy! I think this is the third book by Funke that I’ve read, and so far it’s my favorite. It has lots of nice thinky ideas in addition to a compelling plot and characters. But let’s start with the plot. Twelve-year-old Meggie lives with her father Mo, a bookbinder. One dark, rainy night a man calling her father Silvertongue turns up at the door, saying that they – and a book Meggie had never seen before - are in danger. As they flee, Meggie learns that her father has the power to read things out of books – and that the villainous Capricorn will do anything to keep from being sent back into the book that Mo read him out of. Meanwhile, in the same unfortunate incident, Meggie’s mother was read into the book, and hasn’t been seen since. Can Meggie and Mo rewrite the story and rescue Meggie’s mother before Capricorn burns all his books – and takes them prisoner himself? I had great difficulty turning off the car on this one, because I was always stuck at a particularly exciting point.

As for thinky thoughts (to borrow [ profile] garrity’s phrase): what if you could bring characters out of a book? How would they adapt to our world? Would they still exist in the book? And would you change a book if you suddenly actually got into it? I also found Meggie and her relationship with her father interesting. At 12 she is still clearly a child who wants to be with her father and expects him to be able to fix things for her. He, in turn, does try to take care of her and rescue her. In most adventure books for children, the children act independently of adults, who play a peripheral role at best. And in books for adults, children tend to be more props than characters (watch fierce father rescue his child!). I am still unable to think of another book where both parent and child are full and active characters as they are here.

Finally, this book was originally written in German. And as a German major, listening to this book made me lust to hear it in the original. Sadly, it's not available for download, and importing books from Germany is a little pricey. Sigh.


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