Sometimes a book feels like it has always existed. It’s not that it’s predictable nor unadventurous, merely that you can’t shake the feeling as you tuSometimes a book feels like it has always existed. It’s not that it’s predictable nor unadventurous, merely that you can’t shake the feeling as you turn pages that it is familiar — you’ve read it before or just known that it existed for so long that it feels as if you had.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill was that way for me. Other blurbs for it compare it to The Secret Garden (it does have a secret garden) or The Chronicles of Narnia (it does have tiny British children in big houses), but really, I think what they mean is this: it feels like it has been sitting invisibly on the shelf next to those classics for decades, waiting to be discovered. It feels old. Right. Uncovered, rather than written.
It is a simple story: a girl in a World War II children’s hospital —Emmaline — has been seeing winged horses in the mirrors of the building. When she discovers that an injured pegasus has arrived in a secret garden, an intimate and wintery quest unfolds as Emmaline performs tasks for the Horse Lord. It is a book about the magic of hidden places and the colorless misery of war and also a book about kindness in all its forms. Originally, I had typed that it was also a book about illness, but the draining fight against the “stillwaters” in Emmaline’s lungs is really just another battle in the war devastating Britain.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a morsel of a book, just 231 pages on my e-reader. I read it in a single hour and a half session, which felt perfect: the ability to linger in the shivering atmosphere of the book without interruption seemed right. Theoretically this is a middle grade novel, but I can’t decide how I feel about that. I would hand this immediately to someone who had enjoyed CODE NAME VERITY or FROM SALT TO THE SEA or any of the other YA historicals I’ve loved within recent memory and I’d also hand it to any adult who grew up with the classics mentioned above and expect them to enjoy it, but I’m curious to know how my eleven and twelve year olds feel about it. So much of what made this book poignant to me was empathizing with the unsaid experiences of the adults around the children in the book, and although the book would work fine without that insight, there is one beautifully heartbreaking moment in particular that becomes muted if you aren’t paying close attention to the adults in the scene.
I adored it. It is not a bombastic novel nor an epic novel. It’s a sweet, sad, beautiful whisper in your ear. Enjoy....more
This middle-grade graphic novel is a series beginning in all the satisfying ways and none of the frustrating ones.
Hicks takes her time setting up mulThis middle-grade graphic novel is a series beginning in all the satisfying ways and none of the frustrating ones.
Hicks takes her time setting up multiple characters and drawing the world (literally), showing us how many alleyways she could have turned down but didn't, hinting at the stories she might have told but hasn't yet. By staying the course on Kaidu's budding friendship with a girl from another part of the city, Hicks keeps the story cohesive and suitably intimate. There were three things that struck me the most: 1) I read this with Thing 1, who is 11, and both she and I were very pleased with the parkour-visuals of Kaidu learning to run over rooftops. 2) There's a monkish tower centering both the city and the book, and as a sucker for hermit-mythology-magic-people-hiding-in-trees-towers-cars-whatnot-tropes, I'm keen to learn more about it as well (luckily for me, I think, as the second one is called The Stone Tower). 3) This entire volume gently touches on the words we use for each other and for ourselves, and I think it offers kids a hard-to-teach lesson in a way they can effortlessly digest.
The theme of this book is that nothing is perfect, but this book is a Liar McLiar, because this book is perfect.
This is a wise little tome of fairy-fuThe theme of this book is that nothing is perfect, but this book is a Liar McLiar, because this book is perfect.
This is a wise little tome of fairy-fuckery in the guise of a wasp nest. It's a magical story, and a kind one, and a giant in few words. I wish I had had it to give to my wry and unsentimental 11 year old anxious OCD-ridden self, but I'm very glad that I had it to give my wry and unsentimental 11 year old anxious OCD-ridden daughter. My favorite novel back then was The Fairy Rebel by Lynn Reid Banks; THE NEST grew from similar DNA.
Technically this little volume is part of Tales of Outer Suburbia, if memory serves, but if you can find it in this little hardback version, it is verTechnically this little volume is part of Tales of Outer Suburbia, if memory serves, but if you can find it in this little hardback version, it is very agreeable. It works on so many levels — I read it to my kids, who are 8 & 9, and we giggle and talk about metaphor. ...more
This one is by the same author who wrote STOLEN (which you’ll recall that I adored). FLYAWAY is actually her first novel, published second in the statThis one is by the same author who wrote STOLEN (which you’ll recall that I adored). FLYAWAY is actually her first novel, published second in the states, and it’s a middle grade novel. Basically, it’s about a girl who becomes determined to reunite a lost swan with its flock after the girl’s father has a heart attack. Anyway, here are five reasons to read it:
1. It’s soft and sweet. The image of a feather comes to mind, even though this book is about a girl coping with the idea that her father and her new friend might die.
2. The imagery is, as always in Christopher’s books, beautiful. The setting is always another character.
3. There is something about Christopher’s prose across both her novels that makes me trust her as an author. She’s in control of these stories, and if you’re feeling something, it’s because she meant you to. It means that she pretty much has a free pass with me at the moment. I will pick up anything she writes.
4. It’s got this slightest little hint of magical realism. I would’ve really loved this book as a ten year old.
5. It is precisely what it promises you. Sometimes I want to be shocked, yes, and sometimes I want twists, and sometimes I want to read about a very unexpected body in a closet. But this book promises that it is a certain sort of book on the first page, and then it gives you exactly that. Soft and sweet....more
I have just this moment closed the cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, after loitering rather longingly over the acknowledgments and possibly the back jacketI have just this moment closed the cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, after loitering rather longingly over the acknowledgments and possibly the back jacket flap as well.
I don't think I can manage a proper synopsis or review of this book -- about an orphaned boy who is raised by a graveyard of ghosts -- so I think I will just have to say that I love it very, very deeply. For so long I refused to pick it up because I thought it sounded quaint and possibly twee, but it was neither. It pushed all the buttons that Maggies love to have pushed: archetypes, humor, high stakes, personal stakes, and a deep ingrained sense of folklore that only comes from the author having grown up with rather than researched it.
Add to all that and I have to say it was, for me, the most well-written of all of Gaiman's books that I've read. I kept seeing things that I associated as Gaimanisms, but they felt absolutely right here. Weapons wielded by someone for so long that they've become part of their arms.
Just ahhh. Loved it. If there are Susan Cooper fans out there longing for that sense of other from the Dark is Rising books, pick this book up. ...more
I just picked this one up at the library to reread as I remembered loving it as a kid. It was, in fact, the first novel I ever got a library fine on,I just picked this one up at the library to reread as I remembered loving it as a kid. It was, in fact, the first novel I ever got a library fine on, as I lost it under my bed for several months.
A book that tells the story of a boy wizard succeeding against all odds might sound a bit familiar to you, but Wizard's Hall came long before Harry Potter was ever a twinkle in Voldemort's eye. Told in charming voice reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, this quick read is full of dry humor and is a must for anyone who loves the Harry Potter series.
***wondering why all my reviews are five stars? Because I'm only reviewing my favorite books -- not every book I read. Consider a novel's presence on my Goodreads bookshelf as a hearty endorsement. I can't believe I just said "hearty." It sounds like a stew.**** ...less...more