**spoiler alert** I just read this for the first time and I don't think it has aged particularly well. The first chapters had such promise, with a cru...more**spoiler alert** I just read this for the first time and I don't think it has aged particularly well. The first chapters had such promise, with a crumbling old house I would have loved to live in as a kid, two adventurous protagonists with fun quirks, and an intriguing mystery for them to solve. However, as Eddy and Eleanor began to dive into their Transcendentalist dreams, the book began to lose me. I appreciate the attempt to teach readers about Transcendentalism in such an imaginative way, but it came off as moralistic and ham-handed. I didn't think the dream/fantasy sequences were well-integrated with the daily lives of Eddy and Eleanor, and I was frustrated that the "rules" for the fantasy realm were unclear to me; each dream was so different than the last. I wanted to know how Krishna had the power to create the dreams; it seemed like he was just plugged into this "mysterious man of the Orient" stereotype. His characterization was part of an overall Western- and Christian-leaning bias in the book. Perhaps it is unfair of me to take contemporary mores and foist them onto a 50-year-old book, but the dream of a parade of truth seekers who prominently included Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, followed by Jesus, was a little much for me to take. The "happily-ever-after" ending didn't feel earned, and I was annoyed that character believability seemed to take a backseat to the working out of the plot. Aunt Lily was entirely too accepting of the initial disappearance of her siblings, and of the flimsiness of the story they concocted to explain their disappearance after their return. Uncle Freddy's madness and return to sanity were just too convenient. I can see how I might have enjoyed this more as a kid, but as an adult reader trying it for the first time, it felt dated and didactic.(less)
Very impressive blending of the Grimms' tale of the twelve dancing princesses, the Greek myth of Persephone going into the underworld, and the Beauty...moreVery impressive blending of the Grimms' tale of the twelve dancing princesses, the Greek myth of Persephone going into the underworld, and the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Reveka has just entered into service as an herbalist's apprentice in Castle Sylvian, and is determined to break the curse upon Prince Vasile's twelve daughters, whose shoes are in tatters every morning as if they have been dancing all night. I loved the pacing and tone of the beginning of the book, set at Castle Sylvian, as Reveka tries to figure out a way to invisibly follow the princesses on their nighttime journey. Once the action shifted to Thonos, I missed the world above, with its delightful minor characters like Marjit, Cosmin, and Otilia, and I missed the urgency of the mystery Reveka had now solved. A new mystery emerges, but I did not find it as compelling as the mystery of the princess curse, perhaps because there was less opportunity for me to get to know and care about Thonos and its inhabitants. However, I loved Reveka throughout -- she is a wonderful, relatable, funny, wise, and warm-hearted narrator. The romance is chaste and sweet. The stage is set for a sequel, which I will look forward to reading. (less)
Wow. The most ambitious children's book I have read in a while, and the most successful at meeting those ambitions. Hardinge skillfully blends a sense...moreWow. The most ambitious children's book I have read in a while, and the most successful at meeting those ambitions. Hardinge skillfully blends a sense of creeping supernatural menace with astute psychological realism that makes the fantastical elements more grounded and thereby more plausible and frightening. The scariest part of the book is seeing the effect on Josh of his new supernatural abilities; when combined with an underlying resentment at being neglected by his adoptive parents, his growing powers exacerbate the worst aspects of his personality. Hardinge never talks down to her audience, setting up circumstances that allow Ryan to realize some profound truths about the sources of human discontent and the danger of hero worship without any hint of didacticism. The plotting is superb; I was impressed by the way that disparate strands came together fluidly, with the pace never flagging. I had a few nitpicks with the speed at which the flooding became dangerous at the end, and the final scene with the well witch moved too quickly for me to buy her transformation, but overall, the connections between the wishers felt satisfying rather than overly coincidental. (I did wonder about Josh's aunts in Merrybells -- I thought that they would end up playing a role a la Miss Gossamer, and was confused by their presence in the book and their effect on Josh without some kind of connection to the well witch.) An author who deals beautifully with character, plot, and theme is rare enough, but Hardinge is also just a gorgeous writer. Hardinge's characters may be thinking things you have thought before, but she states those thoughts with such grace, power, and clarity that you envy their insight and perspective. And even minor descriptions are worthy of great sentences and metaphors. For example, I loved this description of Chelle's mom: "She had big, vague eyes, and a big, vague smile, and was always very busy in the way that a moth crashing about in a lampshade is busy" (29). Other sentences that are jumping out at me as I page through: "Josh gave a grin as hard as glass" (384), "The bus's engine gave a long, exasperated sigh and shrugged its weight forward, as if hulking its shoulders against the rain" (1), "She had an air of kitten-tottering helplessness, and the pallor of her hair and skin made her look as if she had been through the wash too many times, losing her color and courage in the rinse" (6). You can tell I like metaphors! Looking back now, the metaphor of a wish as a conker shell is made right in the first chapter; that image returns later on when Ryan realizes how wishes have outer shells and inner nuts of truth. Yes another reason for me to admire Hadinge's writing and the thoughtful construction of the novel as a whole. It's always exciting to find an author into whose oeuvre you cannot wait to dive!(less)
Groundhog Day for kids, but not as well-done or philosophical. I reviewed this one for grad school, and while this review is a little more harsh than...moreGroundhog Day for kids, but not as well-done or philosophical. I reviewed this one for grad school, and while this review is a little more harsh than it needs to be upon re-reading, I still mostly agree with it. Here it is:
In this contrived fantasy, estranged ex-friends Amanda and Leo are forced to re-live their shared eleventh birthday over and over again as they learn trite lessons about the importance of standing up for yourself, following your dreams, and helping others. Back when they were best buddies, Amanda and Leo always celebrated their birthday together – but when Amanda overhears Leo insulting her at their tenth birthday party, she is so hurt and angry that she shuts Leo out of her life entirely. When their eleventh birthday rolls around, the two plan separate parties, at which each has an equally terrible time. Amanda, who narrates the novel in a shallow and stereotypically “tweeny” voice (with lots of exclamation marks! and CAPITALIZED WORDS!), is dismayed when she awakens the next morning to discover that the awful birthday is repeating itself, as it does again the next day, and the next. She feels frightened and alone until she realizes that Leo is stuck in the same loop with her. The two team up to figure out what is going on, and in the process, face down some long-standing fears and gain greater understanding of themselves and each other. The lessons they learn tend to be rather simplistic and heavy-handed, as when Amanda says: “I must be a pretty unobservant person not to notice Leo getting picked on for a whole year. All I had thought about was how I felt; I had never looked at it from his side. We could have made up a whole lot sooner” (p. 191). When an explanation of the friends' predicament finally emerges, readers may find themselves disappointed by the strained, clumsily foreshadowed back-story involving an old family feud and an out-of-nowhere enchantment. Mass’ inelegant, superficial rehash of Groundhog Day robs an extraordinary premise of its power to beguile and delight. (less)
One sentence review: A well-crafted mystery with a gut-wrenching twist ending that pulls off the rare feat of being completely surprising and yet some...moreOne sentence review: A well-crafted mystery with a gut-wrenching twist ending that pulls off the rare feat of being completely surprising and yet somehow completely earned by everything that has come before; I sobbed my way through the last 30 pages as all the disparate pieces clicked together to create a tragedy as heartbreaking as its Shakespearean and Brontean forebears -- and then immediately had to go back to the beginning to re-read it and see how Lockhart had pulled it off with such elan.(less)
**spoiler alert** Almost impossible to categorize. It's like a dystopian historical fantasy, jilted a little off-kilter from actual English history bu...more**spoiler alert** Almost impossible to categorize. It's like a dystopian historical fantasy, jilted a little off-kilter from actual English history but clearly based on prodigious research. Within this deeply imagined and fully realized world we meet Mosca Mye, daughter of the noted (but disgraced) scholar Quillam Mye, whose father instilled in her a voracious appetite for the conjuring power of words before he died and left her in the care of a nasty aunt and uncle. Mosca's ability to read and love of language set her apart; in the Fractured Realm in which she lives, books are blamed for terrible past atrocities and a guild of "Stationers" censors printed material in the name of preventing further tragedy. The resulting fear of books leaves the clever Mosca misunderstood, bored, and restless: "Since the burning of her father's books, Mosca had been starved of words. She had subsisted on workaday terms, snub and flavorless as potatoes" (16). When a poet/con man arrives in town, Mosca is enchanted by the words like "mendacity" and "mellifluous" that pour forth from the verbose stranger, and when he runs afoul of the law, she rescues him on condition of his giving her employment as a secretary. Mosca, her new employer Eponymous Clent, and her goose Saracen therefore find themselves traveling together to the town of Mandelion.
Political intrigue and machinations swirl through Mandelion, and Eponymous and Mosca find themselves caught up in a power struggle between the Stationers' Guild, the Locksmiths' Guild, and the Duke's sister Lady Tamarind. An understanding of the history of political and religious strife within the Fractured Realm is necessary, and I found myself turning back to early explanations from Quillam and Mosca a few times to make sure that I was understanding the older history (the civil war, the parliamentary rule, the "Bad Times" of the Birdcatchers) as Hardinge kept adding information about more recent history (the Book Riots during the Year of the Dead Letter, the internecine quarreling amongst the Guilds). If this all sounds demanding on the reader, it is -- Hardinge has high expectations of you. However, the payoff for immersing yourself in this imagined world is great, since Hardinge also has high expectations of herself and, to my mind, exceeds them with aplomb.
The plot rollicks along through surprising but never eye-rolling twists and turns, the characters stay true to themselves even as they grow in emotional and spiritual maturity, and the language is heady, powerful stuff. Hardinge, who shares Mosca's enchantment with words, is a master craftsman; every detail, every image is evocative and potent. This facility with words is what made me dive directly from "Well Witched" into "Fly by Night," and what will make me head out to the library immediately upon finishing this review to pick up "The Lost Conspiracy" and "Fly Trap." Just flipping through the book, it's easy to find examples of Hardinge's unerring eye for surprising, precise description on every page:
"The wind roared with an estuary freshness. It carried the smell of sand flats and sea poppies, and the pale wails of wading birds, and the clammy, silver-eyed dreams of fish. Although she had never known the coastlands, Mosca felt with a thrill that somewhere beyond the edge of sight the ocean hugged its unthinkable deeps and dragged its tides in shrug after monumental shrug" (104).
"Mosca and Clent were led to an unsmiling little man of fifty with a gnawed, yellow look like an apple core. The little man's mouth was a small, bitter V shape, and seemed designed to say small, bitter things" (133).
"Clent simply swept such memories away, with the impatience of someone shoving crockery aside so that he can spread a treasure map across a table. The facts fell to the floor with a fractured tinkle and were forgotten" (214).
If all this were not enough, Hardinge also manages to make the book an indictment of religious extremism and a call for freedom of the press. As Mosca elucidates some of the hard-won lessons she has learned at the end of the book, I found myself making connections to our own world in the wake of terrorist attacks, with every hour a "Clamoring Hour" of "everybody able to to stand up and shout what they think, all at once" (479). Yes, Clent is right -- that such clamoring creates confusion that can drown out the truth, that not every citizen is willing to do the work to search out the truth amidst all the partisan yelling, and terrible ideas (like "death panels" and distrust of Obama's birth certificate) can spread like wildfire. However, Hardinge's convincing portrayal of a world that disallows such clamor gives me pause in my usual knee-jerk distaste for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. (And you know a book that can do that is powerful!)
I don't mean to make the book sound moralizing; to my mind, Hardinge avoids black-and-white preachiness, and there is enough boisterous adventure to carry along readers who prefer not to dwell in the the deeper themes. However, I think it is impossible to finish the book without doing a little thinking about what kind of society you would like to live in. And that is a great thing. Hardinge proves herself yet again to be a children's author who refuses to underestimate her audience and is not satisfied with giving them anything less than her best. And her best is better than almost anyone else's I can think of.
**spoiler alert** I wanted to like this more than I did, but I did not find the setting, the characters, or the central mystery as compelling as I did...more**spoiler alert** I wanted to like this more than I did, but I did not find the setting, the characters, or the central mystery as compelling as I did with "Shakespeare's Secret." The characters were broadly drawn; the first chapter tells us that the oldest brother Simon is a bossy know-it-all, the middle brother Henry is a quiet reader, and the youngest brother Jack is a willful kid with a temper, and the rest of the book relies on those initial characterizations without giving us any further development.
Once the first chapter has hastily set up the premise -- the Barker brothers have just moved to Superstition, Arizona, and adults' repeated warnings to stay away from Superstition Mountain have just made them more curious about it -- the pacing moves along briskly. The boys head up the mountain twice -- once right at the beginning, in pursuit of their runaway cat, and once near the end, to try to recover three skulls that they found on their first visit. In between, they make a new friend, Delilah, who helps them to investigate the history of the mountain with trips to the library (as a librarian myself, I did enjoy the depiction of the creepy Superstition librarian) and to a local geologist.
There was a good balance of resolving one mystery/adventure while leaving overarching questions to be explored in the trilogy's other books. The author's acknowledgments state that she was hoping to create "Twin Peaks for kids," and in this attempt I did not find the book successful. An intriguing concept, but the atmosphere never got too creepy or quirky.
I must admit, I might be assessing this book a little more harshly than I otherwise would, because I just read "Well Witched," in which Hardinge so masterfully crafted true-to-life characters and a pervading sense of eerieness. An interesting question for me is which of the two books a kid would prefer -- as an adult reader, I find that "Well Witched" is far superior, but is that based on adult criteria of style and craftsmanship that would not necessarily translate to a kid perspective?
**SPOILER ALERT** Since I found some of the clues scattered throughout to be rather obvious, I would just like to predict for the record that the following will happen in the two sequels: a) Hank found the Lost Dutchman's Mine ; b) Hank's box of coins with the "surprisingly shallow trough" (167) will prove to have a secret compartment; c) Officer Myers is in search of the Lost Dutchman's Mine himself and is perhaps responsible for the gunshot heard by Henry and Delilah.(less)
I absolutely loved Anastasia as a kid and re-reading the books as an adult is even more fun as I get some of the more sly humor. I aspire to be like A...moreI absolutely loved Anastasia as a kid and re-reading the books as an adult is even more fun as I get some of the more sly humor. I aspire to be like Anastasia's parents :) Marked it as "joy of literacy" since Anastasia's notebook is a great example of a writer's notebook.(less)
A great one to re-read as an adult to fully appreciate Fitzhugh's language and characterizations. I can't believe that I have to classify this as hist...moreA great one to re-read as an adult to fully appreciate Fitzhugh's language and characterizations. I can't believe that I have to classify this as historical fiction -- there must be another label I can use for books set after WWII. Hmmm. Anyway, I remember my mom buying this for me as a present to read on a long airplane ride, and the night before the trip, I thought I would just start the first chapter before bed. Ended up staying up late and finishing the whole book, then re-reading it the next day on the plane, and I must have re-read it at least 100 more times as a kid. (less)