Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Colman by Monica Furlong
September 21, 2008, 11:02 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , ,

“Four of us escaped on Finbar’s ship after Juniper’s trial as a witch–Juniper, Wise Child, Corman, and me.”

Concluding Monica Furlong’s trilogy, Colman continues the story of Wise Child through the eyes of Colman, Wise Child’s cousin. Upon returning to Juniper’s homeland, the cast of characters are confronted with an impoverished population being brutalized by Juniper’s nemesis from Juniper. Though only children, Colman and Wise Child are called upon to perform tasks that will help reestablish Juniper’s home to its former glory and ensure that Juniper’s brother is crowned king.

I didn’t care for Colman nearly as much as I did for Juniper and Wise Child. While it does a great job concluding the trilogy overall, I wasn’t taken with Colman as a narrator and found him to be rather tedious. I’ve not read enough of Furlong to really comment, but she seems to be more comfortable writing in a female rather than a male voice. It’s a worthwhile book for any fan of the trilogy, but I left it feeling less satisfied than I had with the previous two.

Conclusion: Returned to library.


Fiction: Juniper by Monica Furlong
September 18, 2008, 11:52 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , ,

“The night I was born, according to my nurse, Erith, was a night of black frost and dense darkness in a bitter January.”

Juniper is the prequel to Monica Furlong’s book Wise Child and tells the story of Juniper, Wise Child’s mentor and local doran (or witch/shaman/healer), who was a princess turned doran. Juniper is born into a life of wealth and privilege but during her adolescents she leaves this world for the environment of her godmother Euny. Euny, also a doran, trains Juniper who ultimately returns to her kingdom to heal it and to find her own power.

Part of my enjoyment of reading Monica Furlong’s books is Furlong herself. Though now deceased, she had a fascinating life. Juniper is an interesting read exploring certain thematic issues of jealousy and power, and particularly when these pertain to the place of women within this world. Juniper’s aunt, happens to be an enchantress (e.g. one of the bad guys), but we learn that her aunt (as well as Juniper) are displaced as rightful heirs to the throne because of the birth of a male child. Juniper is a lovely book and I’m excited to start reading Colman the sequel to Wise Child.

Conclusion: Returned to library.

Revisted: The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

The first in the addictive and adorable Sisters Grimm series, The Fairy-Tale Detectives provides the “abandoned” background of the sisters, how they wound up with their grandmother, their discovery of the fairy-tale characters, and all playing out while a giant is on the loose. Part of my growing warmth for the series is in response to a children’s book offering some great female leads and particularly within the sci-fi/fantasy genre. An excellent series for anyone who has loved “fairy tales.”

I definitely have a hang up on finding fun, warm, intelligent, though imperfect female characters in children’s and young adult’s books. I was discussing at work yesterday that I think I read less when I was a child than I really thought I did and especially once I hit the junior high years. I don’t think this had anything to do with lack of encouragement (my mother was a librarian for some years). In retrospect, I wonder if I just had a difficult time finding books with protagonists I identified with (something oddly enough I don’t care about in my adult reading). After all, a girl can only read Harriet the Spy so many times.

And also reviewed at Beyond Books and Book Nut.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene
“In the brief second of warning, the truck almost seemed to leap toward the water. Nancy and her father, hemmed in by the concrete piers had no way to escape being run down. … Without hesitation, he and Nancy made running flat dives into the water, and with arms flailing and legs kicking, swam furiously out of harm’s way” (18). From Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene.

The second installment of the Nancy Drew series The Hidden Staircase makes The Secret of the Old Clock look like a walk through the park. Nancy is recruited to solve a mystery of a “haunted” house while her father simultaneously receives threats from a man trying to leach money from the railroad company.

I have to admit that book two was fairly disappointing. While The Secret of the Old Clock may not have had the most unpredictable plot line, The Hidden Staircase is soon solved within the first few chapters. The reader then spends the remaining chapters dully flipping through pages as Nancy and her friend Helen run up and down stairs and tap on walls trying to find a secret room.

During this process Nancy’s father is kidnapped and rather than contact the FBI the local police rely on Nancy to help with the case. It’s a fun story but a stretch at nearly 200 pages. Some of the perks of The Hidden Staircase is further character development with Nancy through exploring more of her non-sleuth life than The Secret of the Old Clock dips into and her relationships with other people. Nancy kicks off the book with a date and the reader becomes acquainted with her friend Helen.

The Hidden Staircase has less “objectionable” material than the previous novel in the series but still develops a sense of good values. A fun read, but my fingers are crossed that the Nancy Drew series doesn’t continue in this downward process.

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Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
“‘That old Greek scientist, Archimedes, didn’t know what he was talking about when he said the world could be moved with a lever,’ Nancy murmured. ‘I’d like to see him move this door!'” from page 114 of Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.

Now that I have finished the first book in the Nancy Drew series I must confess: I have an entire new respect for Nancy and her authors Mildred Wirt Benson and E. Stratemeyers (pseudonym Carolyn Keene). If you recall my last post on Nancy, I did not begin the book with much promise. In fact I’ll even admit that I started the book with full intention of delivering a sarcastic Adventure response.

After all, it’s so easy. Nancy is the idealized, fed-on-white-bread-and-butter, poster child of her era. Attractive, smartly dressed, and always courteous. She has a perfect life with a lawyer father who can afford to give her a convertible for her birthday. Nancy’s mother is even dead so no other woman exists in the book to distract or detract from her.

It’s easiest to pick through Nancy Drew because of some of the language that Carolyn Keene decides to use. This ranges from Nancy’s father relying on her “intuition” to the “luck” she has in solving tricky aspects of her mystery. Throw in some coy jabs of Nancy getting “pocket change” from her father to the hokey benefactress status Nancy holds in the novel and it’s easy to write her off as fluff with little to offer a contemporary audience.

But that’s too easy and seriously disregards some of the finer aspects of the novel. It’s not Nancy’s “intuition” but her capability in the tasks at hand and it has nothing to do with “luck” but everything to do with her powers of deduction. Nancy is a strategic and deductive thinker there seems little she isn’t qualified for. Hell, she fixes her own flat tire and the engine of a motor boat. Step aside MacGyver! Also, Keene supports some great moral advice ranging from Nancy’s refusal to participate in gossip (though still allowing Nancy to listen and rake through this information to help her sleuthing skills) to extending help to those who cannot necessarily help themselves.

The language muck-ups aside, there was really only one part of the novel where I cringed and thought: “Keene! Just let Nancy do it!” After stumbling unknowingly on a group of burglars Nancy is locked in a closet. While under such distress she manages to calm herself enough to first try picking the lock with a hairpin but on tossing that idea aside she brilliantly decides to go for a clothing rod in the closet to lever the door open. Right when it seems Nancy will free herself the idiot caretaker bungles in to “free” her. I admit that Nancy had to assure him she was a victim and remind him to check his pockets for the spare keys, but it would have been much more thrilling if she had burst from the closet with gusto resulting from her own skills.

Overall, I’m currently reading The Hidden Stairecase and that should make it obvious how taken I am already with the series. While this is a book I would recommend for all ages I would encourage anyone suggesting or giving the Nancy Drew series to a child to read the book herself and offer discussion points. (Sometimes I suggest this to adults at work and they look at me like I’ve insulted them.) Why? you may ask. As marvelous as Nancy has the ability to be there are still enough hang ups that I think it’s beneficial to encourage conversation.

Fun information about Nancy Drew.

Sharon Creech’s The Castle Corona and Illuminated by David Diaz
“A young peasant girl and her brother kneeled in the smooth gray stones on the edge of the river, filling wooden buckets with water for their master.”

The first time I read Sharon Creech was her children’s novel Walk Two Moons. It was assigned reading in a Children’s Literature course and I suffered through it along with an eleven year old boy, I was his nanny, who was reading it for school. Despite its Newberry Medal status, I simply did not enjoy the book. However, one of her more recent books, The Castle Corona, had been whispering to me from the shelf: “Read me, read me,” and I gave in.

The Castle Corona is very much an extended fairy tale. Orphans, long lost relatives, beautiful princesses, daring and charming princes, peasants, and an old witch like woman. With more nature symbolism it would have been right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales though the complete lack of violence does lead it away from most classical tales. A thief strikes in a Kingdom unaccustomed to theft and a great flutter of excitement sweeps through the castle and nearby village. Two orphans are returned to their biological grandfather and the royalty is taught to be generally less selfish.

I really cannot say I cared much for The Castle Corona. There are some beautiful illuminations throughout the book by David Diaz, and I would certainly suggest the book is worth at least a flip through if only for the illuminations. This is not a children’s book I would suggest for adult perusal but I do think it would work out pretty well for most children. It’s fairly gender neutral through I admit that the book lacks spirit and it would not surprise me if children would like something with a bit more adventure to it.

And another review from Books & Other Thoughts.

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