Book Review – The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston is about Tolly, a boy who goes to stay with his great-grandmother in the castle-like home Green Knowe, or Green Noah. There, Tolly not only finds a kindred spirit in his great-grandmother, but also in the animals, and actual spirits that reside at Green Noah.

This was such a lovely read, one I know my childhood self would have loved too. I discovered this book when I was reading Wintering by Katherine May. May said that this was a favorite ghost story that she liked to read during the winter months, and so of course I had to read it too. I wouldn’t necessarily call this book a ghost story – the spirits in this book didn’t feel negative or haunting in any way. Rather, I would call this a child’s adventure with a gothic feel. Actually, it sort of reads like The Turn of the Screw but with a lot more adventure and positivity. I very much enjoyed The Turn of the Screw, and I think that, plus the sense of adventure, was why I very much enjoyed Green Knowe.

Tolly is my ideal type of kid: imaginative, playing pretend, with a sense of adventure, and a love of ghosts-that-might-be-friends. He is akin to many of my other favorite literary characters: Aveline Jones, Tilly from Pages & Co., the narrator from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Hilda, and many others.
His great-grandmother has this sort of spirit and personality as well, and I so want to be like her as I grow through my life.

This book is simply written, but the imagination within is so alive with adventure and stories. I did also like the parts where Tolly’s great-grandmother told him stories by the fire – it made the whole thing so very cozy, especially now in the last of the winter months.

I recommend this book to those who want a quiet and cozy adventure in a gothic setting to bring them back to their childhood.

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Book Review – The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

The Ghost Garden takes place just before the start of WWI. Fran is a young girl working with her father in the garden on the estate where they live. One day, Fran finds a bone in the garden. She thinks this is odd and mysterious, until more odd and mysterious things start to happen around the estate.

I wouldn’t call this a ghost story; rather, it is a coming-of-age story with ghosts in it. I really like how Emma Carroll portrays the mystery and childhood wonder in Fran’s explorations of the gardens and the mysteries they bring to her. There is a sense of whimsy, but also of fear as the mysteries turn into predictions of terrible things to come.

The writing is very beautiful. This is my first book by Carroll, but I am eager to read her other works (of which, I am happy to say, she seems to have many!). In this particular story, I get a lot of Secret Garden vibes, and, especially with the exploration of tombs and ghosts, I have ended up feeling very nostalgic for my own childhood. I usually don’t like war stories, but this one dealt with the impending war in a very healthy and subtle way.

I recommend this book to those who want some nostalgic feelings, and some sense of whimsy.

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Book Review – The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle is a retelling of both Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. Throughout the land a sleeping spell is spreading, caused by the sleeping girl in the tower of a castle in the next kingdom. The queen of this kingdom (Snow White) and her three dwarf friends must find a way into the sleeping princess’ castle and break the curse.

This isn’t my favorite retelling of either of these two fairy tales, nor is it my favorite Neil Gaiman but it was a fun story nonetheless. The storytelling style reminded me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s writing, and she does fantastic fairy tale retellings.
This story is not that character driven, unfortunately. We don’t get a lot of character from the queen, but we do learn of her relationship with her magical stepmother, and how she used this to overcome another magical woman seeking adoration and power. I thought that was a clever way of handling the hero/villain trope.

There isn’t much else to say about the story itself. It’s a simple story, and a great one for kids who want different versions of their classic fairy tales.

The illustrations by Chris Riddell are absolutely stunning, however, and I think that people of all ages should pick up this book if only for the art.

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Book Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch named Kiki who, at the age of thirteen, leaves home for a year to train and come of age. She leaves home with her black cat Jiji and finds a town by the sea, where, after some trials and tribulations, makes friends, starts a business, and leads a happy life.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and it was only last year that I discovered it was based on this book! So of course I immediately bought it, but took my time in reading it. While the film will always be closer to my heart, this book was a cozy and wholesome read.

Some key differences between the book and the film:

The book talks more about the culture of the witches and Kiki’s family, explaining more why the witches have to live away from home after a year.

The book is much more episodic, with each chapter acting as a different sketch during each season Kiki lived in her seaside town. She makes many more friends than are shown in the film, including a girl just her age. I think that was important to include, especially after Tombo tells Kiki, basically, that she isn’t like other girls (and she finds it really weird to say). The other characters are very quirky and fun and give the reader a greater sense of the town’s character.

I am happy to say that Jiji is just as snarky as in the film, and as all black cats should be.

While this book is targeted towards a younger audience, I recommend it to readers of all ages. It is the perfect, wholesome coming-of-age story, filled with magic and learning how to be a person.

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Book Review – Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

Those Who Run in the Sky is a middle grade, fantasy novel about a young Inuk man, Pitu, who learns that not only is he to be the next leader of his igluit, his village, but also is to become a powerful shaman. But when he is swept into the spirit world, he has to struggle with more than he bargained for.

This novel is, to my unlearned mind, a great first representation of Inuit culture and mythology, told by an author who is herself Inuk. She also uses this story to teach Inuk words, which is part of the reason I enjoyed and plan on keeping this book. The other reason is that the story, while not so plot-oriented, is full of imagery, culture, and tons of character development, making this the ideal coming-of-age story. I could see the Northern Lights in the sky, and imagine the harsh cold of the arctic winter. I could feel the emotion as Pitu becomes lost in many ways.

I have only a few criticisms of this book. The main one is that the writing and language tend to be a bit juvenile, but that is expected in many middle grade books. The other, less prominent criticism is that there are no real turns or climaxes to the plot, making the story feel more like a journey than a singular, linear tale. Which is not a bad thing, just different from what I am used to.

I recommend this book to everyone, even if it’s only to learn some Inuk words.

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Book Review – Ivy in Bloom by Vanita Oelschlager

Ivy in Bloom: The Poetry of Spring from Great Poets and Writers from the Past

Ivy in Bloom: The Poetry of Spring from Great Poets and Writers from the Past by Vanita Oelschlager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think the best part about Ivy in Bloom is that it has the most gorgeous illustrations by Kristin Blackwood. The illustrations start in the Winter, with heavy whites, grays, and browns, and at the end blooms in bright spring colors. The poetry by Vanita Oelschlager is very simple, and wonderful for a child who is just getting into poetry. What is great about the poem, though, is that each line is adapted from or inspired by a poem from a famous poet. These poems are noted and written out in the back of Ivy in Bloom, and such poets include Charles Dickens, John Greenleaf Whittier, E.E. Cummings, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and so many others.

I recommend this book to anyone who needs a little spot of spring in this Wintertime.

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Book Review – Pages & Co.: Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)

Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pages & Co. is one of the coziest books I have ever read, and has been a perfect Autumn read. It is about a girl named Tilly, whose grandparents own a bookshop called Pages & Co. She is the most avid of readers, and soon finds out that she, along with her grandparents and others, has the ability to wander in and out of books. This ability sets Tilly off on an adventure in which she makes new friends and discovers new mysteries.

Pages & Co. brought me right back to my childhood, with Tilly meeting such characters as Alice and Anne Shirley. I think at some point we all have wished that our favorite characters would come to life – Anna James makes this a reality for Tilly and has us as readers share in that wonderful experience. Tilly’s story, as well, is very much like a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, with each book being another rabbit hole for Tilly. I now want to go read Alice and become even more immersed in Tilly’s adventures.

My only issue with this book is that some of the plot devices are gone through too quickly and I feel need more explanation. Perhaps this will be remedied in the next books.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to sit down with a cup of tea and go on an adventure.

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Book Review – The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel

The Mozart Girl

The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel is an excellent introduction into the life of one of history’s most obscure composers – though thankfully now she is becoming less and less obscure, thanks to historians and writers like Barbara Nickel. Nannerl Mozart, older sister of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is one of my favorite historical figures, especially since I have also been a young lady musician for most of my life. I am always looking for works written about her, whether they are biographical, epistolary, or fiction like this book of Nickel’s.

Even though I knew what was going to happen to her from what I know of her history, I nervous and excited, and, I must say, pleasantly surprised while reading The Mozart Girl. I was compelled by young Nannerl Mozart’s dreams of becoming a famous composer and musician. In her actual history, Nannerl did not become nearly as famous as her brother Wolfgang due to her position as a woman in 18th century Europe, and I was very pleased with the changes Nickel made to Nannerl’s successes in this retelling of her early life. I will not say what these changes are, but know going into the book that they are quite satisfying.

Nannerl goes through struggles not only because of her position as an adolescent girl, but also because of how much her brother stole the spotlight. I think many older siblings go through some jealousy over the attention a younger sibling gets, even if that sibling is not a prodigy like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Many young readers of this book will empathize with this particular struggle of Nannerl’s, and her struggles to fit into the world around her.

The Mozart Girl is a compelling story that readers, young and old, will enjoy. I especially recommend giving this book to young and aspiring musicians.

I also reviewed this book for NetGalley.

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Book Review – Jake, Lucid Dreamer by David J. Naiman

Jake, Lucid Dreamer by David J. Naiman is a beautifully written book, and I have little criticism to make about it. Jake, Lucid Dreamer is about a boy named Jake, a middle schooler who lives with his father and his younger sister. He is dealing with grief of losing his mother, and dealing with how his grief affects himself and others around him. He begins his titular lucid dreaming after his twelfth birthday, going into a fantasy world full of sentient animals, all who seem to have very familiar personalities. It is an adventure from start to finish, going back and forth between the real world and Jake’s fantasy world of animals (I’d highly recommend accompanying these dream sequences with Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals).

Naiman’s use of imagery is very thorough and clever. It is almost always animal imagery: Jake has an unsurpassed knowledge of animals compared to his fellow characters, and so animals appear often in his life. In the real world Jake uses similes and cliches, mentioning various animals, such as “if it walks like a duck…” and “game of cat and mouse”, and others. The only physical representations of animals Jake sees in the real world are the Orangutans he must study for his science project, and the little stuffed monkey named “Beenie” that is constantly hanging from his sister’s neck.

The imagery goes deeper when Naiman takes us into Jake’s dream world. Animals end up being a coping mechanism for Jake to deal with his grief. Often people go into a fantasy world in order to cope with issues in the real world – some people get into books or movies; others, like Jake, make up their own using familiar elements. The animal world of Jake’s dreams is (almost) directly parallel to the real world, with a few twists of his own. I do not know if this was intentional, but when reading Jake’s adventures in the dream world I get some wonderful references from, if not the same vibes as The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, in which another adolescent boy is using a fantasy world filled with the personification of concepts and emotions in order to cope with the real world. It is a great connection that adults reading Jake will recognize and love.

Naiman’s style flowed very nicely throughout the story. The transition between the real world and the dream world didn’t feel so turbulent, and the reader might also feel that they were slipping in and out of the dreams along with Jake. I do almost wish the book were a bit longer so that we could see more of the inner workings of Jake’s fantasy world. My one criticism with the style is with Jake’s dialogue, which really wasn’t a serious issue. You could definitely tell it is a teenager talking, though sometimes it seemed more like a thirteen or fourteen year old’s speech than a twelve year old’s (not that twelve year olds can’t be smart-asses, I’m sure I was at that age).

My only other criticism for this book is that I wish the character Will had a longer role. It seemed that in the beginning Will was destined to have a much more involved role, but it didn’t end up this way.

I believe this book will be loved by, and important for, people of all ages. Learning how to express and accept one’s emotions is challenging for both children and adults. This book shows this challenge not only in Jake’s mind, but in other characters’, for example, his father and his younger sister who are also coping with similar grief. Seeing this process develop in Jake’s characters would, I think, help its readers recognize and cope with their own emotions and/or grief. While I was reading this development in Jake’s character, I remember coming to a similar realization, that it is a slow but important process even in my own life. This book also touches on themes of facing one’s fears, learning to ask for help, and connecting with those around you, especially ones whom you love and who love you. All these are important lessons of growing up, and I know adults will appreciate this too, for their kids and for themselves.

Overall Jake, Lucid Dreamer is a fantastic story. The reader will go through all the powerful emotions Jake feels all the way to the ending, which is absolutely heartwarming. Did the ending make me cry? You bet it did, in the best way possible. There need to be more books like this.

*I also reviewed this book for the publishers on NetGalley.

Book Review – The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When first going to read The Black Cauldron I was comparing it to its two relations: the Disney film of the same name; and the second book of the Mabinogion, the tales from Welsh mythology, in which a cauldron that brings the dead back to life is used by the king of Ireland to fight the Britons. I was pleased to find that this story closely resembled the second book of the Mabinogion in its basic plot (not that the Disney film was not good, but if I had to choose).

The companions come together again to steal the Black Cauldron from Arawn, but find that it has been taken. Thus Taran, Eilonwy, Flewddur, Gurgi, and Doli all embark on the quest to find the cauldron and destroy it. During their quest sacrifices are made, and honor is learned through trial and recognition of the true good of the world.

In this book it is not Gurgi who sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron, as in the film, but Ellydir, who is this story’s parallel to Efnisien, the character of the Mabinogion so full of anger, that the cauldron is destroyed when he jumps in alive. So the same happens to Ellydir, whose excessive pride brought him to this noble end.

The main theme to really take away from this book, the main lesson, is in the seeing of how honor is gained. Taran learns that there is no honor in war and bloody heroism, but in the deeds that help save friends, indeed the beauty of the world the hero cherishes. Taran sees this in the end, and because of this becomes a true hero like his own hero, Gwydion. Eilonwy, being the observant and heroic person she is, realizes this all from the beginning. But it is a lesson that must be learned for oneself, as she realizes with Taran along the way.

I recommend this second book of the Chronicles of Prydain to those who value above all else love and friendship, and the adventures that come with them.

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