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Book Review: Quietly in Their Sleep by Donna Leon

The Death of Faith by Donna Leon (UK edition)

Normally I would not suggest a book that is in the middle of a series, but the way that Donna Leon writes makes it a good introduction to the labyrinthine world of Vienna. Commissario Guido Brunetti comes to the aid of a young nursing Nun who has runaway after suspecting five of her elderly patients have been murdered. The readers are introduced to the inner workings of the church and the various groups connected it to. But while the deaths are suspicious, there is no evidence of criminal activity, and yet something sinister seems to be occurring. But when corruption is the rule of law, how can one fight against it?

Quietly in Their Sleep is volume five of a 30 volume series. The first volume was published in 1992 and the latest in 2021. Oddly enough, these books, by the author’s request, are not published into Italian. If you are looking for a thought provoking, slow burner series, this is a good one to read.

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BookReview: The DarkLord of Derkholm by Diana Wynn Jones

Have you ever read a fantasy novel and wanted to live in that world? Many people have going so far as to learn a language, make costumes and role play within the stories. But what most people want to do is live the life of the main character or part of their crowd. The odds are if you are put into that world you will not be the hero. You would be one of the ordinary people of that world. It still might be fun, or will it?

In The Darklord of Derkholm people from our reality travel to another planet to Larp (live action role play) as adventurers defeating the big evil. The adventure parties go on the adventure and then go home, but the people of this world are tired of this. 50 years ago they had signed a contract with an off-worlder, Mr Chesney, who had trapped them with these tours. Forced to host multiple campaigns has caused their cities to be destroyed, people maimed & killed and crops to fail. Their planet is being destroyed and there is no clear way out of the contract.

Every season a new “Dark Lord” is chosen and this time it is the mild mannered Derk, a wizard who specializes in genetics and creates new animals. His wife is now the Glamorous Enchantress and has to work on the other side of him. Derk is thought to be a bumbling fool due to his inability to do magic correctly, but he has come up with ways to save the herd animals (flying pigs and horses) from the adventurers, along with creating some griffin children.

Told from many different perspectives, this book is an amazing tale. It takes a look at the darkness of the human condition (off-worlders doing whatever they want because it “isn’t real.”) and the brightness (how the inhabitants of this world band together to save themselves). It is a very well written story that can be enjoyed by adults and teens alike.

It is worth mentioning that Jones and The Dark Lord of Derkholm won the 1999 Mythopoetic Fantasy Award in the children’s section.

So if you are a fantasy fan, or would just like the chance to see things from another point of view, this is the book for you.

Happy Reading.

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Book Review: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

One of the most compelling and frustrating things about Religious Mythology tales is the lack of what seems like important knowledge. Since all of them that we have today started as oral tales, the tellers had the chance to modify things for the audience. Of course when they were finally transcribed into a written language and then translated into a more “popular” one phrases were left out and other influences crept in. This has left some interesting situations which are brushed aside.

In the Christianity Mythos after killing off his brother, Cain is marked by God and is sent away across the wasteland where he finds a wife. But there were only four humans: Adam, Eve, Able, & Cain and Able was now dead. So where did this wife come from?

In Greek Mythos the question of what the fate of the children of Coeus and the other siblings of Cronus was.

In Turkic mythos the fate of Ashina’s 9 siblings (all born of the she wolf and the human she nursed to health) is never explained.

In the Norse Mythos what happened to the brother’s of Odien? Who was the mother of Loki’s unnatural children? Where did the wolves who chases the sun & moon come from? How do some of the Gods survive Ragnarökr and the creation of a green new world?

And the same occurs in the many mythos of our world. People and places are mentioned in passing and never thought to be important and yet there is something that calls to us to inquire about them.

In her book Gornichec takes some of those forgotten issues and weaves them together into a compelling tale of trauma, betrayal and power. In the Edda Loki’s wife is mentioned “She was always a delight to wicked women.” But is that the view of the winner? Would Odien and the Asier mention the good qualities of the woman who sired the beings that bring about their deaths?

And what of her side of the story? Why would she do what she did?

This book answers these questions by starting in the middle of her tale, which was also the beginning of the Asier tale. We are introduced to Gullveig who is burned and suffering from trauma induced memory loss wandering in a dead forest trying to decide if she should survive. The arrival of Loki with her stolen heart (literally) causes her to take a new name, Angrboda, and start her life as a new person. But her previous role as a “powerful witch who did interesting things” follows her across the ages and makes her into an unwilling pawn for the prophesy. Her struggle to reclaim her self and become a more powerful piece on the board of life & death is an amazing read that resonates in all of us.

How closely this work is to the forgotten myths we will never know, but sometimes it is true that the story left out is the better one to be told.

Happy Reading.

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Book Review: The Young Architect

Activity books are fun, and retro ones can be even more enjoyable for many reasons.

First: They can bring us back to a “simpler” time where educational things can be enjoyable. The whole learn the lesson while having fun idea.

Second: They can show a different perspective or provide a different manner of teaching.

Third: They can be cheesy and nostalgic.

That being said today I am reviewing a book called The Young Architect by Buki Ltd. This book was part of the “Draw-a-Line” series. Intended for ages 5 to 11, it was first published in 1974 and still being printed in 2005.

The concept behind it is fairly simple. Teach children how to design buildings. This is done by offering a series of simplistic seeming drawings, each on a single page, with a space for the child to draw it. Included is a plastic “shape maker” which will allow the younger children the chance to trace the shapes instead of free handing. There are also a few pages of backgrounds so that the children can see how the design will fit in each setting.

For someone who wants to learn to draw, this is a good book to start. While the results will be somewhat cartoonish, it does help the child learn to see the shapes that can make a design.

Now most used copies are missing pages or the shapemaker, but that doesn’t lessen the appeal.

After all there is a reason this book has been in print for so long.

Personally I will say that this book should be geared more towards ages 3-7, but even eleven year old’s should be able to garner some enjoyment from it.

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Book Review: Mrs Peanuckle’s Vegetable Alphabet

Children’s Books are a difficult category to review. Especially as the age between the selected audience and the reviewer is separated by decades.

That being said,

What does one expect of a board book?

Sturdy. These books are designed to be held and chewed upon by small pre-readers. So they cannot be delicate.

Colors. They must attract the untrained eye of the prereader.

Compact. They must get to the point quickly and in an entertaining manner.

What does one expect of an Alphabet book?

The parent/guardian/reader wants it to be engaging, yet they expect it to be very simplistic. A will always be Apple, B will be Banana, C will be Carrot and so on. If you are lucky there will be a rhyme or a verse. Traditionally these books will have just one fruit on a page, a simple 1 to 2 color illustration or a glossy photo.

Over the decades as more fruits & vegetables have become widely available, some have snuck in: C is coconut, P is Pear or Potato or Peach or Pumpkin. Different countries highlight different ones depending on the dominate cultures. For example G can be Grapes, Guava or Grains. But on the whole most of these books tend to keep the items to one or two (or even three) syllables to make it easier for the child to learn them.

This is where Mrs. Peanuckle has changed the game.

From the art work on the cover you can see the cute smiling vegetables: Peas, Peppers, pumpkin, and a turnip? Wait three Ps? What is the deal?

She first starts out with the familiar A is for Asparagus B is for Beans and …. wait Cucumbers?

Dandelions? Eggplant? Fiddleheads? Jicama? Nasturtium? Watercress? Zucchini?

Okay. so being a vegetable only alphabet book you cannot expect apples and bananas, but asparagus? Why has she changed the game? What is with all of these things?

Honestly I think it is a great idea. It helps to introduce the different vegetables to the child and allows them to accept them as normal. This will help a child be more willing to try a different item and expand their palate from the very beginning.

Mrs Peanuckle’s Vegetable Alphabet is an amazing inviting board book full of cute, inviting illustrations and some informational rhymes, that will please the reader and the listener. For Board Books, this is a step up in the game and will be difficult to match.

A great buy for the new pre-reader.

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Books Review: The Witch Boy

Book Review: The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

 

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. This graphic novel is drawn in the more modern styles (like the w She-Ra) The plot is about a boy who lives in a divided task world. Males are shifters, females are spell casters and both stay away from the humans. The main character does not have the ability to shift and tries to use magic. This means he is ostracized for being true to himself. His attempts to do what he cannot and can causes turmoil and then, sorta of saves the day.

A nice story about gender rules and conformity issues.

Except…. 

Like in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series there is a good reason for males not to do spell casting. In Jordan’s works it is because males are too powerful & goes insane it, in Ostertag’s book it is because males either lack the gene that allows it or, in the case of a fraternal twin, the male lacks the ability to control it. In both cases the magic warps into something determined “evil” or “wrong.” Either way it is very disruptive. In Ostertag’s book this is proved by the female twin showing that she can shift as well as cast, but her shifting is poor and not easily controlled. This proves that there is a valid reason for the parents of the main character to be worried about him not shifting.

Does that mean he should not learn spell casting? No. It just means that he should be aware of the risks he will create. It also shows that the educational system these people have is flawed as both sides tend to keep secrets from the others.

A bit heavy handed in the message of being who you need to be, but fails to deliver with any empathy or understanding about why the situation is the way it is and how difficult it will be to adjust it. Perhaps the next books in the series will cover this.

All in all I would give this a 5/10. The plot was decent, character growth was started, but the majority of the characters were one dimensional & the world was not fleshed out.

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Book Review: The Transall Saga

The Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen | LibraryThing

 

Book Review

Today’s book review is The Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen. Paulsen is the author of many young teen novels including Hatchet, Brian’s Winter and The River.

First published 1998 this book is billed as a coming of age science fiction story. The story is told from the point of view of the main protagonist, Mark. Mark is a slightly unfit teen that is fascinated with hiking & wilderness survival. His parents finally allow him to go on a brief solo camping & hiking trip in the desert, but on his first night out he ends up being transported into an unusual world where he has to learn to survive.

While Mark’s adventures trying to determine what he can eat & how to survive is interesting, outside of the oddly evolved simians, the other humanoids are one dimensional and not well developed. One can argue that this is just how Mark, in his immaturity, see them, but there isn’t enough detail to determine this for sure. His continuing quest to discover a way home does fit with the mindset of someone attempting to survive. Unfortunately the big reveal is quite disappointing and the ending- set decades later – was disappointing.

Considering how well Hatchet and The River transcend the age of the reader, it was disappointing to come back to this tale and not be able to find the thrill of adventure in it.

So while this might be a good book for an 8 to10 year old, it can only hint at a better tale for anyone older.

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September First Chapter, First Paragraph “Review”: Milo and the Magical Stones

Welcome back to our September First Chapter, First Paragraph Reviews.

September is Children’s Books month so today we will be showcasing an older book for younger kids.

Milo and the Magical Stones

Marcus Pfister

North-South Books   1997

 

“In the middle of the sea there was an island, and on this island lived Milo and the other cliff mice. They loved their island. It provided them with food and shelter and protection from the rough storms that pounded waves against the cliffs. ”

With art work resembling watercolors, this tall book tells the tale of a cliff mouse who finds a glowing stone, one that all the mice want for their own.  This thought provoking story has two endings, making the reader become involved in the decision making process and showing them that there are consequences inherent in all decisions.  Translated from Swiss German, it retains a simple other worldliness to the prose.

Unlike a lot of children’s picture books, Milo and The Magical Stones has videos and lesson plans for teachers online.  What makes this story different and yet also beloved for over 20 years?  What about it resonate so well with parents and children alike?

Would you be willing to read this book? Why or why not?  Drop us a line and let us know.

Happy Reading .

 

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First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesdays Book Review: The Folk Keeper

Once again it is time for our First Chapter, First Paragraph book review  as designed by socratesbookreviews blogspot.com  with our own twist, of course, being used books only.

In honor of school starting this month I will be reviewing children’s and young adult titles. Today we have the following:

The Folk Keeper

Franny Billingsley

Aladdin Fantasy, 1999

 

“February 2- Candlemas.

It is a day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry. They ate the lamb I brought them, picking the bones clean and leaving them outside the Folk Door. The lamb was meant for Matron’s Sunday supper. She’ll know I took it, but she will not dare say anything. She can keep her tapestries and silks and Sunday dinners. Here in the Cellar, I control the Folk. Here, I am queen of the world.”

Corinna is a Folk Keeper, tasked to keep the mysterious Folk who live underground at bay. But when a wealthy family takes her from the orphanage, Corinna must discover the secret of her talents and plan on what she will become.

 

The winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book award for fiction in 1999, this book is an unusual combination of fantasy, coming of age and horror, written for readers over the age of 9.  Great for readers who enjoy a bit of gothic, ancient lore and strong self-reliant heroine.

 

What do you think? Would you want to read this?

Let me know.

Happy Reading!

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First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesdays: Book Review Cry Wolf

And here we are again time for another First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday.  Thank you to socratesbookreviews.blogspot.com for starting this. 

 

For today we have the following :

Cry Wolf

Patricia Briggs

Ace Books, 2013

 

“The wind was chill and the cold froze the ends of her toes. One of these days she was going to break down and buy boots-if only she didn’t need to eat.”

Anna is a waitress, living on a shoestring, and estranged from her family for their own protection. Attacked on a date, she is now the lowest, and most abused, member of the larger of the two Chicago wolf packs.  But seeing the news report of the death of a young teen, whom she last saw drugged in a silver cage, Anna dares to break rank & call the Marrok, the Alpha of all the Alphas to bring justice to the dead.  Thus taking the first step into becoming what her dual nature demands her to be.

This is book one of the “Alpha and Omega” series, which exists in the same world as Patricia Briggs “Mercedes Thompson” series.  A world almost just like ours, but where things that go bump in the night really exist.

Based on the above, would you want to read this? Why or why not? Drop me a line and let me know.

Happy Reading folks.