"review" · fiction · guestblogger · juvenile lit · Lit · mystery · N · recommend · series · series

{book} fly by night

Hopefully we will be seeing more and more of guest: N to the point she will have a regular “column” with clever name and logo and everything. This would be a really good thing. It is always good to see her and it was a pleasant surprise when she sent me the file for today’s post.

It is Banned Books Week and just so happens N picks up an already read copy of Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. Okay, so it isn’t really happenstance, because if you’ve read Fly By Night you probably lack surprise that a conversation on censoring people’s reading material would bring this particular book to mind. The young heroine Mosca Mye’s father was sent into exile for writing dangerous material. Printing presses are illegal and if the printed word (no matter what the surface) does not have a seal of approval by the Stationers Guild, well, bad things can and will happen. So N doesn’t speak to this aspect of Mosca’s adventure, but offers a recommendation that should tempt you to give Fly By Night a go in celebration of Banned Books Week or any other week hereafter. ~L

————————————————————————-

Maybe if Mosca Mye had been born on the day of Goodman Boniface and had been a child of the sun instead of the flies, maybe if her eyes had not turned as black as hot pepper, maybe if her father had not been Quilliam Mye the outcast from Mandelion who wrote dangerous books, maybe she would not have met Eponymous Clent.

As luck would have it for us readers, the book certainly begins with a determined Mosca Mye, having set her uncle’s barn on fire, encountering the singular Eponymous Clent, a very eloquent man whose abilities with words get him out of trouble–and occasionally into it. This time his talents land him an unruly secretary and her dangerous goose as they escape the flooding town of Chough and head towards the city of Mandelion. While Mosca had accompanied Clent for something new, she could never have prepared for the adventure that followed. Warring cities, hidden plots, conspiracy, an illegal printing press, the destructive bird-catchers and the sinister locksmiths challenge Mosca and Eponymous to decide who they should work for and whose lies should they believe.

This is a beautifully written story that grows on you the more you read it. Frances Hardinge applies her limitless imagination through fantastic descriptions, wonderful (and sometimes dreaded) characters, captivating dialogue, and a plot that will come at you from every direction and surprise you constantly. She continuously keeps her characters and situations believable, yet new and refreshing at the same time. The time and location it is set in is unbelievable, and it is always something I admire of her when I read Frances Hardinge’s books. In this case, you emerge from a flooded city into a fanciful land of teahouse boats that are pulled along by kites, small marriage houses, chapels full of beloved idols, towers far off, and rowdy bars. Hardinge’s funky, creative style shows in this masterpiece. Even her chapter titles reflect this, starting with A is for Arson and ending with V is for Verdict.

This book is a world filled with thieves, liars, dukes, duchesses, saints, good intent, mal intent, deviousness on both sides in general, wordsmiths, conspiracies, danger, and banned literature! I think I may be drooling.

Anyone who loves mystery, suspense, action, adventure and just reading in general should gravitate to this. Being an avid reader is suggested. Suggested ages are 10 and up.

~Natalya Lawren

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

HarperTrophy, 2008.

Tradepaper, 512 pages.

we own it.

L’s review of Fly Trap (the book following Fly By Night).

In which L makes nice comments about Fly By Night without actually “reviewing” it.

L on Hardinge’s Lost Conspiracy, a “review

N on Well Witched aka Verdigris Deep, her “review “

yeah, we’re fans.. how could you tell?

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · wondermous

another Hardinge

“Just between you and me,” Mosca whispered, “radicalism is all about walkin’ on the grass.” (Fly Trap, 337)

Reading Frances Hardinge’s books are a dangerous proposition. I recommend them to everyone aged 10 and up. In Lost Conspiracy there is colonialism, cannibalism, and genocide. In Fly By Night there is religious/political terrorism, atheism, and book burning. In Fly By Night’s sequel Fly Trap there is more oppression, at least one decapitation,  a lot of theft and lying, and the return of “the winged warzone” Saracen.

Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge

Harper (HarperCollins), 2011.

Hardcover, 584 pages.

Fly Trap begins 3 months after Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent leave Mandelion and, needless to say, they have landed themselves in a bit of trouble. Between Mosca, Clent, and the goose Saracen, they’ve exhausted most if not all of the settlements this side of the Langfeather. But in order to get to the other side of the river to fresh prospects, they have to pass through the only town that has managed to bridge the impossibly wide and wild river—and Toll charges a toll. Toll is also the site of a dangerous intrigue to which Mosca happens to be recently somewhat privy. Perhaps she and Clent can use the kidnapping plot to their advantage and earn a reward that will pay their toll out of the city and with some pocket money beside.

Mosca lives is a fiction place, but in many ways it would recall Victorian England. But then, Hardinge renames and remarks upon much that will be familiar to the reader. In Mosca’s world, as you learn in the first novel, there is a belief that reading is dangerous; that certain books will make you go mad. And the subversive sort of writing just might. In Fly Trap, Mosca would make money as one of the few who could read, and it does bring her to some harm, but the focus of book two shifts greater focus to another interesting facet of Mosca’s world (though you can still plainly see where an illiterate and highly-censored society will get you).

Her world is filled with the superstition that involves an enormous panoply of “Beloveds.” Hardinge uses them with delight, naming each chapter of Fly Trap after some of them, “Goodlady Battlemap, Recorder of Unmitigated Disasters,” “Goodman Parsley, Soother of Painful Mornings.” Each of the Beloveds are known for certain things, some helpful, some causing harm and/or chaos. There are so many Beloveds that they have to share days and nights, allotted certain hours in which each are observed. If you are born during a certain Beloved’s hours you are named accordingly. They have lists they consult. And with the name comes some of the Beloved’s attributes.

One of the conflicts in the first novel is Mosca’s move toward atheism, she chooses to no longer buy into the system of the Beloveds. Hardinge continues in Mosca’s decision in the second, questioning whether the presence of the Beloved a comfort or a hindrance, and whether there is some truth to beliefs created around the Beloved or even Luck. For one group of people, the Beloved are the source of a good name, for others, they are definitely a hindrance. And how much does being born under a particular Beloved influence you? How much does a name, and the belief behind the name influence your outcomes? How much of an ass can assumptions and generalizations make you look? And how helpful/harmful is profiling? The subjects of Identity and Superstition is of incredible importance in Fly Trap and Hardinge treats the novel’s exploration with humor, and the utmost seriousness.

“Eponymous—that’s Phangavotte,” snapped the Raspberry. “Mosca—that’s Palpitattle. Kenning—the Book of the Hours!”

[…]

“Phangavotte’s names are daylight…just about,” came the boy’s thin, chirping voice from within the book. “Committee of the Hours have considered it for endarkening six times thought. On grounds of Phagavotte being a patron of wile, guile, tall tales, and ruses. Acquitted on account of Phagavotte being a patron of inspiration, myth, and proud dreams.” The whisper of more pages. “Palpitattle—night. Children of Palpitattle judged to be villainous, verminous, and everywhere that they’re not wanted. Not plans to review this judgment” (89).

There is hardly a better place to explore the consequences of Identity and Superstition than in Hardinge’s town named Toll. Once paid entrance into Toll, a complicated system has been created to classify and direct each person, citizen or visitor. As no one could possibly lie about their name (deeply ingrained belief), everyone is recorded—and found out. Have you a night-name or a day-name? If you stay in Toll, those with a night-name live in Toll-by-Night, and day-names live in Toll-by-Day. If you’ve a night-name you can only pray for the re-classification of your Beloved, because Toll believes that night names are dangerous/disruptive/dystopic. As a visitor Mosca is able to walk around in the daylight hours, but only for three days, and under the weight of a great deal of scorn and distrust.

How Hardinge creates a town that shifts personality and form completely between night and day is fantastic!—and completely worth the read alone.

The terror of the night hours is palpable, as are the horrifying realizations Toll begins to create. The intrigue surrounding the town’s oddities and a kidnapping plot create the perfect fire to bring everything to boiling point. Hardinge keeps the turns coming and writes a remarkable plot. Having protagonists like Mosca Mye and Saracen help.

Mosca Mye is not a sweet-cheeked heroine of eleven/twelve. She is oft described as having “black eyes, black hair, and ferrety features.” She is refreshingly pragmatic, even if that means stealing to eat, or outright lying to kidnappers as to the content of a certain letter, or launching herself out windows. Mosca is bent on survival, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be moved; which is important to remember. It is also crucial to remember that her goose companion Saracen has a mind of his own and is dangerously predictable—he can annihilate anyone or thing in his path. He is one of the best written/imagined characters you will have the pleasure to encounter.

Hardinge truly has a wonderful sense of invention. Her characters are wonderfully realized, her settings are ideally rendered, and her use of the English language is magnificent. (If you love words, Hardinge’s novels are a pleasurable place to visit.) She is one writer who tirelessly creates beautifully formed sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Fly Trap, like other books of Hardinge’s before it, enchants the reader with its complicated plot and daring wit. Will Mosca, Clent, and Saracen escape Toll?—and if so, how could they possibly. Hardinge’s ability to sustain the reader with a careful balance of whimsy, pointed-statements, heart, and humor makes 584 pages bearable for any reader.

Just the same, if you believe books are as dangerous as the author and I do, you are likely a bit anxious about introducing her books to a young reader, even if they are 10 and up, because Fly Trap is full of dangerous ideas. Some people do exist, even if you do not want them to; the selfish and heartless take unsuspecting forms;  cultural/physical environments do have consequences and they should be considered; perhaps one should be “everywhere that they’re not wanted;” and certainly a critical thinking child should never be underestimated when the potential for a revolution is in the offing (or even when it isn’t)…

“The heart of being a radical isn’t knowing all the right books, it isn’t about kings over the sea or the parliament over in the capital. It’s…looking at the world around you and seeing the things that make you sick to the stomach with anger. The things there’s no point making a fuss about because that’s just the way the world is, and always was and always will be. And then it means getting good and angry about it anyway, and kickin’ up a hurricane. Because nothing is writ across the sky to say the world must be this way. A tree can grow tow hundred years, and look like it’ll last a thousand more—but when the lightning strikes at last, it burns.” (378)

*********

If you have not read Fly By Night, please do, but you can read Fly Trap and get the gist of things. Hardinge does a nice job of reminding past readers of how they got to where they are and catching new readers up on the goings on. As a sequel, Fly Trap does better than “it doesn’t disappoint;” it has that rare pleasure of if not equally, but surpassing the book one.

Fly Trap is the American release title. In England, where the author lives and her books are first published, it is called Twilight Robbery (very apt, of course) and it sports a different cover.

Also, I cannot recommend The Lost Conspiracy enough, so please add that read to your “must reads.”—I think it her best and most accessible novel. (my review.)

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · wondermous

do what you must

I’m not sure helicopter parents would let their children read this one, so I recommend helping the poor kids out and sneak them a copy! A wonderful read for children and adults alike! I think Frances Hardinge and/or Adrienne Kress fans would like Ms. Tanner. ~ L’s comment on Museum of Thieves at goodreads.com

7507920Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Delacorte Press, 2010.

312 pages, hardcover.

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime.

Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life. Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guardchain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians. She has never done anything by herself and won’t be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day.

When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind. In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Museum of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets. Only the cunning mind of a thief can understand the museum’s strange, shifting rooms. Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving.

Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum—plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves. And it will take a daring thief to stop him. . . .

Museum of Thieves is a thrilling tale of destiny and danger, and of a courageous girl who has never been allowed to grow up—until now. ~Publisher’s Comments.

What if there was a place to put all the dark and dangerous and wild things of the world? What would a society look like if its primary importance was protecting the children from every potential malignancy? Walk. Don’t run. Don’t handle scissors! “[Goldie] opened and closed the scissors three times inside her pocket to make sure she knew how to use them” (30).  Lian Tanner’s Museum of Thieves features a Utopia of familiar trajectory. Tanner exaggerates to the point of utter reason, absolute logic and the results are marvelous! Marvelously wretched of course…I mentioned the society was Dystopic, didn’t I?

Good intentions gone rampant. I love these sort of stories. Tanner is especially enjoyable, a bemused voice, openly critical of the ridiculous extents to which people’s logic carries them—or was that the voice of the wise woman character Olga Ciavolga, one of the Keepers of the Museum of Dunt aka the Museum of Thieves? …

Children, are you feeling coddled, overprotected? Allow Museum of Thieves to bolster your argument. Tanner has the imagination, and the veracity of her vision creates delicious tension and very real concern.  I found this particular vision enthralling: The children are so utterly protected, not a scratch, not a fall. What might be a consequence?

The people of Jewel treat their children like delicate flowers. They think they will not survive without constant protection. But there are parts of the world where young boys and girls spend weeks at a time with no company except a herd of goats. The chase away wolves. They take care of themselves, and they take care of the herd.” […] “And so, when hard times come—as they always do in the end—those children are resourceful and brave. If they have to walk from one end of the country to the other, carrying their baby brothers and sisters, they will do it. If they have to hide during the day and travel at night to avoid soldiers, they will do it. They do not give up easily.

“Of course, I am not saying that it is a good thing to give children such heavy responsibilities. They must be allowed to have a childhood. But they must also be allowed to find their courage and their wisdom, and learn when to stand and when to run away. After all, if they are not permitted to climb the trees, how will they ever see the great and wonderful world that lies before them.” Olga Ciavolga (184-5)

There are moments of peril in Museum of Thieves where people almost died because they could not run, because they were waiting for someone to rescue them (83, 93,  300-1).

“Like everyone else in Jewel, he had been protected from every sort of risk and danger when he was a child. There had been nothing to test his courage, nothing to teach him when to stand and when to run. Now he was paralyzed with fear and indecision. […] They were afraid to stay where they were, and they were afraid to go.” (296-7)

Yet, for all the Safety in Jewel, the citizens are not without fear (even before obvious peril strikes). There are the Slavers, piratanical figures lying in wait for the children, so we are told. Then there are the Blessed Guardians, the “Church” of the Church and State governing partnership, who are dreaded. Guardian Hope is especially horrid. Her zeal for the Fugleman (“the leader of the Blessed Guardians and spokesman for the Seven Gods” (22)) among other traits chillingly calls J.K. Rowling’s Delores Umbridge to mind.

Blessed Guardian Hope, as every character in Tanner’s story is, is wonderfully realized. The originality of the story is delightful to experience and as a writer Tanner is more than capable of sweeping the reader into her imagination.

The Museum of Dunt is a marvelous creation. Within its shifting walls and rooms for every occasion of Jewel’s history, from before it was such a sparkling dystopic utopic realization. The building has secrets, wild moods, and very real threats that are simmering, awaiting fools to release them. But not all the contents of the Museum would harm the populace of Jewel.

“Many years ago,” said Sinew, “Olga Ciavolga and Herro Dan and I made a promise to each other. That one day we’d bring some of the wildness back to the city. Not the big stuff. Not wars and famine and plague. Just vacant blocks and dogs and cats and birds. And secret places for children to hide when they want to escape from the eyes of adults.” (198)

The Museum isn’t the only place brimming with wildness. “He looks so little and harmless, thought Goldie. But inside, he’s bigger and wilder than anyone could imagine. And the museum’s the same” (159). And children are the same, certainly Goldie who fairly bursts with “rebellious” action, set upon by an inner wildness (no, not female hysteria, readers of Victorian fiction and non-fiction).

Jewel would repress wildness. Olga Ciavolga would rather instruct it. “You must both learn to think before you act. Whatever happens, remember that there is always a choice. Think of the consequences, and then do what you must” (187). I am considering a cross-stitch pattern for this little gem, “Think of the consequences, and then do what you must.” Goldie does not betray this trust. Tested and empowered, Goldie solves an incredible problem and proves heroic. Her actions from the very first have had consequences, terrible ones, but some brilliant ones as well. Museum of Thieves measures what risks are worth taking and living seems to be the result of it.

“The people of Jewel are like Guardian Hope, with her planks and hammers. They tried to nail life down. They wanted to be completely safe and happy at all times. The trouble is, the world just isn’t like that. You can’t have high mountains without deep valleys. You can’t have great happiness without great sadness. The world is never still. It moves from one thing to another, back and forth, back and forth, like a butterfly opening and closing its wings.” –Sinew (197)

Goldie is not thoughtless, nor is she uncaring of her family. She loves her parents. She has a best friend whom she cares for deeply. She spends the novel emotionally regretting the price her parents pay for her rebellious (yet necessary) action. A parent’s desire to shelter their child is not demonized, nor are children who desire to remain in the care of their parents. The Peter Pan, Toadspit, for all his brusqueness, is for the comfort of family as well.  What the novel does is interrogate what forms “sheltering” might take that is detrimental. That the parents complicity is due to ignorance and cowardice is a complication. The punishment is severe, isn’t it? To not parent the way Jewel Society defines it…

On the whole, the society of Jewel resides in ignorance. Statistics are muttered as reminders that past decisions have been correct. Those in place of power, really the Grand Protector (mayoral figure) and the Fugleman, have manipulative capabilities and some perspective from their differing height. [Interestingly, the Protector and the Fugleman are siblings, so the relationship between Church and State cannot be seen as anything but related/connected.] The Keepers at the Museum have information and importance as well. They have Historical memory and long life spans.

The Keepers are interesting characters, an independent and secretive agency. Oh, and they’re Thieves. Thieves as heroes provokes another challenging idea:

“Perhaps there is a wildness in thieves that speaks to the wildness that is here. Perhaps a thief sees the secret paths, the hidden places.” [Olga Ciavolga] looked hard at Goldie. “Listen to me carefully, child. I do not wish to glorify theft. There are people in this world who think they are better than others, or deserve more. People who would rob their grandmother of her last coin and laugh as they did it. I have not time for such people. To move quietly, to be quick of hand and eye, that is a gift. If you use it to hurt others, even in a small way, you betray yourself and everyone around you.” (122)

Tanner is ever thoughtful. A Tale-teller with an audience in mind, weaving perspectives and leaving the angles for the listener to consider. The text and the reader asks questions and Tanner provides the scenario.

Olga and Sinew and others would recognize and foster Goldie’s potential, her unique abilities, and offer lessons in a few more useful skills. “When hard times come—as they always do in the end—[Goldie is] resourceful and brave.” Of course, that isn’t what certain persons in power wanted at all. Their love and concern aren’t actually real.

For all the potentially “hazardous” messages convicting the helicoptering sort and spurring children to consider their wildness and camouflaging skills, Museum of Thieves is a Tale of one misbehaved girl’s adventure that is deliciously entertaining. There are perils and triumphs, a cute puppy and a blood-thirsty hound, a big black bird that starts with the eyeballs, people with ridiculous names, and soldiers that speak like this: “Is a leedle gel!” (272). Loved it!

Museum of Thieves is Book One of The Keepers Trilogy; although, you won’t feel cheated, Book One could stand alone (disregarding 311-2). I am looking forward to City of Lies (expected Sept 2011). Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.

Think of the consequences, and then do what you must*…

*****

*which is read this book! and purchase me the set.

an awesome site connected to the book.
"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales · Uncategorized

Cohagan and The Lost Children

Found this one browsing the Library shelves with the daughter.

Was caught by the title and the ominous looking building.

And then there were the 387 pairs of gloves.

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

Aladdin (Simon&Schuster) 2010.

313 pages (hardback).

Josephine Russing owns 387 pairs of gloves. She’s given a new pair every week by her father, a sullen man known best for his insistence that the citizens in town wear gloves at all times.

A world away, the children of Gulm have been taken. No one knows where they might be, except the mysterious and terrifying leader of the land: The Master. He rules with an iron fist, using two grotesque creatures to enforce his terrible reign.

When a peculiar boy named Fargus shows up on Josephine’s property and then disappears soon afterward, she follows him without a second thought and finds herself magically transported to Gulm.

After Fargus introduces her to his tough-as-nails friend Ida, the three of them set off on an adventure that will test everything Josephine has ever thought about the rules of the universe, leading to a revelation about the truth of the land of Gulm, and of Josephine’s own life back home.~publisher’s comments.

I was fairly certain The Lost Children, the debut novel by Carolyn Cohagan, was going to have the charming ridiculousness that I enjoy in a Children’s book—well, actually any book. I was right. To my continual delight there are plenty of strange quirks to keep me transported.

The narrative is third person, and limited based on whichever character point-of-view the story requires. A change in chapter marks the change in point-of-view. It isn’t difficult.  Josephine is the protagonist, but the other characters lift from the page via their own turns at story-telling. Cohagan carries the movement of the novel off smoothly.

Cohagan writes a fairly dark and perilous tale and I am thinking of putting her villains up in the top ten of the Most Creepy and Chillingly Invented Villains in Juvenile Literature; a high honor to be sure. The Master has me in mind of the Ironic Gentleman from Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress. The Brothers, the aforementioned “grotesque creatures,” are marvelous creations!

It is not just the villains are wonderfully realized, but the others in the cast are engaging as well. Most interesting is how the protagonist Josephine comes out as the least concrete character of them all; not saying she is flat by any means, just that the others are so much more the draw. Josephine is so much in the “becoming” stage that she is hard to anticipate—not a bad thing, just notable. Indeed, much of the story is about Josephine coming into herself, drawn away from the negligence of her own reality.

Josephine falls through a “crack,” a moment that reads like a bit of a Lucy Pevensie, Dorothy, Alice concoction. From here, there is no realization that family and friendship is important, we already know this from before falling through the “crack,” but Josephine gets to participate in the actualization of this idea. If anything, she understands that she has to be more assertive, that she needs to fight for what she needs and wants. This other place equips her in a sense, at the very least it rescues her.

I won’t read much more into themes or meanings. The adventure is entertaining, creepy and daring, and holds a nice turn at the end. One of those you don’t think about until the author shows you and you say, “of course. How nicely done, the way you sneaked up on me.”

***

Cohagan has a definite voice of her own that fans of Kress and Roald Dahl will appreciate; yet the dark edges to her tale is more Cornelia Funke or Kate DiCamillo. The Lost Children favors the darkling humor not at all and the baldly unpleasant realities of Tales and real life more. A sense of whimsy still pervades. And a sense of the theatrical. I was not surprised to read that Cohagan grew up in Theatre, and continues to.  By theatrical, I am inferring that guarantee of brilliant chapter endings and characters with presence (very expressive) and well-timed entrances and exits.

The Lost children is an engaging story that is wonderfully imaginative, decisively original. The 313 pages are light and easy to turn. And the voice begs a read-aloud, even if the reader is alone in a room. There is a lot of sadness but hope as well; a sense of healing in the relationships we do have, even as we linger over the ones lost. There is great deal of humor and a sweetness to balance out the less glittery elements of the story. The proposed audience is 8-12 and the novel seems to keep that younger end in mind. The Lost Children is a welcome book for those anticipating the slightly more perilous adventures found in works by Adrienne Kress, Francis Hardinge, Cornelia Funke… If past 8, still include this one in the to-be-read pile. I’m am adding it to the daughter’s already and was glad to have enjoyed it myself.

**********

note: some would consider this in relation to their child (if not themselves): a character’s parents are shot and killed, another’s father drowns himself out of grief, The Master’s mother’s death is quite hideously imagined. A part of a tale, a fact but not dwelt upon. I suppose there is a moment of torture, just remembered that. There are terrifying figures, Cohagan sets a fine mood of fear and impending doom. I would still uphold the as-young-as-eight age, but I am aware that some would distrust me for not adding a few “warnings.”

For boys and girls alike. There are plenty of things to delightfully gross a body out : snot, refuse-filled moat, and pigeon droppings to name a few.

If you like Alex and the Ironic Gentleman you will like this… and if you haven’t read Alex than you are missing out; it has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) feel that even those who don’t actually care for Alice might still enjoy.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · young adult lit

one; two one-fourths; one third; and a half.

I read one book this weekend and started three; and Natalya and I are continuing Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy.

**

One:  The book read and finished in a sitting was Kazu Kibuishi‘s Copper (Graphix; 2010). The book is shelved in Children’s Non-Fiction Art section with their graphic novels and comics. Copper is a collection of Copper comics. And even as this is categorized as Children’s I really think Adults will connect just as easily, if not better, with the characters and their situations. After reading the “Introduction” I am even more convinced of this. Kibuishi writes:

The first Copper image and text was reflective of a time in my life when things weren’t working out so well: My parents needed financial assistance; I lost my graphic design job; I was kicked out of my apartment; and I was attacked by a crazy guy int the street who told me to go back to my “home country,” all in a span of two days.

[…]

What had begun as a somewhat dark comic strip series quickly became more optimistic, more hopeful. The boy, Copper, was at first an observer, but by the third comic he became an active participant in his world, making choices based on his hopes and fears. Fred the dog, was always there to question his best friend’s optimism, but Copper walked ahead with his ideals undeterred. In may ways the characters reflected my life at the time I wrote these strips, and as I look back at them I feel like i can see myself growing up. Drawing these comics gave me a sense of confidence in myself and helped me develop a sense of purpose in the work that I do.

“Clockwork” (72)

May be by week’s end (or the next) I will take one of the comics and explore it a bit here. 

“Waterfall” (39)

And added pleasure of Copper is the “Behind the Scenes” at the back. Kibuishi guides the reader through his process. He is thoughtful and friendly, encouraging, and provides details and helpful hints. The “Behind the Scenes” is fascinating and informative.from “Slowrider” (66)

We own the first two of the Amulet Series by Kibuishi (the third is yet to be released). He is a wonderful artist and storyteller. Needless to say, we look for anything with his name attached.  So check out the Flight and Flight Explorer Anthologies. (The Flight Explorer for the younger crowd.)

One-fourth A: What the Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick Press, 2008). Looked interesting, and right up Natalya’s alley. And the author wrote Wicked, etc. You may have heard of him? Natalya read it in a course of two days maybe. She enjoyed it, and put it in that “You should read this, too, Mom” stack. Still intrigued from when I’d first read the dust jacket in the Library aisle (Children’s Section) I started reading. I may write more on this later, but I find myself saying fairly often (and only a fourth of the way through) “What the dickens is going on here?” I’m sure that if I persevere I will discover the answers to my question. As it is, some parts are enjoyable, some I rub my eyes and remind myself I will be rewarded…Maguire is a popular author after all…

One-fourth B: is a guilty pleasure. I have my closet and so I will keep it closed; but it is a first book in a trilogy and I am eagerly getting through this one so I can get to my goal: the second book—which is out and checked out of the rapid-reads section so I have to wait or sit in a book store most of a day. I am a quarter the way through because I dragged Nate to the Library to pick it up in the afternoon and couldn’t get to until bedtime. I will probably return to this after I blog.

One-third: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge. Natalya and I have made it past the massacre, two volcanoes, and escaped the Ash Walker, thus far. We will meet the Reckoning tonight, hopefully.

Half: Jellicoe Road by Australian Author Melina Marchetta (Harper Teen, 2006). Good, and different. I picked this up last week because of all the positive things I’d heard about it. Anything Teen I prefer Fantasy or Sci-Fi, if that. Mostly, I like Juvenile works, and avoid the drama that is adolescence and all their suffocating conflicts: I guess I don’t care to relive those years: living through them in a different role with my daughter is —. Will write more about Jellicoe Road when I finish it, and consider it a bit.

**

This is the last full week of school here. And then a couple more days… and then summer (which equates to travel). I will tote some books and my laptop (if only for an excuse to curl up in a corner of someone else’s basement).

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

A take on Story (Lore)

5983694Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2009.

279 pages.

Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a charming read.  I have had a lot of excellent reads lately.  I am now almost anxious when I open another book knowing that at some point this streak of good fortune will end. It hasn’t ended with this book; though I did have some initial concern. I will blame this concern on just finishing (and still with the daughter) reading Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy. Really there is little to compare the two reads but for the use of Lore and Story.

Both Lin and Hardinge’s books weave a culture’s folklore into their stories until the book itself becomes a story of legendary proportion themselves. Lore and “reality” become fused by pages end. Hardinge borrows ideas from various cultures, but her original story dictates how things meld and re-form. Lin draws from her Chinese heritage, as well as her American one. Lin writes in her “Author’s Note”, “The Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books […] I had read and imagined seemed to come alive again. But the stories continued to deviate, tinged with my Asian-American sensibilities.” Lin does the same.

The end products are different, different goals, etc. Where my concern resided was in the seamless experience in the movement of Hardinge’s interwoven work as compared to the rough beginnings of Lin’s. Part of the seamed experience of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is in the transition from A, going along, to B, here is ____’s story, and back to A. I could say that it is merely a visual adjustment. When B occurs there is a title for the story (centered) flanked by twin circular pictures/symbols. This kind of visual differentiation to the formatting is not unusual but rare enough to distract. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, and easily enough to adjust to by the end of the book. However, the bumps were not merely visual. The events leading up to the B, “A”, felt like “I need to lay some foundations, settle the reader into the setting, and get to B, because that is infinitely more interesting at this point.” A into B is “and now I am going to tell you a story.” The pacing was off to a difficult start in the transitions between layers/lines.

True, Lin is not creating some new and unfamiliar Island Culture. She can set the landscape, the characters, and the situation and mood with as much simplicity as she dare. And I do appreciate the spare and simple of this nevertheless complex book. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is constant. It is rhythmic and simple and quiet. It is lovely. And if you experience the unevenness at the beginning it fades, or we adjust. I think, however, it fades. The book is intent on interweaving that flawless connection and eliminating that invisible (and man-devised) line between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary.’ By the pages end, this is achieved, and the Lore is less “told” (B) than experienced. And the Stories (B) become younger. Characters are repetitive, connections are made and strengthened, a beautifully crafted story told by Lin. I only wish and wonder how it could have felt as comfortable at the beginning. May be it wasn’t supposed to; we needed the two wooden pieces (A & B) in order to more fully imagine the transformational powers of a story and its place in everyday life. I’m just glad I didn’t set the book down too early.

Like The Lost Conspiracy, there is the observation that aspects of traditional story are true. They not only share a Truth, but may have actually occurred in some fashion. Each traditional story would impart something of value and importance to the listener. This is not News; but how each story explores the idea is lovely. Where Hardinge goes for subtlety (she is writing a mystery after all), Lin is straightforward. The straightforward approach of Lin is a refreshingly unapologetic. Minli is open and brave and carried along by Faith. She knows there are clues to her quest in the Stories, and they guide her almost intuitively.  She has chosen to believe in possibility.  Even though she is not flat/simple, Minli’s arrival to the conclusion is anticipated. The transitions are transparent; as are her Mother’s, Ma.

Ma more than any one character is the unexpected treasure of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Ma is the life most remarkably transformed by Story. It may be that because I am an adult, I find her existence in this book a surprise; a fantastic one.  Ma is embittered by her existence. She is not someone most would call “fortunate of circumstance.” Sure, she has a lovely daughter and a loving, hard-working husband; but what does that matter. She lives in a small hovel, has little food, rough worn clothes, no money, works all day for what little she has…and there is no prospect of change.  But Ma is not left in the village. The story returns to Minli’s parents (who’d returned to the village after an attempt to pursue their daughter) throughout her adventure away.

As Minli becomes more and more a character of Lore, the parents solidify the story in Reality. Keeping the parents is a brilliant move to keep Minli from a Wonderland or Oz. The story is real, and magical, and thus possible. If the stories are possible don’t the Truths the Stories are sharing seem just as possible—especially when things are and feel as dire as the beginning situations are?

“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a magical book that explores the power of story. It is about sacrifice, friendship, faith, the transformation of a journey, and the joys of home. More than anything, it is about thankfulness — about learning that one’s fortune does not need to be changed; that fortune is more than gold and jewels.”  A Year of Reading (blog).

The end of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is hopeful. Realizations are met and happiness and contentment find their way into the home. Ma finally has a story she would tell, and it is her own. It is wonderful (252-4), healing. Minli has discovered that “one’s fortune does not need to be changed,” and that she should be thankful, and find joy in the everyday.

I had some difficulty with the end ending. I will call this the ‘Job Conflict.’ [And, yes, I know this is a Children’s Book.]  The story would say that as long as you have X, that is all that is important, and one should find X fulfilling and life-affirming. And yet, at book’s end, blessings are abundant in the form of a material redemption. Perhaps the material is the concrete/metaphorical expression of all the riches gained spiritually, or within the abstract (immaterial) senses. However, it is hard to see the Joy that was found when the causes of hardship have since been removed. Or is the lesson:  the hardships will find removal once the internal balance is restored? Maybe like any good legendary tale worth telling, there are more than a few possibilities; possibilities housed in the perspectives of the listener deciding what is ‘real’ and what is ‘whimsy.’

**

a few links to recommendations:

The Shelf Elf (interview with Lin)

Welcome to my Tweendom

Book Nut

A Year of Reading

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · Tales · wondermous

a Find

6293900The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

HarperCollins, 2009.

Ages 10 & Up.

576 pages.

The Lost Conspiracy:  576 pages are daunting for me. But for Frances Hardinge, the attempt is worth it. I figured I would try to divide up the book by chapter or page number, determined to get through and make time on it. I don’t why I would think this way because Frances Hardinge is a brilliant storyteller. I love Fly By Night. By love, I mean, this book sits in the top ten, if not five, best juvenile fiction books I’ve ever read. So yes, I read The Lost Conspiracy based on interruption (the screaming and house-burning sort). I did not want to put the book down. Knowing I had an early day filled with long hours surrounded by small people the next day, I still stayed up late to finish the book. There is not one dull page amongst the 576.

I am sure I may have mentioned this somewhere before, but there are two things that Hardinge is exceptional with: her diction, and her characterization. Everything lives in her books; nothing is inanimate; and thus, nothing is impossible. Hardinge’s imagination is limitless on the page, and this is exciting for the reader.

The Lost Conspiracy is recommended for 10 & up and I agree. Hardinge is timeless, and her adventures, though exciting and imaginative, provoke thought and contain criticism from which the older reader will benefit. There are also the dark aspects. Genocide has taken place on Gullstruck Island, and promises to return. There is mob violence of a horrible sort (by horrible I mean the extermination of a village with characters you come to know and care about). The Ashwalkers…

Revenge is a major theme, and valuable discussion point. Most important for the young reader (and old), however, is the idea that the small and invisible can make all the difference in a fracturing world.

The Prelude reveals a delicious taste of the magic and power of the Lost, and their value to the island of Gullstruck.

Like all Lost, he had been born with his senses loosely tethered to his body, like a hook on a fishing line. He could let them out, then reel them in and remember all the places his mind had visited meanwhile. Most Lost could move their senses independently, like snails’ eyes on stalks. Indeed, a gifted Lost might feel the grass under their knees, taste the peach in your hand, overhear a conversation in the next village, and smell cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and flit around a shipwreck ten miles out to sea.

[…]

Lost minds occupied with the business of the island, keeping it functioning. Scrying for bandits in the jungles, tracing missing children on the rises, spotting sharks in the deeps, reading important trade notices and messages long-distances. (1-2)

I think I found a new super-power for all those icebreaker games. I would be a Lost. In contrast, the Prelude’s closing two paragraphs allude to the unnoticed; not Lost and ever present; the underestimated.

[Her name] was designed to sound like the settling of dust, a name that was meant to go unnoticed. She was as anonymous as dust, and Skein gave her not the slightest though.

Neither would you. In fact, you have already met her, or somebody very like her, and you cannot remember her at all. (5)

Perhaps her power will be just as transformational, and important. And certainly, if she has a power at all, we can identify with it more, and perhaps find the inspiration to be as courageous as she will prove to be.

Hardinge creates into being the most spectacular heroines.

**

The Living compete with the Dead, and the Present and Future conflict with the Past. And the use of story contains a value that is means to survival (and not just cultural). The Lost Conspiracy looks at story and its place to teach lessons and relay messages (subtexts); “The story had been a poem hiding a truth, like those tales with secret directions concealed in them” (510).

Those things that may occur on the grander scale (between volcanoes or governments/peoples) effect those on the smaller or singular; but the small and singular (Hathin) can, too, effect things on a grand scale, and the courage she finds to do so (or the desperation) is monumental to the story and its listener.

**

Like Fly By Night, there is the exploration of the Name creating meaning for the character and possibly effecting paths. For some characters, their Name is grounded in their ancestry (the Superior of Jealousy); and there are the Lace with their names born of nature sounds–Whish, Larsh, Arilou (an owl-sound), or Hathin (dust). That Hathin (a major character) comes from a name that reflects ubiquity and invisibility is important to her role and her abilities throughout; but she is not limited by her name; and possibly not even her body; “When that other spirit takes over your body and makes everyone obey you.” […] “You know, when your voice changes, and your personality changes, and the little worried crinkles in your forehead disappear, and you’re suddenly eight feet tall—“ (483-4).

Expectations of another and far grander sort apply to Hathin’s elder sister Arilou. By Arilou not fulfilling hers, expectations know to take a leave of absence for the rest of the book. Assumptions should not be made, and the devil is in the perceptions. Nothing is as it seems, and sometimes, as in Hathin’s case, this is a good thing.

The Lost Conspiracy creates an incredible landscape. I am often guilty of skimming past settings, especially of the natural sort, when reading novels. Hardinge makes everything interesting. That she can do this and often use Lore to do it is even better.

And in the third cave of the dead you had to hand over your mouth….

Row upon row of ghostly teeth, many the height of a man, jutted from the floor, tapered from the ceiling. Stalagmites, stalactites. The cave was agape with them, and beyond their bite was nothing but a dark throat. (86)

On Gullstruck Island there are volcanoes and geysers and mountains and coastal shores and caves and woods. They all have names and personalities and meaning. She uses this method to move the story forward, and in fact, they become not merely atmosphere or source of conflict but another layer, another character.

Carefully Therrot […] lifted out a slippery lump of the soap. He stooped near a convenient little water-filled crater in the shadow of a bush.

“Present for you, Lord Crackgem,” he muttered. “You don’t mind, do you?”

The water in the crater seethed as he dropped in the soap. As he stepped back to the barrow and stooped for some more, Hathin saw the foaming increase and the water start to fountain.

“Therrot!”

He turned in time to see the fountain become a wild, white plume, and to cover his face with his arms as the wind changed, lashing him with boiling spray and scalding steam. The two revengers grabbed at the barrow, and they slithered and tumbled their way down the slope to escape the geyser’s fury, stopping just short of the treacherous plain.

“He minds,” whispered Hathin. (306-7).

“Lord Crackgem has a soft spot for those with weak minds.”

“She drifted into sleep, but the breath of Lord Crackgem seemed to have drugged her dreams into madness.” (332)

**

Gullstruck has its native populations and its Imperialists who come to dominate the landscape (and its peoples). As the book is set years later, we are caught up on the history and the consequences of this invading culture and its peoples as the story moves along. As there are plenty familiar, we understand things without necessitating explanation. However, this does not remove the horrors. Hardinge would offer hope at the end, but there is no erasure of what was done. The book takes time at the end for tears to come, and it takes a deep breath and plunges you into an exhilarating end. I wish I could spoil it for you. Those last paragraphs are fantastic! Yes, first sentences are key but the last are as well, and The Lost Conspiracy will not disappoint.

The cultures living and interacting on the island are colorful. The Lace come across a bit horrific and terrifying. Their perpetual smiles with plated teeth sound daunting. And their history though starting as friendly becomes a bit frightening. But they are as human as their neighbors, and they have reasons and logic behind their existence as well. Throughout the book, Hathin peels back the layers of her culture, demystifying here, endearing us there. It is clear with whom the book sides and how ridiculous the Cavalcaste invaders really are; their superiority is ever a question. Not to say the storyteller lacks compassion.

However familiar some cultures and events sound (even woven together) the author does issue this statement:

A Note from the Author:

Neither the tribes of Gullstruck nor the Cavalcaste are designed to resemble or comment upon specific real-world races. Here and there I have worked in elements taken from various different cultures because they suited the story, but the world of Gullstruck is basically fantastical. (copyright page)

Still, if a class were studying Imperialism and Colonization; this would be an interesting read; a “safe” realm for exploration.

**

There is a murder conspiracy going on. Hathin and company need to figure out what is going on at risk of their survival. The events are well-conceived. Nothing is spare in this book. Nothing and no one is superfluous. Hardinge has a fairly large cast to play with, and she maintains consistency and focus.

Hathin and Arilou’s relationship is a fascination of the story and it plays out well. The relationship feels honest, and though painful at moments (many) there is beauty there. Other relationships develop throughout the story but the sisters’ is central.

I really am trying to think of something critical (possibly negative) to say about this book. I’d hate for my “gushing” to be seen as disingenuous or star-struck. Maybe I will find something by the time I finish with the book as the evening read aloud (bedtime story) with the daughter. As it is, now, I like this book on the level of entertainment and deeper thought. I can’t even argue against its page length.