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review 2017-11-06 17:46
Dragonfly Song - Wendy Orr

This was kind of a hard book to review, mostly because it almost falls between genres. It's classed as an upper Middle-Grade historical fantasy, which, that's not wrong . . .

 

I felt like it had more of a classic children's fiction feel to it. It's coming-of-age, and also a sort of epic hero's journey, straddling children's lit and YA in a way that's often done more by adult literary works. It touches on many 'big ideas': deformity, religion/society, acceptance, adoption, trauma, bullying, disability, purpose/identity, fate . . . The format is creative and unique. The story arc stretches from the MC's birth to age 14 and is told in omniscient third person varying with passages in verse.

 

I'm not sure if there was a meaning to the alternating styles; at some points, I thought the dreamlike verse passages were meant to show the MC's perspective in a closer, almost experiential or sensory format as an infant, a toddler, a mute child . . . but then that didn't necessarily carry through, so perhaps it was more to craft an atmosphere for the story.

 

The setting is the ancient Mediterranean, and the story picks up on legends of bull dancing. The world feels distinct, grounded and natural, without heavy-handed world-building. It's a world of gods and priestesses, sacrifice and death and surrender. Humans seem very small within it, and as a children's book, it's challenging rather than comforting. There's death and violence and loss, handled in a very matter-of-fact manner, so I'd recommend it for maybe ages 10+, depending on the child. It's not gratuitously violent or graphic, but it's a raw-edged ancient world where killing a deformed child, having pets eaten by wild animals, beating slaves - including children - and sacrificing people as well as animals to the gods is just part of life. 

 

I was very kindly sent a hardcover edition via the Goodreads Giveaways program, and the book production is lovely. It has a bold, graphic cover with some nice foil accents, a printed board cover (which I prefer for kids books due to the durability), fully illustrated internal section pages, and pleasant, spacious typesetting.

 

Confident, mature young readers will find this an engaging, challenging and meaningful read with an inspiring story arc and some lovely writing. Hesitant readers and very young readers will probably find it a struggle. I'd give it 5/5 as a product, 4/5 as a literary work and 3/5 as kid's entertainment.

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review 2017-09-17 23:30
Review: In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales Book 1 of 2)
In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1) - Catherynne M. Valente

I thought this was a very clever and unique book.  At least, I’ve never read anything like it.  It tells a lot of stories, I couldn’t say how many, but definitely more than a dozen.  However, this is not an anthology.  It’s layer upon layer upon layer of related stories nested inside each other. 

 

The framing story is about a lonely girl who people shun because they believe she’s a demon.  A curious boy approaches her and, over the course of a few days, she tells him two stories.  Each of the two stories takes up about half of the book.  Within each story, some of the characters tell other stories.  Within those stories, somebody tells another story.  These stories often tell the backstory of a particular character, so you’re sort of gaining more and more history, going backwards in time as you go forward in the book.  Periodically, the book returns to the higher layers to continue those stories, and then it possibly goes back into the same lower layers to finish incomplete stories there, or else it starts a new inner story with a new set of layers.  Some of the different branches were only moderately related, but there were lots of little connections here and there which were fun to watch for.

 

Sound confusing?  It really wasn’t.  The first main story never went more than 5 layers deep.  The second main story went up to 7 layers deep a couple times.  When I first realized the structure of the book, I was a little worried that I would get confused, so I started checking myself each time the story went into a deeper layer, recounting to myself the steps that had led there.  I was always able to do so quickly and without confusion, and I think that process helped me keep it all straight in my head.  I could see where some people might find this book disorienting, though.  For me, it may have helped that this type of thought process is part of my day job as a programmer; I kept making comparisons to it while I was reading.  Reading this was kind of like keeping track of the call stack while reading or debugging a program as it progresses forward and backward through layers of subroutines. 

 

The stories all borrow heavily from fairy tales.  This was especially noticeable to me since I had read through The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales earlier this year.  It really isn’t a retelling of any of those stories, but there were lots of little nods, sometimes with similarities and sometimes with twists, and with the tiniest hint of satire.  Unlike many of the Grimm’s tales, however, this book was internally consistent, the characters’ actions made sense, and it never felt silly. 

 

I do still have a little bit of Fairy Tale Fatigue from the Grimm’s book though, so that might have impacted my enjoyment of some of the stories.  Some layers were more interesting than others, so the book didn’t always hold my interest, which is the main reason I’m not rating it higher.

 

Next Book

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente, the sequel to this book.

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text 2017-08-13 23:04
Thriller mit Held
Projekt Orphan (Evan Smoak) - Gregg Hurw... Projekt Orphan (Evan Smoak) - Gregg Hurwitz

Even Smoak ist eine Art Superheld - er wurde top ausgebildet, hat es aber geschafft seine Menschlickeit zu bewahren - und hilft jetzt jenen, die Hilfe brauchen.
Der Größte Teil des Buches handelt davon, wie er versucht aus dem Gefängnis auszubrechen - um noch rechtzeitig das letzte Opfer der Mädchenhändlerbande zu retten.

In der Mitte gibt es einen Hänger, im Großen und Ganzen ist es dem Autor aber auch gelungen, Spannung aufzubauen.
Mir persönlich hat der Gefängnisausbruch einen viel zu großen Anteil im Buch eingenommen - und mir ist ein bisschen zu viel "Superhelden"-Getue enthalten - aber dennoch einmal ein etwas anderer Thriller.

Der Schreibstil ist gut - man kann das Buch flüssig lesen.

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review 2017-07-11 22:00
The Orphan's Tale
The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff

I really enjoyed this novel. I feel that although I didn’t love the main character like I should, I admired the secondary characters for who they were and what they stood for. The main character Noa, she frustrated me too much. From the beginning, she wanted her independence but she didn’t have the persistence and zest to back it up. Concealing a Jewish infant, masquerading this child as her own, I felt that Noa needed to have the drive to perform any job that is offered to her which would then provide for their needs. Instead she balks at the job the circus needs her for and she considers her other options. As she is working with Astrid, her attitude becomes childlike and tiring. She puts too much on the line as the story progresses, not just herself but others including Theo, the child she claims as her own. I found myself wanting to know more about Herr Neuhoff, the owner of the circus. This man seemed to have deep motives for what he was doing with his life and I became curious. Each year the circus was losing more money, as the war continued, their route become more constricted, the group that made up his production consisted of an extensive group of individuals, individuals that Herr felt very close but could hurt him and the business considerably. What was Herr Neuhoff all about? I also liked Astrid, I thought she was very genuine and you knew where you stood with her. Yet there was a cautious side about her. Astrid liked to push herself, she tried to make herself a better person and she tried to help others reach their potential. The ending was not what I expected, I didn’t shed a tear which surprised me, as I have heard from many individuals that they cried at the end of this novel. I felt sorry for both Astrid and Noa as the story wound itself down.

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