Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

About the first book in this fantasy series by N.D. Wilson, I wrote: The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson. Too much action and it moved way too fast for me. I think there was a sub-text that I just didn’t get, and I think Mr. Wilson is too smart for my Very Little Brain.

About the second book, The Drowned Vault, I wrote: I really should just wait until all of the (three?) books in the Ashtown Burials series are out and then I could read them all together. I’m pretty sure my little brain would thank me.

I should have taken my own advice. There are just too many characters and too much history and too much stuff for me to follow the story and really get it. And this book doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the entire story, so I’m fairly sure there are more books in this series to come. I really, really need to quit now and come back when the series is complete. (Or maybe it is complete? If so, I really don’t get it.)

If you would like to read more about Empire of Bones, from the point of view of someone who read it, understood it, and loved it, here’s one glowing review at Pages Unbound.

I want to love these books, but I still like N.D. Wilson’s first book for children, Leepike Ridge, the best. It was just right for my Baby Bear/Goldilocks brain.

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

Maps, maps, and more maps. If your fascinations veer toward the cartological, especially if there’s an intersection with the fantastical, then this debut novel by “historian and world traveler” S.E. Grove will be just the ticket.

Since the disappearance of her parents when she was a small child, Sophia Tims lives in Boston with her uncle, Shadrack, a famous cartologist and former adventurer. However, this Boston is not the Boston we all know. Almost a century before, The Great Disruption shook the entire earth and threw different parts of the globe into different “ages” or time periods, remaking and disrupting time itself. Boston is now part of the New Occident, beginning after the Great Disruption in the late eighteenth century. Explorers and pirates are the only ones who dare to travel from one age to another, across boundaries that delineate more than just governing authorities or time zones—they also demarcate eras and the cultures associated with those eras.

Accurate, trustworthy maps are very important in such a world, and Shadrack is the most famous and reliable mapmaker in Boston, perhaps in the world. He is teaching Sophia all he knows, but when kidnappers and changes in the weather patterns interrupt their lessons, Sophia must set out on her own with only a runaway from the Baldlands, Theo, to help her escape from her pursuers and find the answers to what is happening to her, to Uncle Shadrack, and to the New World. And she’s not even sure she can trust Theo.

The world-building in this 489 page novel was exquisite. The story was well-plotted, and the characters were engaging, especially Sophia and Theo and Calixta the Pirate Captain. (I like that name, Calixta. If I had another child . . .) The only complaint I have, and it’s really a small complaint, I suppose, is that I never felt I knew what the story was about or what the underlying themes were. It seems to be partly about trust and lies, but the messages about whether those things are good or bad or indifferent are mixed. It’s also about time and maps and fate, but I’m not sure what the novel is saying about those things either. (Maps are good? We can live outside the constraints of time if we try? You can’t escape your fate, so don’t try?) Not every novel has to have a deep theme, but if it runs to almost 500 pages, I would expect it to say something about something.

Maybe I just didn’t get the something.

If you want a little more to go on before you commit, check out Charlotte’s review at Charlotte’s Library or Becky’s at Becky’s Book Reviews. It is a good book —especially for map-lovers and fantasy world dwellers.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Setting: Wintertime, almost Christmas, in an old four-story smugglers’ inn at the top of Whilforber Hill near the village of Nagspeake. Each floor of the inn has a beautiful stained glass window, and the guest rooms also have greenglass windows and old-fashioned, but comfortable furniture. There’s an attic full of treasures and junk, and the inn has outbuildings and a garage to explore, too. Plenty of room for mystery, treasure-hunting, and clues.

Characters: Milo Pine, the innkeepers’ adopted son, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, Milo’s parents, and several mysterious, unexpected guests.

Plot: Milo and his friend Meddy attempt to solve the mystery of Greenglass House and its history by taking on roles as players in a role-playing game. Milo is a blackjack, and Meddy is his scholiast.

Almost every review I read of this little gem of a book compared it either to The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery winner and mystery classic, or to Agatha Christie. And without having read those reviews beforehand, I also thought of The Westing Game and of Christie’s The Mousetrap or other books where the cast is snowed in or otherwise isolated (And Then There Were None). Greenglass House is not your typical children’s mystery story. In fact, you can read about three unspoken rules that author Kate Milford breaks in her novel, to the betterment of the story IMHO, in Betsy Bird’s insightful review at A Fuse #8 Production

I noticed, and enjoyed, the loving and involved adoptive parents. Mr. and Mrs. Pine are very busy with their inn and their unexpected guests, but not too busy to check on Milo and to do things with him and for him to make his Christmas special. I also liked the fact the the story is set at Christmastime. And it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas with a Christmas tree, a Christmas Eve gift for Milo, father/son sledding, hot chocolate by the fire, and story-telling. The setting is indeterminate, sort of Victorian with no cell phones or computers in evidence, but also modern with an electric generator for back-up electricity and up-to-date speech patterns and behavior. So that gives Christmas at Greenglass House a timeless feel.

Milo is a great protagonist, too. He’s very conscientious; he does all of his homework on the first day of vacation so that he can have the rest of the holidays to play. He’s resistant to change, but also intelligent and adventurous. He and Meddy make a good team since she inspires and encourages him to step out and use his imagination to solve the mysteries that the two of them encounter.

Greenglass House would be a lovely Christmas read-aloud book for a class or a family in the holiday mystery mood. I recommend it.

Nagspeake Online: The Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture.

Saturday Review of Books: September 27, 2014


“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” ~Alberto Manguel

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Poetry Friday: September by Helen Hunt Jackson

September by Helen Hunt Jackson 1830-1885


The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook,

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.


By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.

But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

‘Tis a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

I am beyond fond of September–and October and November. Several special days and celebrations in September make it a significant month for our family: three birthdays, Hobbit Day, the beginning of autumn, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and National Punctuation Day. I do hope you’ve had a lovely September, with a day or a few days that you can never forget because you’ve made such thrilling memories with the ones you love.

Our hostess for today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Links From My Blog Friends

Melissa Wiley: “Blog first. Blog freehand. Write it down today, while the thought is fresh.” I grok this post from Here in the Bonny Glen.

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Cara at Little Did She Know:

“I would like to meet and marry someone lovely, but truly, I am seeking a companion with which to do life, someone to whom I can recount everything I ate during my day, my excitement over an email, and my concerns about road construction. I am looking for someone who will contact me first when you can turn on your phone after the airplane lands.”

So beautiful and vulnerable. I’m praying for Cara and for all those best friends who haven’t found each other yet.

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100 Actual Titles of Real Eighteenth Century Novels. I found this list by way of Maureen at By Singing Light. Thanks, Maureen.
Examples:
The Affecting History Of Two Young Gentlewomen, Who Were Ruined By Their Excessive Attachment To The Amusements Of The Town. To Which Are Added, Many Practical Notes, By Dr. Typo.
Socrates Out of His Senses.
The Three Perils of Man. Or, War, Women, and Witchcraft.
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Rod Dreher writes about what he’s been learning lately from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.”

Mr. Dreher is working on a book titled How Dante Can Save Your Life.

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Melody at Life in the Mommy Lane has a post about homeschooling, Why Homeschool?. I think she has a great perspective on the education of Christian children.

“I’m not too concerned with whether my son can read or multiply or if he ever goes to college; I am concerned with his soul and his character. Don’t worry, I do want him to learn to read, but it’s a secondary priority to the desire that he passionately and humbly pursue his Creator, that he lead courageously with mercy, defending what is true and just.”

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant

“You writers always have to be so cryptic.”

So says a character in this Australian YA fiction title, honored by The Children’s Book Council of Australia, but, she said it, full of cryptic. The Ink Bridge tells the story of two young men, one Afghani named Omed and one Australian boy named Hector, Hec for short. Omed’s story comes first in the book. Maimed by the Taliban when they cut out his tongue, Omed is unable to talk, lost inside himself, and a lot of his internal dialogue is obscure and puzzling (cryptic) to say the least. Omed’s story is the tale of a refugee with very little hope, as Omed makes his way from Afghanistan to Australia in the clutches of and dependent on an evil smuggler called The Snake.

Halfway through the book, the point of view switches to Hec, another boy without words. Hec is an elective mute; he chooses not to talk because the tragedy which has occurred to disrupt his life has sucked all the words out of him. As he gets to know Omed, however, whom he calls Silent Boy, Hec finds a reason for words and telling stories. In fact, he finds himself compelled to tell Omed’s story in the hope that somehow telling the story of Omed’s struggles will give voice to the suffering people of Afghanistan and will change in some small way the tragedy that is being played out daily in that country.

A lot of the book fits the cryptic label. Omed and Hec both are very internally focussed for much of the story. Since they can’t or won’t talk, they imagine a lot, and some of their introspection is a stew of secrets and mysteries and regrets and visions and just plain craziness. I can imagine not talking for a year, like Hec, and sometimes I think it would be a relief. But it might make me a little more crazy than I already am.

The Ink Bridge is a book about the power of words, but I think it would take a motivated and discerning young adult reader to stick with the story through the enigmatic passages and the difficult relationships that make up the bulk of the narrative. I would recommend it to those who have an interest in refugees in Australia or in the people of fghanistan.

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Lucy Darrington, age twelve, runs away from her school in San Francisco and rides a train to the Pacific Northwest where her father, a scientist and expert ghost clearer, has been searching for a job. Mr. Darrington promised Lucy that he would send for her as soon as he got settled, but Lucy hates her prim and proper nineteenth century school so much that she just can’t wait.

When Lucy arrives in Saarthe, the place where her father is supposed to be living, she finds that he has gone missing. Lucy’s father is probably lost on a peninsula called The Devil’s Thumb, where a rare and magical tree called the Dreamwood may hold the key to curing the Rust, a blight that is killing all of the trees. If Lucy goes in search of her father, will she get lost in the Dreamwood, too?

The unusual setting for this middle grade fantasy deserves a bit of analysis and meditation all on its own. The scene is recognizable as the Pacific Northwest: north of San Francisco, trees and lumberjacks, totems and native peoples, Pacific Ocean to the west. The time period is “forty years after the bloody North-South War,” so perhaps around the turn of the century? However, instead of the United States, we read about “the American States” juxtaposed against “the First People’s Federation territory.” The author says she chose to “imagine an America where—in some places, perhaps—there was a different outcome to the wars and policies that have shaped the history of indigenous peoples on this continent.” Part of that different outcome involves an imagined group called the Lupine Nation, whose princess, Niwa, becomes Lucy’s friend and encourager.

So, we could add this fantasy to a “diversity in middle grade speculative fiction” list, even though Niwa is not the leading character in the novel. Not many middle grade fantasies involve Native American peoples at all, real or imaginary ones. The villain of the piece is the typical Big Businessman. (Why are all fantasy villains either fat greedy businessmen or skinny witches?) The children who go on the quest to find Mr. Darrington and the Dreamwood, Lucy and her friend Pete, are typically intrepid and tenacious, but they do have faults which are teased out in the narrative as their journey uncovers their weaknesses and causes growth in character and in wisdom for the children.

As I began reading about ghost clearing and magical trees, I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but I did. The ending is as unusual as the rest of the novel, and I”m still not sure what to think about the sacrifice that is required of Lucy in the end. But it did make me think, which is always a good thing. The Dreamwood forest reminded me of Tolkien’s forests and Old Man Willow, dark and dangerous. The exorcism-as-a-business-opportunity reminded of Jonathan Stroud’s recent Lockwood & Co. series. And the atmosphere and setting as a whole were unique and enthralling.

Happy Birthday to Frodo, Bilbo, and Drama Daughter

Today is Hobbit Day, the birthday of two of my favorite hobbits and one of my favorite actresses. My beautiful and talented Drama Daughter is 23 years old today. Bilbo was born in the year 2890 and Frodo in the year 2968 in the Third Age. I don’t know how old that would make them.

A few links in honor of the day:

I started blogging The Hobbit a couple of years ago, and I got all the way through chapter seven. Maybe I’ll take up where I left off someday.
Chapter 1, An Unexpected Party
Chapter 2, Roast Mutton.
Chapter 3, A Short Rest.
Chapter 4, Over Hill and Under Hill.
Chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark.
Chapter 6, Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire.
Chapter 7, Queer Lodgings.

Thoughts on The Silmarillion.

Maddie Chambers/Brindley’s Hand Made Hobbit Hole: Bag End.

Annie Kate reviews JRR Tolkien: The Making of a Legend by Colin Duriez.

Winsome Reviews has a lovely meditation on The Hobbit.

How to Celebrate Hobbit Day.

A little music for Hobbit Day:

And no Hobbit Day would be complete without Leonard Nimoy singing The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins:

After that, words fail.

Autumn Nature Reading

I found these two related posts about good nature books for children and adults in a long ago Carnival of Children’s Literature that I can’t get to now. I’m glad I saved the links.

Beth at Real Learning has a whole 12 weeks worth of autumn nature reading suggestions for an intensive nature study. I’m thinking we should do this someday. Maybe I’d become more of a nature lover if I made myself get outside and read and study and observe along with the urchins.

At the imponderabilia of actual life, Sandy lists her favorite nature books for children. Her favorite and featured author is John Himmelmann. I’m not familiar with this author, but I’m going to grab some of his books on her recommendation. The books sound wonderful.

Some of my favorite nature books and authors:

Jean Craighead George. Ms. George has written over 100 books, some fiction and some nonfiction, all related in some way to nature and the great outdoors. My favorite fiction of hers is My Side of the Mountain, a Newbery Honor book about Sam Gribley, a boy who leaves his home in New York City to live alone on the side of a mountain. She’s also written some delightful nonfiction, including Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and 38 Other Wild Recipes, All Upon a Stone, and One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest.

Jim Arnosky. Mr. Arnosky is both a wildlife artist and an acute observer of nature. His drawing books, about how to draw animals, and his guidebooks that encourage kids to observe and learn, are all fantastic.

Gail Gibbons. Ms. Gibbons is the queen of nonfiction, as far as I’m concerned, writing about almost everything science and technology-related. However, her books The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree and The Pumpkin Book are two of my favorite autumnal treats.

Margaret Waring Buck. “Margaret Waring Buck wrote and illustrated a number of books explaining how animals live in the wild. The typical Buck nature book contains detailed black-and-white drawings of the plants, animals, insects and birds to be found in a particular outdoors location, along with an explanatory text ideal for young naturalists who are beginning to learn about the subject.” ~Dodd Center

Anna Botsford Comstock. Mrs. Comstock was an artist, conservationist, teacher and naturalist during the first half of the twentieth century. Her Handbook of Nature Study became a standard text for teachers, and she was the first female professor at Cornell University.

Diana Hutts Aston. Ms. Aston wrote A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet and A Butterfly Is Patient, all three wonderful introductions to the wonders of the natural world that God made. An Egg Is Quiet, illustrated by Sylvia Long, won the first Cybils award for picture book nonfiction in 2007.

Nic Bishop. Nic Bishop is known for his nature photography. His book Nic Bishop Frogs won a Cybils award in 2008 for its just right combination of beautiful photos and informative text.

Who are your favorite nature study authors, and what books do you recommend for nature study as we move into the autumn season?