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Thursday, July 15, 2010

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

This book is a gift… wonderful and richly complex yet at the same time easy to read and identify with.  I suppose Shrek would use his “layered like an onion” analogy, but you get the idea…there’s a lot here.  For any reader who has ever been on the receiving end of verbal abuse, or struggled with their sense of self-worth, many situations in the book will tug hard on emotions, however the author uses such situations seamlessly showing the main character Terra and her mom coming to grips with the reality of their lives and how hard it can be to break free of the day to day.

I liked the use of maps and cartography terms to shape the storyline, and while many  teen readers I will recommend this book to in the library may not share my enthusiasm, the format won’t detract from their enjoyment of this amazing coming-of-age/romance story.  As I read through the book, I found myself sticking bits of scrap paper between a number of the pages so I could go back and re-read certain bits and lines because the author has such a knack for imparting “good stuff” within the storyline without appearing to do so. 

I marvel at main character Terra’s growth during the course of the book-- I think the quote by actress Ruby Dee sums it up best:

“The kind of beauty I want is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within--strength, courage, dignity.” 

My rating: 
M-m-m-m a very good read.
Category: Realistic fiction

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nancy Farmer series

Ever since I was a kid growing up 8 miles from town without a TV in the house, I've LOVED reading book series.  My brothers and I used to fight over who'd get to read any new books that came into the house first (especially books in a series), the same way lots of kids argue with their brothers and sisters over which TV show to watch; which is why I'm happy that I finally got around to finishing The Island of the Blessed, by Nancy Farmer this week.  The Island of the Blessed is the 3rd book and conclusion to the story started in The Sea of Trolls (1st) and The Land of the Silver Apples (2nd).

I first decided to read these books because they were by the same author who wrote one of my favorites, The House of Scorpion (more about that later).  I was surprised at the complete change in these stories had from that first book.  This series is full of Norse mythology that was way cool.  Nancy Farmer, the author, is an expert researcher who has a nice way of putting factual information into a very readable story format.

All three of these books are full of humor, history, mythology, and adventure. The series as a whole is deceptively complex given the fact that readers encounter Vikings, trolls, dragons, elves, sea hags, overbearing fathers, and all sorts of other interesting stuff in the same book. As a bonus, just in case you are new to these characters or situations...Ms. Farmer includes appendices or glossaries at the end of every book to help fill in the details.

The series starts with the Sea of Trolls when eleven-year-old Jack, who had been happily apprenticing with The Bard, and Jack's five-year-old sister, Lucy, are captured and enslaved by the Northmen heading off to destinations unknown but where undoubtedly the Vikings will be pillaging. Though Jack's situation as a captive is nerve wracking, the author has a nice way of interjecting humor at times too:

" 'I know how exciting pillaging is,' the giant said fondly, ruffling Jack's hair. It felt like a blow. 'No matter how much you're tempted, just say no.'
" 'Just say no to pillaging. You got it?'

The story continues in The Land of Silver Apples where among other trials, Jack's sister Lucy is taken by Elves and he has to travel underground to their lands to get her back. What happens to Jack underground involves several great sacrifices and difficulties with the Elves whose immortality and lack of compassion make them cruel, vain, difficult to please and fickle.

In the final installment of the saga, The Island of the Blessed the apprentice bard Jack and his Viking companion Thorgil, come up against the vengeful spirit of a mermaid which leads to a journey taking them into the land of the fin folk and beyond.

Besides the engaging story line and relate-able characters, what I personally liked best about this series is the interesting way that conflict (or tolerance) of differing religions, cultures and customs is experienced-- where no one way of doing something or belief system is put down, and all have something to offer.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a great message...and an enjoyable way to hear it.

 My rating:

A good read.
Category: Adventure