Monday, September 18, 2006

New Book Review Roundup

Here at The Brookeshelf, I've decided not to give full-length reviews to all the recently-released books I read. Why? Because every single other children's lit. blog does this. Why add my fodder to an already well-tended field? So I spend most of my review-time on "forgotten" books: books that are at least a couple of decades old and still worth reading. However, I still enjoy adding my two cents to the general contemporary-literature discussion. So, once a week or so I will give mini-reviews of whatever new books I've read. And by "new," I mean any book that's been published this year. Here we go . . .

River Secrets by Shannon Hale
Ah, another book about Bayern! If you haven't read the first two books in this series, (The Goose Girl; Enna Burning) you're going to be kind of lost with River Secrets. But it's worth the trip. Here's the plot: Razo of the Forest is a terrible soldier. He's small, awkward, a lousy swordsman, and can't seem to keep from being picked on by bullies. He can't imagine why his commanding officer selects him to accompany his country's ambassador into Tira, an enemy territory. But his commander knows that Razo's other skills -- his friendliness, his keen observational skills, and his wicked sling action -- make him the perfect spy.
Hale announced on her blog some time ago that River Secrets was going to be "different" fro
m her other novels, and she's right in many ways. River Secrets is just as much a mystery novel as a fantasy novel -- as soon as Razo and his friends arrive in Tira, burned bodies keep showing up around the Tiran palace. Razo uses all of his sneaky skills to find out whodunit. With beautiful, well-crafted writing as well as an exciting storyline, and a much-needed sprinkling of humor, River Secrets is simply delightful.

Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley
n there really be any other novelizations of "Cinderella" after Ella Enchanted? Or Just Ella? Or Bound? Or . . . you get the idea. But what the hey -- Cinderella can always use another-go-round. Stanley tackles this challege with a novel that is much more somber and heartrending than I expected. There isn't a lot of laughter here -- Bella at Midnight is a rather serious premeditation on social castes, parental responsibility, and the terrors of war. In this book, our heroine, Bella, is the daughter of a knight who is so grief-stricken over the death of Bella's mother that he sends her away to a peasant foster-family and then apparently forgets about her. However, Bella's foster mother was also the wet-nurse for Prince Julian, and the two children become best friends. When they reach adolescence, Julian is sent abroad as part of a peace treaty, and Bella is called back to her father, who has recently remarried a resentful woman with two daughters of her own. Will Bella and Julian ever be reunited? Stanley tells the story from the point-of-view of many different characters, with the effect that they are all rather sympathetic -- there's no one-dimensional "wicked stepmother" here. On the down side, I thought the second half of the story was kind of rushed. But whatever -- if you're in the mood for a good fairytale, step right into Stanley's world.

A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant
Okay, I stayed up until 12:30 a.m. finishing this one. You needn't have read its predecessor, At the Sign of the Star, to appreciate this novel of Restoration-Era England. Meg Moore is sixteen years old, the daughter of a bookseller, and contemplating her future -- as both aspiring writer and marriage prospect. Meg deals with two suitors -- merchant Edward Gosse (who is later captured by pirates on a sailing voyage and sold into slavery) and Will Barlow, her father's apprentice -- and secretly scribbles verses and stories, risking ridicule and her father's anger if her desires to write were discovered. Sturtevant has done an incredible amount of period research here, but what really impresses me is her ability to create believable 17th-century characters -- these aren't 21st-century people costumed in long-ago dress and speech. And while I've seen many a book for young readers with a love triangle, this is one of the few that keeps me genuinely guessing until the end. What a love story! If anything, this book has convinced me that I definitely need to check out the love poems of Catullus -- which Edward buys from Meg. Them poems be sexy.


Erin said...

I love retold fairytales so I had fun with "Bella At Midnight", but it seemed rather disappointed as well.

I can't wait to read River Secrets!!!

cloudscome said...

I like your idea of reviewing less talked about books. I'm following you. And I tagged you today on a meme.

eisha said...

I like your "Forgotten Bookshelf," too. It's especially helpful for those of us who haven't been working as children's librarians for 20 years (yet). Thank you!

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