Saturday, July 19, 2008

Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing)

When I started this blog, I made a decision to write reviews only of books that I love for two reasons: one, because I don't want to spend any more time focusing on a book that I didn't care for in the first place, and two, because I know that I've read negative reviews of books I love and it really, really bothers me!  And I can only imagine that it would be infinitely more bothersome if the author himself read the negative review.  

Therefore, all my reviews are glowing and tend to use words like "enchanting," "delightful," etc.  But Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) truly blew me away.  It left an impression on me similar to what some people feel after reading Siddhartha or On the Road or something; you'll see life differently after reading it and you're not sure why or how, just that it'll be different (at least that was the effect on me).  

The story is about Julia Gillian who spends her summer walking her dog, Bigfoot, visiting her neighbors and trying to win a stuffed meerkat from the claw machine in the local hardware store.  Shadowing her enjoyable summer days is an unfinished green book bound by hair bands- a book Julia Gillian is afraid to complete because she is certain it has an unhappy ending.  Also clouding her summer is the fact that her parents are too distracted by their graduate schooling and the bad news in the paper to spend their days with her like they used to.  However, with the help of her wise friend, Enzo, her loyal dog and her raccoon papier-mâché mask, Julia Gillian succeeds in, if not conquering her fears, at least learning how to live with them.

Sad-ending-phobic from childhood and a newspaper-avoider through adulthood, I identified completely with this memorable heroine.  I am certain I could be best friends with Alison McGhee.  I thoroughly loved this book- it was 100% perfect.  And, although I will not divulge the end to Julia Gillian's green book, I can tell you that Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) has an ending that is even better than a happy ending.  If that's possible.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Granny Torelli Makes Soup

I've been trying to blog about once a month but having just read Granny Torelli Makes Soup (and loved it), plus this is, conveniently, almost smack dab in the middle of the month, I'm going to try to blog twice a month.  Just so I can write about this wonderful book.

The two-part (Soup and Pasta) story is about a girl, Rosie, and a fight she has with her best friend-from-forever, Bailey, who lives next door.  In the first part, Rosie's Granny Torelli is over making soup while Rosie's parents are late at work.  While they cook, Granny tells Rosie stories of a childhood friend in Italy to help Rosie sort through her Bailey problem.  The second part tells of Bailey, Rosie and her beloved Granny making pasta while they work through another complication in their friendship with Granny's marvelous stories and wisdom.  Of course, everything ends up happily, and (as seems to be the case in Sharon Creech's books- with the notable exception of the tearjerking Walk Two Moons) even better than the reader hoped.

I feel compelled to describe the book as "heartwarming;" it's the perfect way to sum up its charms.    It is feather-light with snippets of depth so delightful, I thought I should write them down!  I am also partial to books that deal with food and Granny Torelli works it in so perfectly, you hardly notice that you've begun to smell the chicken soup cooking while you're reading the book.  The issues are relatable and are conveyed in an ageless manner; it's something that could apply to anyone whether they were fifteen or fifty-five.  It's told in a lyrical style- almost poetic- and even takes several unexpected turns in a story that seems almost familiar in its comfortableness.  

If books could be made into afghans, this is a book I'd choose to wrap around me on cold nights...

Thursday, July 3, 2008


It seems perhaps redundant to write a review about a series that has been on the bestseller lists for a while.  However, I was so thoroughly enthralled by the series that I can't help but write an entry for the latest books to completely eat up hours of my day!  

Fablehaven is about two children, Kendra and Seth, who are preparing for a boring two weeks when they are sent to stay with their grandfather while their parents go on a cruise.  Their grandfather severely restricts their access to the seemingly unending grounds to the yard (filled with rare and exotic butterflies) and the house. Seth's rebellion and Kendra's curiosity lead them to discover that the preserve is dedicated to the protection of magical creatures that have been gradually pushed off their lands by ever expanding human development; Fablehaven, the name of the preserve their grandfather owns, is home to creatures such as fauns, fairies, naiads and centaurs.  Once their grandfather sees that they are open to the wonder and magic of Fablehaven, he includes them on adventures (and they have some of their own without his permission, of course) that grow in danger and excitement as well as consequence to the magical and nonmagical world.

I won't reveal any more about the plot because I would absolutely hate to spoil any of the many plot twists.  The characters are perfect, the suspense gripping and the descriptions are so complete, I can see them in my head clearly.  The battle and action scenes were so vivid, I had no trouble following every thrilling move (and biting all my fingernails off in the process).  

For someone who has read more than their fair share of YA and children's fantasy, this book took me completely by surprise.  I literally read the entire first book in one evening, contemplated calling out sick the following day so I could buy and read the second book and then went out and promptly purchased the third book to tear through the third night.  

I loved that Brandon Mull doesn't needlessly kill characters to which the reader has grown attached and that he manages to give weight and proportion to even the slightest of characters.  I particularly loved Kendra- I often have trouble with the fact that girls are typically (not always, I know, Mr. Pullman) given supporting roles and if they're given lead roles, they're either the damsel in distress or belligerently boyish.  Kendra is all girl and yet strong, courageous and her character traits (ones at which a more aggressive heroine would scoff) are what end up saving Fablehaven time and again.

I loved all three books.

I can barely wait until April 2009.