Malin’s #CBR5 Review #150: Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel lives in a remote cottage in the mountains with Mother. The only time she sees other people is twice a year, when they go to Market in the nearest town, quite some distance away. While Zel finds the people, bustle and excitement of town life exhilarating, Mother insists that they have everything that they need in their little home, and warns her daughter away from strangers. Yet Zel dreams of a different life, of some day having a husband and children and a home of her own. Just before her thirteenth birthday, she meets a beautiful young man with a spirited horse, and she can’t seem to get him out of her mind.

Konrad, the young count, is also unable to forget the young girl he met in the marketplace, and who seemed to almost magically calm his horse. Even when his parents try to arrange suitable marriages for him with lovely young maidens, he refuses, riding around the countryside trying to find out where the mysterious Zel can be found.

Mother grows anxious and worried when Zel mentions the pretty young man, and claims that there are bad people out there who want to harm them. She takes Zel to an abandoned tower, a fair distance from even their remote cottage, and before Zel realises entirely what is going on, she is trapped high above ground, with no way of escaping, with Mother on the ground, saying she will keep the bad people away. Zel’s hair starts growing at a furious rate, until she can pull Mother in and out of the tower with it. Lonely and distressed, the young girl dreams about the young man, and tries to while away the months and years of her imprisonment. She’s fairly sure she’s gone entirely mad, when one day there is a call for her to let down her hair, and count Konrad climbs in instead of Mother.

This is a short read, and an interesting retelling of the story of Rapunzel. Some of the chapters are narrated in third person, and show Zel and Konrad’s point of views. The ones from Mother’s POV are in first person, making her account the most personal of the three, and making the reader empathise more with her, even as she’s the nominal villain of the story. The witch who forced a young couple to give away their child in return for the Rapunzel salad they had stolen from her garden, who locks the girl in a tall tower to keep her away from all others – Mother is more than this here. A frustrated and intelligent woman given a tempting choice, incredible power over all growing things in return for a soul she might not even believe she has, who finds herself barren and alone, willing to do anything to gain a child, and who loves that child so much that she’s determined to do anything to keep her, even if it means making the girl possibly hate her. Mother can’t bear to lose her beloved daughter, but when it becomes clear that she may have caused her more harm than good, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure her daughter’s eventual happiness.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #149: Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

12-year-old Rebecca’s parents have been arguing for a while, and one day Rebecca’s mother takes the kids and her stuff and moves from Baltimore back to her mother in Atlanta, needing some space to figure things out. Rebecca is not at all happy about her parent’s separation, having to live in a new place, starting a new school and spends quite a lot of time sulking. Rummaging around in her grandmother’s attic, she finds an old breadbox, which appears to grant wishes, as long as whatever is wished for actually exists in the world and can fit into the space within the breadbox (so no unicorns or infinite wishes).

Thanks to the things Rebecca manages to acquire through the breadbox (new clothes, an Ipod, money, gift cards, lots and lots of candy, among other things), she manages to make herself quite popular at school and finds her new home with her grandma a bit easier to accept. While she still resents her mother for taking them away, and misses her father terribly, she’s starting to settle in and adjust. Then she discovers the truth about where the items in the breadbox come from, and things get a lot more uncomfortable and difficult. Rebecca discovers that you can’t get something for nothing, there is always a price to be paid.

Having reached December with quite a few books left on my “A to Z” reading challenge, this is the book I picked for X (as Q, Z and X don’t need to be the first letter of the book, cause that would be very difficult indeed). It deals with the rather serious issues of separation and sudden upheaval well, and while Rebecca spends a lot of the book being a total brat to her mother (I, as a grownup, had a lot less patience with her clearly rather useless dad), being completely uprooted and having to settle in at a new school when just entering your teens is never going to be fun. Apart from the magical breadbox, there isn’t a lot of fantasy to this book, and the lessons Rebecca gets about actions having consequences are things that a lot of middle grade books, in my experience, gloss over.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #112: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack are best friends and live just down the street from one another. Until recently, they didn’t go to the same school, but after Hazel’s dad moved away, she had to change schools and now she’s in the classroom across the hall from Jack. Hazel doesn’t really fit in at school. None of the other kids were adopted from India and look completely different from their mum and dad. She only really feels like she completely belongs when she’s with Jack, and when he’s off playing with the other boys, she feels desperately alone.

Of course, there are worse things than your dad leaving your mum and you to manage by yourselves or your friend occasionally playing with others. Your mum could still be there, listless and uncaring, empty-seeming and no longer noticing much of anything, like Jack’s mum. Maybe that’s why he changes completely one day – becoming mean and distant the day after he had an accident in the school yard, when something seemed to pierce him in the eye? Suddenly he just wants to play with the boys, and ignores Hazel completely. Then he disappears. His parents say he’s off taking care of his elderly aunt Bernice, but Hazel’s known Jack her entire life – he doesn’t have an aunt Bernice. One of the other boys mentions having seen Jack going into the woods, with a tall, icily beautiful, fur-clad woman, like the White Witch of Narnia. But witches aren’t real, are they? Hazel knows that she needs to rescue her best friend, even if it means going off into terrible danger.

More on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Reviews #75-83: The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ratings: Little House in the Big Woods – 4 stars
Little House on the Prairie – 4 stars
Farmer Boy – 2 stars
On the Banks of Plum Creek – 4 stars
By the Shores of Silver Lake – 4 stars
The Long Winter – 4 stars
Little Town on the Prairie – 4 stars
Those Happy Golden Years – 4 stars
The First Four Years – 2.5 stars

So during the second week of my summer vacation, I got a really nasty cold and sore throat. What better reading material while sick than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s comforting stories about her childhood in 19th Century Frontier America? I was of the impression that I’d several of these as a girl, as it turned out, I had only ever read Little House in the Big Woods. I have, however, seen most of the TV shows, as that was always in constant re-runs in the afternoon on Norwegian telly.

Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are a fictionalised account of her early life, up to and including her first four years of marriage to Almanzo Wilder. While most of the things she writes about is based on true events, quite a bit of the chronology of the locations the Ingalls family lived and the things that happened to them has been switched around in the books, mainly so the stories would flow better. Laura also doesn’t write about everything that happened to the family. She very significantly never mentions her younger brother, who died while very young, or the period when the family lived in Burr Oak, where her sister Grace was born.

Full review on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #67: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella lives in a fairytale world, where there are ogres, giants, fairies and magic. When she is born, poor Ella is given the gift of obedience by a very misguided fairy, who refuses to take it back, even after the appalled pleading of Ella’s mother and fairy godmother. Lucinda the Fairy is of the opinion that this is a wonderful gift to bestow on a child, and so Ella grows up having to obey any direct order given to her, and knowing that if someone were to ask her to chop off her own head, she’d have to obey. Luckily, the only ones who actually know the truth about Ella’s “gift” are her mother, and the loyal cook. Ella also learns to be creative in the ways in which she obeys any orders. If asked to fetch something, she might throw it at the person, or when asked to hold something, she might march around with the object, forcing the other person to follow her around in order to get to it.

I foolishly didn’t read this book for years and years, basing my opinion of the story on the film, starring Anne Hathaway. I was very dumb to do so. Read the rest of my review on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #66: Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Plot summary by Goodreads, because it’s much more pithy than anything I myself could write:

After her father dies, Mosca Mye flees the hamlet where she grew up. With her goose companion and a smooth-tongued swindler, Eponymous Clent, she heads for the city of Mandelion – and a better life. There she finds herself living by her wits among highwaymen, spies and smugglers, insane rulers and floating coffeehouses. With peril at every turn, Mosca uncovers a dark plot to terrorize the people of Mandelion, and soon merry mayhem leads to murder…

Mosca is a clever child, living in a town where most people can’t read, in a world where if something is found printed without the authorising seal of the Stationers’ Guild, it’s seen as illegal, and must be burned. The world she lives in resembles ours, in the 18th Century, to some extent. Various Guilds of Tradesmen vie for power in the various cities of the Realm, while Parliament debate who should inherit the throne. About ten years past, there was a terrible Civil War, when the religious radical group the Birdcatchers were all hunted down and destroyed. In Mandelion, the ruling Duke is clearly going slowly insane, his beautiful and enigmatic sister is trying to keep the Locksmith’s Guild (who have the keys to any door and lock) from completely taking over, and there is someone with an illegal printing press, encouraging sedition and stirring up dangerous thoughts. Mosca is thrust straight into the middle of all of this, with her somewhat dubious companion, self-proclaimed wordsmith and con man, Eponymous Clent. Accompanied by a foul tempered gander and wanting desperately to better her situation in the world, Mosca agrees to help the alluring Lady Tamarind (the Duke’s sister) try to figure out what is going on. The rest? On my blog. 

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #38: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand. (Illustrations by Sarah Watts)

4.5 stars

Victoria Wright likes everything to be just so. She excels at pretty much everything. Her manners, appearance, her grades – spotless. She doesn’t have time for mess, or distractions or nonsense. She doesn’t really have time for friends. With the exception of Lawrence, who spends far too much of his time playing the piano. He’s slouchy, always has his shirt untucked, there’s a strange streak of white in his hair, and Victoria sees it as her duty to try to tidy him up a bit. He’s sort of a project, really.

But one day, Lawrence just disappears. His parents have strange grins on their faces and claim he’s gone to see his grandmother. None of the teachers at school seem concerned. Only Victoria is suspicious. It’s not just Lawrence who’s disappeared in the last few months either, although Victoria’s head goes a bit fuzzy when she tries to remember the others. None of the grown-ups will answer her questions, they just grin wolfishly and tell her to mind her own business. All the clues lead towards the Cavendish Home, an orphanage run by the beautiful Mrs. Cavendish and her strange assistant/gardener, Mr. Alice. Everything seems warm and friendly and cosy when Victoria goes to check it out, but she also finds a paper air plane with the words “Help us!” written on it. Something sinister is clearly afoot, and Victoria is determined to get it sorted out. More on my blog.