Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Question for Smarter People

Why, oh why, am I completely unable to underline or italicize the names of book titles in my post titles? It's the kind of thing that really, really bugs me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

_The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand_ by Jen Swann Downey

"Wow! What a cool title for a book! Certainly boys will like this one."

That's what I thought when I picked this book randomly from the library bookshelf.

When I opened the The Ninja Librarians and started reading, I was put off a bit at first by the author's "busy" writing style. While description and detail I like, there can be too much of a good thing, and it distracted me from getting into the story. On top of that, Downey used a fair number of parenthetical asides and other diversions from the main idea of sentences, so I found myself having to backtrack to the beginning of sentences several times to remember what they actually were about. Once I met the characters and became engaged in the plot, this busy-ness was easier to handle.

Who are these characters and what is the plot, you may ask. The main character is Dorrie, a 12-year-old gal, who, along with her older brother, Marcus, is sucked into the fantasy realm of Petrarch's Library where highly specialized librarians train in self-defense and time travel, as well as card catalog-y types of skills. The librarians goal is to save writers in various times and locations from persecution and their writing from being wiped into oblivion. This book definitely champions freedom of speech; that's a plus.

While I'm not sure a book about librarians is something many children (let alone boys) would pick up and be excited about right off the bat (with all sorts of intellectual and historical and sometimes-obscure references), if you stick with it through about the first 100 (of 350+) pages, you just might enjoy it. It is fun.

In addition to sticking up for free speech and being fun, The Ninja Librarians is a good example in the importance of telling the truth, trusting adults in charge, and family.

Now for what some parents won't like. The author seems to have a beef with Christianity. Early on I was caught off-guard when Dorrie's quirky mother (and all of her family is quirky) said, "Oh, praise Nataero!" when a lost library book was found. Evidently, Nataero is the Roman god of lost things, but I was surprised because I felt then that it seemed to be poking fun of those who might exclaim, "Praise God," when something good happens.

Later Mathilde, the ultra-feminist character, teases another named Saul for having the same name as "Saul. Of Ye Olde Tarsus." She then quotes First Timothy 2:12. The character Saul says, "I'm obviously not THAT Saul. I would never write that and you know it!"

Also, in the appendix/glossary at the end of the book (called a guide to Petrarch's Library), we are given information about many of the historical figures mentioned in the book. Many of these characters were those persecuted in history for speaking out on one thing or another. I felt that the author included a disproportionate number of victims persecuted by those acting in the name of Christianity (as compared to those persecuted by other groups of people, either religious or secular).

The entry for Petrarch himself perhaps is the most telling. Here we have the old dude the cool fantastical world is named after, and what does Downey choose to write about him? "Historians out in the later wherens* consider Petrarch the father of 'Humanism'--a system of values and beliefs that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion. If they only knew the half of it."

In the end, I did enjoy the book--at least the parts of it that were central to the plot and not slapping me in the face for my faith. I don't know if the author plans to make it into a series, but she certainly has plenty of room to do so. Will my sons be reading this book (or any that may come after it)? That's undecided. I think I could easily point out the things I think they should be aware of, but is it that good that they need to read it? Not really. Nor did they express any interest in reading it at any point during the two weeks it resided in our library tub.

*Wherens is the made-up world in this book that combines "where" and "when".

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

_The Fledgling_ by Jane Langton

This novel about a young girl who is completely strange is also completely boring. I think maybe because the author was projecting a "save the animals" environmental message, it's cover is graced with a Newberry Honor seal.

The Fledgling is set in Massachusetts near Waldon Pond. If I were to brush up on my Emerson and Thoreau, I probably would have a deeper understanding of this book. But I doubt it.

Basically, in a nutshell, all of the intellectual characters are good, but the ones who work at the bank are stupid and bad. If you want confirmation that hunting is bad, this is the book for you. However, if you want a realistic portrayal of what hunting is like, this is not for you. If you want your sensitive child to cry and be traumatized, please allow him/her to read the gruesome ending of this book. It's pretty sad.

But really, I had to force myself to read this one. It was that boring. I'd give it a giant thumbs-down, and it's not just because the author's agenda is one I find quite shallow.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ranger's Apprentice books (continued)

Well, I've continued reading the series, and I've made it through the sixth book.  My previous decision still holds, but I have different reasons for the decision now.

The violence isn't so intense in books 2-6. Yes, there's violence, but since knights and Skandians (Viking-like characters) are featured, there's bound to be fighting.

The romance continues, but I'm no longer terribly concerned about it. It's not too mushy or gratuitous. I don't think it's so much romance as to make a boy not want to read these books.

Language, however, is rough at times. I suppose that's what you get when you follow around some adult warriors through all sorts of adventures. Words that begin with "d" and "h" are scattered throughout, albeit not liberally (not every page or anything).

Are these books literary masterpieces? No. They are fun books. They are adventure books. From my point-of-view, there's no underlying agenda being pushed.

On a side note, the fantasy world seems based on a Europe from history, modern ideas do creep in here and there. An enameled pot here. A wire there. Amusing to me and my husband, but not a deal-breaker.