4 Cărți pe care vreau să le citesc în această toamnă

În loc de un book haul, așa cum am văzut pe alte bloguri, am optat să scriu un scurt articol despre cărțile pe care vreau neapărat să le citesc în perioada următoare. Anul acesta am citit primele cărți ale unor serii care păreau interesante și volume primite pentru recenzie de la câțiva autori. Unele cărți au fost excelente, altele bune, iar câteva m-au dezamăgit. Acum, după ce am citit aproape toate cărțile primite, a venit timpul să întocmesc o mică listă de lecturi pentru această toamnă. Nu sunt noi apariții, însă mi s-a pus pata pe aceste patru cărți de ceva vreme și am așteptat cu mult entuziasm să le pot citi într-un final.

Mai jos voi menționa fiecare titlu, dar și motivul pentru care vreau să citesc volumele perspective.

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Twentieth Century de Terry Deary, la fel ca restul seriei de cărți pentru copii Horrible Histories, relatează fapte și povestioare macabre sau scârboase din istorie, cu scopul de a-i distra și învăța pe copii istoria recentă sau îndepărtată a Angliei sau a lumii prin intermediul jocurilor și stilului plin de umor al autorului britanic. Deși aceste cărți se adresează cititorilor foarte tineri, eu ador această serie care mă amuză, mă relaxează și mă învață lucruri pe care nu le-am studiat niciodată la școală. Mă întreb ce lucruri noi voi afla despre fiecare decadă a secolului douăzeci?

The Mark of Zorro de  Johnston McCulley. După ce am frunzărit Zorro: Începe legenda de Isabel Allende, care m-a plictisit și dezamăgit deopotrivă, m-am gândit să citesc povestea originală a faimosului bandit din California. Dacă am început anul cu Zorro, firesc ar fi să îl termin tot cu el, nu-i așa?

Despre Băiatul cu pijamale în dungi de John Boyne am înțeles că este o carte sfâșietor de tristă despre cel de-al Doilea Război Mondial văzut prin ochii unui copil. Vă puteți închipui ceva mai dureros decât o astfel de perspectivă? Deși este o carte pentru copii, sunt sigură că povestea nu îi va lăsa indiferenți nici pe cititorii maturi. De când am citit trilogia The Lady of the Pier, tot mi-am dorit să mai citesc niște volume de ficțiune istorică, iar această carte mi-ar putea potoli setea de lectură în acest sens.

 

Munții înalți ai Portugaliei de Yann Martel se află printre cărțile menționate în sondajul postat cu ceva timp în urmă pe blog. Deși această carte nu prea a primit voturi, eu voi face o excepție de această dată și o voi alege înaintea Malalei pentru că îmi este dor de Lisabona, iar povestea mi-a trezit interesul în ultimul timp. Chiar sunt curioasă cum se vor lega toate misterele din această carte, a cărei acțiune are loc într-o țară care m-a fascinat prin frumusețea, istoria și muzica ei.

Deocamdată voi lăsa doar aceste cărți pe primele poziții ale listei mele de lecturi, deși sunt o sumedenie de alte titluri tentante, însă până le voi terima pe acestea, nu mă voi gândi mai departe.

Voi ce cărți ați citit din această listă? Cum vi s-au părut?

 

Review: George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley by Helen Fox

Title: George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley

Author: Helen Fox

Genre: Children’s Books, Middle-Grade

Published by AG Books

Year of Publication: 2016

Rating: 2/5 stars

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Helen Fox, for sending me this book for review.

Towards the end of July, I received a message through my contact form from Ms Helen Fox, an author from the UK, who asked me to review her middle-grade book and I gladly accepted it. The book I will be reviewing today is entitled George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley and it was published in 2016.

This is the story of George, an orphan crow who loses his parents at the beginning of the book, but he soon finds shelter in the enchantingly beautiful Bloom Valley and his new friends keep him company and make him forget about his grief. Bloom Valley is not only a magical place, but a welcoming community comprised of hardworking and friendly animals. George learns a few things about the valley, its inhabitants and their customs. As time goes by, he becomes more courageous through a series of events which take place both inside and outside of Bloom Valley. The magical valley is said to be linked to a legend of a bygone kingdom, but George is a newcomer, so Thelma the spider, who is the head of the creatures, hesitates to tell him this secret; therefore George will have to learn about it the hard way.

I like the way Penny Wood, Bloom Valley and other lands were built with the exception of the legend. For example, Bloom Valley has villages, schools, a hospital where Tawny Owl takes care of her patients and the ambulance cart is pulled by four hares; there is a Music Hall which also serves as a court, the squirrels protect the ivy surrounding the valley like sentinels and all animals gather on every evening before sunset to sing their Good Night Song. Even if this beautiful valley is full of animals that welcome and help the ones in need, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any tensions between them. The ladybirds think they are discriminated by Thelma who protects the butterflies from harm: therefore Rosa the ladybird and her daughter Heather plot to kill the butterflies, especially Princess Estella, to hurt Thelma whom they despise to death.

Though Thelma has her reasons to protect the precious butterflies, I still don’t understand why the ladybirds, the grasshoppers and the wood flies want to destroy them. Those butterflies are harmless and not very intelligent if you ask me. I mean we seldom hear the princess speak and when she does, it’s not enough to be considered an important character in the story. When it comes to the villains, they are pretty cartoonish, especially Rosa and Heather who seem evil just for evil’s sake: they are vain, egoistic and manipulative. They hate everyone and feel they are persecuted because Heather attempted to drown Prince Orpheo, her secret crush and Thelma was apparently rude towards Heather, accusing her that she was bullying the butterflies. Ever since Rosa came to Bloom’s Valley, she had been questioning Thelma’s authority and dismissed the veridicality of the legend. On the other hand, Gaspar the grasshopper and his gang talk like old-fashioned gangsters, while Hugo the wood fly and his gang talk funny too but they are also pretty annoying. They seem like extremists or an anarchical group who love to fight no matter if they are right or wrong.

‘We mustn’t let the privileged walk over the ordinary. The spider needs to learn that the wood flies are as important as any of her creatures and we have a right to invade anywhere, if it means a better life for our people.” (Page 109)

But now, let’s return to the good guys. Though George talks a bit maturely for his age (yes, he lost his parents prematurely, but still), I like the fact that he easily befriends other inhabitants of Bloom Valley such as Bond the squirrel and head of the guards, Conti the tenor frog, Speedo the snail who loves entertaining and telling stories on the White Rock, Alphie a fellow crow, Thelma whom I’ve mentioned before, and also a character who doesn’t live in the valley, Plato the wise Owl. Though I felt sorry for George’s loss, I liked Plato a little more because he knows the entire history of the place, he has the role of a judge when an animal crosses the line and he has always something wise to say. Most of the other characters are developed and have a back-story of their own. The funniest characters are Conti and Speedo. Conti makes strange quacking sounds when he speaks, but he is one of George’s most loyal friends who would do anything for the crow; while Speedo is afraid of heights, but he is grateful for what George did to help him to fulfil his greatest wish.

Other positive aspects of this novel are the scenes from the first chapter which are filled with terror and grief and the way the animals see their fellow birds drop dead made me think of a shooting or a massacre seen from their perspective. The trial scene was very interesting with both female and male representatives of each family sitting in one of the three tiers and taking the role of the jury, while Plato the Owl was the judge. The writing was pretty good with visual and audible imagery added to the descriptions of all the places in the book. Also, the characters have great names such as Plato, Bond, Thelma, Conti, Speedo, Alphie, Orpheo, Swift, Gaspar, Willard, etc.

And now I’m going to reveal the main reasons for this low rating. After the consequences of the trial, the plot went in a very strange direction that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s true that the plot was pretty disjointed from the first chapters, but I thought it would get better eventually. Yes, I liked how George took action in a few scenes and saved the lives of innocent animals, but from those scenes to wood flies invading Bloom’s Valley just because of a lie that got out of hand it’s a bit far-fetched  I know that this is a fictional story, but that invasion felt surreal and unbelievable. The second part of the book was very confusing because no one told us why those butterflies are so important and why everyone wants to kill them. I understood that they have royal blood, but, in most cases, the villains attempt to destroy them just to take revenge on Thelma. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy twists in any story, but I didn’t understand the necessity of that invasion. Was it added just to show how spiteful the wood flies are and how brave the inhabitants of Bloom Valley are? Maybe the author wanted to show how easily a misunderstanding can lead to conflict and the intention might have been good, but the conflict ended abruptly and anti-climactic.  Furthermore, I wonder, how many wood flies does it take to injure or fight against larger animals like birds, squirrels or spiders?

“Stop it! What are we fighting for? Our leaders lied to us. They have led us into death and destruction. I don’t want to die. No one wants to die.” (Page 113)

As for the legend of the lost kingdom, it is a strange mixture of fairy-tales, Greek Myths and witch stories that confuse the reader even more. “I am the High priestess of the Council of Tartarus. At long last, we now have your land and shall reign over it for many years to come.” The High Priestess, circled the valley on her broomstick examining the surroundings. Then she raised her wand and cast her spell. (Page 128)

Unfortunately, this is not the only identity crisis this novel has. Besides the confusing legend, the book wants to be a fable comprising of themes such as grief, environmental issues, friendship, animal rights, gender equality, the problem of refugees and conflict. I would be all for those themes if they were woven well into the story, not forcefully stuffed into the plot confusing the reader. Because this book is targeted towards younger readers, it’s a no-brainer that morals play an important part in the story. However, I felt that the book was a bit too preachy at times and I’m not sure how kids would react to that. Also, even though I liked a few characters, the story was pretty hard to get into, not only because of the plot but also because of the dialogues that didn’t sound natural. Kids have shorter attention spans than adults; therefore if the story doesn’t keep them engaged, they abandon it and read something else.

“It’s all the humans’ fault”, an old crow said. ‘Mindless young folk throwing live cigarettes on the forest floor. No respect for nature, no regret for lost life. Don’t they listen to their parents and school teachers who tell them that without nature there won’t be life? Look at what they’ve done to us, the misery they’ve caused.” (Page 33)

In the end, I will let you decide if you want to pick up this book or not. Personally, I felt very confused and disappointed after finishing it.

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Book 1 of Oz

 

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Author: L. Frank Baum

Genre: Children’s Books, Fairy Tal, Adventure

First Published in 1900

Year of Publication of This Edition: 2012

Public Domain Books

Series: Oz

Rating: 5/5 stars

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” (p. 102)

I recently found myself in the mood to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, a childhood favourite I’ve read in Romanian and partially in English. As most of you already know, it is a fairy tale about a poor little girl named Dorothy, who lives in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. Her dull life changes when a cyclone makes their house rise up into the air and drops it into the magical Land of Oz.

There, Dorothy and her little dog Toto encounter the inhabitants of this place: the Munchkins, the Witches and other outlandish beings, but also the three friends who accompany them on the way to the Emerald City, where the Great Wizard of Oz lives. The strange creatures that Dorothy befriends are the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. I think that it is redundant to tell you more about this story because it is a beloved children’s classic and that says already a lot about it.

Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz made me feel like a child again and I’m glad I read it once more. Though I love the movie as well, I think that the book is more complex than it because there are more adventures and characters in the book than in the 1939 film. Even though the dialogue is a bit repetitive sometimes and Dorothy’s three talking friends are less developed than the characters from the fantasy novels of our times, I enjoyed this classic fairy tale.

Review: Wicked Words by Terry Deary

Title: Wicked Words

Author: Terry Deary

Illustrator: Martin Brown                

Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Children’s Books, Humour

First Published: 1996

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2013

Publisher: Scholastic Non-Fiction

Collection: Horrible Histories Special

Rating: 3/5 stars

Though I’m no stranger to the English language, I was still curious to read what Terry Deary had to say about it, the origins of some of its words and the great writers who influenced and changed its shape forever. As you already know from the title, today I’m going to review Terry Deary’s Wicked Words, the third Horrible Histories book I’ve read this year.

In the Introduction, we are told that words are power and they can hurt as deep as a sword. But, In order to gain this power and learn how to use it, we have to read this book. So, the purpose of this short volume is to make the young readers be both accustomed to and entertained by the English language and its secrets. Before the timeline, there’s a chapter dedicated to prehistoric times, the first language humans spoke (which made the difference between our survival and extinction) and what archaeological findings reveal about this topic. The Horrible Histories timeline for the English language stretches from Rome’s rule over Britain to the 20th century. But it also includes Gutenberg’s printing press, two of the most influential English writers and Dr Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary.

The table of content of this book is arranged alphabetically and each letter comprises a chapter or two and an aspect of the English language. Personally, I would have preferred the chronological order because it was strange to read about Dickens before Shakespeare. But let’s move on. In this book, you will read about the history of the English language (divided into six brief parts), Anglo-Saxon literature, stylistic literary devices such as alliteration, great English writers and poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, William Caxton, words and their etymologies, euphemisms, slang words, swear words and many more. You will also find fragments from, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Vision of Piers Plawman, The Canterbury Tales, Macbeth, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol etc. However, but beware, the endings of these literary works are spoiled in this book; so skip those parts if you haven’t read them yet.

In the end, I think that this book is great for children who are interested in language and grammar because Terry Deary explains everything clearly and inserts jokes, games riddles and stories along the way. For me, on the other hand, this book didn’t have a lot of new information to offer because I already knew enough about the English language and its history. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of the football metaphor for the various invasions of Britain, but I guess it might work for younger readers. Overall, it was a nice read, so please give this book a try, if you or your kids are into languages and British humour.

Review: Vile Victorians by Terry Deary

Title: Vile Victorians

Author: Terry Deary

Illustrator: Martin Brown

Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Children’s Books, Humour

First Published in 1994

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Non-Fiction

Collection: Horrible Histories

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Of all the Horrible Histories books I own, I was very excited to read Vile Victorians because some of my favourite writers belong to this period and because the 19th century is fascinating to me. With these ideas in mind and with child-like anticipation, I picked up Terry Deary’s book hoping to learn new and disgusting things that happened during Queen Victoria’s reign.

 In the Introduction, Terry Deary writes that there are two kinds of histories: the horrible history and the glorious history. It really depends on the teacher if one chooses to relate the truth about that certain period or one is carried away by the great deeds of the remarkable people from the past. Also, the author warns the reader that this book is not suited for sensitive persons; therefore: “If you have a weak stomach then don’t read it or, if you have to read it, then read it with your eyes closed.” (Loc. 27) Now, this is the funniest disclaimer I’ve ever read. However, I think that such a warning would have been necessary before the first chapter of Horrible Histories Gruesome Guide: London too because that book really grossed me out.

The Vile Victorians’ timeline stretches from Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837 to her death in 1902 and the author highlights the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of this historical era. In this book, you will read about: Queen Victoria, Victorian childhood and its hardships, Victorian schools, games, Victorian literature, aspects of Victorian life (towns, work and funerals), strange food, Victorian army, villains and so on.

Although I was very excited to read this book, it didn’t impress me as much as I’ve expected to because I already knew some of the information about Victorian Britain from the Horrible Histories TV show I watched a few years ago. Indeed, there are a lot of shocking facts that you probably didn’t know and some are very hard to believe, but if you read at least one of Charles Dickens’s novels, you will notice how hard life was for the poor and for the children living in London and in other parts of Britain. Small kids were forced to work in warehouses or in mines for many hours, putting their health at risk and their lives in danger for very few money. On the other hand, Victorian schools weren’t any better either, because teachers were very harsh and the pupils were usually punished for insignificant reasons. Another topic I’ve found both interesting and sad was the way girls were selected to become maids in the Victorian household and the schedule a maid had from the moment she was awake to her bedtime.

Besides Terry Deary’s jovial and witty style, I enjoyed the way he mocks writers playwright and poet for the excessive melodrama found in their works and he also gives some examples, including a small excerpt from Dickens’ novel The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also a few stories that will break your heart and question the sanity of adults and human nature in general.

In the end, Terry Deary concludes that the Victorian age wasn’t overall that bad because Britain had electricity and cars at the turn of the century. The author believes that the following quote from A Tale of Two Cities would have described Victorian Britain perfectly, not only France and its tumultuous Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”(Loc. 1300)