Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

At the end of my last Reading My Library challenge book review, I solicited input about a title to read by an author whose last name ends in F.  Stephanie suggested Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I trust Stephanie’s opinion on books, so I decided to take her recommendation.  I’m so glad I did!  I had passed this book over for a long time (and I remember this particular author being touted heavily at the Scholastic book fairs we used to have at the school where I was librarian) for two reasons:  first, the author’s name.  I just couldn’t bring myself to read a book by an author whose last name is Funke.  I don’t know why.  It just sounds horribly made up to me, which I realize sounds terrible and I can’t believe I’m admitting it here on my blog.  I do realize that she’s German and this might be a completely respectable name in German.  Second, I didn’t like the cover of the book (and still don’t, actually)–it looks gimmicky to me, like the name sounds.  It reminds me of a dollar store treasure chest I might buy for the girls that would be full of cheap toys, all made in China out of some poisonous metal.  I think, too, when this book sits on the shelf next to its sequels, it just sort of blends in (due to the cover art, etc.) and I have a bad track record on following up with sequels.  To date, I’ve yet to read sequels to the following books I enjoyed:

See what I mean?

Most of these factors have since been forgotten, though. 

Wow!  What a book!

Can I say that again?  Wow!  What a book!

This was the perfect for me to be in the middle of for the DLM’s arrival because the plot is exciting enough that I actually remembered it in the post-partum, and I was eager to finish reading it.  It was perfect for those marathon nursing sessions!  😉  I was drawn in from page one, and although it is a hefty volume of over 500 pages, I never really felt like it was too long.  That’s saying something.  🙂 

I love the whole concept of this book–the idea that characters can be “read out” of books.  I think most book lovers have probably entertained the thought that it would be fun to meet their favorite characters but have never really considered the possible implications if those characters were to come out of their books.  I won’t add any more to this to avoid possible spoilers.

Inkheart‘s characters are extremely well-developed.  Character development is very important to me–I don’t really enjoy books that have forgettable characters.  I love that Funke gave even the most heinous villains in this story their own Achilles’ heels in terms of their utter badness.  I love that she even interwove “real” storybook characters (as opposed to those she created) into the story.  I don’t think I’ll forget any of the characters in this book any time soon. 

Inkheart makes me want to delve into some books I’ve never read and some I’ve never even heard of  because of  Funke’s use of quotations from various books to begin each chapter.  In particular I now want to read The Princess Bride (which I actually own already) and T.H. White’s books.  I think reading this book also gave me the courage to try The Hobbit again, mainly because Inkheart is not the type of book I would normally pick up, but I loved it so much.  I thought I’d give another fantasy story a try!

As far as reservations go, my only one is that I’m not sure I’d classify this story as juvenile fiction, like my library does.  Admittedly, I’m really conservative, but there some mildly suggestive interchanges between adult male characters and the young, female protagonist that probably would go over the heads of young readers but that I still am not sure I am comfortable with in a book for ten year olds.  Although in the story Meggie is only twelve, I think a YA designation might be better for this book.  The other thing I didn’t like is the amount of cursing in this story.  I’ll readily admit that the evil characters that populate this story would likely not have lily-white vocabularies, but the thing that got me most was Aunt Elinor’s constant use of God’s name. 

Carrie says the movie’s pretty good but don’t bother with the sequel.  Stephanie, on the other hand, says in the comments on this post that the sequels are good but not as good as Inkheart.  I think I’d be inclined to read at least the next book out of sheer curiosity about what happens to the characters, but given my record with sequels, who knows?

Now I’ve completed six books in my Reading My Library challenge.  So far, in addition to Inkheart, I’ve read

Any one want to venture a suggestion for a book whose author’s last name begins with G?

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Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

I picked up this 1939 Newbery award winner for several reasons.  One, I needed an E author for my Reading My Library challenge.  Two, I remembered that Enright made the Top 100 Children’s Novels list, and that her book, The Saturdays, is one that Sherry recommended in the comments of my post.   The Saturdays wasn’t on the shelf at my library, but Thimble Summer was.  Three, I actually read this story as a child, and I remember enjoying it, so I thought I’d give it another try.  Four, it’s short, and I’ve had a hard time settling into anything lately.  (You can attest to that if you’ve paid any attention to my “I’m Reading” widget over there in the sidebar.  I have been doing a lot of reading, but I’ve also been doing a lot of discarding.) 

This was a good read for me at this point in my pregnancy (er, life).  Pregnancy does wack-o things to my brain, and I have a hard time comprehending anything very deep or difficult.  (Can I get an amen, sisters?)  Obviously, Thimble Summer is a work of juvenile fiction, and an antique one, at that, so there’s nothing very challenging about the story.  It is an enjoyable one, though.  It’s the story of ten year old Garnet Linden and her summer.  That’s it.  It’s very episodic, so it would make a great read-aloud since each chapter can very easily stand on its own. 

Garnet has quite a few adventures, several of which we would be absolutely terrified if our children did nowadays (i.e. hitching a ride to a neighboring town after getting mad at her brother), so I think it would go over well with the early-to-upper elementary crowd.  The whole premise of the story is that Garnet finds a silver thimble in a dry creek bed, and that very night a long standing drought is broken and a whole slew of fun things happen to her in the coming weeks.  The thimble, then, serves to signify to her that her “luck” is changing; the summary on the back of my library copy even goes so far as to call the thimble a “talisman.”  I think that’s a very heavy-handed appraisal of one little event in this fun story, myself.  In fact, the thimble is rather forgettable, and even Garnet herself only mentions it in the story a few times after finding it. 

I think my favorite part in the story is when Garnet and her friend Citronella (yes, that is her name) are inadvertently locked in the town’s library after closing hours.  They are rescued, of course, before spending the entire night there, and their friend and neighbor Mr. Freebody comments,

“Yes sir!  . . . Don’t you be fooled!  Those ain’t two little girls you see settin’ up there; those are two genuwine bookworms, couldn’t stop reading long enough to come home.  Planning to take up permanent residence in the liberry from now on, ain’tcha?”

This brought a smile to my face and might’ve even elicited a few giggles from me if I hadn’t been sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.  This tickled me because back when I was a college student, I worked in our town’s public library.  While I was employed there, our city built a new library.  Our pest control man, who came monthly I guess, would ask every time he came, “When y’all gunna move into that new liberry?”  It didn’t matter that surely he could see for himself just how far the building project had progressed–he still asked the very same question.  It became a big joke among our little staff.  Fun times!  🙂

Thimble Summer is just a good little book that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Betsy-Tacy (read my thoughts here).  I’m not sure that such a book would ever win the Newbery nowadays, but it evokes the feelings of a peaceful bygone era that makes me long for such a society in which to raise my children.  I enjoyed it!

So now it’s on to the F section for my next Reading My Library selection.  If you’re interested, here’s what I’ve read so far:

Any recommendations for a juvenile or YA book by an author whose last name begins with F?

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The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli

Is it odd for a fully grown adult to be blown away by a children’s book?  I hope not. The Door in the Wall  by Marguerite De Angeli is just nearly perfect, and the whole time I was reading it I had this internal conversation in which I told myself over and over, “I can’t wait to share this with my children!”   It’s rare for me to project so far into the future (this book is obviously over my girls’ head right now), but The Door in the Wall is that good. 

The Door in the Wall is the story of Robin, a young boy who is about to be apprenticed as a page to a knight when he is stricken lame by some disease.  His father, also a knight, is off fighting, and his mother has been called away to attend to the sick queen, so his condition is unknown to them.  The household servants, with whom he has been left until he can be taken to his apprenticeship, also succomb to some illness, so Robin is left alone.  He is rescued by a friar, Brother Luke, and taken to the monastery to live for a time.  Brother Luke teaches Robin so many things:  that he is able to do more than he thinks he can, especially if he conditions and trains his body; that he has talents and abilities that might look different from what he first expected from his life, but they are his talents and abilities, nonetheless; and most importantly, that he must always look for “the door in the wall.”  That is, Robin must always look for the opportunity that is provided for him, even when the opportunity looks nothing like what he expects.  Toward the end of the story, Brother Luke sums the whole idea up in this way:

“God alone knows whether thou’lt straighten or no.  I know not.  But this I tell thee.  A fine and beautiful life lies before thee, because thou hast a lively mind and a good wit.  Thine arms are strong and sturdy.  Swimming hath helped to make them so, but only because thou hast had the will to do it.  Fret not, my son.  None of us is perfect.  It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit.  We can only do the best we can with what we have.  That, after all, is the measure of success:  what we do with what we have.”  (76)

I love this idea.  It completely meshes with the whole idea of “hope is the word” (the quote, not the blog).   I want to live life this way, and I want my children to learn this, as well.  The story ends with Robin saving the day very heroically, so the whole concept of facing challenges and triumphing is carried through to the end. 

Although this is a juvenile fiction selection, this is no dumbed-down version of the Middle Ages.  (The vernacular of the excerpted quote was an early tip-off.)  In fact, there were many times that I needed a dictionary to know exactly what I was reading.  Elements of Medieval life and monastic life, in particular, might’ve been a part of my body of knowledge at one time, but no longer.  This book would make an excellent resource for a history study–when Robin grows strong enough, he and Brother Luke (along with a few others) travel to the castle where Robin will be apprenticed.  Along the way, they encounter almost every variety of Medieval life one can imagine.  It’s almost like De Angeli went to great lengths to paint the picture as broadly as she could. 

Oh my.  I could go on and on.  It’s no wonder this gem won the 1950 Newbery Medal.  What amazes me is that Marguerite De Angeli was also an accomplished illustrator.  I love her cover illustration for The Door in the Wall; it really makes me want to seek out more of her artwork, as well as her writing.  I was amused and challenged by this from the biography on the back jacket flap of my copy of this book: 

Mrs. de Angeli did not begin drawing professionally until she had a houseful of small children (the de Angelis have five!) and it was under the handicap of constant interruptions by the smallest toddler that she produced her first book, an instant success.

Ah, Marguerite, I can relate!  🙂

I’m sure that resources for this book abound, and you can access a completely bibliography of Marguerite De Angeli’s works here.

This one earns a well-deserved Highly Recommended!  I’m really glad I picked this one up for both my own Reading My Library self-challenge and a Vintage Find!  With the conclusion of this book, I am now officially four books into my Reading My Library challenge.  You can read my other reviews here:

Now, on to the E’s!

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I think I could just make one statement about this book and leave it at that, and my feelings about it would have been vented.    That one statement is WOW.  That wouldn’t make a very interesting post, though, would it?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another book that certainly doesn’t need my praise.  (For some reason, I’ve been reading- -gulp!–best-sellers recently.)  This book is a fast-paced YA dystopian novel that, at least to me, seems a cut above what I expected.  Rather than bore you with yet another synopsis, I’ll simply refer you to Sherry’s review.  I read her review long before I had any real intention of reading the book.  I actually picked up the book for my Reading My Library self-challenge; I stalled out on C at the end of last year.  However, after going back to review Sherry’s thoughts, I must say that I had the same reaction to it as she did:  this story is “TV’s Survivor meets Shirley Jackson’s short story ‘The Lottery.'”  Throw in a lots of allusions to ancient Rome, and you’ve got a very engaging and suspenseful mixture.

The only complaint I really have about this book (possible spoiler alert!) is that I got a little weary of the romance therein, but I’m not exactly a member of the intended YA audience.  However, because of the romance, I can see how this book would have tremendous appeal to teen girls even though the genre it belongs to might not typically be as appealing to them as it is to boys.  (?)

Oh, I do have one more complaint:  the fact that this book has a cliffhanger ending AND the series isn’t finished yet.  Jennifer warned me about this (and so did Sherry, but I have a terrible memory), but I had already begun reading the book when this fact registered.  Let me just say that if you manage to get to the end of the first chapter, there’s no going back with this one.  I do so much better if I can read sequels and series books in quick succession.  Now this question remains: should I go ahead and read the sequel, Catching Fire, or wait until the fall when the third novel comes out?  I’m thinking these would be good ones to have on hand for the easy, mindless sort of reading I’ll likely need after the wee one arrives. . .

If you like YA fiction or exciting reads in the least, give this one a try.  I give it a Highly Recommended!

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The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Do you ever procrastinate on certain books–even books you really want to read?  That’s what I’ve been doing, and that explains why I’ve almost finished two “comfort reads” in the middle of muddling through reading A Tale of Two Cities.  My first “we interrupt this dense classic to bring you a lighter, easier read” novel was The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall.  I read and enjoyed The Penderwicks earlier this year, so I was eager to revisit them, and besides, I needed to read a book by a “B” author to keep up with my own personal Reading My Library challenge.

I think I like The Penderwicks on Gardam Street even better than the series’ inaugural title The Penderwicks.  In the second book, the Penderwicks are (obviously) on their native turf of Gardam Street.  I enjoyed reading about this endearing family in their own home.  I also think it helped me get to know them better; while reading the first book, I was always mixing up a couple of my sisters (none of whom are alike, actually) in my mind.  After reading The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, their characters are more firmly placed in my mind.  The plot of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street revolves around the girls’ reaction to their widower father’s introduction to the dating scene.  Combine this with a slight coming-of-age element involving the eldest daughter, Rosalind, and a homework-trading fiasco involving the literary Jane and the scientific Skye.  Add to this the ever-lovable Batty and her imaginary friend the Bug Man (who turns out to be neither imaginary nor a friend), and you have a fun, suspenseful, touching story of four half-orphans who are making it just fine without a mother, thankyouverymuch.  Of course, the ending is predictable, but satisfying.   

I like this one.  I’m looking forward to reading more of the Penderwicks.

Now, on to the C’s!

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