“The Tales of Beedle the Bard” by Albus Dumbledore by Hermione Granger by J.K. Rowling

If she attaches any more character’s names as personas to her next charity book, I’ll have to start calling this woman J.K. Soradonaldgoofy Rowling.

Beedle the Bard’s tales were short, and ripped clumsily from various folk stories that are much more enjoyable to read, even in very old and poor translations on itchy pulp paper from the 70s. The footnotes are silly, there is hardly any actual content, and one of them is a retelling of a retelling of a story from the last book.

The margins and spacing take up most of the space in this book, followed at a close second by the homogenous roses that floridly draw attention away from the sketches. Some are so awful that’s it’s almost a blessing, but it does undermine the few that are well done.

The ACT library system has at least forty of these things, and none of them except the copy that I hold in my hand are, to my knowledge, being taken home by anyone. I suppose that says more than I possibly could about the attitude young readers have taken towards this book.

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“The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” by D.W. Dahlquist

I picked this book up from Book Passions in Belconnen, a cheap remainder, as a pretty blue, large, novel that had been catching my eye intermittently since it had been published. It has sat at the bottom of a shelf, beside the Big Book of Tell Me Why (Perhaps most misinformative book I have ever been given, but so amusingly wrong that I keep it anyway) for a year since I bought it.

In my post-uni daze, I decided that a cup of tea and an attempt at it would be a good way to waste an afternoon. I took some time to warm to Miss Temple, who appears initially as very shallow and simple, but by the third page I was thoroughly invested in the mysteries of the book.

It eventually follows a very British gaslight adventure story following a trail of corpses. Involving hired mercenaries, German doctors, and a very confusing conspiracy of nobles, the book is thoroughly entertaining and gripping. Corsetry, gratuitous gore, and a scene with afternoon tea and scones bordering on the obscene, add a sumptuous and at times very British flavour to the energy and intrigue.

Sadly, there were some flaws, which did not spoil the experience but did seem quite obvious on leaving the characters after the conclusion. As three characters are the focus, the initial storytelling and switch between narratives gives a fuller and more complex experience of the situation. However in the final climactic scenes, with all characters in a large house and at times interacting, the protracted re-hashing of events is a little frustrating. It makes the novel feel in prose as thick and stodgy as it looks on the shelf, and as if the suspended tension and series of minor twists and revelations reminded me far more of the deconstruction after a freeform role-playing session than a well-edited novel.

The lack of any satisfying conclusion to the story leaves the relationships between the characters indescribable and frustrated myself as a reader. Although I would love to see another story involving Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and the German Doctor, I like to have more than a paragraph of an ending. There is hardly any space to reconcile the major conflict, and less to appreciate the situation that the characters find themselves in finally.

I am entirely sympathetic with Dahlquist, who after undertaking such a large project possibly was tired of the characters and their internal monologues, but novels are not published for authors, in the main part. They are published to be read, and any author who seems to be serving themselves or their own interest more than their audience irritates me slightly.

All that said, I’d much rather re-read The Glass Books than pick up a David Eddings novel, and I have been plugging this one to most of my friends. I’d definitely say that it is one of the most rewarding and memorable books I have read this year.

“Otto in the Time of the Warrior” by Charlotte Haptie

Having truly adored the big-city fairytale of Otto and the Flying Twins, in which layers of context and association revealed a secret underworld of pacifistic magic users lurking beneath a dull and capitalistic society, I was highly disappointed by Time of the Warrior.

Firstly, and perhaps my delight at the first novel and its’ $4 remainder price tag blinded me to the first incidences, in this book Haptie seems blissfully unaware of tense or spelling. Though this is sometimes glorious, as with the chords of some blinds being pulled, creating a very musical and silly image in my mind, throughout the novel it boils down to being frustrating. Sometimes the sense of the sentence is lost through the author’s complete and utter miscomprehension of grammar and punctuation.

The story was sweet enough to engage my attention; I found I could at least press onwards. Yet it never truly satisfied. Characters got angry, they frowned, and they shivered. But there was nothing in the text to inspire any emotion. There was no suspense, only plot devices, and a pace that moved too slowly to avoid boring me at times, but too quickly during other scenes. I was left feeling underwhelmed, and as if I had just browsed Haptie’s dot-point abstract for a book, rather than 435 double-spaced pages.

I can, however, imagine being enraptured by this book as an eight-year-old, and that is presumably its’ target audience. At that age, I would have given up on Changing Things and Oddibosities, and did give up on The Magicians of Caprona, but given that I was already up to Animal Farm, the content of Time of the Warrior is perhaps slightly below the capacities of at least some of its’ readers. I myself am very sad that the sense of discovery and joy and triumph against adversity from the first book has been swapped out for common deus ex machina devices of time manipulation that are now also peppering new video games.

“The Book of Changing Things and Other Oddibosities” by Odo Hirsch

Aside from my general glee at finding the name “Hirsch”, I remember quite some time ago hearing wondrous and excited things about this particular one, Odo. I can’t recall the exact friend who recommended him to me, but seeing the hardcover of this in the children section at Civic library reminded me of how energetically and full of joy my mystery reviewer was.

The cover is dark, full of blue morphous creatures with bright white eyes and reddish orange beaks, busy about their own business or contemplating the reader. The art is by Inari Kiuru, and her whimsical figures decorate the text with full-page and scattered smaller black and white sketches. They are so organic and fluid and full of glorious detail that I would give this book to a friend to simply share the art of it all.

The story itself follows a boy called Nathan, notorious for daydreaming, who drifts off during a very dull school assembly into the company of Count Marvy and the changeing squirrel Pogue. There are some very direct and obvious references to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but my favourite parts were the simplicity of the language used, and the running dialogue between the three main characters.

I suppose that I value this book highly because it both exercises the imagination, with its’ imagery, and because like a lot of my favourite children’s novels, it views the world and behaviour of adults with confusion. It’s very easy to forget that children and many adults still find social expectations and taboos as confusing and illogical. As seen in the Mayor’s “Vote for Me Please” badge at the horseradish banquet, for example. No election or actual vote is ever mentioned; the entire affair and his behaviour is baffling and he seems to have no motive or reason for it.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, but I could also while reading it see brilliant opportunities and prompts for the type of pretense play and exploration of confusing adult-introduced concepts that from what I have read are very important to social and educational development. If I had a sprog myself, I’d be running to abebooks to get a copy this very moment.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

I avoided these for a while because I first came across them as I was picking up A Series of Unfortunate EventsASOUE was about $5-6 cheaper than the Spiderwick novels, about four times thicker and had a promotional buy-one-get-one-free offer up to a certain number within the series.   I loved ASOUE and don’t regret my purchasing choice, but a recent seredipitous calamity of film re-branding has landed me with books 1, 3, 4&5 of The Spiderwick Chronicles.  Discounted from $20 down to $2.50 due to the photographic film tie-in dustcovers, I was able to get all but one of the books very cheaply.

And they are delightful.   Though they match ASOUE‘s formula quite well at times, they really aren’t so much a series as a lovely American-style gothic early reader.  Short on pages and words, it’s really one novel masquerading as five.  I imagine this is partly due to profits and partly out of consideration for children who are scared of large page-counts.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and characters, particularly the strong young female who dislikes dresses and does like pummeling younger brothers with swords.  The fantasy elements of the books were quite lovely, though I think that I’d have liked to have seen more about each individual fantastical creature rather than simply having the volume there to enhance the atmosphere of the world.

The only real weak points in it were that the novellas really didn’t end very well; most conclusions were run-on and rushed, so the series only truly works as one novel.  I can imagine how frustrated I might have been if I hadn’t had the rest of them in my lap.  And you can fit them all in your lap, of course.   They’re priced so highly compared to other books that length and age-group that I’m concerned that coupled with the one-plot problem far less children are going to be enjoying these books than there really should be.  I was also frustrated that a lot of the story seemed to side-step the more interesting parts and rush ahead, though that could just be because I’m more used to YA novels.

In the end the art and story and characters were glorious.  I only wish that volume #2 had been on the discount shelf!  These books are beautiful, and are going straight to my bedroom pile for  a re-read.  They make me want to revisit the Baudelaire orphans, too, and to take exultant delight in the beautiful construction that goes into some books aimed at younger readers.