Monday, March 30, 2015

Middle Grade Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill

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Title: I Lived on Butterfly Hill 
Author:  Marjorie Agosin. Translated from the Spanish by E. M. O'Connor (as far as I can determine, the English edition is the only edition, and the book has not been published in Spanish).
Publisher: Aetheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014. 454 pages.
Source: Library

Summary:
Eleven-year-old Celeste Marconi has a great life in Valparaiso, Chile. She loves words, school, her family and friends, and everything about her life on Butterfly Hill. But when the country is taken over by Pinochet and his violent dictatorial regime, life begins to unravel. Before it is done unraveling, she is separated from her family and living in Maine, in the United States. Celeste must learn to cope with a very different climate, culture and language before she can put her life together again, even as her country must put itself back together again.
Review:
This is a beautiful book. The author is first and foremost a poet, and it shows (major kudos to the translator, as well, who has made the language work beautifully. That is no small feat in a work that is so concerned with words and language). I can really see the city of Valparaiso in the first part of the book, and each character is well painted in words, not so much their appearance, as their natures.

 The story is very moving as well. Celeste is just at the point of waking up to the privileged life she leads, and is feeling the need to think and write about it, in contrast to the lives of the poor around her. When Pinochet takes over the country in a very right-wing coup, it becomes "subversive" to even talk about equality and helping the poor. She struggles with her awakening to the world around her just as that world gets ugly.

When Celeste is sent to Maine, again we see it as especially hard for a child who is in love with words and language--though that love serves her well as she learns English. The time there is passed over rather quickly. I had assumed, reading the blurb, that the book was really about her adjustment to life in the US. In fact, it is about her life in Chile--and learning the meaning of family, country, and caring. There is a gripping and suspenseful side to the story, as Celeste's parents must go into hiding, and she leaves her grandmother and Nana behind when she goes into exile, but in the end my feeling was that the story wasn't so much about that as about her inner growth. And, as mentioned, the meaning of love and family.

Recommendation:
This isn't a completely easy story. The nastiness of the Pinochet regime isn't graphic, but it's not glossed over, either. I would recommend this mostly for kids of about Celeste's age--from 11 up, as some of the ideas and imagery might be a bit strong for younger children. There is just a hint of romance, more a whiff of Celeste's awakening to the idea that boys might be something other than pals.

Full Disclosure: I checked I Lived on Butterfly Hill out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday Fiction: 100 words about Gorg Trollheim

This week, instead of a theme, the Wendig Challenge was to write a story in 100 words. I thought about writing my typical 1000-word flash as well, but frankly I could use the break. So here...in 100 words (including the title), where Gorg started.


The Origin of Gorg


There was nothing more to be done for them. Gorg turned his back on the stone lumps that once were his kin, and walked heavily (for a living-stone troll can only walk heavily) from the valley that was his home. Somewhere out there was a wizard who must pay. And somewhere beyond that wizard was the man who had bought him. Two thoughts were enough for a troll mind, enough to set Gorg Trollheim on a quest that must end in the destruction of Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted—or in the conversion of Gorg to granite.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Badands National Park, South Dakota

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mystery Review: Dead and Berried

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Title: Dead and Berried (Gray Whale Inn #2)
Author:  Karen MacInerney
Publisher: Midnight Ink, 2007, 312 pages
Source: Library

Summary: 
Natalie Barnes is worried enough about making it through the winter with her new B&B on Cranberry Island, without threatening developers, annoying guests (including her ex-fiance), and issues with her best friend. Murder on top of that is enough to make her think about going back to Texas. Fortunately, Natalie thrives on mystery, and she's hot on the trail of the killer, who may be hot on her trail as well.

Review:
I'll be honest: I nearly quit this one. Soon after the first murder, we were handed once again the idiotic and heavy-handed cop who tried to blame Natalie for murder in the first book of the series. Then her former fiance shows up and she acts like a teen-aged ditz for a few chapters. It was enough to aggravate me, but I did kind of want to know who did it, so eventually I picked it up again and finished. I have to say the book finished much better than it began. The mystery is solved, and there's a bit of excitement.


That said, I'm not sure that I'm wholly satisfied about the mystery, and there are some connections I find rather tenuous. The book is pretty well-written, and I like the setting, but...this is a series I'm not apt to continue. The gratuitous appearance of a ghost is something of a deal-breaker for me, as I really dislike that kind of thing.

Recommendation:
I think there are better mystery series out there, but if you enjoy the setting (Maine coast) and are not put off by either idiot cops or women who remain attracted to total jerks who are bad news, this is worth checking out. If you liked the first book in the series, stick it out to the end of this one, because things do seem to be looking up.

Full Disclosure: I checked Dead and Berried out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."