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The Land of the Silver Apples

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Something goes dreadfully wrong at the ceremony to kindle the need-fire. And that leads to a pilgrimage to St. Filian's Well by the Bard, Jack, the newly emancipated slave Pegga, and Jack’s father and sister Lucy. But at St. Filian's Jack unwittingly sets off an earthquake and Lucy runs off with an elf, so what started as a pilgrimage turns into an underground rescue mission to Elfland.As she did with Norse mythology in The Sea of Trolls, Farmer now mines Celtic and Germanic mythology and folklore in its sequel. Her mixture of characters, Pagan and Christian, Saxon and Viking, human and non-human, provide humorous counterpoint to each other on the way to and from Elfland as they battle monsters and spells with the aid of (mostly) friendly hobgoblins and in spite of the beautiful but callous elves.
The Islands of the Blessed

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Two years have passed since their journey to and escape from the land of the fairies, and Jack and his friend Thorgil are again confronted by supernatural perils. First the village is devastated as a terrible storm smashes through it and the crops in the surrounding fields. Thorgil, a Viking attempting to remain incognito among Jack’s Saxon neighbors, is emotionally devastated as well. She believes the storm was Odin leading the wild hunt, and although she had run into the midst of the storm and begged to be taken, she was left behind. Then the sound of an ancient bell awakens the malicious undead spirit begins to prowl the night. Lead by Jack’s master, the bard Dragon Tongue, Jack and Thorgil set out on another magical quest to bring peace to the village. Once again Farmer has masterfully concocted a fantasy adventure out of Norse and Germanic myth and folklore, this time adding some Celtic and Scots folklore into the brew particularly that of the northernmost Orkney Islands, islands originally settled by the Norse.
The One and Only Ivan

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In a patient, terse monologue, Ivan, a silverback gorilla tells of his life at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, where he has been the resident attraction for decades. His friends are Bob, a stray dog, Stella, a retired circus elephant, and Julia, the daughter of the man who cleans the mall at night. As Ivan puts it, “She and I have a lot in common. We are both great apes, and we are both artists.” Julia shares her crayons and paper and Ivan draws bananas, apple cores and candy wrappers. But when the baby elephant, Ruby, arrives at the mall, everyone’s life, animal and human, changes dramatically. The sparse concrete prose that Applegate uses for Ivan’s voice give the book a poetic novel in verse quality. The characters are exceedingly well drawn and the pathos of their plight elegant. This book well deserves its 2013 Newbery Medal.
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In Darkness

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In 2010 Shorty, a fifteen-year old gansta and killer from Cité Soleil, the poorest slum in Port-au-Prince, is buried alive in the ruins of a hospital by the largest earthquake to hit Haiti in two centuries. As he grows weaker and awaits either rescue or death, he thinks back over his life in the gang and the murder of his father and the kidnapping of his twin sister, but he also thinks of the great liberator, Toussaint L'Ouverture, who overthrew the French and liberated Haiti in 1804. And then their stories begin to blend together, a tale of violence, betrayal, hope and liberation and also one of darkness and magic.
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The Box of Delights

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On the train back home for Christmas holidays, Kay Harker encounters some curious characters. There are the two young men, one chubby faced and one foxy faced and both apparently up to no good, and then there is the strange old man at the station with his dog and a large backpack. He tells Kay, as Kay helps him on with his pack, “I do date from pagan times and age makes joints for creak.” Later he tells Kay to spread the word that “The Wolves are Running,” and asks his aid to stop their Bite. Soon Kay is dashing rapidly back trough time and rapidly across great distances as he and his friends attempt to foil the plots of the evil Wizard Abner Brown and his accomplice in crime Sylvia Daisy Pouncer and their criminal gang.Surreally magical and inventive Kay’s romp through time and space to save the Christmas service at Tatchester Cathedral and rescue all the Cathedral clergy and staff from a horrible fate is as full of delights as the magical box that gives the book its title. Poet Masefield nimbly combines folklore, history, and 1930s gangsters in possession of flying motorcars in a tone that accurately captures a child’s sense of adventurous play.
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Code Name Verity

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In the fall of 1943 the Gestapo captures a British spy in France. On her are the identification papers of Flight Officer Maddie Brodatt. Only she’s not Maddie, and she’s not a pilot. Under torture she promises to write down her confession, which includes information about her close friend Maddie. As her tale unfolds the reader learns of their training, friendship, British aerial operations, and radio code. But how much is real, and how much is a survival tactic. One thing is very sure, when the Gestapo interrogator refers to her as English, she curses back, "I am not English, you ignorant Jerry bastard, I am a SCOT."
The "I Ching": A Biography

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This is a very succinct history of the Chinese classic: its possible origins, its acceptance into the Confucian canon, and its subsequent uses by various philosophical schools through the use of commentaries. Originally a book of divination, through the uses of commentaries and interpretations, it became a repository of philosophical thought and wisdom. Through the hegemony of Chinese culture it became influential in Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Japan. In the nineteenth and twentieth century its influence spread to Europe and the Americas. Since the middle of the twentieth century its influence and use in Mexico and the United States has grown rapidly in artistic and popular culture.
Gargantua and Pantagruel

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What was biting satire in 16th century France was for this 21st century reader a tedious conglomeration of scatological, crude and misogynistic humor. It was a real chore to finish this one. I haven’t forced myself to read a more boring book since finishing Ulysses by James Joyce. I was not surprised to learn that Joyce was influenced by Rabelais. From now on I’ll stick to Captain Underpants for potty humor.
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