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Splendors and GloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fact that this took me a while to read should in no way reflect on its quality (I have a love/hate relationship with reading books on my phone, which is currently my only way to read ebooks). In fact, each time I opened it up again, I immediately knew where I was and what was happening in the story, with the whole thing as vivid as if I’d read it over just a few days.

‘Splendors and Glooms’ is really the perfect description of the story – the gloom is easy to spot, in the downtrodden lives of Victorian orphans; in the sadness of Clara, her parents’ only living child; in the brutality of puppeteer Grisini; in the agony of a witch torn between hanging on and finally letting go.

The splendors are there, too – Parsefall’s love of the puppet theater, and Clara’s, too; and the sense of redemption that the story brings (although telling would be spoiling). There’s magic and surprising humor and a delicious Gothic feel.

Also splendid is Laura Amy Schlitz’s writing – this woman has a way with her pen, and each story she turns out is masterful yet distinct. I think I’m bumping this to the top of list of Newbery favorites for the year.

Source: ARC from NetGalley
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It finally feels like summer here in Portland.  It’s supposed to be in the 90s today, and I’m still recovering from my air-conditioning-less car trip to pick up my new glasses (which I’m still adjusting to, thanks to the wonky depth-perception issues with a new prescription).  The heat is a nice change from the rain and cloudy skies, but it also just makes me want to sit around and do nothing.  Watch some TV, read a book, eat lots of ice cream.  I want to be drinking iced coffee, but don’t want to wait 12 hours for cold-brewed iced coffee.  I could walk to a coffee shop, but that defeats the whole laziness/staying cool agenda.  Instead, I’ll present you with more catch-up book reviews while I make up my mind about the wisdom of ice cream for lunch.

MasterpieceMasterpiece by Elise Broach

In a beautiful turn of events, I finished listening to Masterpiece, popped the last disc out of my car’s CD player, and caught the end of an NPR news piece about the art heist in Paris. As much as I hate to hear about theft like that, the timing was just too perfect.

But back to Masterpiece – I picked it up since it’s a nominee for the inaugural Oregon Reader’s Choice Award (ORCA). The audio narration was nicely done, with good pacing and suspense and sense of characters, without calling too much attention to itself. The story requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, but was fun all the same. The story is combination of mystery/suspense for the younger crowd, art, and that always fascinating premise – life on a miniature scale.

Here, the scale is that of a family of beetles living in a NYC apartment, and we see them forage for food, go on a day trip to the solarium, and try to avoid detection by the humans. Marvin breaks all the rules by making contact with a human boy, and ends up involved in trying to track down an art thief. Entertaining and simply told with plenty of appeal, although not much depth.

Source: my library

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The Night FairyThe Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

Here’s a fairy story that’s not all sweetness and light, but rather a surprisingly complex little book that’s lovely on the surface – premise and illustrations – but underneath it deals with the realities of how we treat others and react to difficulties. Flory has lost her wings, and it hardens her in a way that makes me think of Mary in The Secret Garden – it takes gradual interactions with the other creatures in the garden to let herself be generous and kind. The book isn’t long, but it’s the kind of story that could be reread, where the illustrations could be looked at again and again. I think children will recognize something of themselves in Flory, in the way she’s both tough and in need of help, and the way it takes practice for her to make true friends.

Source: my library system

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The Celestial Globe (The Kronos Chronicles, #2)The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski

I was so thrilled to read this sequel to The Cabinet of Wonders that I had it on my “to-order” list months in advance. It didn’t disappoint, although I do think the first book is my favorite so far (and I would definitely read the books in order, both for plot and character development). Rutkoski does something wonderful with the series format: she gives you many of your favorite characters back, including Astrophil the tin spider; she maintains key plot elements, like the wonderful blend of history and fantasy; and she makes her villains as complex and ambiguous as before.

But she also isn’t afraid of throwing new things into the mix, like taking the action to a new country while still leaving us with questions about what’s going on back in Bohemia. She includes some of the fantasy elements from the first book, but develops them and adds in the globes, which I won’t spoil for you. She has you interested in the fate of the gypsies, in Petra’s father, in the Dee family, in how the globes will be used, and in what on earth will happen to the characters in their next destination.

I’d recommend this series to fans of both fantasy and historical fiction, anyone looking for strong female characters, and anyone looking for a strong, slightly out of the ordinary adventure.

Source: my library system

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