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Which Witch?Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson

This is, as Ibbotson would say, one of her “rompy” books. You’ve got a wizard who spends his days smiting and blighting but feels he ought to marry and produce an heir, so naturally he holds a contest to find the blackest, most evil witch around. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim and include the sweetest, whitest witch you’ve ever met. Throw in an orphan, an earthworm acting as a witch’s familiar, a baby Kraken, assorted ogres and you’ve got a deliciously rompy story that manages to be funny, gross, and sweet all at once. Definitely recommended to budding fantasy fans or older readers who want something light.

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It just occurred to me that, as much as I’d like to really write a review of everything I read in 2010, I’d rather have a fresh start for the new year.  So here are some quick thoughts about all the books I finished in the last few months that never got a proper review.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve: This is on the Mock Printz list for this (next weekend!) and I’m always impressed by how individual each of Reeve’s books are.  I haven’t read the series to which this is a prequel, but it stands on its own and is some kind of fascinating.  Absorbing world and characters, although the plot has faded in my memory.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen: After being forced to read Hatchet in middle school (or maybe it was read aloud?) I swore off Gary Paulsen.  Until this one made it onto the Mock Newbery list this year and I had to give him a second chance.  He’s still not my cup of tea, but I can respect what he does and the appeal that his stories have for lots of readers – to the point, visceral, often brutal.  There’s not a lot of pretty shiny language here, and the character development is sometimes slim, but the pace is gripping.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the non-fiction interludes worked – they could have been choppy, falling in between the chapters, but they gave key information with info-dumping into the storyline, and they gave me a chance to catch my breath before jumping back in.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter: One of those stories that you itch to reread as soon as you reach the end, just to see how it all came together.  Plenty of secrets and red herrings and truths hiding in plain sight (even a mystery about the narrator).  One thing that bugged me while I read was the inconsistent use of Britishisms, but once someone mentioned that it could have been intentional, fitting with all the other quirks of the story, it stopped bothering me.  It’s been over a month since I finished it, and that “want to reread” itch is still there, so hopefully I’ll find time to revisit this one.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Oh, wow.  Jam-packed with musical references, old and new, details of Paris now and Paris during the French Revolution, visits to the catacombs, artifacts,writing and hearts (literally), with a main character who’s so broken it hurts, yet whose story you can’t put down.  Gripping.  Totally gripping, and the kind of big YA novel I love to find, and completely different in scope from Donnelly’s other novels.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson: Are you an Eva Ibbotson fan?  If not, what are you waiting for?  I would’ve loved her as a child – that blend of magic and adventure and cozy comfort, always with a hard-won but happy ending.  I adore her books, even meeting them for the first time as an adult.  Lucky me, I still have several I haven’t read, plus I know they’ll be comfort rereads some day.  I was sad to hear that she died recently – there’s a really lovely piece about her by Laura Amy Schlitz that you can read – and if that doesn’t make you want to pick up one of her books right this instant, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  All of which is to say that A Company of Swans is lovely and fun, and I know it was written first, but for me it was a chance to revisit the Amazon setting of Journey to the River Sea, plus it has ballet!  Love, love, love.

More to come!  I still have a frightening number to write about.

Journey to the River Sea Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Without neglecting that classic Ibbotson feel, this one is a pleasant departure from Europe and boarding schools. But don’t worry – there are still orphans a-plenty. While the plot follows a young English girl sent to live with distant relatives in Brazil, the story is really about expectations, adaptability, and where and how we feel at home. Themes about colonialism run in the background but never overwhelm the story, which focuses on character and atmosphere. In addition to Maia’s story, we also follow two boys who want very different things from life. There’s some exploration and natural history worked into the story. All in all, it was an enjoyable and satisfying story with (of course) a happy ending. Age 9 and up seems to be the general recommendation – I would have devoured her books as a kid.

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