"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Goblin Secrets

by William Alexander

Randomly came across this book while browsing the library shelves, and thoroughly glad I did.  The National Book Award Winner sticker on the cover caught my eye.  This book is all about masks, and how they change people.  In this book, that is taken in a literal sense.  Rownie is a young boy who serves a witch who sounds a lot like the "Baba Yaga" from old fairy tales.  He wants to find his brother who has disappeared so he escapes from the witch, but runs into trouble with the "law" when he gets involved with a traveling troupe of goblins who put on plays with masks, even though it is against the law.  Rownie then discovers the masks are much more than just make-believe and he has an important part to play.

The atmosphere of this book was mysterious, intriguing, and beautiful.  The landscape set by the words was mesmerizing and really drew me into the town.  The "scary" element was indeed scary, especially with the masks, and it really kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen, and it was all very mysterious until the end.  I liked the juxtaposition of an "old world" feel of witches and magic, with the "new world" feel of mechanisms and motors.  I'm hoping there are sequels to this book, because the end leaves a little mystery still to be told.  This book feels very much like sitting down to watch a play in a dark and magical theater, with musical and strange colors all around you.

Princess Academy

by Shannon Hale

This book was recommended by my sister, and it was a joy to read.  Miri is a young girl who works in a remote village high up on a mountain, where the livelihood of everyone depends on work in the nearby quarry.  Miri doesn't feel that she fits in and is of no use to her father.  When she hears that the prince will choose a bride from this village, Miri believes this is her chance to show her father what she can do.  She, along with the other girls of the village, are taught how to be princesses.  They compete but also learn to work together.  Miri comes to learn more about herself and just what she means to her family and her father.  She also learns of an important talent that helps save her friends when trouble comes along.

I like this story because based on the title, one might thinks its a "fairy-tale" type story, but it is not.  The end comes to a good conclusions for the girls, but it is not what you expect.  Miri is a strong main character who is believable and also inspiring, as are many of the other girls, who together give the book a rich mixture of personalities.  The setting of the book is also written well, with the feeling of this place embedded into the story throughout.

There is a bit of a magical element to the story as well, which is not overdone, but simple and interwoven into the story very quietly.  I enjoyed that it felt natural that this would occur, though it was a book that I wouldn't necessarily consider a "fantasy".  I think this would be an especially good read for young female readers.  You don't usually go wrong with a Newbery Honor Book.