Into the Past
In 1972, Richard Adams’ classic fantasy novel Watership Down was first published. This exciting adventure follows the travels of a group of rabbits seeking a new home after the destruction of their warren. Evocatively written and imaginatively plotted, this novel excelled in portraying the world we humans perceive as mundane as a place filled with danger and mystery, and also excelled in its depiction of the primitive religion and folklore the rabbits created to explain the natural environment. After I finished reading Watership Down a couple of months ago, I searched for a similar fantasy told from the perspective of animals, but finding a novel of its caliber proved difficult. Many of the other animal-centered fantasy stories I found were either too deliberately whimsical or too childish to live up to Adams’ novel. Eventually I found David Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer and decided to give it a try based on the recommendation by Adams on the back cover. Filled with adventure, suspense, and gripping depictions of the natural world, this novel lived up to my lofty expectations.
“It was June and long past time for buying the special shoes that were quiet as summer rain falling on the walks. June and the earth full of raw power and everything everywhere in motion. The grass was still pouring in from the country, surrounding the sides, stranding the houses. Any moment the town would capsize, go down and leave not a stir in the clover and weeds. And here Douglas stood, trapped on dead cement and red-brick streets, hardly able to move.”
The opening piece in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine finds Doug Spaulding at the start of his twelfth summer, yearning for a pair of running shoes that will let him be a part of the glorious season. Like the dandelion wine bottled and stored in his grandparents’ cellar, the memories of that long-ago summer are preserved to be savored by his readers.
Do you believe in ghosts? Violet Willoughby does not and she is the daughter of a medium, albeit a fraudulent one. In Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, the year is 1872, London England and Violent is the daughter of a scheming, manipulative and opportunistic mother who wants her to “marry up” no matter what. They rig séances and swindle unsuspecting high society spiritualists. After many faked séances Violet remains a skeptic of ghosts until one fateful night she sees a transparent girl oozing water and lilies and who will not rest until her killer is brought to justice. Violet is the only one who sees the very persistent spirit and soon realizes that it is up to her to solve the mystery behind her death in order to have the spirit be at peace.
Kenneth Oppel introduces us to young Victor Frankenstein in his new book, This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Victor is sixteen years old and very curious about alchemy. He lives with his twin brother Konrad and his cousin Elizabeth. They are victims of typical teen curiosity and idle times. As they explore their extensive chateau in Geneva, they discover the previously unknown Dark Library. Clearly, this is a forbidden area to explore. They discover books about alchemy and ancient remedies. Their foray into the off-limits room is discovered by Victor and Konrad's father. He is incensed and instructs them to never go into the room again and to certainly never explore the writings.
On her wedding night, Cordelia Grey catches the last train to leave Union, Ohio. With her is her slight but talented friend Letty Haubstadt. Their destination is the end of the line: fabulous, roarin’ New York City. Both girls are escaping their boring, unhappy lives in Ohio and fleeing to New York where they hope to find what they are looking for. Cordelia seeks her father, whom she believes to be the infamous bootlegger Darius Grey. Letty wants nothing more than a microphone before her, a dazzling dress to wear and an enraptured audience to sing to. Set in New York City in the final year of the Roaring Twenties, Anna Godbersen’s Bright Young Things focuses on three young women who, like the rest of the United States, are on the verge of a terrible encounter with reality.
1901, Ontario, Canada
Riding the train to a small farming community, young Mable and her older—and rather bossily annoying—sister Viola are about to embark on an autumn of possibilities, although certainly everything seems dull as dishwater on the surface. Goodhand Farm, where they will be rooming, seems the same as countless other family dairy farms, and the one-room school where 19-year-old Viola will be teaching seems much like countless others across territory. But there are some very important details in Marthe Jocelyn’s book, Mabel Riley, that change the dull into the brilliant to illuminate the friction of a swiftly changing world.
Near Manchester, England, in 1836, Emmeline Roke finished a piece of golden embroidery on a blue silk gown. It wasn’t her gown. Had she enough money for such a dress, she would have used it to buy better food and other small comforts for her family. At fifteen, her sewing work was an important source of income for them. Everyone in her family worked—her beautiful, willful, widowed mother in the fabric mill whilst her beloved little brother, deaf-mute since nearly his birth, also did piece work. Life in the all-too-real world of Linda Holeman’s Search of the Moon King’s Daughter is hard for the Roke family, and it’s about to get harder.
Emmeline remembers that it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, they lived in a small cottage attached to the village grocery shop. Her father Jasper Roke may have been destined for greater things, but he gave it up when he met Emmeline’s mother, Catherine. He took the job running the shop, which came with the cottage. If he was a bit lazy and closed down for the afternoon when he felt like taking them all out for a picnic and reading poetry and fairy stories to his family, it was no matter to him. But when he died suddenly, everything came apart. The little family had to move to another town—a mill town—where there was work to be had. It was a hard life, but it was doable—until the day Catherine Roke was hideously injured at her loom.
We are all very familiar with the atrocities engineered by Adolph Hitler, but less is heard about the atrocities that occurred at the direction of Joseph Stalin. Twenty million people were murdered under his leadership. In the book Between the Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys gives a very compelling account of the Soviet invasion of the country of Lithuania in 1941. Lists of people who were considered enemies of the state were compliled, and these people were removed from their homes and workplaces. These people were often professors, teachers, writers, artists, and librarians. The men were sent to prison and the women and children to forced labor camps--some of which were located in Siberia and the Arctic Circle. These individuals were separated from family members and forced to live under extremely harsh conditions with none of the comforts of home. They were not given food or medical attention. The women and children were shoved into railroad cars and sent away without ever being told where they were going.
The main character in this book is named Lina. She, her mother, and her younger brother are removed by force from their home and sent to Siberia. In Siberia, which is harsh enough to begin with, they have to scrounge for anything to eat. Even one potato becomes a luxury for the prisoners. Beets become a treat. The prisoners are forced to dig with shovels which have no handles, and they sleep on the freezing cold floor of a shack.
Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly, spans both time and social status. In the present there is Andi, a musical prodigy who is about to get kicked out of her prestigious New York City school. She’s mad at her father for the divorce and at her mother for retreating into her own private shell. But mostly she’s in pain over the death of her younger brother, for which she blames herself.
Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, must go in search of his father whom he has never met. In the book The King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett, we join Telemachos on his journey. He was just a baby when his father left the island of Ithaka, but lately the residents have decided that Odysseus must be dead and it is time to find a new king. They want to decide who that will be. This would also mean that the queen Penelopeia (his mother) would have to marry that person. Telemachos decides that he will set sail to find his long-missing father. There are a few obstacles that he will have to overcome. One is that he hates the sea. The other is that he has no idea where to begin searching. In order to find the right direction to go in search of his father he must consult Daisy. Daisy is old...really old and, oh, yeah...she has three heads. She is also really mean, and, when you go to see her, you run the risk that she will kill you.
Telemachos has to be very careful in his approach to Daisy. He decides that he will bring an offering to Daisy in an order to appease her. He brings a basket of eggs and tiny baby rats. Despite the stench of decay, Telemachos finds Daisy and asks her counsel on how to find his father the King. Daisy tells him to "return to the place that is not on the day that is not bearing the thing that is not." With that cryptic message, he sets sail with his best friend Brax, who is a Centaur, despite his mother's protestations that Brax will eat all the food. After having set sail for a day or so Telemachos and Brax discover that they are not alone on the ship. Hopefully, the food holds out.