Tag Archives: fiction

Girl at Arms, by Jaye Bennett

Notwithstanding the remarkable youth of the historical Joan of Arc, I wouldn’t have automatically assumed her a ready subject for a middle grade novel. Of course it’s impossible not to admire her courage and determination, and I recognize that she must be considered in the context of her times. But let’s just say that her story has the potential to be a little … troubling.

For starters there are the voices. Not that I don’t believe in visions, but the question of whether God would employ them for the defense of a European monarch has always raised doubts in my mind. Then there’s the fact that Joan was leading armies into battle, which inevitably involves violence. And then there’s the ending: she gets burned at the stake. That alone was enough to make me a reluctant reader. Continue reading

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Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher

What a felicitous find! I was searching for Susan Cooper’s young adult novels when this previously unknown-to-me work by Susan Fletcher caught my eye. What a surprise to learn that it concerns ancient Persia (a general interest of mine) and the Magi (Brian and I once brainstormed a novel not unlike Susan’s after a one-week visit to Iran)  and that the author lives just an hour and a half away!

All that excitement could have been preparatory to a disappointment, but it most definitely was not. Fletcher writes both engagingly and “elegantly” (in the words of a NY Times reviewer of Shadow Spinner). I am (alas) one of those readers who often skims over descriptive passages, but I sat spellbound while Fletcher’s magical metaphors conjured up mirages before my very eyes. Only they seemed much more substantial than mirages. Continue reading

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The Large Rock and the Little Yew, by Gregory Ahlijian

This remarkable picture book inspires both through its message and through its very existence. Retired arborist Gregory Ahlijian has been volunteering at the Jasper Mountain facility for abused children for several years. The students he has encountered there (ages 6 to 13) inspired him to write this picture book about overcoming adversity. Ahlijian financed the printing, the editing, and the remarkable artwork by Janna Roselund and is now donating the full retail price to Jasper Mountain.

The Large Rock and the Little Yew tells the story of a yew seed that falls into a deep crack in a large boulder. When the seed begins to sprout, the boulder continually insists that it will never survive in the outside world. In the end, the yew overcomes the odds and grows into a large tree with roots that surround the boulder. An actual tree in England served as a model for the story; a photo appears at the end of the book.

Ahlijian draws on his professional knowledge of trees in crafting what is really an extended parable. He also infuses it with the values he works to impart to the young people he mentors at Jasper Mountain: respect, confidence, thankfulness, courage, determination, kindness, generosity. The Large Rock demonstrates that hardships are not just obstacles to be overcome; they provide opportunities to grow and develop strength. The Epilogue points out that were it not for the rock, the yew tree would be just another tree in the forest, rather than an awe-inspiring testimony to the power of nature.

On April 28 from 3 to 5 p.m., The Book Nest (inside Indulge! at 1461 Main St., Springfield, OR) will host a reading and signing with Ahlijian. In addition, we will raffle off an original painting by Springfield artist D. Brent Burkett, the proceeds of which will also benefit Jasper Mountain. More information about Ahlijian’s book is available on his site: http://www.littleyewtree.com/.

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The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years, by Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years is one of the few books by Central Asian authors translated into English. The original text was published in 1980 and the English version in 1988. Appropriate to the Soviet ideal of the “brotherhood of nations,” this volume by a Kazakh author was originally published in Russian and is set in Kirghizstan.

The principal setting of The Day is a railroad junction in the middle of the desert. The central conflict involves the quest of railroad worker Yedigei to give his deceased comrade Kazangap a traditional religious burial in an ancestral cemetery some distance from the junction. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Russian and American negotiators are dealing with the discovery that cosmonauts on the Soviet-American space station have been contacted by extraterrestrials and have departed the station for an interplanetary visit. Continue reading

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Origin, by Diana Abu-Jaber

If you’re not a parent–or it’s been a while since you had a baby–you may not know that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or, formerly, crib death) is a Big Deal in the pediatric world these days. We were barraged with warnings when our daughter was born earlier this year: put your baby to sleep on her back (not tummy); no blankets, pillows, or stuffed toys in the crib; don’t sleep with your child in your bed; don’t let your child get too warm while sleeping. It’s enough to make a new mom paranoid–of course, it doesn’t take much!

So when I saw that Abu-Jaber’s new novel dealt with SIDS cases, eager as I was to pick up another work by the author of Crescent, I wondered whether I should read it. Would it just increase my anxieties? But I reassured myself that, based on the fact that this is a crime mystery, the infants probably didn’t really die of SIDS. But then, who would want to kill a baby? Continue reading

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The Barefoot Legend, by Gena Minnix

The Barefoot Legend generated more discussion between my husband and me than anything else we have read recently. If you can read between the lines you will have guessed that this means we had differing opinions, not that we haven’t read any other thought-provoking books of late.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (post no. 1)

We read A Thousand Splendid Suns in two days while on a mini vacation. We had anticipated a grim story, and our expectations were fulfilled. But we stayed glued to the book, in part because of Hosseini’s gripping story telling and in part because, judging from the conclusion of The Kite Runner, we anticipated a glimmer of light at some point. It finally dawned, but it was a long time coming.

Due to the length of our review, we thought it best to avoid overtaxing our readers and discuss Hosseini’s latest release in two separate posts. This post is concerned primarily with the content and story of A Thousand Splendid Suns, while the next one will address stylistic matters. (Warning: plot revelations ahead.) Continue reading

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