Monthly Archives: August 2012

14) The Search for Delicious

By: Natalie Babbitt

Date Finished: 08.16.12

By Natalie Babbitt

The Search for Delicious is delightful in every way.  I love the title — especially because it is literal.  At first, it sounds like a sappy story involving a child and a lost pet whose great devotion for one another reunites them just before a tragic ending.  But there’s a mermaid on the cover which seems incongruous.  In this case, the child, Gaylen, travels his kingdom on a mission to find the most accurate definition for the word “delicious.”  Instantly more intriguing.

See, the Prime Minister believes that fried fish is the most delicious food, but the king is adamant that it’s apples, while the queen prefers Christmas pudding.  The argument grows until the court decides to find out for sure by polling every citizen.  They choose young Gaylen to visit each city and record everyone’s answer.  But as he travels, the contention over this word only escalates, bringing the country to the brink of civil war.

The book cover includes an assortment of reviews that are useful and actually relate to the book (this often isn’t the case).  One blurb in particular captures the essence of the book: “sensitive without ever being sad.”  This story covers some serious and delicate topics — from pettiness to transience to tyranny — but it retains a hopeful outlook.  The characters are exaggerated, and yet they are all very honest.  Everything they do is done with great conviction, so while their actions may be silly, they are deeply sincere.  Gaylen interacts so many people on his journey, and Babbit displays a wide range of humanity, exploring how people can react conversely to the same information.  It’s a beautiful thing to have a book full of caricatures who are absolutely unique and absolutely knowable.

Prologues are generally forgettable, but this one is essential to introduce the magical elements of the story.  Magic has faded to minstrel songs by Gaylen’s time and incomplete songs at that.  Gaylen encounters all of the magical creatures (there are only five) on his travels and uncovers scraps of the story the audience already knows.  I relished in recognizing the full significance of these fragments while watching Gaylen put the pieces together for himself.  And while the magical creatures certainly played a role in the story, the plot had a more human element to it.  Gaylen’s quest is strictly non-magical and it’s his humanity that allows him to follow it through.

Now Gaylen is an interesting character.  He takes everything in stride, even if it makes him uneasy, and works out connections that no one else sees (except the villain).  In all the uproar over the word “delicious,” the audience never knows what Gaylen would choose.  He is separate from the controversy which makes him pivotal to the resolution.  Gaylen is the perfect guide into this world, someone you can root for and be proud of as he grows.  With plenty of angst-ridden protagonists out there, Gaylen is a refreshing character to spend a day with.

The Search for Delicious is a simple read — perfect for a lazy afternoon — but a delectable morsel of literature.

Oh, and for the record: Delicious is freshly baked pumpkin bread with a side of Bluebell homemade vanilla ice cream.

At the end of the day: Really, really for me.

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13) Book of a Thousand Days

By: Shannon Hale

Date Finished: 08.14.12

By Shannon Hale

Once upon a time a lady chose her own betrothed against the wishes of her father.  As punishment, her father imprisoned the lady and her maid in a tower for seven years.  No one expected the girls to survive, but they managed to escape only to find their country in the midst of a devastating war.  Seeking refuge in the home of the lady’s beloved, they discover he is betrothed to another and must conceal their identities.  But as the war draws closer, the lady holds information that can stop the slaughter and only the maid knows how to act upon it.

I adore the title.  Book of a Thousand Days; it has such a melodic quality.  The book covers more than a thousand days, with the title referring to the concept, “you have to know someone a thousand days before you can glimpse her soul.”  In a sense, that’s what the book is about — the maid, Dashti, discovering the truth of Lady Saren’s soul.  The story is written as Dashti’s diary, and Hale stays very true to the journal form.  Dashti often documents the conditions in which she is writing, notes that conversations are likely inaccurate, and sometimes forgets what she intended to write altogether.  While it’s impressive that Hale maintained the pretense the entire time, it made me enjoy the book less.  That is to say, I prefer third person writing and since the journaling was so realistic, the first person-ness was never diminished.

The author’s note mentions that the book is based on a Grimm’s fairy tale called “Maid Maleen” (or “Princess Maleen” in some versions).  Naturally, I was compelled to read the original version, and while Hale took many liberties with the story, the inspiration is clear.  As a nice twist to the story’s German roots, Hale’s setting is based on medieval Mongolia and infused with a mythology of her own creation.  I loved the backdrop and the culture.  I loved the romance, which is an unusual thing for me to say since I tend to prefer action.  And yet…

I never got used to Dashti’s voice.  She comes off as naive and apologetic throughout with only a few moments of epiphany.  I admire Dashti’s character and actions, but I tire of her commentary.  This is another reason the journal format didn’t work for me.  Since Dashti records the events some time after they happen, she documents her regrets as well.  A more traditional format or a less realistic diary would have streamlined the story and accentuated the wisdom in Dashti’s instincts.

The mythology Hale created involves a deeply cultural religion and certain magics.  This religion emphasizes balance and a strong code of honor, both of which deeply influence the choices of all the characters.  One of the magical elements is the concept of healing songs — music which reminds the body how to be whole again and encourages it to mend.  Dashti knows these songs very well, which allows her to be close to the important people and events in the book.  However, the religion seemed like merely folklore and the magic like superstition at the beginning.  Turns out, they were both real, and I wish I had believed much earlier.

There’s a bit of deus ex machina in both leaving the tower and the resolution of the book.  Their escape from the tower is logical, it just takes Dashti a long time to think of how to do it.  Once she does, it’s quite easy for them to leave.  I don’t fully understand the end — it requires more of a suspension of disbelief — but at least Dashti had developed real relationships with her rescuers.  And it is a fairy tale, after all.  Even the Brothers Grimm version ends happily.

At the end of the day: For my younger self, perhaps

12) Inkheart

Book One of the Inkheart Trilogy

By: Cornelia Funke

Date Finished: 07.12.12

By: Cornelia Funke

“One may argue, of course, over whether or not stupidity is a crime deserving of death.  I think it is, for it can have exactly the same consequences as treachery.”

This book takes the relationship between the reader, author, and characters to a whole new level as a few individuals can literally bring characters to life.  Unfortunately for Mo, this gift is virtually impossible to control, and he draws out some nasty characters.  The story begins nine years later, when these villains catch up with Mo and his daughter, Meggie.

I was most fascinated by the relationships.  Meggie, the main character, is a twelve year old girl who gets swept up in an adventure.  This is not unusual for the genre, but her closest companion is her father, which is quite rare.  Along the way they pick up allies, as one does on an adventure, to include mostly adult comrades.  A typical story would separate the child from their parent(s) and have them befriend other children.  Indeed, Meggie and Mo do spend much of the story apart, fulfilling Meggie’s need to be her own hero, but Mo himself is a central character.  The supporting cast is distinct and intriguing and generally well-developed (the bad guys less than the good guys).

In addition to the unique relationships, the book has a great concept, a good plot, lots of action, but still leaves something to be desired.  I don’t say that to be cliché; I don’t know quite what that “something” is.  Some annoyances:

1) Point of view jumping.  For several chapters, everything is from Meggie’s point of view, then out of the blue we’re in someone else’s head.  All the “good guys” get at least one in their honor, with Meggie taking the chapters in between.  Not the worst point of view jumping I’ve experienced, but still awkward.

2) Beginning-of-chapter quotes.  Funke uses quotes from classics to kick off each chapter, but they are long and difficult to understand out of context.  Personally, I recognized only the Narnia quotes, and still had trouble interpreting those.

3) Wordiness.  Now my all-time favorite author is quite wordy, so I hesitate to list this as a complaint, but Funke’s lengthy descriptions do not contribute to the plot.  The overabundance tends to weigh down the action rather than support it.

Everything about the story should have suited me, but it never drew me in.  I put it down one night and didn’t pick it up again for over a month.

At the end of the day: Not for me : (