Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

This celebrated 1968 book is the first in a series of at least five novels and one book of short stories set in the fantasy world of Earthsea, which some have compared favorably to C. S. Lewis’ Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. It tells of a world somewhat like Earth, except that mankind is confined to a scattering of islands—some of them quite large, most of them almost too small to show up on a map—making up a vast archipelago and several outlying “reaches.” It is a world of feudal lords and peasants, sailing boats and galleys, conquering hordes and pirates. It is a world where memory takes the form of songs and legends, and where witches, sorcerers, and wizards are abroad.

Book Review: The Borrowers Avenged by Mary Norton
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

It was a little longer and slower-paced than the others, but a gripping story nevertheless. The nefarious Platters, the couple who tried to catch the Clocks in The Borrowers Aloft and turn them into a tourist attraction, are back, trying to recapture them. Meanwhile Pod, Homily, and Arrietty have moved into the rectory of a little village church, while their cousins Lupy, Hendreary, and little Timmus live in the church proper. Spiller, the laconic, outdoorsy one that Arrietty kind of loves (a big part of her heart longs for the outdoors), helps them, as does another borrower living in the rectory, a lame, artistic, aristocratic young fellow named Peagreen or Peregrine. While a vague sort of love triangle develops between Arrietty, Peagreen, and Spiller, the Platters get closer and closer to capturing their prey, culminating in a breathtaking climax in which the Platters break into the church to get young Timmus, Arrietty’s favorite cousin, who (the Platters know) has gotten trapped inside a locked cabinet.

Book Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

I take a book with me everywhere I go. The habit has grown out of my realization that I hate boredom more than anything else. So one night when I had a ticket to the Symphony, I brought this book along and read from it during the “down-time” before the concert, and during the intermission. Another adaptation I have made is to become used to passersby taking an interest in whatever it might be that I’m so interested in. About 18 people asked me about this book that night. I was happy to tell them about Robin McKinley, who has written so many good books. But what really intrigued most folks is the fact that Sunshine is a vampire novel. It doesn’t look at all like what you would expect in a vampire novel. Unless I’m a poor judge of people, at least a few of those 18 inquirers went out and bought Sunshine the next day. Why? Because anyone can tell, right from the front cover, that as vampire novels go, this one is different.

Book Review: Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

Patrick O’Brian’’s twenty novels about dashing 19th-century British naval hero Jack Aubrey, and his tortured, intellectual best friend Stephen Maturin, combined an ear for language, an eye for imagery, a nose for authentic historical fact, a feel for the complex hearts and motives of human beings, and a taste for gripping drama and thrilling adventure. So as you read this series that spanned thirty years of creativity (1969-99), and which nevertheless seems like one uninterrupted tale, you find yourself experiencing a feast for all the senses. Behold, the vivid picture of a lithe frigate sailing on a bowline. Hearken to the beautiful, intimate music shared by a ship’s captain and its surgeon. Feel the sway of the deck and the roar of guns shaking your universe. Smell the salt spray, the smoke of battle. Taste the delights of humor, romance, tragedy, triumph, suspense, intrigue, and the simple pleasures of a daily routine that is now completely extinct.

Book Review: The Color Fairy Books Editor Andrew Lang
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

Nowadays, we can enjoy the complete fairy tales of the translated Arabian Nights in their unexpurgated, sensual glory; of the brothers Grimm, translated from German; of Charles Perrault, from the French; or of Hans Christian Andersen, from the Danish; and the like from many other languages and cultures.

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

This is the first book in the “Millennium Trilogy,” named after the magazine published by its main character, Swedish financial writer Mikael Blomkvist. The six-part Swedish TV miniseries based on these books is packaged in the U.S. as the “Dragon Tattoo Trilogy.” American audiences can now see a big-screen version of this book, starring Daniel Craig in the role of Mikael “Kalle” Blomkvist, a crusading journalist who (like the author who created him) specializes in exposing right-wing corruption—though, unlike Larsson, he does so mainly in the context of business. He is nicknamed “Kalle Blomkvist” after an Astrid Lindgren character known to all Swedes today, but whose stories have not come over to the U.S. in a big way. Adding still more confusion to this background is the fact that the book’s original, Swedish title translates as “Men Who Hate Women,” so if you try to start a conversation about this book with an acquaintance from Sweden, you are apt to get a blank look.

Book Review: The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

In this series of eight short stories, written in 1900 for The Strand magazine, Edith Nesbit pulls off a virtuoso performance in imagining an unheard-of variety of dragons, princesses, silly children, and other magical creatures.

Book Review: The Borrowers Aloft by Mary Norton
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

The fourth Borrowers book finds the Clocks living in a miniature village built to their size. It’s part of a retired railway worker’s hobby/craft project, a little replica of his town complete with wax figures that resemble frozen Borrowers. A good long portion at the beginning of the story is told from the point of view of Mr. Pott (the railroad guy) and his friend, Miss Menzies, a spinster who believes in fairies and helps him make the little wax figures and their clothes and such, as they gradually become aware that some of the little people in their model village are actually alive.

Book Review: Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil
Book Reviews / January 1, 2013

In this sequel to Leon and the Spitting Image, Leon Zeisel goes back to the Manhattan Classical School for a fifth-grade year every bit as magical and exciting as his fourth-grade one. His fanatical devotion to potato chips inspires the new science teacher, Mr. Sparks, to structure the entire school year around the study of chips. In return, Mr. Sparks’ lessons inspire Leon to apply the scientific method to the magical gift he discovered last year: creating a “remote control” for other human beings.