Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Dragon Slippers

Dragon Slippers
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was first introduced to Jessica Day George's writing when I read about her book Tuesdays in the Castle. A sentient castle? Princes and Princesses who need to be in charge when their parents are feared dead? People out to get them? Perfect. As soon as I finished reading it at the end of last year, I put the next book in the series, Wednesdays in the Castle, on my Goodreads Want to Read list.

I don't know why I hadn't gone looking for more of her books. I think it was the sheer number of books already on my plate. So it wasn't until 3:00 this morning, wanting to find something to read on my kindle since I couldn't sleep, that I came across Dragon Slippers. Written in 2007, it is the first book in the Dragon Slippers trilogy. It follows the adventures of Creelisle (Creel) Carlbrun as she is first thrust into her aunt's daft plan of having a dragon - who no one knows for a fact exists - capture her so a nobleman can come rescue her and sweep them all away into the lap of luxury. (I told you it was daft!) Instead, Creel sort-of befriends the dragon and helps him avoid the tedium of fighting the nobleman in return for part of his hoard. It isn't what she expects, and it leads her on a journey she could never have imagined. And all because she wanted to open her own embroidery shop!

I was entranced by this book! For the last couple of weeks, I hadn't been feeling the desire to read. I'd pick up a book, read a few pages, and find something else to occupy my attention. But not Dragon Slippers. I didn't want to put it down to come get my kids ready for school. I had to see how Creel was going to get out of the first dragon's cave. I wanted to know if she'd quit the shop she was apprenticing in. I wanted to know what Larkin was up to. I just had to know more.

Part of what I enjoyed about this book is that it took elements of some of my favorite fantasy and wove them together into a wonderful work that is all it's own. The beginning, with Creel going on a long journey away from a house that didn't understand her had underpinnings of Talia in Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen (though, to be fair, Creel didn't have it half as hard as Talia did). Her relationship with Prince Luka reminded me very much of the movie Ever After - without her having to pretend she is someone other than who she is. The dragons coming back reminded me, in a small way, of the Dragonlance Chronicles. It was like George took my favorite parts of novels, cleaned up the bits that didn't work, and made it into a cohesive novel.

I loved the strong female characters. Creel had a backbone that I love to see in YA novels, because it shows young women that they CAN do whatever they want to do. The Duchess was the first to really support Creel with her embroidery - and was able to put spoiled Princess Amalia in her place. Even one of the dragons, Niva, is one of the stronger characters in the book. The men aren't exactly week, but generally the human men aren't as fleshed out in this book (beyond Prince Luka and Tobin). But this didn't really bother me - most of the rest of the men were just background characters anyway.

The book's spin on a dragon's hoard was wonderful (though I won't tell it for those who haven't read it and don't want to be spoiled). It was something that I hadn't seen coming but made perfect sense. After all, not all humans are the same, why should all dragons be?

The ending, however, made me angry at my local library. They didn't have the ebook copies of the second book, Dragon Flight for me to borrow. I think I may be spending some of my Christmas money on picking up the series.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I pointed out in the review before this one, this reading of the book was an audio book that I'd taken out for our long drive to Philadelphia. And, for all that I knew the story really well, this was almost like a first time read for me, because I got to hear it through the ears of my oldest son.

I'm pretty sure everyone out there knows the basic premise of this book. Harry Potter is the only one to ever survive the killing curse performed by the Dark Lord, Voldemort. And he did this at the age of 1. At that young age, with his parents dead, he is brought to live with his only remaining relations, the Dursley's. The Dursley's are a horrid bunch that try to make Harry's life as miserable as possible. It's only as his 11th birthday approaches that he finds out that he is so much more than the orphan child doomed to live the existence of a second class citizen under his family's roof. He finds out he's a wizard.

The Sorcerer's Stone details Harry's first year at Hogwarts, including some very strange happenings that result in a large confrontation at the end of the book. We also meet the people that are to become most important to Harry through out his years at Hogwarts and beyond: Ron Weasley, a boy in cast offs that becomes Harry's best friend; Ron's family, who become a surrogate family for Harry; Hermione Granger, the smartest witch of her generation and Harry's other best friend; Haggrid, the gentle giant of a man that is the gameskeeper at Hogwarts; Draco Malfoy, Harry's enemy at Hogwarts (because every hero should have one); Professor Snape, the potions teacher that also seems to have it out for Harry; Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts that seems to know all but tell very little... the list could go on for hours.

As we listened to the story this time, Teddy was in the back seat, listening and asking questions as the story went along. He wanted to know why some things happened, what the meaning of some of the words were... he was engaged. And when we mentioned the possibility of getting the second book for our next travels, he was excited by it.

I've loved Harry Potter from the beginning. I bought the first 4 books through a book club and they came at a time when I was laid up because of back trouble. I read through these books like the pages would burn if I didn't get to them fast enough. And once I finished The Goblet of Fire, I picked The Sorcerer's Stone back up again. I can't say exactly what it is that appeals to me about this series. The first book is written to a much younger audience than my own 37 years. But it comes alive within the covers. Many of us have wanted to have that magical thing happen to take us out of our every day life and give us something spectacular. And Harry gets that. We get to go on his journey as he explores that spectacular world. We get to learn along side him about Quidditch and Butter Beer and charms and spells and potions.

Yet, for all that this world is fantastical, there's still a quality to it that kids will relate to. There's bullying. There's teasing. There are friends and enemies. There are teachers that they love and teachers that they hate. It's a wonderful combination of easy to relate to and fantastical enough to take us out of our own world. I think that's part of what's so endearing about the series.

I look forward to letting Teddy read the rest of these as he gets older. Because I really think that he'll enjoy it.

February 8, 2013

It is now almost 2 years later, and Teddy asked us to read this to him. I'd honestly forgotten, until rereading my previous review, just how enthralled Teddy was the first time. So it really shouldn't have surprised me.

Reading aloud to my boys (because Pete, about half the time, pays attention too) is a very different experience than hearing it read by a professional or even reading it myself. Teddy doesn't care for me trying to put on the accents too much, so those usually go by the wayside (much to my regret - doing accents is one of my favorite parts of reading!) And, since this is bedtime reading that we're doing together, there are times I need to go back and reread a section that he'd fallen asleep during the previous night. But, in many ways, it was a far more enriching experience to read the story to my boys or listen to my husband read it to them.

Now at almost 7, Teddy gets a lot more. He's in first grade and has larger class sizes. He's had to deal with bullies and kids he didn't like. He can relate to a few more things than he's been able to before. Through much of the story, he would try to guess what was going to happen next - sometimes he'd be right, sometimes he'd be wrong. But it was a great way to get his imagination running.

And he definitely enjoyed it. Tonight, we're planning on putting in the movie and then, before bed, starting in with the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I may amend this review later with Teddy's thoughts on the book (if I can get him to say more than "It was great - that's usually his level of communication after something, even if it's something he enjoyed). But I'm thinking that this is a series we'll be enjoying for quite some time - though I'm probably going to wait until he's a little older for books 4-7.

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