Spindle’s End


by Robin McKinley

Published 2000

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust.  (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.)  If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.  (It didn’t have to be anything scary or unpleasant, like snakes or slime, especially in a cheerful household – magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself – but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory.  And while the pansies – put dry in a vase – would probably last a day, looking like ordinary pansies, before they went greyish-dun and collapsed into magic dust, something like an ivory thimble would begin to smudge and crumble as soon as you picked it up.)

This is another well-loved book.  It’s a vacation book – I always buy at least one book on vacation; this one was purchased in Traverse City, Michigan, in September of 2003, and has probably been read at least ten times since then.  I think I fell in love with this book because almost the entire first paragraph is a parentheses.  As a parentheses addict myself, I love it.  If parentheses annoy you, steer clear of this book, as it is riddled with them.

What I love about McKinley is her ability to create a completely different world, yet one to which I can relate and one that I can understand almost immediately.  Although new rules reveal themselves as the story wends on, she doesn’t make any giant illogical leaps.  I also love the way that this story encompasses the entire 21 years of Sleeping Beauty’s life pre-spindle, but does it in a way that flows and is easy to read.  The book starts focused on Katriona, who becomes Princess Rosie’s foster-mother, but seamlessly flows into a focus more on Rosie when she is old enough to think interesting thoughts.  McKinley also does a wonderful job with the animals – although some characters can understand what animals are saying, it doesn’t make the animals less animal-like – it almost makes them more so.  (Like the movie Up where we can hear the dogs talking, and what do they say?  Exactly what we would expect dogs to say!)

I am not a 100% fan of McKinley; some of her stories aren’t my style.  But Spindle’s End is one of my very favorite books, and if you’re a fantasy fan and haven’t read this one, I highly recommend it.

Lion in the Valley and The Deeds of the Disturber


by Elizabeth Peters

Published 1986, 1988

Amelia Peabody Emerson is back, with husband and son in tow.  I have actually really been enjoying these unique mysteries.  The setting is just so random – 1890’s Egypt?? – and Amelia, for the most part, makes an entertaining and intelligent narrator.  Because she makes no secret of the fact that she believes her writing may be published after her death, the whole fact that she’s writing the story makes sense.  (Frequently, my problem with first-person writing is the constant nagging in the back of my mind – to whom is this person talking!?!? but Amelia is actually writing to the world, and she knows it, and everything flows well because of it.

The Lion in Valley (although I forgot to take a picture of it) was an intriguing mystery, although the book as a whole was not a favorite of mine, mostly because of religion.  Throughout the series, Emerson makes no secret of the fact that he thinks all religion is hogwash, which is fine.  However, especially in Lion, the was a constant insistence that all religion is hooey, and, consequently, that it doesn’t matter if one is a Muslem or a Christian or whatever.  I don’t believe that, and I can’t think that most Moslems do, either.  Religion is, by nature, somewhat exclusionary.  While I believe that you have the right to believe whatever you want to believe, I naturally think that my beliefs are the correct ones …  else, they wouldn’t by my beliefs!  And so, Emerson’s unnecessary lumping together and insulting of religion did begin to wear on my nerves after a while.

Deeds of the Disturber took a twist by being set in London.  Home for the season, the Emersons are hoping to catch up on their writing.  Unfortunately, the Museum in London is being “haunted” – by the priest of a mummy.  This was probably my least favorite of all the mysteries so far.  The story was quite far-fetched, the conclusion completely bizarre, and just – it was weird.  And a bit confusing.

There was also a whole side story where Amelia’s nephew and niece were staying with them.  Throughout the story, it was painfully obvious that Ramses was being bullied and tormented by both siblings, but Amelia and Emerson were so caught up in their mystery that they didn’t notice what was going on.  While Ramses chatter has annoyed me in past books, it was more frustrating to hear him incessantly cut off by parents who assumed that they already knew what he was going to say.  While everything was clear in the end and relationships restored, it was hard for me to get into the mystery when I was so distressed by Ramses’s situation.

Still, on the whole, the series is good and I have been enjoying the stories.  I’m reading the next in the series, The Last Camel Died at Noon, right now, and am quite enjoying it, so hopefully I will have some more good reviews to report soon!

PS It appears that that lack of a picture has confused me for sure!  I just realized that I already mention Lion in the Valley in my last post on the series.  Whoops!

Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away



by Elizabeth Enright

Published 1957, 1961

As you may be able to tell from the battered cover of my copy of Gone-Away, I love these books.  Elizabeth Enright writes happy. lighthearted stories.  While not long on plot, they are still fun to read.  The children in her stories manage to have adventures using mostly the great outdoors and their imagination.

I have to say that, as a child (and maybe even now) one of my favorite daydreams was that my family would end up buying an old, rambling house – one with a tower and an attic full of history.  So it is with a hint of jealousy that I read these stories.  Porita and her cousin discover not just an abandoned house, but an entire (almost) abandoned village!

These are simply, happy books that I would highly recommend, especially as read-alouds for children.  5/5