I read a few too many less-than-stellar books late last year and early this year. It had a bad effect on me. I didn’t feel like reading at all for a while. But I forced myself to pick up some books, and I’m glad I did. I had my faith in reading restored by these three books.
Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer
I found a copy of Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer at the library’s used book sale. Though I had never heard of the author, the book sounded interesting. It’s about Sally, an 8-year-old girl who has to stay with an elderly aunt in a spooky, old house while her parents are away on business. Sally discovers that there used to be another girl named Sally living in that house. The Sally of the past had lost her favorite doll, Elizabeth. Connected to her through dreams, the new Sally relives the events that led to the loss of the doll and tries to solve the mystery of what happened to it.
As a doll story, Magic Elizabeth is not an obvious choice for me, but I found that it has the same kind of charm as Gone-Away Lake (not to mention the same illustrator). I like this book now, but I think I would have adored it as a child. Highly recommended for the 8-12 crowd.
On a side note, I was interested to know a little bit more about the author and the book. There was no information about them at Wikipedia, but when I looked the author up, I found her obituary. She died just a couple of years ago. She was well-respected in her community, and though she’s not exactly a household name, her book seems to be a favorite childhood book for many, and it keeps coming back into print.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This is the story of Nobody Owens, a boy who, when he was a toddler, tumbled out of his house and away from the man who had come to kill him and his family. He finds his way into a graveyard. The graveyard’s tenants (i.e., the Dead), take pity on the orphaned boy and decide to raise him amongst themselves, granting him the freedom of the graveyard. A graveyard is no place for a living boy, but it will be his home until he grows up.
Thanks to Neil Gaiman for writing a book that justifies all the hype that surrounds him. I liked Coraline and Stardust, but they didn’t knock my socks off, and I actually disliked American Gods (sorry!). But The Graveyard Book was inventive, fun, often dark but without being intolerably violent or gross, and it had things to say about the human condition that were worth reading. I wanted to stay in its world so much that I considered rereading it immediately. I have added this book to my library and I will read it again soon.
The Lost Conspiracy (aka Gullstruck Island) by Frances Hardinge
Frances Hardinge is possibly the best wordsmith of the three authors mentioned here. You can tell how meticulously she crafted every sentence of The Lost Conspiracy. Her book was ambitious, and she set a high standard for herself. She met it most of the time, too. But it was a complex story set in a complex world, and there were times when I had difficulty staying focused on it, perhaps because the language was just a little too dense. So, a slight lack of accessibility brought the grade down a notch.
That said, if you like to read fantasy novels, then you know how hard it is to find anything new. Most fantasy novels are so obviously, pathetically derivative (and poorly written, to boot) that it sometimes seems to spoil the whole genre. That is not the case with The Lost Conspiracy. I cannot even begin to say how happy I am to have discovered it and to have the hope that the author’s other books will be as good or better. I fully intend to find out.