Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik
First sentence: “The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some domestic violence and other violence as well as some more mature themes. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore. 

If you’ve read Novik’s Uprooted, then you know what you’re in for with this book. (If you haven’t read Uprooted, why not?) 

This takes place in much of the same place that Uprooted does: a vaguely Eastern-European/Russian country. We follow the story of Miryem, the daughter of an inept Jewish money lender, who decides to take on the family business for herself. She becomes successful enough that it captures the attention of the Staryk, a viscous race of faerie who, during the winter, stole from the humans, goods, yes, but often money. She is tasked with turning silver into gold — which she does — and as a “reward” is kidnapped and taken to the Staryk kingdom. 

So, yes: shades of Rumplestiltskin, but the inferences go deeper. There is playing with names and the importance of them (everyone who reads a lot of fantasy knows that one’s true name is to be kept close because there is magical power in them). But, there’s also a demon and quite a few very very smart women who are willing and able to play the system to get what’s not only best for them, but also for the country. 

My only real complaint is the shifting narrative — but that’s just because I’m in the middle of the Cybils, and it seems like there’s a lot of shifting narrative books out there and I’m a bit over it. I love the way Novik plays with fairy tales, meshing them with religion and folklore to create something wholly her own. 

Excellent. 

Advertisements

Ghosts of Greenglass House

by Kate Milford
First sentence: “Frost was pretty much the worst.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Greenglass House
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s a bit slow moving and long, so while appropriate for the age, probably not good for the reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s been a year since Milo has seen his ghost friend Meddy, and the adventures of the last Christmas. He’s mostly doing okay, except for a bit of a problem at school with a teacher who isn’t terribly sensitive (Milo is Chinese American, and adopted). But it’s Christmas break (again), and Milo is looking forward to a guest-free (mostly), teacher free break. That is, until his old friends Clem and Georgie show up (again), having robbed the legendary smuggler Violet Cross’s stash. Things kind of go downhill from there, with the arrival of the Waits, a group of traditional carolers, when they turn everything at Greenglass House upside down.

It’s a solid book. taking place over just a couple of days, with a strong mystery. It was fun to revisit the characters again (I don’t even remember the first book all that well, so it’s really not necessary to read it before reading this one), and I loved how Midwinter it was. There’s a whole subplot with the running of the deer, and the hobby horse, and the holly and the ivy that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It was just a delightful story to read.

Greenglass House

by Kate Milford
First sentence: “There is a right way to do things and a wrong way if you’re going to run a hotel in a smuggler’s town.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s nothing in the usual objectionable categories. However, it’s a slow book, especially at the start, and there’s some confusion sometimes when the characters switch names. That said, a good reader who loves mysteries would really like this one. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t be adverse to putting it in the YA (grades 6-8) section either.

Milo and his parents run an inn at the top of a hill overlooking a river just outside of the fictional town of Nagspeake. The thing that makes their inn special is that it’s a safe having for smugglers. Milo and Mr. and Mrs. Pine know how to keep secrets.

However, it’s winter break, and Milo is looking forward to spending time alone with his parents. Without guests. So, he’s predictably disappointed when four guests, one right after another, show up for the winter.

Soon, they are in full swing, and have to bring up their usual cook, with her daughter, who just happens to be Milo’s age. Soon he and Meddy find themselves embroiled in an adventure and a mystery: figuring out why each of the four guests are there, their connection with the old house that Milo’s parents inherited, and who keeps stealing stuff.

The comparisons to Westing Game that I’ve read are valid. There is a mystery to solve, and it’s a quietly clever one, with a twist that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. (As we all know, I’m not the most careful of readers.) But it’s more than a mystery: it’s a lovely book, full of stories and quiet adventures (Meddy and Milo play a Dungeons & Dragons-like game for most of the book). I’m impressed that Milford wrote such a compelling book on such a small scale; because of the weather, Milo and Meddy hardly ever leave the house. It’s a very bleak landscape (Think The Dark is Rising bleak), but Milford infuses it with both warmth and mystery.

One more thing: Milo is adopted. He’s of Chinese nationality with white parents, and he feels that difference keenly at this point in his life. So, it’s not only a book with a mystery, it’s a book about belonging and family.

I loved it.