Monday, February 19, 2007

'Sabriel' by Garth Nix

ISBN: 0060575816
Format: Paperback, 311pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Price: $12.99

How many times have you been told by friends and relatives that you just have to read the book they have just finished reading and love? I get told that a lot; I get books passed to me and I try to read them, I do. But it just seems as if they are never quite as good as promised.

Sabriel was first published in 1995 and has graced young adult as well as adult-age bookstore shelves since. I’ve walked past it, picked it up to flip pages but have always put the book down again. A few months ago a friend starts listing the greatest fantasy books ever written (in his not so humble opinion) and Sabriel happened to be on the list. So I bought myself a copy and having just finished reading what is the first book in The Abhorsen Trilogy, I have to agree.

Sabriel grows up in a boarding school in Ancelstierre, which is separated by a wall from the Old Kingdom where she was born and where her father still lives. In Ancelstierre magic is not as common as in the Old Kingdom, but Sabriel learns a little from her school and even more from her father. It is Abhorsen’s job to make sure that the dead stay dead.

While Ancelstierre seems like England in the 1930s, the Old Kingdom is solidly in some ancient time before cars and electricity. But the gift of magic gives them things that cars or electricity cannot, and the Old Kingdom’s culture is based on and around magic.

Sabriel can walk in Death and lay the dead to rest, using what is called Charter Magic. Her father has been having her learn things from The Book of the Dead, showing her the paths to walk in Death. Sabriel has known Death all her life and has never questioned her need to know these things; they are just in her blood.

On the eve of an expected visit from her father, a messenger from Death comes instead. The messenger only brings her father’s sword and necromancy bells before it disappears. Immediately Sabriel knows that her father is in trouble and she must save him.

What follows is an adventure full of zombie-like undead to be battled, secrets to be uncovered, and friends to be made. Once started, the story is so hard to put down you will read it in a few days and then pick it up to read it again.

I haven’t read such an original fantasy novel in a long time. The world is solid, whole and deftly constructed, you feel as if you would meet the people who live there and find them no different from yourself. The characters, especially Sabriel, are strong, three-dimensional people you are involved with from the first page on.

I wish that I had discovered this jewel of a novel long ago but now that I have, I too can say “You have to read this book!”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

'Love Walked In' by Marisa De Los Santos

ISBN: 064184770X
Format: Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $14.00

“My life — my real life — started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and, yes, I know how that sounds.”

For Cornelia, manager of the coffee shop Dora in Philadelphia, the day Martin Grace walks in looking like Cary Grant straight out of Philadelphia Story, everything changes. And honestly who could resist Cary Grant? Cornelia and Martin share an instant chemistry and begin seeing each other regularly. Cornelia relates all these dates to the reader as movie-like moments.

Meanwhile Clare, an 11-year-old, is watching her mother Viviana slipping into what is later diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Clare becomes more adult than any child should be, making lists of the things her mother should be doing for her but isn’t. Clare is also a great reader, comparing herself to all her favorite orphan characters in her favorite books, just like Cornelia compares her life to all her favorite old movies.

You know immediately that they are destined to meet. Then Martin shows up at CafĂ© Dora with Clare wrapped in her mothers mink coat. Cornelia learns that Martin was married to Viviana and that Clare is his daughter although this is the first she has heard about this part of Martin’s life. Viviana has disappeared, leaving Clare on the side of a road to fend for herself.

Cornelia steps into Clare’s life to be everything she needs since her mother has disappeared and her father is cold and inexperienced when it comes to his daughter. In the middle of this steps Teo, Cornelia’s sisters husband but also, more importantly, her childhood friend. He also steps up to help take care of Clare, to be a steady rock in Clare’s stormy sea.

What was hard to read was the eventual return of Viviana. She is ‘cured’ of her disorder, sharing with Clare and Cornelia, the story of the clinic that saved her and her medication. Viviana wants nothing more than to bundle Clare up and take her home, but things are not that simple. Clare refuses to let go of Cornelia and though Viviana handles it with grace, in the end she comes to the point where she's begging Cornelia to let them try to heal themselves alone.

Love Walked In is a wonderful book, full of beautiful cinematic moments that fill your heart. The story of the three lives — Clare, Cornelia, and Teo — connecting and growing together is wonderful to read. This is a book I’ll pick up and read again, pass along to my best friend, and sit talking about for hours afterward. I’m in love!