Inkspell

The second book in a series always makes me nervous.

Especially if the first book is one of my favorites. The second book in a series is chancy. If the series as a whole is going to fail, the second book will be where it happens. Sometimes I just prefer to enjoy the first book, appreciate how amazing it was, and not move on for there. If the following books failed, the first one isn’t spoiled for me.

But sometimes, just sometimes, the sequel is as good—or, dare I say it—better than the first one.

That does not happen often.

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And yet, Cornelia Funke, the author of Inkheart (my favorite book), managed it with her sequel in the series, Inkspell.

Inkheart is, of course, the brilliant and magical story of Meggie Folchart, whose father Mo has the unique ability to read characters right out of the pages of the books he picks up. But this time, it isn’t the character of another book that ends up in our world.

It’s Meggie that ends up in the world of Inkheart.

When Meggie reads herself into Inkheart to warn an old friend of the return of a mutual enemy, she finds that the Inkworld is far more dangerous—and beautiful—than she had ever imagined. Suddenly she finds herself immersed in a slew of new characters, wandering the Wayless Wood and exploring the castle of Ombra. Surrounded by glassmen and fairies, water nymphs and the wonders of the Motley folk, Meggie finds herself enraptured by the magic of the Inkword.

But too soon, the enchantment is shattered when her father, Mo, follows her into the book and is nearly killed by an old rival. Meggie rushes to his aid, but before she can reach him, he runs afoul of the villain of the story, a powerful, sadistic prince called the Adderhead.

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With her father in the dungeons of the Silver Prince, Meggie must enlist the help of old friendships, some of them less than stable. The words of the author of this story, now a tenant, are all the weapons Meggie has against this powerful enemy, combined with her remarkable voice. With Feneglio’s words, Meggie hatches a plan to bind Death between the covers of a book in exchange for her father’s life. But there are many players in this dangerous game, and the Inkworld itself does not like to offer the easy solution.

This second installment in the Inkworld series restored my faith in sequels. I thoroughly enjoyed the depth and mystic of this wonderful, enchanting world that Cornelia Funke created between the pages of this book. Once again, she was able to create a cast of characters that took my breath away, and I would highly recommend it to any fans of the original Inkheart.

The toadlike eyes looked at him, black and gold, and then the water-nymph sank and vanished as if she had been a mere illusion. But a few moments later, three of them appeared together in the dark water. Shoulders white as lily petals shimmered beneath the surface, fishtails with rainbows scales like the belly of a perch flickered, barely visible, in the water below.

My Kingdom

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“A plague on them,” he mutters through clenched teeth. “A thrice-cursed plague.”

I stand in the corner, half hidden by curtains, and say nothing, like a good slave. I’d like to tell him that he’s already brought down a plague on his people, that it’s his fault they are dying in the streets, but I know better. A slave can’t talk that way to a king, not even a drunken one.

He’s standing at the window, although the breeze coming in through the lattice smells of death. Death from the streets, death from the courtyards where he’s hung every sorcerer and enchanter, doctor and physician in his kingdom. They all told him they could cure the plague that is ravaging the streets, but they couldn’t. Only I know how because only I know what brought it on.

He leans against the window frame, clutching his head in his hands, and shouts for me again. He’s too drunk to know where I am, and I don’t come. He wants more wine, and I’ll bring it to him—soon. Not yet.

But he’s tired of waiting now and sober enough to realize that I can’t be far off. He shouts again, cursing, and says, his voice slurred by wine, “Will! Where are you?”

In a minute he’ll come looking, and I won’t be hard to find. I pick up the chalice he sent me for and come forward, offering it to him. “My lord.”

He snatches at it, cursing me. “At last. Do I have to trade my kingdom for a glass of wine?”

I watch him drink it and smile, seeing the drug already taking effect. He staggers, looking confused, and collapses into a chair. Tomorrow he’ll wake in the dungeons, forgotten by his loyal subjects in favor of their new king. I bow to him again, mockingly this time, and turn to leave. “As you said, my lord. Your kingdom for a glass of wine.”

Memoirs of a Hopeless Book Hoarder

When I was fourteen, I got my first library card.

All the sudden, I could borrow as many books as I wanted. I could go to the bookmobile every week and pick out a new book, or ten new books. I could reserve books online with my own card.

Technically, my mother would have let me get whatever I liked on her card too. But when you’re fourteen, your own library card holds a sense of power, of purpose and responsibility.

At least, that’s how I felt about it.

I was a little weird.

Still am, in fact.

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I used that card nearly every week, and I always had a pile of books on my desk with a library recipe tucked inside their pages. The only rule about the library card was that I was in charge of the things I checked out, and any fines on my card had to be paid by yours truly. No running to my mom to borrow money because I’d forgotten to return a book on time.

I loved it.

Then, after a few years, I had an epiphany.

The library was all very well, but if I bought the books, I got to keep them. 

Forever.

Suddenly, that babysitting job of mine took on a whole new purpose. I found a little bookshelf at a thrift store, set it up on the corner of my desk, and figured that would do nicely to hold my very, very small collection of personal books.

It was a good plan. A brilliant one, in fact.

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There was only one flaw.

My very, very small collection of books—did not stay very, very small.

In a few months, that little desktop bookshelf was joined by another, larger desktop bookshelf. Then replaced by a full-sized bookshelf. Then two full-sized bookshelves.

Now there are books in my closet.

They might be multiplying.

I blame the library card. Or possibly my mother, since she was the one who took us on all those Awesome Great Adventures to the library when I was little. She also read to us when we climbed in her bed in the mornings, instead of sending us to watch cartoons so she could sleep.

I’m sure that’s where my obsession started.

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Also, she taught me to read when I was three. And corrupted me by bringing home laundry baskets full of books from library sales and thrift stores, so we always had new things to read together. I think she has four bookshelves now, not including the books the rest of her kids keep in their rooms, or the two bookshelves that belong exclusively to my dad for his books. I haven’t quite bought as many as they have yet, but I’m working on it.

Maybe it’s hereditary?

 

Long Way Home

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They get on when the train stops for the third time. I see their red caps, their uniforms through the crowd, and I curse myself for riding as long as I did. I know how dangerous trains are, but it’s a long, long walk home through the rain. I thought I’d get lucky. I have before. Once or twice.

But it seems my luck has run out.

I pull my cap down over my eyes, hunch into my seat, and pretend to be looking out the window. Watching the rain fall, just like any normal person would on a long trip home. I can’t get off now. If I move, they’ll see me, and there’s nowhere to run on a train. Maybe if I pretend to be asleep, they’ll let me alone, check me later.

But I’m a coward, and I can’t close my eyes. Not while they’re searching for me.

So I watch the rain instead.

The lady across from me is knitting. A scarf, or something like it. Bright red. Like blood. I can’t look at it, can’t look at her or them. I watch the rain, begging them to pass me by, to see a boy on his way home, a student on his way to class, a delivery boy on his rounds. Anything but what I am.

Only she’s noticed. She looks at the men, then at me, and I can see that she knows what’s happening. They’re two aisles away when she shoves the ball of yarn into my hands. “Hold this for me, Stephen,” she says. As if my name really is Stephen, as if I really know her. “And don’t slouch, child.”

I take it, so confused I can’t do anything else, and the men walk by me without flinching, without a second look. Because I’m with her, and the Infected are always alone. Always.

Fablehaven

I adore fairies in fiction.

They are some of my favorite things to find inside the covers of a book. Whether they are mossy, grumpy gnomes, malignant pixies, or fluttering sprites, I love them all.

And, precisely because I love reading about them so much, I very rarely find a book that I feel does well with its fairies. Modern authors tend to shy away from the traditional view of fairies and try to put their own ‘unique spin’ on the little creatures.

All too often, their ‘unique spin’ ends up falling flat.

I have, however, run into a few books that did fairies incredibly well. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of my favorites, and I have adored Tinkerbell in all her selfish glory from day one. Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath also did an incredible job portraying fairies, and that is one of many reasons her books hold such an honored place on my shelves.

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Just recently, I stumbled across another book about fairies. One that swept me away. Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven was one of the most fascinating, enjoyable modern fairy stories, simply because he let the fairies be fairies. They weren’t little saints gushing about friendship, loyalty, and pixie dust, they didn’t go on quests, and they didn’t have noble hearts and kind souls.

They were vain, vicious, vindictive little pixies, and I loved it.

Kendra is the center-point of this gorgeous book. She and her brother, Seth, are sent to stay with their grandfather on his farm while their parents are out of town. When they arrive, they find the house and grounds are more like a resort than a farm, with a pool, playroom, and lovely gardens. Grandpa Sorensen tells them they can do whatever they like . . . with two exceptions. The barn is off limits, and so are the woods.

Kendra is happy to comply with the rules, but Seth is far more interested in what lies beyond the eaves of the forest. Within a few days, his poking and prying—and her investigation of the clues her grandfather has left her—lead them to discover Fablehaven’s real purpose. The house is the center of a massive preserve, dedicated to the protection and concealment of mystical creatures.

Fairies, as a matter of fact.

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But more than fairies live under the shadows of the trees. Naiads, giants, satyrs, trolls, and worse, populate the woods. Fablehaven might be a preserve, but a good deal of its purpose is to protect the outside world from what lives within its boundaries. After an accident involving a fairy, the uneasy peace on the preserve is shattered, and chaos ensues. Kendra quickly finds herself alone, lost in the whirlwind that is Fablehaven, desperate for a way to rescue her family from the dangers surrounding them.

It’s not often that I find a new book that captivates me as much as this one did. Or a book that actually manages to have me glancing over my shoulder as I get ready for work at 4 AM. Fablehaven was just the right combination of creepy and fascinating, and kept me enthralled from cover to cover. I highly recommend it to any fantasy lovers out there, especially those of you who have a thing for fairies.

“The preserves are the final refuge for many ancient and wonderful species,” Grandpa said. “The goal is to prevent these wondrous beings from passing out of existence.”

Until the Sun Rises

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They fall asleep as soon as the fire is lit. Firelight flickers on the walls of the cave, on the dirt floor and their weary faces. We don’t dare take roads through this country, and walking through fields and bogs is hard with their short legs and tired feet. Tramps aren’t a welcome sight this far south. The last farm we stopped at sent us packing with dogs on our heels. Cole still has a bruise from the rocks they threw. We might be luckier in the cities, but we don’t dare risk even a small town. Not yet.

Another wolf howls, and Cole smiles at me when I look up. He’s tired, I can see that, but he won’t sleep tonight. Our feet were bleeding when we passed through the first bog this morning, and the wights are following us now, drawn to blood and weary hearts. He’ll stay awake to keep them off, although I’ve told him three or four times that I’m not tired, and haven’t lain down yet to prove it.

He’s afraid of the wights, I think. And of being found. We’re always afraid of being found. We avoid the roads, beg at farmhouses, and eat bitterroot and wild potatoes to keep from being caught in a town or village. It’s worse for him than it is for me. When we ran, I was still a child, still six months shy of the right age. But Cole is a year older than I am, and to the men that ran our workhouse, he stole me. Me, and the nine other children we’ve dragged along with us. We shouldn’t have taken so many, but I couldn’t leave any of them behind. We belong together, all of us, and to leave even one behind would have hurt too much.

So he’s a thief who stole ten children from the mills they worked in. If they catch us, I’ll go back to the workhouse. But they’ll hang him.

So we stay awake together, listening to the wolves howl until the sun rises.

Les Miserables

I will admit, this is an intimidating post to write.

Not only because Les Miserables is such an incredible, life-changing book, but because Victor Hugo happens to be one of my favorite authors. His mastery of prose, of story, and of character blew me away when I first read this book.

Also, he was the sass master of the ages.

I swear, there was a reason that man was exiled. Whatever explanation is in the history books is only partially true. Really, it was because the rich and powerful were tired of how sarcastic and mocking he was whenever he wrote about them.

The man had no filter.

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If you have read Les Miserables yourself—or spoken to someone who has—undoubtably you have heard about how long-winded it is. To be fair, there are at least two—very long—chapters devoted entirely to describing the Battle of Waterloo and the complete workings of the Paris sewers, neither of which had more than a passing significance to the story. They were unnecessary and very misplaced in the more modern view of storytelling.

I loved them both.

The Battle of Waterloo was fascinating simply because I knew almost nothing about it, and much preferred learning the particulars in Hugo’s style of writing rather than the dates and facts of a history book. As for the sewers of Paris—perhaps the less said about that the better. Let’s just say, it gave me several marvelous story ideas. Someday, when I do not have a full fantasy series and a biography hanging on me and begging for my attention, I shall write them.

It may be a while.

Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean, a Frenchman in the early nineteenth century. A convict, in fact, who, because of a loaf of bread, has been condemned to spend the rest of his life as an outcast of society. Nineteen years, he served for a loaf of bread—and for attempting to escape. His time in prison left him bitter and broken, and he continues to live out of that bitterness, taking what he can from life and stealing where nothing is offered.

Until he finds himself on the doorstep of the Bishop of Digne. The man invites him in, gives him food and a bed where most offered a bullet and a dog’s teeth. That night Valjean steals his silver and all the money in the house and disappears.

A few hours later, he is brought back, ready to be sent straight back to prison if only the Bishop will identify him.

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The Bishop refuses. He informs the guards graciously that Jean Valjean is not a thief, and that everything in his bag was given to him. More than that, he takes the only silver left in the house, two silver candlesticks, and offers them as well, insisting that Valjean must have forgotten them.

This gesture of grace, something that is so far out of Valjean’s experience, turns his life on its head and begins a journey of epic proportions to become, as the Bishop makes him swear, an honest man. From this point, the story leads through a labyrinth of characters, including the daughter of a prostitute who becomes Valjean’s ward, a police inspector driven by an almost fanatical desire for justice, and a poor, threadbare student standing on the barricades of the French Revolution. Grace and the law are put on trial together, and the failings of the law are covered by the redemption of grace.

Long-winded or not, this is a book for the ages, and one I recommend to anyone looking for a new favorite classic to read.

I promise not to judge if you decide to skip the chapter about the sewers.

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”