Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: The Man with the Glass Heart by Shelly Reuben

Title: The Man with the Glass Heart
Author: Shelly Reuben
Publication Date: December 1, 2012
Target Age Group: Adult
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Description (from Amazon)

Not since The Little Prince fell in love with a rose has a book captured the magic of a world where love longs for what it cannot have, recovers what it has lost, and the unimaginable flutters with luminescent wings out of crystal caves. Panache, an exuberant road gypsy, is on her way to the mountains. Benjamin Pencil, The Man With The Glass Heart, has no use for mountains. But their paths cross, their lives intertwine, and Benjamin follows her up, up, up, to where hills are smothered in poppies and a man can reach out and write his name in the sky. As they travel, they first encounter the beautiful but predatory Woman with the Breeding, a collector of hearts who tries to add Benjamin's exquisite heart to her pitiable hoard; the malicious Man who Laughs, who lives only to create fear and kill dreams; and unpredictably Panache's iconoclastic, unreliable, and utterly irresistible father. Papa plays his saxophone with the same wild abandon with which he lives his life, and cautions Panache that if the mountains are in a man, he will go there ... and that mountains are in the man with the glass heart. It is in those mountains that they meet the melodious laughing bird. Melody, with her irresistible song and aquamarine eyes, lures Benjamin to an Arabian Nights world where hypnotizing creatures dance and sing late into the night. At what peril does Benjamin Pencil follow the melodious laughing bird? To what end? Can real hearts be broken? Is a shattered heart the end of all love? Or can it be a new beginning?

My Review

This book was acquired from Book Expo America 2013. Many thanks to BEA and to the author for the opportunity to review it.

This book is toted as an adult fable.  And it's easy to see tons of symbolism in the story. But the story itself, before going into that symbolism, exists well enough on its own. Shelly Reuben has created a very vividly imagined story of a kind of fantasy world, with modern touches. 

The story has a very medieval feel to it, with characters traversing the landscape on foot, majestic mountain landscapes, and small towns that feel like something right out of J. R. Tolkien's works.  There is also magic involved. There is a character who is a collector of hearts, where the hearts are physically taken from their owners. There is also another character who appears and disappears like some type of magician and a harbinger of doom, as well as the Melodious Bird" which is almost human in its mannerisms. This is, of course, because these characters are symbols purposefully created by the author, but ignoring that, they give the story a fantasy element.

And yet there are characters, such as the main character Panache's father, who is an obviously modern musician who plays the saxophone. It is a testament to the skill of the author who successfully marries these modern touches with the old-school landscape to make it all work together.

On the surface, the story is about Panache, who wants nothing more than to explore the world around her like her gypsy father, who comes and goes as he pleases, playing his music with reckless abandon. Then she meets Benjamin Pencil, the Man with the Glass Heart, and for all intents and purposes, even though she doesn't know it at the time, she falls in love with him, with his innocence and genuine nature. The story is a journey that these two embark on together, where they come across many physical challenges and grow closer together, then apart, and ultimately... well, no spoilers, right? Lol.

But there is another layer to this story. Because this is really an allegory, where the different characters represent many of the trials and tribulations of the person (in this case, Benjamin Pencil) who starts off with an innocent and "good" heart. There are those who would seek to keep that heart for themselves, not to cherish it but to add to their "collection" of claimed hearts. Like trophy boyfriends/husbands, if you will. There is the perilous mountain climb Benjamin Pencil makes with his glass heart in his little wagon, representative of the cruel world out there that would do his heart harm... or not, depending on how well he protects his true nature. And so on. (I don't want to give away all the symbolism, after all. I do have my theories about the character of the Melodious Bird that I'd love to discuss with the author someday.)

Both of these aspects of the story are woven together to create a magical tale that I feel people can relate to if they wish to look below the surface. Or readers can just enjoy a magical story about a woman who falls in love with the impossible Man with the Glass Heart and how their relationship fares while traversing the fantastical and sometimes treacherous world in which they live, and how the two of them change in the process. Can Benjamin Pencil grow to be more daring even while still protecting his glass heart? Can Panache grow to let go of some of her own freedom to care for someone else? Can they both survive those who would do them ill will?

My recommendation? Read this story and find out for yourself! :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard

Title: Watch the Sky
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Target Age Group: MG
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Description (from inside cover)

Jory's stepfather, Caleb, says: Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in an aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them Jory's life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don't trust anyone outside the family, have your work boots at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.

School is Jory's only escape from Caleb's tight grasp, and with the help of new friends Jory begins to explore a world beyond his family's farm. As Jory's friendships grow, Caleb notifies Jory's mother and siblings that the time has come for final preparations.

They begin and exhausting schedule, digging a mysterious tunnel in anticipation of the disaster. But as the hole gets deeper, so does the family's doubt about whether Caleb's prophesy is true. When the stark reality of his stepfather's plans becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he's just begun to see.

My Review

This book was acquired from Book Expo America 2015. Many thanks to BEA and to the author for the opportunity to review it.

This book was endlessly fascinating to read. The feeling I got while reading it was probably much similar to Jory's as the story progresses. Jory's family is digging a shelter to survive some coming catastrophe his stepfather insists is coming, and yet I felt much like Jory did - claustrophobic. Especially because, in contrast to what Caleb suggests is the best practice, to keep to themselves, not attract attention, and to trust no one, Jory begins to reach out to others and discovers that the rest of the world is not as scary as Caleb portrays it to be. Jory begins to LIVE for the first time in his life, and it makes his life at home (and my feelings as a reader) even more claustrophobic as the "end" that Caleb describes comes closer. 

This story is more like a psychological suspense/thriller than anything else, which I don't see often in MG fiction. It's not necessarily the crisis that's the main issue in this book, although it's the dark cloud that hangs over Jory's head that makes up part of the actual conflict. It took me a while to realize this: The theme of "Is it really worth living your life in fear and to be safe than it is to live your life to the fullest?" that's the main conflict in the story. It's the battle in Jory's brain - live in fear or live your life. The physical manifestation of the "live in fear and be safe" is Caleb, and on the other side are Jory's new school friends, who are the "live your life to the fullest" manifestations.

The wild card in the story is Jory's sister Kit, who I find most fascinating of all the characters in the story. She represents both sides of Jory's internal struggle. Her appearance is very mysterious. She appeared one day out of nowhere in the family pumpkin patch. Her very existence suggests that Caleb's views may be true - there are truly signs that warn of some coming disaster. And yet, Kit is different than everyone else in the family. She enjoys life to the fullest, even inside the artificial boundaries of Caleb's artificial world he's built around the family. She challenges Jory to see outside that world as well, and I'd venture that she's really the first catalyst that pushes Jory to realize there's a whole life out there to live outside his current life of fear and preparation. One of Caleb's warnings - to watch the sky for trouble - Kit takes and turns on its head. She makes Jory see the wonders in the sky, so that Jory both simultaneous fears AND is fascinated by them.

My recommendation: Excellent read. Highly recommended.