The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

BarnhillTheGirlWhoDrankTheMoonHeldigClaudieNarrator: Christina Moore

Publisher: Recorded Books (2016)

Length: 9 hours 37 minutes

Author’s Page

In this beautifully magical book, the witch Xan adopts a sacrificial baby from the Protectorate into her heart, having accidentally fed her the moonlight. As baby Luna grows, so does her magic yet she is unable to control it. Soon she unknowingly becomes a hazard to her adoptive family, turning Glerk into a fuzzy mammal. Xan fears tiny dragon Fyrian may be next, so she bottles up Luna’s magic until she is older and can control it. Meanwhile, sorrow hangs heavy over the Protectorate as the Tower and the Elders demand the yearly sacrifice to the ‘witch’ to keep their town safe. Meanwhile, young Antain has grown into a young man and over the course of the book he becomes determined to stop the ‘witch’ from stealing any more of their children.

Wow! Just, simply, wow! I fell in love hard with this book. I do enjoy a fun kid’s book here and there but this hit all the right buttons for me. It has this wonderful mix of magic, sorrow, adventure, loss, love, discovery, humor, and goodbyes. Barnhill has magnificently caught the sorrow of losing a child and also a child’s longing to know their biological parents in this intense fairy tale. Those two things give what would otherwise be a light, fun read a certain keen edge that makes all the beautiful parts that much more intense.

The Protectorate is surrounded by a bog and a forest and few of the residents know of any life outside the area. It is ruled by two powers – the Council and Elders (a group of ‘wise’ old men) and the Tower (which is filled with armed, armored, and well-educated women). Right away, we are privy to a yearly scene where a child is taken from its family and walked to edge of the town and left for the evil ‘witch’ to retrieve. The townsfolk are told this is to keep the entire town from being decimated by the witch, but the Elders all know there is no witch. The ritual keeps them in power and comfort. Young Antain, who is being groomed to become an Elder, sees first hand the horrible result of this as the baby’s mother goes insane with grief and is locked in the Tower for safekeeping.

Xan has known for years that the Protectorate gives up a child on the same day every year so she has been visiting them in secret and taking the babies off to other cities to be adopted into willing families. Yet this time it is different. Xan calls down the starlight to feed the baby, but she is extra hungry, and before Xan knows it, she has accidentally fed the babe moonlight, enmagicing her. Xan decides to adopt her, names her Luna, and becomes her Grandmother. Glerk, an ancient, friendly bog monster, and Fyrian, a tiny baby dragon, round out the family.

Xan is the real star of this book. She gives so much and becomes a bit of a willing sacrifice herself. Her decisions drive much of the plot. Plus I just enjoy her character. She’s got a bit of a hidden history that becomes clearer towards the end of the book. Luna is fun but she doesn’t have much of a personality until the last quarter of the book. I was also quite taken with Antain. His story arc is the most dynamic, starting off as a young lad, being groomed as an Elder, studying in the Tower, suffering a scarring accident, and eventually resolving to put an end to the yearly sacrifices. I think Antain deserves a story of his own. Fyrian and Glerk provide the comedic relief much of the time but add so much love and happiness to the tale I would be shallow to dismiss them. Glerk, being as ancient as he is, knows the importance of family and the ties of love and friendship. Fyrian is not as young as he thinks he is but he’ll grow into it.

There is a hidden villain in the story and I didn’t figure out their identity until the last third of the book. I loved that I was totally not expecting it and therefore, I didn’t really know where this tale would take me. I loved that I couldn’t easily predict how things would turn out. The story has just enough hard edges, just enough evil and sorrow, that the author had me wondering if this fairy tale would indeed have a happy ending. Luna’s mom really captures the heart of this novel. Her immense love for her lost baby has driven her into a deep sorrow and that sorrow has pushed her into a touch of insanity and that touch has opened the door of magic just a crack. All these elements are connected in one person here and the bigger story shows how those elements connect all the people in this tale to one another. It’s really quite clever. Like up there with Neil Gaiman kind of clever.

In short, I can’t recommend this book enough. I was captured from the opening scene and didn’t want to put it down. I was never quite sure how things would end and this kept me thoroughly invested in the story and characters.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Christian Moore did a great job with this book. I loved her voice for Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian. She also managed quite well in portraying not only a young Antain but also the man he grew into over the course of the book. Her voice for the true villain could be quite spooky indeed! She was excellent at imbuing scenes with the correct, and sometimes subtle, emotions. 

What I Liked: Beauty and sorrow mixed together; and intense fairy tale; enchanting characters; clever villain; ties of family, friendship, and love; Antain’s quest; Luna’s coming of age; Xan’s sacrifice; Glerk and Fyrian; excellent narration; beautiful cover art. 

What I Disliked: Nothing! A completely enchanting tale.

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Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

MontgomeryAnneOfGreenGablesWhy I Read It: I never read this series as a kid and decided to give it a try.

Where I Got It: Reviewer copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of Pipi Longstalking, and other tales that  mischievous and curious kids.

Narrator: Colleen Winton

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press (2013)

Length: 10 hours 7 minutes

Author’s Page

The elderly Cuthberts have decided they need an extra pair of hands around the farm, especially for all those pesky chores in the long Canadian winters. They decided to adopt an orphan boy. That alone was cause for talk among the neighbors. Unfortunately, the mistress of the orphan house makes a mistake and sends a young lass instead, Anne Shirley. Matthew Cuthbert takes her home anyway until things can be sorted out. Along the way, Anne falls in love with the land, and the farm. Matthew starts to change his mind about keeping her but Marilla Cuthbert just won’t have it. So Anne’s first challenge in this book (but certainly not her first in life and not her last) is to convince the Cuthberts to keep her on. Full of wonder and joy at life, many learn to overlook her penchant for speaking her mind. In fact, some become outright charmed by it. Set in the early 1900s rural Canada, Anne fills her world with wonder and magic.

Somehow, I missed this series in its entirety (never read it, never watched the many version of it, no plays, etc.) growing up. But I know by now the fine work the folks at Post Hypnotic Press do. So I gave it a try. And I was charmed. In fact, if I was ever a cleaned mouthed, less jaded person, I think I may have been much like Anne. I can be distracted by beetles, I have a tendency to be blunt, and I love the realm of fantasy. Anne is a little heavier on the romance in her likes, but I am sure she and I could be friends.

While it is obvious that the book is set in the early 1900s, with the ‘proper’ roles of women (like women don’t have the legal right to vote), church is a mandatory weekly occurrence, and there was one remark about letting strangers in the house that could be construed as racist (against Italians, which seemed odd to me), these few negatives are balanced out by Anne’s huge imagination, and the trouble she gets into. This novel spans several years of Anne’s life, so there are plenty of humorous events to enjoy.  Anne hates her red hair, and attempts to dye it black. But it comes out this muddled green. So, they have to shave it off. Haha! I found this pretty humorous, and part of it was because of the location and times. In today’s day, green hair, or a bald head isn’t so unusual. But for 1909 Canada, well…I expect it was the talk of the village for at least a week.

Besides the humor, there are also scenes of more seriousness that give this tale a weight that many children’s’ books lack. Anne was an orphan and spent time in several homes before coming to the Cuthberts. Most often, she was set right to work taking care of the children and hence wasn’t allowed to be a child herself, to go to school, or attend social events. On one house, she had to contend with an alcoholic. While much of Anne’s life before the Cuthberts was merely alluded to, there was enough there to let the life experienced reader fill in the gaps.

All in all, I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I found it a good mix of magical innocence of growing up in the countryside and remembered hardship of starting off an orphan. Anne’s lasting friendships with the people of Avonlea were also quite touching.

The Narration: Colleen Winton was an excellent choice for this book. She performed with abandon, just as I imagined Anne would. Winton imbued Anne’s voice with wonder, Marilla’s with steadfastness, Anne’s friend Diana with constant curiosity in Anne’s shenanigans.

What I Liked: Country living; plenty of imagination; red hair gone awry; a slightly more serious side balances out the innocent humor; narration was top notch.

What I Disliked: While not particularly pertinent to the story, I find the cover boring.

What Others Think:

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Silas Marner by George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans)

A warm fire makes a snoozy kitty.
A warm fire makes a snoozy kitty.

Why I Read It: It was highly recommended by a friend.

Where I Got It: Borrowed from a friend.

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into classics that have strong moral storyline, then you might be interested in this book.

Narrator: Nadia May (AKA Wanda McCaddon)

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2008)

Length: 6 CDs

Author’s Page

Silas Marner is a weaver in 1800s England. The story starts out with a stolen pocket knife and a bit of coin and Silas is accused of taking both. His friends and society believe him guilty and so he leaves, embittered, to go live near a small village called Raveloe. There, Silas continues to work as a weaver, leading a solitary life. Little by little, he builds up his hoard of coins. His life becomes three activities: weaving, delivery of weaving for payment, and counting his coins nightly. He’s a very lonely man and quite OK with that. Next, we jump to the brothers Godfrey and Dunstan Cass. They are troublemakers – making trouble for others and for themselves. Their father, Squire Cass, is the biggest landowner in the area. While Godfrey married secretly, and keeps his wife and child at arm’s length stashed away in poverty, Dunstan has some money troubles. Someone steals Silas’s coins and that same night a child wanders in to his place to warm up from the winter snow. A woman is found dead on the path that leads to Silas’s house. Silas adopts the kid and raises her as his own.

A weaver friend of mine lent this book to me because I am also a weaver. It is my first George Eliot book. I found it rather boring. The story could have been told as a novelette and gotten the same moral points across. I also found the moral points to be one-sided and hence, not interesting. The characters are pretty much one-dimensional never really straying from their initial set of traits. There are a few women in this book, but they have very minor, slim roles: mother, wife, lover, daughter.

Also, there was a religious bent to it that I didn’t fully get. Silas came from northern England and there attended chapel. Whereas in Raveloe people attend church. I am not too sure what the distinction is and how it relates to 1800s England. But it was clear that church was the way to go if you wanted to be a fine upstanding citizen. Also there was one scene where a neighbor’s wife comes over with her youngest to teach Silas some basics of child care and she brings lard cakes. She uses a stamp (probably iron) to put some letters in to the top of the lard cakes while squishing them flat (IHS) which she assumes are good letters as she sees them at the church. She is illiterate and doesn’t know what they mean and the book never explains to the reader assuming everyone will know. When I see IHS, I think industrial hygienists. But I am guessing these stand for some Latin religious phrase. The religious bent itself didn’t bother me; the lack of explanation so that I, the reader, can fully understand the culture bothered me.

The book ends with a strong scene that upholds the morals already laid out in the book. While the over all message seems to be that love is extremely important to a happy life, it is given to the reader is a very high-handed way.

Narration: The narration was decent. Each of the female characters had individual voices. Silas’s voice was well done. The various Casses kind of blended together, but they are related so I can see how the narrator wanted them to all sound similar. The best voice was that of Dolly Winthrope, the neighbor’s wife who helps Silas with his young charge.

What I Liked: This is was a small slice of 19th century conservative small-village England.

What I Disliked: The pacing was slow; the characters were one-dimensional; rather heavy on the morals.

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