Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Synopsis: 12 year old Anand is a poor slum dweller who works in a tea stall in Calcutta (sorry to all purists - it will always be Calcutta to me). Everything changes when he is entrusted with a magical conch and is told by a magical wizard that it is Anand's duty to take the conch to its rightful home in the Himalayas. The only problem is that another powerful and evil wizard wants the the conch and its powers for his own - and he will stop at nothing to take it from Anand.

Assessment: It is exciting to read fantasy that instead of being set in Europe (particularly medieval Europe), is instead set in another country within the context of their traditions. In this case, the story is set in modern-day India, and incorporates traditional Hindu ideas. But you don't need to know one thing about India or Hinduism. All you need to do is pick up the book and expect an exciting page-turning read. Danger and adventure greet Anand and his companion Nisha at every turn, and every reader will find that once hooked, they won't be able to put it down.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Summary: After a murder is brutally murdered, a baby boy crawls into the cemetery across the street, and is adopted by the ghosts who reside there. Nobody Owens (as he is named by the denizens) slowly grows and learns the ways of the cemetery, the boundaries, and special skills that only ghosts can teach him. However, despite the ghosts trying to keep him safe, they know that the man who killed Bod's family is coming for him to finish the job. And at 14, as Bod wants to learn more about the world outside - the world of the living, he meets a girl he had once known as a child. Unfortunately, this friend inadvertently leads him to the man who wants to kill him.

Assessment: I'll be honest - I am no fan of Neil Gaiman. Many people are, but after reading Stardust, I was decidedly not. I also wasn't crazy about Coraline (which was why I never reviewed it here). But after winning Newberry, I thought perhaps I should give the book a chance. The idea behind it was certainly intriguing, and I always love a good ghost story, so I did. And I am glad I did. I actually did enjoy this story. Now, this is no Eva Ibbotson - it isn't what I like to call cute scary - it can be just plain scary, so I do not recommend it for younger or more squeamish readers. But I think bolder readers (and especially boys) will greatly enjoy it.