Tag Archives: magic

Review: The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell

19th September 2012

*I bought this book for my Nook Color.

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. In fact, she’s confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it’s a comfortable life, and if it weren’t for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too.

But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too. Kathleen O’Dell deftly weaves magic, secret identities, evil villians, unlikely heroes, and the wonder of friendship into a mystery adventure with all the charm of an old fashioned classic.

A few weekends ago, it was storming outside in ways it hadn’t all summer. Thunder and lightning filled the sky, and Miss Maddie was trying to mold herself to my side. I wanted a “dark and stormy” book and considered re-reading the first Harry Potter or A Wrinkle in Time, but I’ve re-read both within the last year and wanted something different. I put out the call on Twitter and got enough recommendations that I began a Rainy Day Reads shelf on Goodreads. Then I remembered The Book Smugglers reviewed The Aviary a while back, mentioning what a lovely little book it is. I looked for it on my Nook and bought it.

Aside from the lovely, chinoiserie-like cover, The Aviary itself is, as The Book Smugglers said, lovely. Clara is a little adult. Raised among three grown women, she is wise beyond her years and oh so lonely. At 12, she’s also beginning to question her mother’s judgment. For instance, if Clara has a heart condition, why doesn’t she get winded running down the stairs? And why can’t she at least have a friend? When friendship comes in the form of spirited, bubbly Daphne, Clara blossoms. The two are incredibly different, but they are curious and smart and adventurous, leaving notes for one another and organizing a secret communication system. Neither is willing to accept the secrets as old and dead or the rumors as simply gossip. They want to figure out just what happened to the Glendoveer children, and though they are timid and nervous at times, Daphne and Clara push one another until the secrets give way.

Though the mystery at the heart of the novel is pretty evident (I had to remind myself I’m not super smart, I’m just not eight), the path Daphne and Clara take to get there is so fun. There’s magic, but it isn’t a whole new world, and magic isn’t what saves the day. In fact, magic is the cause of the biggest conflict in the book. Ultimately, it’s a book of women, strong women – and from Mrs. Glendoveer to Clara and her mother, Daphne, and the cook Ruby, each plays a part in setting the secrets of Glendoveer mansion free.

Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

20th July 2011

The short version: A story of college students at a school of magic who aren’t happy with their lives and sit around drinking and complaining before they graduate and do a lot more drinking and complaining before they go looking for trouble…and find it.

Warning: a somewhat snarky review follows.

***

Quentin is the smartest kid he knows, but he is bored as hell. His parents are wrapped up in their own lives, and the girl he’s in love with isn’t in love with him. He has grown up reading a series of books about children who had adventures in the land of Fillory, and he’s stuck on Earth. In other words, his life is atrocious, and no one else has ever experienced such horrendous torture. You should all feel very sorry for him. Quentin certainly does, until an odd series of events leads him to Brakebills College, an elite school of magic where he passes the entrance exam.

From then on, it’s magic and studying and magic and studying with a few high and low points, like having sex while transformed into a fox, nearly dying in the wilds of Antarctica, and sitting around playing welters, a game of magic. Then Quentin and his friends, Eliot, Janet, Josh, and girlfriend Alice all graduate. Life as a magician in the real world is pretty boring. Do you get a real job? Well, why would you? There is a mysterious “magician’s fund” that apparently is never depleted and provides magicians money when they need it. (I’m all in, by the way.) However, again these characters are miserable – drinking too much, doing drugs, having meaningless sex – and they need something. That something is Fillory. Because lo and behold, it really exists. So the gang ponies up and heads to Fillory, but it isn’t all magic bunnies and beautiful nymphs. Something is wrong in Fillory, and Quentin must figure out what it is in order to try to be happy. (Here’s where the plot finally comes in, right around page 240.)

***

Because that’s all this novel is really about. Quentin is really really unhappy with absolutely no real reason (until the end) to be unhappy. But I have to start this review with this: Lev Grossman has some serious writing chops. In fact, that’s the only reason I finished this novel because lord have mercy, it was long. And drawn out. And not a lot happened for two-thirds of the book. There is no overarching plot here, and I guess that’s what annoyed me the most. At times I checked to make sure it wasn’t a spoof of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, since it referenced each multiple times. Fillory was essentially Narnia, which made me think Grossman could have just used it in the book instead of creating something so darn similar but not calling it Narnia. I kept checking to see what page I was on because I could not believe how long it was taking me to read this book. Without any real plot to move the book along, Grossman relies on his characters, and they are kind of a bunch of assholes. They are selfish, lazy, and pretentious. Alice, Quentin’s girlfriend, was the only character I remotely liked, simply because her background and unhappiness made sense. Everyone else just sort of claimed unhappiness for sport. Alice is the only one who actually points it out, telling Quentin:

[L]ook at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it; there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.

And pretty much, he is miserable forever – at least the forever that is this book – even with a pretty cool, British-y magic school, some pretty darn good friends, and money out the wazoo. Ultimately, this book was an exercise in futility, reinforcing the idea that some people ain’t happy and ain’t never gonna be happy, no matter what. If that’s magic, I don’t really want any part of it.

So I gotta know – have you read this? Did you react at all to it like I did? Or have I lost my non-magical mind?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. All is not lost. The nice folks at Viking sent me this book and The Magician King, the sequel to this book, for me to read and review. Come back tomorrow for a giveaway and to see why I think it’s (somewhat) redemptive.

Other Reviews:

The New York Times

Fantasy Book Review

Entomology of a Bookworm