Tuesday, March 9, 2021

MG review of Oddity by Eli Brown, illustrated by Karin Rytter

Oddity by Eli Brown
Format:   E-ARC
Publisher:  Walker Books US
Number of Pages:  368
Publishing:  March 30th, 2021
Source: Edelweiss + 

Opening Lines:  " Are you keeping mice in your bag again?  Constantine asked, turning in his saddle to peer at his daughter."

From Goodreads:  "The daughter of a murdered physician vows to protect the magical Oddity he left behind—if only she knew what it was—in an alternate nineteenth century where the United States is at war with France."

Clover mostly enjoys assisting her father as he makes his medical rounds in the foothills of the Centurian Mountains, but what she is especially enamored by are oddities, rare everyday items that behave in peculiar and unique ways.  Like the Ice Hook 
that she's been carrying around in her haversack that can freeze everything it touches.  Or perhaps the wineglass that is rumored to be able to fill a lake with an endless supply of wine.  Items that if Clover's father knew she possessed, he'd surely force her to get rid of, despite her own mother having collected them as a member of the Society of Scholars.  Then one day while Clover and her father were making their way home from one of their medical visits, they encounter a group of men barring their passage across the bridge.  Sensing these men plan to do them harm, Clover's father hands her his medical bag, with the cryptic message that it contains a rare oddity that she alone must protect.  He also tells her to find Aaron Agate in New Manchester by looking for "the canary among doves," and then throws her off the bridge into the water below.  Clover witnesses the bandits murdering her father, before fleeing to safety into the nearby forest.  While in the forest, Clover happens upon a rooster fighting off a dog,  and is surprised when the rooster begins to speak, introducing himself as Colonel Hannibal Furlong of the Federal Army.  Clover has always known about the war between the US and France over the Louisiana Purchase, but to encounter a living oddity such as Colonel Furlong comes as quite a shock.  He is only the first of many uncanny allies that will help Clover on her adventure to New Manchester.            

Oddity takes place in the early 1800's and presents an alternate history to the Louisiana Purchase.  On one side is Napoleon Bonaparte who appears to have the advantage due to his endless supply of soldiers.   On the other side is Senator Auburn, who has been purchasing all of the oddities he can find to determine a solution to Bonaparte's advantage.  He is assisted by Smalt, a wraith like creature who wears a hat that can purge you of all your secrets and the men who murdered Clover's father.    Mixed in with these two sides is the Seamstress, who creates these vermin creatures that sound horrific, reanimated corpses made up of watch springs, steel fillings and held together with parts of the animals skeletal structure and a piece of blue thread.  Yep, kinda delightfully creepy.  Throughout Clovers adventure, she is beset on all sides by people who want to use her for their own purpose.  To gain the oddity her father entrusted in her , to use her as a force against the French, or even to pay off a debt.  However, Clover is a resourceful girl and ultimately puzzles out the explanation for how the war began isn't accurate, and that it is just a struggle for power between the two sides.  At the same time, she unravels the mystery of her mom's death and is able to bring an end to this unjust war.  My favorite oddity was Susanna, the doll with immense strength and an attitude to match.   

Monday, March 1, 2021

MG review of The Dreaded Cliff by Terry Nichols, illustrated by Odessa Sawyer

The Dreaded Cliff by Terry Nichols, illustrated by Odessa Sawyer
Format:  Paperback ARC 
Publisher:  Kinkajou Press
Number of pages:  260
Publishing:  March 2nd, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher after request sent by author 

Opening Lines: "I'm a goddess.  Flora loved saying those words."

Flora is a packrat who enjoys venturing out each day for a quick sampling of her favorite prickly pear cactus pads.  Like most packrats, Flora mostly keeps to herself, only stopping when she receives "the warning" from her cousin Gertrude.  Every packrat receives the warning to "remember and beware of the dreaded cliff."  Yet, no one can recall what exactly they're to be careful of.  Just thinking about the dreaded cliff causes Flora's stomach to do backflips.  All that changes following a chance encounter with Grandma Mimi, who imparts that the dreaded cliff was once the packrats ancestral home, a special place,  until an invader took it over.  Confused by this new information, Flora returns to her home, tucked below the jangly crate and proceeds to fall asleep.  Shortly thereafter, she awakens to find that she is in a new place, separated from the rest of the packrats.  

Timid and slightly afraid of her new surroundings, she is encouraged when she meets Cyrus the kangaroo rat king, a stuttering porcupine named Paco and Dayana the ventriloquist rabbit.  Each of the animals changes Flora's outlook on her previous life near the cliffs and instills her with hope that she can brave it out in her new surroundings.   Flora also develops the confidence to deal with the harsh realities and dangers of living in the wild, even outsmarting a badger and owl.  The Dreaded Cliff exposes children to the wildlife of the southwest, including pinon pines, prickly pear cactuses and even the harsher elements, for example when Flora witnesses the death of a dear friend following a predator attack on their small community.  Flora however is not easily dissuaded and is instead even more resolved to follow her destiny to return to her ancestral home and rid it of the dangers lurking inside. 

Terry Nichols is a retired National Park Service ranger with thirty years of experience writing trail guides, brochures and articles about wildlife.  Currently she lives in Aztec, New Mexico and The Dreaded Cliff is her debut novel, inspired by her own experiences with a packrat who stowed away in her 1979 Volkswagen as she was travelling across country on a camping trip.  Her knowledge of the southwest is evident in her writing, making it easy to visualize the setting.   I quite enjoyed reading The Dreaded Cliff and was reminded of Colorado and the time that rats built their nest in the electronics of my parents hot tub.  Not only did they pose a problem to the electronics but you had to be really careful in protecting yourself when getting rid of their nests to avoid possible exposure to Hantavirus.   Despite the real life hassles with these rodents, Flora is certainly an endearing character and the reader is sympathetic with her yearning to return to her home.  I enjoyed how she changed throughout the story, overcoming ever obstacle and danger that came her way. Given Flora's propensity for using a large vocabulary of words,  like "lavish and sublime," the story would be best for a more advanced reader and one that can understand the connection between the death of an animal and its relationship to the food chain of nature.  

**A special thank you to Terry Nichols and Kinkajou Press for the review copy.**