The White Stag by Kate Seredy (J)

The White Stag

The White Stag

Kate Seredy (Juvenile Fiction)

“Hadur, Powerful God, Thou hast indeed turned the sword against me, Thy sword, Hadur, not mine!  But Thou hast given me a scourge in its place and I swear to Thee, I, Bendeguz the White Eagle, that I shall use that scourge, that I shall make it into the most dreadful weapon ever known to men.  Thou hast given me a son, Hadur, he will be that scourge!  My son, Attila the Red Eagle, the Scourge of God!”

And so it was that in the year 408, Attila the Hun was born to Bendeguz the White Eagle and Alleeta, a girl captured during one of the many Hun raids.  Alleeta who would die in childbirth but would give her tribe one of the greatest and most brutal leaders it would ever know.  A leader who would take his people on a journey foretold by his great grandfather Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord, and started by his grandfather, Hunor of the Hun tribe, and his great uncle, Magyar of the Magyar tribe, and then continued by his father Bendeguz the White Eagle.  Great warriors who would bear the flag of the Red Eagle and follow the mythical White Stag from the headlands of wild Altain-Ula in the west toward the east.  A pilgrimage sweeping from Asia to Europe and leaving countless men, women, and children dead, dying, or enslaved.  A journey that wouldn’t stop until the promised homeland was reached.

Through her poetic prose and beautiful illustrations, Kate Seredy delivers an epic story mixing fantasy, legend, myth, biblical references, and history.  Although Seredy doesn’t fully plunge into the breadth of Attila’s savagery and conquests, she gives her young audience enough information to fully understand that the Huns were a rather nasty and savage lot.  Readers know from the onset that what they are about to delve into is going to be more epic fantasy than straight-from-the-books history: “Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book.  It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”

Through her rich illustrations that bring this magnificent tale to life, Seredy immerses her readers with a story of moonmaidens and miracles, life and death, and bravery and barbarism.  But above all of these, she gives us a tale of courage and faith and how the two are tightly woven together.  Because my own words often come up short, I sometimes choose to end my reviews with a quote (some known and others not so much) that manages to encapsulate the feelings and lessons I’m left with after the last page is turned and the book has been reshelved for another.  I found the perfect one from self-help writer Edmond Mbiaka who said, “At every given moment in your life, you have the option to move backwards with fears and doubts or to keep pushing forward with faith and courage.”  Although our own personal moments may never compare to those of the Huns or Magyars, we can find comfort in knowing that we too can reach our own “promised land” if we hold fast, stay true, and never waiver in our convictions and belief.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

 

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

Big Fish

Big Fish

Daniel Wallace (Adult Fiction)

Edward Bloom was born in Ashland, Alabama during the driest summer in forty years.  Edward knew he was destined for greatness…at least that’s what he always imagined.  He was to be a big fish in a big pond.  After all, wasn’t it his birth that finally brought water to his town’s scorched ground?  Weren’t people and animals inexplicably drawn to him?  Throughout his life, Edward would be a sailor, a successful business owner, and a true man of the world who also bought an entire town down to the last square inch.  Edward was also a husband, a father, and a friend to all.  But most of all, Edward Bloom was a myth.  His son, William, longs to be close to a father whose past is as vast and complicated as the current space between the two.  With Edward on his deathbed, can William distinguish fact from fiction so that he can better understand his father?  Surely stories of a two-headed geisha, a giant, and a mermaid can’t possibly be true…can they?

Daniel Wallace gives us a quirky and lighthearted story showing us the complex and messy relationship between a father and son.  This book is a quick read so only lightly scratches the surface regarding Edward’s inability or unwillingness to emotionally connect with his son.  All attempts at intimacy by William yield little more than a humorous story and a punchline and the reader shares in his growing frustration and apathy.  Edward explains to William that his own father was rarely around, but this fact doesn’t make it any less painful for William who is constantly at odds with a pithy metaphor or a ready one-liner.

Fathers are so many things to their sons or daughters: superhero, knight, prince charming, mentor, teacher, coach, buddy.  Like Edward, our own dads seem invincible, immortal, and a tad mythical.  Edward measured greatness through deeds.  William merely wanted a father who was an active participant rather than an occasional onlooker. And although laughter is said to be the best medicine, perhaps laughter is not the medicine, but it merely makes the real medicine go down a little easier.

Edward once said to William, “Remembering a man’s stories makes his immortal, did you know that?”  I have many stories from my father’s past—stories made up of fact and fiction that intertwine and entangle themselves like vines on a trellis.  Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the truth from fantasy, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter because you realize that even though your dad didn’t own a town or rescue a mermaid, he’s still pretty great because he’s YOUR dad and that alone makes him a pretty big fish.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (J)

It’s Throwback Thursday where we review a Classic from literature.  In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow   

Washington Irving (Juvenile Fiction)

About two miles past the village of Tarry Town, there is a little village which is perhaps one of the quietest places in all the world.  It’s known as Sleepy Hollow and is thought to be bewitched.  Residents have been known to see strange sights or to hear voices in the night air.  There is never a shortage of ghostly tales or haunted spots, but the dominant spirit that holds dominion over all is the lone headless figure on horseback.

If you think Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is similar to Disney’s 1949 animated Halloween staple, think again.  Irving gives us three characters (Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, and Brom Van Brunt a/k/a Brom Bones) with three very different desires (to be the boss, to be the bride, and to be the best).  First, we have Ichabod Crane who, contrary to his appearance and demeanor, is quite the adept opportunist.  He woos old Baltus Van Tassel’s daughter, Katrina, motivated not by his passion, but rather by her purse for Ichabod realizes that she is the natural heir apparent to her father’s estate.  Then there’s the charming Katrina Van Tassel who is as manipulative as she is beautiful.  She leverages Ichabod’s feelings for her merely to motivate her apathetic suitor, Brom, toward matrimony.  Lastly, we have Brom Van Brunt who is nothing more than a jealous and possessive man-child with a penchant for childish pranks and an aversion to adult responsibility.

Irving gives us an emotionally charged and haunting tale of ghosts, legends, love, greed, and jealousy…all tightly wrapped within a thick, black cloak and sitting high atop a powerful, red-eyed steed.  All is not what it seems to be in the tranquil hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, and master storyteller Washington Irving reminds us that appearances can be deceiving and fear only has the power we give it.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.scholastic.com