Tag Archives: Ireland

House of the Dead

Author: Elizabeth Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5

She knew she shouldn’t approach the derelict old house. Everyone knew it was abandoned–probably haunted too. But Blake Callaghan’s curiosity is just too much, so she scales the wall and wanders through the overgrown, unkempt garden towards the house. You can imagine her surprise when she encounters an old man in the garden; so very old he is. He introduces himself as Mr. Donn and begins to tell Blake stories, wondrous stories of the Sidhe, of changelings, and of the Dullahan. Stories of the brevity of life and the certainty of death that change Blake somehow in the hearing of them.

House of the Dead is an incredible novella/short story collection that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy or mythology. It pulls from old Celtic legends, but presents the tales in a fresh, insightful way, uniting the individual stories within Blake’s story and making them part of a greater whole. I first discovered the author through her Merlin fanfics, writing under the pseudonym Emachinescat; they are wonderful, and I fell in love with the author’s writing then. This novella displays the same brilliance, but perhaps even more finely crafted. There is both a richness of imagery and a sparseness of dialogue in this book that is unusual, I think, and I found it oddly moving. There were several times when the stories moved me to the point of chills, and by the end of the novella, I was crying. The perspective on life and death offered here is truly powerful, echoing the Doctor’s idea that “we’re all stories, in the end” and the desire to really live life to the fullest, to write a good story with your life. As I said, highly recommended.

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Artemis Fowl

Author: Eoin Colfer

What happens when you put wealth, power, genius, and evil intent in the person of someone who’s still a child? You end up with a criminal mastermind with the flexibility of mind to take his crime to realms unimagined by adults–and the innocence of appearance to get away with it. And not one to let opportunities for criminal gain go by, Artemis Fowl is prepared to use his power and intelligence to do something adults couldn’t dream of doing: hoodwink the fairy-folk out of their gold. Of course, even an evil genius couldn’t have foreseen some of the tricks the fairies would use to fight back.

Artemis Fowl is a book I have mixed feelings about. It’s excellently written–engaging, surprising, and fun. The plot really catches you up in itself such that it’s hard to put the book down. And the characters are quite well written; I just don’t particularly like any of them. So reading this story is sort of like watching a free-for-all where people you don’t like are going at each other–which can be quite amusing, I must admit (I’m somewhat reminded of Black Butler in that regard). The whole concept of fairy society that Colfer has developed is fascinating–a modern and technically savvy evolution of your traditional fairy-tale elves and sprites that is armed and scary. The sarcasm that pervades the story is amusing, but I really don’t appreciate the occasional crudeness. Ugh. Still, overall Artemis Fowl is an interesting, fast-paced fantasy thriller–ideally written for an upper middle-school audience, but appropriate for late elementary on up.

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Patrick: Son of Ireland

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

A childhood of being allowed to do basically whatever he wanted, relying on his father’s wealth and position, have left Succat a typical patrician youth: frequently drinking too much, with no particular aim in life, and frankly bored with life, yet determined to live his life entirely for himself. Much changed the day the Irish raiders came to his town, leaving the area decimated and taking Succat back to Eire with them as a slave. In the small village, he finds himself beneath the very people he had regarded his entire life as barbarians. And even while raging at his position and trying desperately to escape back to England, he discovers that these people really aren’t that different from the people back home. He even manages to fall in love. Still, it will take more than that to bring Succat to the point where he can truly care about anyone other than himself–but God has great plans for this arrogant youth, plans Succat couldn’t have ever imagined.

I love Stephen Lawhead’s writing, and Patrick is one that I’ve come back to re-read multiple times over. This is a biographical fiction of the life of St. Patrick, starting from his youth and going all the way to his return to Ireland, years later. It’s an incredible story, and Lawhead’s treatment of it is brilliant. Succat (later Patrick) is a fascinating character–in many ways quite despicable, yet easy to relate to and enjoyable to read. The plot is character driven and yet also a glorious envisioning of the work of Providence in the life of an individual. I admit, the book is rather a big bite to chew–it’s over 450 pages, and the writing style is dense, packing a great deal of plot, character development, and description into each page. It’s well worth the work to read, though; Patrick is definitely a recommended read, particularly for historical and biographical fiction fans.

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The Secret of Kells

Les Armateurs, Vivi Film, Cartoon Saloon, & France 2 Cinéma

Written & Directed by Tomm Moore/Co-directed by Nora Twomey, Script by Fabrice Ziolkowski/Art Directed by Ross Stewart/Music by Bruno Coulais

For his whole life, Brendan has been hidden away in his uncle’s walled abbey, forbidden to venture into the dangerous world outside. His uncle and only living relative, Abbot Cellach, has told him horror stories of Northmen invaders and wild animals that lurk outside the walls–which are essentially true. However, when a master illuminator, Brother Aidan, comes to the abbey for refuge from the Viking invaders, Brendan’s world begins to open. He sneaks into the forest outside the walls to get ink-making supplies and meets an incredible fey girl, Aisling, who becomes his friend and changes his world even more. As time goes by, Brendan must choose: exist in fear and supposed safety like his uncle . . . or let go and truly live, chase his dreams, and become a part of something greater than himself.

The Secret of Kells is one of the most ground-shaking movies I’ve seen in my life. It’s an incredible story of imagination, creativity, and wonder. The characters are great–I particularly love Aisling, whose fey non-humanness is so strong it’s nearly tangible. The music is also wonderful, carrying an old Celtic sort of feel. The voice-acting is well done also; I love the accents! However, the most obviously outstanding feature of this story is the animation. It’s made to somewhat mimic the old-style illumination such as was used in the original Book of Kells; a very apropos choice, since this is the story of that book’s creation. The style is unsettlingly different, using weird angles and perspectives, but it works. I found that it had truly grown on my by the end of the movie. The Secret of Kells is a movie that everyone needs to see at least once, although I personally intend to watch it again. Probably several times.

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Bedknob and Broomstick

bedknob and broomstickAuthor: Mary Norton

Illustrator: Erik Blegvad

My rating: 4 of 5

Siblings Carey, Charles, and Paul are staying in the country while their mother’s busy with work. What was simply a leisurely vacation becomes something much more when one day they discover the ladylike Miss Price lying in a field, injured from an accident . . . a broomstick accident! As an incentive to keep quiet about her being a witch, Miss Price enchants the knob of Paul’s bed so that the bed can take them any place, or any time in the past, if Paul wishes it. You can just imagine the adventures that ensue!

This is just the sort of classic, quaint story one would expect from the author of The Borrowers. This book actually includes two related stories, The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks. Both are absolutely charming in an old-fashioned British sort of way, which Blegvad’s line illustrations complement perfectly. Bedknob and Broomstick reminds me quite a bit of the writing of Edith Nesbit and Edward Eager. The book comes with high recommendations, for sure.

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