Seen/Heard/Read

The Waterfire Saga by Jennifer Donnelly

Magic depended on so many things – the depth of one’s gift, experience, dedication, the position of the moon, the rhythm of the tides, the proximity of whales. It didn’t settle until one was fully grown; Serafina knew that. But she needed it to be with her now, and she prayed to the gods that it would be.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled on everything strong and sure inside of her, and started to sing.

Whales? Well, why not, it’s all explained in The Waterfire Saga, an absorbing four-book YA fantasy series about…mermaids. My exploration of the YA genre continues, and after some searching for something else about mermaids, I stumbled on Deep Blue, Rogue Wave, Dark Tide and Sea Spell. Serafina, Neela, Becca, Ava, Ling and Astrid are thrown together by adversity and destiny, and while a mission of global proportions awaits our heroines, discoveries about life, love and friendship are plentiful along the way. The usual, but always interesting components of the genre.

Clear-cut language and a lot of drawing from the richness of world history, folklore and linguistics make this an appealing read to all of us who had literature courses during our studies. We recognize origins of names, titles, countries, and the additional logic behind this is clearly presented in the novels. While these layers and background often rooted in humanities make the reading experience all the more enjoyable for those of us outside the target audience, they do not overload the reading process for a younger reader. I remember my reading times from a younger age very clearly and I am sure I would have enjoyed this series just as much as I did now, albeit with different accompanying thoughts.

Each heroine lives, breathes and swims right off the page and in to my imagination, going through identity struggles and the pains of self-discovery. The appeal of the series also lies in the fact that the end goal of this particular story, while dealing with romance, themes of home and family, longing, wanting more than what life turns out to be, does not revolve around the mermaids wanting to escape their world. In fact, not only is the warmth and energy of their patriotism palpable, so is the respect and focus with which the author includes descriptions of the seas and its creatures. This warmth and empathy extend to the depiction of one of the central themes of the novels – the strength of friendships.

How could she explain to them what her swashbuckler clothes meant to her? When she looked at them, she didn’t see frays and tears, she saw Sera and Ling eating stew in Lena’s kitchen after Ling had almost been captured by Rafe Mfeme. She saw Becca and Ava in the River Olt, fighting off the rusalka. She saw fierce Astrid battling Abbadon in the Incantarium with only her sword.

And she saw herself – being braver and stronger than she’d ever thought she could be.

The Waterfire Saga shows mermaids who are self-aware, intelligent, vulnerable, loyal and resilient. They are relatable, and if a younger friend or relative of mine was reading this series, I would not be worried about the ideas they might be getting.

Becca was not only good at making things, she was good at making things better. Life in foster homes had taught her that if she waited for someone else to make things better, she’d be waiting a very long time.

Well plotted, well written, well researched and probably created with a lot of enjoyment.

 

 

 

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Hamburg

Magnolia Trees in the Rain

I touch the tip of my shoe to the surface of the puddle from yesterday’s rain and watch the rings on the water spread petals from the cherry tree nearby. And that sums up spring in the lovely city of Hamburg. It blooms, it rains, it blooms some more and it rains again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Good Friday is upon us with its much awaited time for rest and some peace, so I pull a Lizzy Bennet and go scampering about the city(side). Actually, I’m starting small. There’s a stack of real paper maps, yes, lying around at home. I’ve collected them during various outings because they were free and looked nice, which in my opinion are two of the best reasons to take something with you.

I’m always game for a walk around town and I’m also curious about testing my map-reading ability anew. Also, my phone chose to die right before I went outside, so no Google Map insurance this time.

Off down Grindelallee I go, the Hamburg University campus behind me, and the intersection between Bezirksamt Eimsbüttel, Hallerstraße and Beim Schlump ahead. On any other day this street is teeming with cyclists, students, locals, shops are open, bakeries are working fast and the buses 4 and 5 speed past every five minutes. Today’s quiet is an interesting contrast to the usual noise and bustle, and I let it sink in as the map successfully leads me to my next turn, on to Hallerstraße. It’s a very legible map, with little illustrations and a list of places to stop at on the back.

Hallerstraße is a charming residential street, rhododendrons and cherry trees on front lawns adding to its beauty. I stop to read a sign in front of the first building in the gallery below – it says the house was built in the Neo-Renaissance style and the “generous apartments” cater to fine tastes. I’m sure.

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Consulting the map, I turn left on to Rothenbaumchaussee and make a mental note of numerous pretty side streets to explore in the future. I pass elegant villas and new-looking apartment buildings, as well as the occasional purposeful parents shepherding their energetic offspring in to a car, most likely on the way to an Easter dinner with the grandparents. The headquarters of NDR (Northern German Broadcasting) are also located in the Rothenbaumchaussee.

After walking straight on for a few more minutes, I reach Klosterstern, and though I can get on the subway from there, I choose to walk some more, turning on to Jungfrauenthal. Other street names in addition to this one are indicative of the area’s earlier ties to religion and the church: Innocentiastraße, St. Benedictstraße. It’s raining a little and the air smells wonderful in these cosy streets lined with trees, more (I’m assuming also Neo-Renaissance) apartment buildings and plenty of bikes chained up in front of every door.

Isestraße is next, and when I reach the Hoheluftbrücke station, instead of continuing to where I started the walk, I turn on to Schlankreye, then Gustav-Falke-Straße. Brick buildings typical of Northern Germany line these streets, and I conclude my exploration with the discovery of two schools, one of which turns out to have a charming courtyard. All I can say is, if my high school had looked like this…

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I feel as if I have only scratched the suface of my surroundings, because I have all these questions: why were the buildings built the way they were? What used to be there before? Did any famous people live here? What was it like to walk around here 50, 100 years ago? My romantic imagination enjoys the remaining sense of mystery.

The nicest surprise during this walk, though, have been the many magnolia trees.

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Seen/Heard/Read

Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark

Menley had always wanted to live in a house. As a little girl she drew pictures of the one she would have someday. And it was pretty much like this place, she thought.

Mary Higgins Clark has been my favorite writer for so long and I have re-read all her books so many times that I can’t remember which of her numerous suspense novels I read first. This is a rare case for me. But it doesn’t really matter, because each of her works takes me on a trip to yet another world that always yields a new discovery even if I’ve been there before. It’s like taking your favorite long walk, and knowing for sure that it’s never truly the same, for all its familiarity. As we grow, as we change, as we learn, so do the literary works that accompany us in life find their way in to the crevices of our evolvement. And so do we identify anew with characters, situations, language and actions. That is the mark of a great author.

The tried and tested, yet irresistible plot formula of a heroine beset by tragedy and struggling to find her way out, while being pulled in to a murder mystery, is, of course, present here too. And it’s not just the main heroine – plenty of characters in the novel carry burdens with them. For some these burdens lead to disastrous life choices, for some they lead to battles of resistance and self-discovery. Mary Higgins Clark’s characteristic empathy and sincerity permeates Remember Me like a warm breeze without being cloying. Serious subject matter is handled with grace and dignity – a refreshing trait. While the topics of murder and death are not presented in a graphic way, as compared to most Scandinavian thrillers, for example, the just right balance of words and description is enough to send a chill down your spine, as well as evoke the feelings of sadness characters are going through.

The next summer they’d lost Bobby. And after that, Menley thought, all I knew was the awful numbness, the feeling of being detached from every other human being…

Mary Higgins Clark has the unique gift of seamless, unburdened prose, which by no means make it simple, but lets it hit right at the heart of the story and the characters’ thoughts.

Though each of her novels is special in its own way, Remember Me stands out for particular reasons. The novel draws the reader in to the story within the story, the writing within the writing, as Menley Nichols herself is getting more and more drawn in to the research of the history of the house she and her family are staying in during their summer in Cape Cod. The feeling of something about to come to a head grows stronger and stronger throughout the novel, as we wonder along with Menley whether the alleged murderer is innocent, if her heart will heal after loosing her first child, and just how deep her connection to the centuries-old story of the former owners of the house is.

Suspense, no other word for it. And first-class writing about life.

 

 

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