Posts tagged ‘Ghosts’

Liesl and Po

Liesl and PoTitle: Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Kei Acedera
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780449015025 (audiobook), 9780062014511 (hardcover)
Pages: 307 pages
Discs/CDs:  5 CDs, 5 hours and 55 minutes
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“I must take his ashes to the willow tree,” Liesl whispered suddenly, with certainty. “I must bury my father next to my mother. Then his soul will move Beyond.” She looked directly at the place where Po’s eyes should have been, if Po were not a ghost, and again Po felt the very core of its Essence shiver in response.
“And you must help me,” Liesl finished.
Po was unprepared for this. “Me?” it said unhappily. “Why me?” (92)

When a ghost appears in Liesl’s attic prison, Liesl asks for help in sending a message to her recently deceased father. The message Po brings back is anything but cheery, as Liesl father insists that he must go home to the willow tree, and that Liesl should be the one to take him there. Liesl steals the container of ashes from the mantle and rushes off to her old house, leaving her wicked stepmother behind. Little does Liesl know that the box she carries does not contain her father’s ashes, but a powerful magic that accidentally got delivered to the wrong address. Soon joined by the “useless” delivery boy called William who is fleeing his angry alchemist master, the three of them are thrust into events that they don’t quite understand, but nevertheless are intent on preventing in their efforts to improve their lives (or in Po’s case it’s death) for the better.

I thought I’d get behind this newest book about a girl and her ghost by Lauren Oliver. It’s narrated by Jim Dale for heaven’s sake, the one who did all those cool voices for The Emerald Atlas and Peter and the Starcatchers not to mention Harry Potter. But for the first time, I wasn’t feeling it with Dale. His attempts at the female voices fell flat to my ears, which I did not anticipate at all, and I didn’t pick up the suspense or excitement that I think this reading could have had.

But maybe he was tempering his voice to match the gray and bleak environment of the story’s setting. Maybe it was the material, because the story itself fell flat for me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for Lauren Oliver. For plenty of other people the story has really resonated with them. After reading the author’s note in the back, I truly wanted the book to resonate with me too. Oliver reveals that she wrote this story “during a concentrated two-month period.”

At the time, I was dealing with the sudden death of my best friend. The lasting impact of this loss reverberated through the months, and it made my world gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story. [...] And so my fantasies were transformed into the figure of a little girl who embarks on a journey not just to restore the ashes of a loved one to a peaceful place but to restore color and life to a world that has turned dim and gray.” (309-310)

If she had succeeded in doing this, I would have claimed her attempt a success, and that synopsis of the book makes it sound wonderful, but I didn’t really pick-up on that meaning and depth upon listening to the book. But upon reading the author’s note, I feel like I should have gotten A Monster Calls and instead got Casper.

It’s also meant to be a story of coincidences and mix-ups, but it just seemed like Oliver threw a whole bunch of bumbling characters together and loosely tied their stories to each other in a comedy of errors. Yes, mix-ups and coincidences are sometimes the basis for every story, but do there have to be so many of them in one story? For instance, if Liesl’s step-mother was such an evil woman, why did she bother locking Liesl up in the attic in the first place, an attic window that Will noticed but no one else? The Lady Premiere, the evil lady who ordered up this powerful magic in the first place, feels like a minor general “bad character” with almost no motivation for her actions presented to readers. Why in the world would so many people who have no connection to the events at hand continue to chase after the children? It reminded me towards the end of those old-fashioned black and white movies where the whole town is chasing a dog for no other reason than the dog stole and by this point has eaten a sausage.

Kei Acedera’s black and white drawings are appropriately dark and murky, and I thought Po was very well rendered considering the description of a non-gendered, cookie-cutter child-shaped ghost. In fact, all of the characters were instantly recognizable, and while the facial expressions seemed relatively uniform, the postures told the emotions of the characters very well. For fans of Casper, this mad-cap tale of a ghost and it’s girl will find readers, but while it was an interesting story, it just didn’t do it for me.

Ghost Knight

Title: Ghost Knight
Author: Cornelia Funke
Translator: Oliver Latsch
Illustrator: Andrea Offermann
ISBN: 9780316056144
Pages: 345 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown & Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2011 (English translation c2012)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012

But there they were.
Three riders. Very pale. As if the night air had gone moldy. And they were staring up at me.
Everything about them was drained of color: capes, boots, gloves, belts–and the swords hanging from their sides. They looked like men who’d had their blood sucked out by the night. The tallest one’s straggly hair hung down to his shoulders, and I could see the bricks of the garden wall through his body. The one next to him had a hamster face and, just like the third ghost, was so see-through that the tree behind him seemed to grow right through his chest. Their necks were marked with dark bruises, as if someone had tried to slice their heads off with a very blunt knife. But the most horrible thing about them was their eyes: burned-out holes filled with bloodlust. To this day those eyes scorch holes into my heart.
Their horses were as pale as the riders. Ashen fur hung from the animals’ skeletal bodies like tattered rags.
I wanted to cover my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the bloodless faces anymore, but I was so scared that I couldn’t even lift my arms. (24-25)

Eleven-year-old Jon has just been shipped off to his father’s old boarding school. He is certain it’s because of the pranks he pulled trying to get his mother’s boyfriend (aka The Beard) out of his life for good. But Jon’s “banishment” has just gotten worse, as instead of making friends he quickly discovers he is the descendant of an old dispute involving a knight from the 1500s who is out for revenge. Jon enlists the help of a classmate Ella, who shows him how to call upon the Ghost Knight William Longspee for protection. Things get complicated when Jon learns that Longspee might not be such a good guy after all. Jon must decide who to trust fast after Ella get kidnapped and he must face his ghostly past, with or without Longspee’s help.

Fans of Cornelia Funke’s work will jump for this newest book before even knowing what it’s about. While still containing elements of fantasy, Funke strays toward a more realistic setting and plot. In an author’s note and glossary, readers discover that William Longspee, Jon’s “ancestor” William Hartgill and the vengeful knight were real people. The boarding school that Jon is sent to has existed in one form or another for almost a century. Jon mentions his eight-year-old sister’s desire to go to a boarding school based on her readings of the Harry Potter series, and I think quite a few kids harbor that desire, although I’m not sure how much they would have enjoyed running from ghosts.

The combination of ghosts and knights is a sure hit with readers. The battles are described beautifully, and while Andrea Offermann’s drawings sometimes remind me of an anime movie, they deftly portray the action. She’s really in her element when it comes to the scenery, with portrayals of the cathedral and old style architecture containing detailed stained glass windows (pg 203) and intricate above the head shots (pg. 90) featuring two-page spreads of the columns and “spandrels” (76-77) and the ghostly atmosphere (pg. 50-51).

Although Funke weaved real aspects with her own creations almost seamlessly, at one point Jon is reassured that the ghosts can’t hurt him, but that he should run anyways. It’s only later that we discover what ghosts can do that is so dangerous, but until then his fear of them seems incongruous. Once you’re willing to forgive and forget that detail (and as I said, it’s sort of explained later what makes them so fearsome), it’s a wonderfully entertaining story. Another part I don’t think was really necessary was little hints that Jon is telling this story from the future including foreshadowing comments like “That’s more than eight years ago, and I still remember it perfectly.” (5) and “I tried to drag her to the stairs, but she was–and still is–stronger than me.” (228) How his relationship pans out with Ella is left a little hazy, but the ending clearly ties up any loose ends, even if Funke does leave it open enough for a sequel that I think most readers would appreciate if it ever came about.

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