Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I love discovering new authors, and Hartman is now an all-time favourite. This book is amazing!

Seraphina reviewSeraphina is assistant to the palace music master. A gifted musician, she must also hide a difficult secret — in a world where a tenuous, 40-year-0ld peace between humans and dragons is rapidly crumbling, Seraphina is an abomination: half human, half dragon. Trying to conceal this secret isn’t easy, especially when she finds herself wound up in trying to discover who is behind the erosion of the peace treaty between humans and dragons. She finds herself strangely drawn to Lucian Kiggs, cousin and fiancé to princess Glisselda; his keen eyes and clever mind are a danger to her concealed identity. At the same time, the garden of characters inside her head (set up to prevent these characters from running rampant around her mind, making her crazy), has begun to unravel.

Okay, okay. I don’t want to give it away so as usual you get an abbreviated synopsis. Now the fun part…. why this book is so amazing!!! First of all, the world. The world! So detailed, so interesting, and oh the people. These characters are so amazing! Seraphina is perfect: She is strong, smart, flawed, uncertain, inspiring, and best of all: she is imperfect. She makes mistakes, and she learns from them. She is empathetic, and she is rational. She’s even irrational when it comes to her heart… she is utterly relatable.

The writing! Oh, the writing in this book is so beautiful. The characters are alive! (Orma, Seraphina’s tutor: “I’m attracting small children,” Orma muttered, twisting his hat in his hands. “Shoo it away, will you?”). You feel everything each character feels. There is a whole culture of saints that is fascinating. And the dragons. I never imagined dragons like this! They are crusty, and animalistic, and not at all humanized; but they can take the form of humans, and can live in the human world.

All I can say is, no wonder this gem was nominated for the Governor General’s award this year. I can say (with an incredible bias, since I haven’t read the other shortlisted titles) that I vote for Hartman! I hope Seraphina wins!

The best news of all; Hartman is writing a sequel. Oh yes. Stay tuned!

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The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a non-fiction book so much. Non-fiction isn’t always my thing, and I often find autobiographical-type books either pretentious or boring (or both) but this one was neither. Imagine my surprise!

Naturally, I was drawn in by a book about pianos — one about a second-hand piano shop in a city as big and as globally central as Paris. Some neat pianos could go through a place like that!

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank book reviewCarhart tells the story of how, after living in Paris with his family for a few years and walking by the same piano shop (atelier) many times a week, he plucked up the courage to go inside.  As a reader, we then get to follow Carhart’s journey as he buys a piano and wedges it into his family’s tiny Paris apartment, rediscovers playing, and makes new friends through the piano shop.

It still took me two library renews to get through this (have I mentioned that I struggle with non-fiction?) but I enjoyed having this around to pick up in between my fiction books. It was a nice, real-world balance to the teen fantasy I’m so fond of, and it’s nice to read about regular folks (non-professional musicians) who love music, too. Carhart is a talented writer and does a good job of keeping the reader interested. There was one point in the book where he started to talk about the history of how a piano came to be what it is (how it’s made), which I found a tad boring… it kind-of stalled the personal narrative momentum he had going. But that’s ok, it picked up again.

The wonderful thing about library books is that you occasionally get to know something about the others who have read the copy of the book before you. In this one, Carhart is at one point discussing the more technical aspects of music theory  — something about diminished 5ths or 7ths and minor keys  — and there were pencilled-in margin notes, very neat, by someone who said something like, “There’s no such thing as a diminished 7th but we forgive you because you’re such a good writer.” Cute!! (As I’m sure you can tell, if you know music theory, my knowledge in this area is seriously limited so please understand that this is something *like* what the note said. Don’t ask me if a diminished 7th exists. I have no idea.)

Anyways, I highly recommend this one to those who might find the topic of pianos, or rediscovering a love of playing and learning as an adult, interesting.