Thursday, February 21, 2008

Midnight (or Later) for Charlie Bone

I've said before that I am not a critic. Not a proper one, anyway. I just can't muster up enough nastiness to sound like a professional critic, because one has to couch their language in professional-sounding tones: "The author's use of tired plot devices and 17th century colloquialisms leads one to believe that there is no redemption of the soul unless the zodiac is in proper alignment, which, of course, negates the possibility that the author's position in the evolutionary chain ranks somewhere between simple bacteria and slightly more complex parasites, such as Congresspersons..." And so on.

I am not that kind of critic. I consider myself more of an "everyman" critic, meaning that when I read something, I do so for one of two reasons. I want to either learn something that I didn't know before, or I want to be entertained. If I get both in the same book, so much the better. That's why my reading material may sound a little fluffy to some of my readers. "Pollyanna? This character has read Polly-flippin'-anna??" Well, yes, I have. I sometimes read children's tales simply because I missed out on such books when I was a youngster, and now my girls are enjoying them. I'd just kind of like to keep up with them, if that's all right.

So, that said, Mrs. Woody mentioned in her latest post that I have just read "Midnight for Charlie Bone," the first in a series by Jenny Nimmo. As Mrs. Woody says, we've been hearing a lot about Charlie Bone from homeschoolers both in and out of our little support group, and she finally decided to check one out. We've been looking for a follow-up to our Harry Potter mania here at Hacienda Woody, and we're hopeful this will work.

I believe it will.

Charlie Bone is an engaging character, written very much in the same vein as Harry Potter. It could be said that Charlie, in fact, is one of numerous characters that rose to prominence largely because of Harry's success. There are many parallels between Charlie and Harry that may seem more than obvious, but Nimmo is careful to keep her distance from Harry's world. Children in Charlie's universe are "endowed," and all of them are descended from a single ancestor through one of his ten children. There is a constant underpinning of war between the various factions of this extended family. There is no one single "dark wizard" who rules with terror, but rather one portion of a family constantly battling against another, as if engaged in a colossal "king of the hill" game.

Fortunately, Nimmo keeps her characters consistent and believable. We have little trouble accepting the nastiness of some characters because such nastiness is seen whenever selfishness is one's defining characteristic. Likewise, we can root for a young hero like Charlie because he embodies many qualities that we appreciate in good-hearted souls. We instinctively know that Charlie will prevail because he has better reasons for doing what he does.

"Midnight for Charlie Bone" was a fast read. It took me parts of two very late evenings (I used Charlie as one of my "brain breaks" while working on deadlines for work), and kept me engaged from the first chapter. I think my Woodyettes will appreciate the story because Charlie is the same age as my older daughter, and the younger one is only a couple of years behind. Plus, there are girl characters with whom my girls may relate. This is a big selling point for my daughters. Books about boys alone just don't do anything for them.

[Mrs. Woody corrects me: the girls went ga-ga over "The Golden Goblet" which, apparently, had nothing to do with girls. Go figure!]

If you're looking for a new family adventure series, I'd say give Charlie Bone and his friends a try. I enjoyed the first book, and I'm looking forward to the next.

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