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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Charming The Book of Story Beginnings Awakens Readers' and Writers' Deepest Fantasies

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Every would-be writer knows about story beginnings - those ideas that sit in our computers, middleless, endless, going nowhere. Somehow, although we know just how to start the tale, we're not quite sure where to go from there. And so, a potential story sits and sits, perhaps wholly forgotten, perhaps lingering somewhere in the back of its creator's mind. But, imagine if there was a place - a magical place somewhere between reality and fantasy - where these story fragments got a chance at life, where your abandoned characters decided their own fates. How would their stories end? How would yours?

The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup starts with the mysterious disappearance of 14-year-old Oscar Martin, who vanishes in the summer of 1914. Although his sister Lavonne insists she saw her brother exit the house, climb into a rowboat, and paddle out to sea, it's obvious that grief is making her hysterical. After all, the Martins' big white house sits smack in the middle of Iowa farm country. No ocean for miles and miles. It's much more likely that the lad, tired of farm chores, has run off to seek his fortune in some more exciting locale. Whatever happened, Oscar's never heard from again. Despite Lavonne's never-ending search for her brother, his fate remains an unsolved mystery.

Nearly a century later, Lucy Martin is fascinated by the old story about her great-uncle's midnight boat ride. Especially since she and her parents will soon be living in the very house from which Oscar disappeared. Lucy's not thrilled about trading her apartment in the city for a farmhouse in the country, but her family needs a change, especially since her father's just been denied tenure at the city college where he teaches. Her mother's constantly worried about money - inheriting a house will go a long way toward easing the family's financial burdens. Luckily, The Brick, which has been in the Martin Family for years, turns out to be a more interesting home than Lucy ever imagined. While her mother's locked in her office working, and her father's in the attic trying to turn lead into gold, Lucy's left to explore. She discovers a pile of her great-uncle's writings. Among his things is an old leather-bound volume called The Book of Story Beginnings. In it, more than one writer has scribbled his ideas. When she comes across this passage, she gasps in recognition:

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a farmhouse high on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Below the hill lay endless fields of corn and more corn, divided by long, dull roads that went on forever before they came to anywhere that was somewhere. The boy liked to imagine that his house was surrounded by the sea and that he could sail forth from his home to find adventure. Such thoughts seemed no more than a dream to him. Then one night, as he sat alone in his room, he had a feeling that something strange had happened outside. When he went to look, he saw that his dream had come true. His house on the hill was surrounded by a great black sea. And in the moonlight, he saw a little boat waiting for him on shore" (58-59).

Not fully understanding what she's found, Lucy decides to start her own story, never imagining that an innocent sentence like "Once upon a time, there was a girl whose father was a magician" (63) could turn out to be so dangerous. Soon, Lucy's in the middle of her own tale, her long-gone uncle by her side, on a perilous journey to find her father. It's a madcap adventure through time and space, a voyage full of magic, mischief and menace. Can Lucy and Oscar navigate their way through the strange world of their fictionalized hopes and dreams well enough to rescue Lucy's father? Can they orchestrate a happy ending for themselves or are they at the mercy of a fairy tale gone awry?

I have one word for The Book of Story Beginnings: Charming. It's a book lover's book, all about the power stories have over us. It's the kind of tale that awakens the deepest fantasies of readers and writers, teasing us with the possibility of traveling inside our favorite fictional worlds, even those that we, ourselves, have created. It's imaginative, enchanting and fun. A timeless adventure story for dreamers of all ages, The Book of Story Beginnings is not to be missed.

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for fantasy adventure/peril

To the FTC, with love: Another freebie - What can I say? I heart my library.


  1. Wow! This sounds like a great book. Adding this one to my wish-list. Great review.

  2. Yeah, one more for my list too. It sounds very fun!

  3. This sounds like great fun, adding it to my 'keep an eye out for' list. Nice review.


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