Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #5: Incantation January 22, 2010

While deciding what to read next, I found a copy of Alice Hoffman’s Incantation. In the reviews for The Apprentice’s Masterpiece, it mentioned Hoffman’s book, so I decided to give it a shot.


Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007

Courtesy of

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 7 Up–The opposing forces of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal underscore this brief but rich tale set during the Spanish Inquisition. Told by 16-year-old Estrella deMadrigal, the novel shows how gruesome beliefs nourished by ignorance and prejudice destroyed the lives of countless people. Hoffman weaves a tale of a close friendship between two teens, Estrella and Catalina. Both envision that their lives will be intertwined forever. However, there is a secret about Estrella and her family that unfolds in spurts. The deMadrigals are Jews who follow their religion in secret, appearing to the world as good Catholics in order to escape persecution. Hoffman, a master storyteller, has captured this harsh time and the fragile lives of the hidden Jews. On one level this is the story of a friendship and the deadly interference of jealousy. It is also a story of the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. Estrella develops incredible strength as she tries to save herself and her grandmother. Ultimately, it is the love of a Christian, Catalina’s cousin Andres, that saves her. Hoffman’s lyrical prose and astute characterization blend to create a riveting, horrific tale that unites despair with elements of hope. Good companion selections include Waldtraut Lewin’s Freedom beyond the Sea (Delacorte, 2001) and Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).–Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

First off, LOVELY cover.  I love the presence of the red lily, which is important later in the book.

Strengths: Fast-paced, solid read.  Estrella is a strong, beautiful heroine.  Again, I was delighted (morbidly so, I suppose) to read about a less-than-ordinary time period–the Spanish Inquisition.  I love that Hoffman doesn’t pull any punches; she portrays the Inquisition’s horrors without apology.  Her descriptions are vivid and straightforward and ring with accuracy.  Despite the dark terror she portrays, she’s still able to end the story on a hopeful note without sounding forced.

Potential Flaws: Again, I’m at a loss on this one.  Difficult to pick anything that is really a FLAW, per se.

My Rating:

Well-written and entertaining.


What I’m Reading #4: The Apprentice’s Masterpiece January 17, 2010

I wanted to stick with my historical fiction streak, but wanted something a little different.  So I picked up Melanie Little’s book, The Apprentice’s Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain.

I forget where I tracked this one down.  I do remember, however, being snagged by two things in particular.   First, the cover: despite its muted and somewhat mottled appearance, the hooded falcon on the cover is striking, as is the font of the title (it incorporates three religious symbols within the print–a Jewish star, a Christian cross, and the crescent moon and star symbol often associated with Turkish Moors/Muslims.)

Second, it’s a verse novel.  With verse novels becoming more and more popular, I decided to give it a go.


The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little

Annick Press, 2008

Courtesy of

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—In this novel set in 15th-century Spain at the time of the Inquisition, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance destroy the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The effects of this dismal history are dramatized in this story of two teens—Ramon, a Converso or converted Jew, and Amir, a Muslim who has been brought as a slave to Ramon’s family. Written in prose poetry, the story’s focus shifts from Ramon to Amir and then back to Ramon. Amir is treated by the Benvenistes as another son, making Ramon jealous and straining the relationship between them. Each teen has to make compromises in order to survive, and Ramon’s choice estranges him from his father. Both protagonists demonstrate their courage as they struggle against the mortal danger in which they are placed. This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with horrific historical detail. The challenging format renders it most appropriate for strong readers. This selection would be a good companion to Alice Hoffman’s Incantation (Little, Brown, 2006) and Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I was torn on this one.  I did like it.  I think my reactions to it are more related to personal preference than any real problem with the book itself.  I am still waffling about verse novels.  As a former teacher of English, I fully respect them, particularly with their power to engage struggling readers.  I don’t necessarily agree completely with the assessment of School Library Journal (see above) that labels the format as “challenging.”  Unique?  Yes.  Different?  Yes.  But I don’t reserve the format for “strong readers.”  It was definitely a fast read.  But it isn’t for everyone.

That being said…

First and foremost, historical material.  I’ve seen a lot of books about witch trials.  This is one of VERY few YA books I’ve found about the Spanish Inquisition.  For that reason alone I loved it.  It was a smooth, almost effortless read.  Two very memorable protagonists–one of which makes some un-herolike decisions.  Again, we see my predilection for deliciously flawed characters.

Potential Flaws:
I felt that the book seemed a little predictable at first.  Plot-wise, the friction between the two main characters was expected.  The plot was trending where I expected it to go–and that was starting to lose me.  However, a sidestep in the plot about a third of the way through the book redeemed it and snagged me back in.  I found myself wishing for a more fleshed-out version of the story–I craved a full-blown novel, and was less excited about it in verse form.  But, again, personal preferences shine through here.

My Rating:

Bonus points for digging back to the Inquisition.