Turtle Island Quartet (there’s no explanation for their name) are a quartet who play an interesting hybrid/jazz crossover. This is most evident in cellist Mark Summer’s playing. Half the time he bows the strings but the other half he plays like an upright bass (including a percussive elements when he slaps the strings).
“Model Trane,” the opening tune is a John Coltrane-inspired piece, propelled by Summer’s running bass lines Despite the more classical set up (and three violins) it feels very jazzy. It runs about 4 and a half minutes.
The band leader is David Balakrishnan who has written most of the songs. He describes the second song, “Monkey Business,” as “loosely based on a sardonic view of Darwin’s theory of evolution.” I don’t quite know what that means (it’s an instrumental after all), but it’s neat the way the music is all over the place stylistically. The most notable moment comes when they quote (and fugue) “Strangers in the Night.” Although other parts of the song remind me of the music in Bugs Bunny cartoons.
The final song has the funny title “Groove in the Louvre.” He says it was inspired by Django Reinhardt. I don’t know enough Django to know if that is evident here, but there is plenty of soloing going on. There’s jazzy fiddles (Balakrishnan plays a baritone violin on this song). There is very jazzy bass (and even a bass solo on the cello) as well as classical elements. The song is 8 minutes long.
They are definitely an unexpected quartet.
[READ: June 1, 2015] Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures
Pip Bartlett is a young girl (yes I was surprised that Pip was a girl, especially since it didn’t say so until nearly the end of the Prologue). She can speak to magical creatures–unicorns, silky griffins, fuzzles–but no one believes her (because no one else can). This is a drag because she loves magical creatures and her Aunt Emma is a veterinarian of magical creatures (people know magical creatures exits, they just don’t think people can talk to them).
The Prologue sets up that Pip loves unicorns but she never really encounters them. Pip is an authority on magical creatures because she has read (and carries with her) Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures. She has actually been annotating it as she learns more stuff than is in the guide. (The guide is good it’s just incomplete). Then on field day, a classmate brings in four of her show unicorns. Pip talks to them and discovers that they are incredibly vain and show-offy. One of them demands that she ride her so that she can show off as much as the other unicorns. So Pip does (against her better judgment) and all chaos reigns. Pip is then sent to live with her Aunt for the summer.
As mentioned, Aunt Emma is a vet for magical creatures, and Pip is pretty excited to see them all. Emma’s daughter Callie is less than thrilled. She works in the vet’s office for long thankless hours. And she is crabby when Pip sees her. Within a few minutes, a couple of exciting things happy, though.
First, Pip learns that there is a unicorn which Emma must tend to. She can’t wait to go with Emma to see the unicorn, even though she now thinks less of them than she did. This unicorn, however, is not vain or a show off. Rather, he is terrified of everything (and his owner is super mad about how lame the unicorn is). Pip tries to talk to the unicorn (without the adults hearing) and learns that basically everything that moves is scary to him.
The second thing that happens is that the stable catches on fire. After what happened to Pip the last time she was near unicorns, she is sure everyone will blame her. But it turns out that Emma has already identified the cause–fuzzles. The guide says nothing about fuzzles except one word: pest. So that means it is up to Pip and Emma to figure out what to do about them.
fuzzles are tiny fuzz balls with no feet. It’s not even clear how they eat. They just make a humming sound. The girls quickly learn that fuzzles catch fire when they are frightened or excited in any way. Normally fuzzles don’t live in the area, but suddenly there are more and more of them–and people are getting angry and frightened.
Pip also has some help from Tomas, a kid in the neighborhood who is allergic to everything. He is an amusingly pathetic character. He starts off being afraid to do anything (and it seems like his allergies are faux, but they are not). But he soon proves to be brave despite his allergies (and his vast knowledge of things that can hurt you). When he encounters a unicorn, his allergic reaction is hilarious.
Emma, Pip and Tomas try to figure out how to contain the fuzzles. But soon enough, Mrs Dreadbatch is threatening Emma and her practice because her agency S.M.A.C.K.E.D. (Supernatural Magical Animal Care, Keeping and Education Department) will call the exterminators on the fuzzles. And worse yet, Emma will have to pay for them.
But once Pip learns that these fuzzles are not only living and thoughtful, they are actually really frightened, she can’t let the extermination happen.
Can she convince anyone that she can talk to these creatures?
I had a hard time believing that no one would believe that she could talk to magical creatures. I understand that adults never believe kids about things, but I would think she could prove it pretty easily. But once you accept that no one believes her, the story is fun and whimsical with lots of cool magical creatures. I really enjoyed the ones that she made up for the story and how they inserted pictures from Higgle’s guide with Pip’s notes added to it.
I didn’t love the drawing style (also done by Stiefvater)–mostly the eyes were really weird and unsettling. But there’s very few pictures in the book so I coped pretty easily.
This is the first book in a series and I’ll definitely look for future ones.