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Happenstance Found (The Books of Umber)
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2009
Happenstance Found is Book One in what I hope to be a great series.

Before I go on, I want to say that P. W. Cantanese is my favorite author of stores of fantasy and magical tales. I think that "A Mirror's Tale" is brilliant, and that "The Eye of the Warlock", and "The Riddle of the Gnome" are exciting and well crafted. I read all 5 of his books to my children (middle school aged - they loved each of these books too, but I have to admit that I always got caught reading ahead, having a hard time putting these books down. I don't understand why Cantanese is not a best selling author. His five "Further Tales" should be on every middle school's reading list. If I made movies - I would start here.

Now to the review, There are two main characters in the story. Happenstance, a boy who looks to be about 12, wakes in an underground ruins with no memory of any past, and a man named Umber who is brilliant, but seems to be manic - depressive; filled with exuberance most of the time, or smitten with a deep gloom.

The story starts well and then slows for much of the first half of this book. Even though there is vivid imagery, and strong characters, somehow the beginning of the story didn't hook me. The book seems to find a rhythm only about half way through. Sometimes authors spend the first part of a story doing the set-up, introducing characters and setting the stage so that when things get going - we are ready with a sufficient background for things to make sense. For example, Umber has a business partner that he almost cowers from as she is so demanding - but she is in only one scene of the story, and then does not reappear. Other characters are developed (i.e., the princes) - but then they seem to vanish from the plot. Certainly these characters will appear in latter other books, but they make the first part of this tale meander, and weaken the flow. About half way through the story picks up, and the mystery and the conflict come into focus.

I gave the book only a 4 star rating because of the slow beginning. I trust the story will continue to develop into the greatness of his other tales in the future Books of Umber. I am ready to begin reading Book 2 tomorrow - even though this First Book of Umber was only released a few weeks ago.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2010
Picked this up at the library along with a batch of other children's books for my boys ages 10 and 12. I typically skim through these books to anticipate/find out what my kids might like and what they don't like. This book hooked me and I ended up reading it cover to cover. It has the quality prose, vivid descriptions and sophisticated plot development characteristic of a book aimed at adults. I recently read The First Law series - much more violent and adult-oriented - and was not at all bored by the first Book of Umber. My kids enjoyed it greatly and are now clamoring for the next installment.

Like a previous reviewer, I was surprised that this author is not better known. I expected this book to have the benefit of a lot more reviews than it does.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2009
I gotta tell you all how much I enjoyed this book. One of my favorite tween/teen reads of 2009 by far. Catanese creates a fascinating world for his characters to explore. The central characters are all well crafted and they are, best of all, funny and real. I also loved the implied connection between our world and the world of the story. It is safe to say that this should develop into an extraordinary series.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2010
I read this book yesterday. I started and just didn't want to stop.
This is for a number of reasons.

I guess one is the pace. Catanese hits the ground running and never
really lets up. I can't think of any point in the book where I
thought, "Well, here is a good place to stop and I'll come back
later." The story is compelling and the way it unfolds keeps the
reader pulled in tight. I just kept turning pages, eager to find out
what was next.

The tale that is woven includes a large number of unknowns, or
mysteries if you will. Here again I am incredibly appreciative of the
skill the author brings into play. Some stories can be infuriating as
they constantly remind the reader that there are things they don't
know, yet never give up anything. Catanese creates intriguing unknowns
but also constantly feeds new information that lets the reader
actively participate in the unfolding of the story. I had a great time
figuring out what was going on and working through the clues. At the
same time, Catanese doesn't just spill it all out and there are some
very fun surprises.

The characters have a significant level of depth. They interact in an
honest fashion that has a strong sense of reality to it. All of this
takes place though in an utterly fantastic setting of magic and
wonderful steam punk inspired technology. (I wouldn't call this a
steam punk story but there are little flashes of it that I loved.)
This is fully fantasy but grounded in very real issues of humanity.

I hate to try and figure out an appropriate age for a child to read a
book. Every person is so very different. My ten year old is reading
"Happenstance Found" right now and loves it. I think she may find
portions to be a bit scary and we'll talk over some of the more
serious issues the book raises. I think this is a great book to get a
child thinking while keeping them entertained with a rollicking story
in a fantastic setting.

There is murder, monsters and high tension. Anyone who isn't sure if
it is right for their child could read it first to be sure. It is a
quick yet incredibly fun thing to do anyway. It would also help a
parent to be able to talk over it all with their child. There are some
great lessons to be learned here.

As an adult I found some of the vocabulary a touch simplistic and some
of the foreshadowing a bit heavy handed at times. That said, I loved
the book and started the sequel today. I kept thinking that if I had
read this as a youngster it would stand solid as one of my favorites
and I would have reread it many times over the years. If I haven't
been clear enough already, this is a well crafted tale.

Speaking of craft, there are a couple conventions used in the book
itself that I really enjoyed. Major characters in the book are
represented at the beginning of each chapter by a small picture. The
picture that is shown, corresponds with that character appearing in
and often playing a major role in that chapter. I thought this was
another subtle, yet nice way to give a nod as to how things were
heading. Especially in what I thought was the most frightening
chapters at the end, it would give a child a little heads up and time
to prepare. (It's a scary picture in its own right.) Sometimes I did
miss them though, since I moved so quickly to start reading the next
chapter so that I could see what happened next.

At the end of each chapter, we get to read small excerpts from the
books that a primary character, Umber, has written. They complement
the story and are not essential but provide a nice fleshing out of the
wider context. I really enjoyed these snippets about the world we are
beginning to explore alongside Happenstance.

This is the first in a series. While there are some rather satisfying
reveals by the end, there are still more unknowns than knowns. I
wouldn't consider this a book that could stand completely alone. This
isn't a bad thing, just know that finishing it will leave the reader
wanting to have the next book available as soon as possible. I have a
feeling when I finish the second in the series, it will be the same
way and I have no idea what the wait will be for the next. As it will
be longer than a day or two, it is going to be too long.

I can't recommend this book enough to any youngster looking for a
great fantasy to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I initially picked up this book because I received book two, "Dragon Games" to review as part of the Vine Program at Amazon. I wanted to make sure I gave book two a fair shake so I went back and read book one.

Happenstance, or Hap to his soon to be friends, wakes up in a dungeon with no memory at all of his previous life. He doesn't even know what kind of being he is. In a world of sentient and semi-sentient creatures this is a huge concern for this young man. He is almost immediately rescued by Lord Umber and his band of adventurers.

The revelations come fast and furious as Hap tries to figure out not only anbout himself but also things about the people he is tossed in with as well as the world in which he now lives.

The characterizations are fun and a little shallow at first but with time and pages comes very satisfying character development. The writing by Catanese is light and easy to read. I would recommend this book for anyone from about 10 up. If you have ever read the Belgariad by David Eddings, you will find a similar light tone here in this book and at least the book that follows.

I highly encourage reading this book to anyone who likes fantasy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2009
We listened to the book on tape during a long 10 hour drive. The kids couldn't wait to get back in the car. Well read and very well done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2011
I picked up this book as it is a Bluebonnet Award 2011 nominee for the State of Texas. I am a librarian at an elementary school and try to read as many books as possible so that I may recommend titles to my students. I am always looking for a good book especially for boys. This was terrific for both boys or girls.
I really enjoyed reading this fantasy. To me, the author built a believable world with realistic characters. Cantanese pulled me into the book from the beginning and I felt like I was sitting on someone's shoulder watching what was going on. I love it when that happens and I felt like it was a satisfying story. Along the way, the characters grew as he developed the plot around them. I was excited to see that the following 2 books were available for me to read and I immediately started them. I would highly recommend reading this book (and the other 2) to any 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader (or older) depending on their reading skills. Teachers, you'd enjoy reading this book to your classes. Secretly, I am hoping this book will win the Bluebonnet award for 2011-2012.
I was so impressed with the author I am looking for more to sink my teeth into and of course I will be buying these 3 books for my library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2011
I stumbled upon Happenstance Found at the Library and have loved every moment of Every book. It is not like most childrens books where there are moments that you think are stupid or dull for a couple pages and then get good again. I felt this with all major books out now, Percy Jackon, Beyonders, Eregon, etc... But This book is captivating all the way through and I couldnt wait for them all to come out. Perhaps it becuase I wouldnt even look into reading other books written by P.W. But this series Is one of my favorites. It often replays in my mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I love picking up a book, blasting through to the end, and wishing I had read it sooner. And when that book starts off a series, it's even better. P. W. Catanese has definitely delivered with HAPPENSTANCE FOUND, book one in THE BOOKS OF UMBER.

When a young boy named Happenstance is found left alone in the ruins of an ancient city, Lord Umber takes him into his care, knowing that the boy has been left for him to find. But Happenstance doesn't know who he is or where he comes from or even why he exists. And the mysteries start to build: why can the boy see in the dark? Why doesn't he have to sleep? And why does everyone stare at his green eyes as if they're a curse? Happenstance journeys with his questions into a new world: a world filled with barges strapped to the backs of leviathans, ancient evils, and a nasty creature that will hunt him down to the death.

Catanese has done things right: created strong characters that are easy to connect with and enjoy. The world of Happenstance and Umber is fleshed out nicely, without giving us huge explanations to plod through. When the back stories do emerge, they flow seamlessly with the rest of the novel.

He's also crafted a strong plot that ducks around the edges of the typical fantasy genres, dishing out a nice bit of humor alongside the suspense of his story. In fact, some of the twists that he delivers are so startling that I found myself nearly breathless as I frantically flipped the pages. The beginning does start out a bit slowly, but there is definitely enough mystery up front to keep things flowing until some of the real twists about midway. And with some insanely creepy scenes thrown in, I couldn't help checking over my shoulder as I read.

Fans of offbeat fantasy novels will definitely enjoy this one. And since this is the beginning of a series, Catanese doesn't answer everything by the last page. But he does hand off an incredible twist by the end that will leave readers aching for the next volume.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Happenstance wakes up in a cave from a long slumber not remembering anything. Luckily he is soon found and rescued by a trio of sorts. There's Umber - a happy and inquisitive soul, Sophie - a young brave girl, and Oates - a gruff but kind man. They find a letter about Happenstance that was written for Umber in which Umber must keep it secret from Hap. They sail off to Kurahaven where Umber lives. On their journey the noticed that they are being followed. Who would be following them and why? Hap has so many questions on top of that. Who is he? Where did he come from. As Umber tries to help Hap figure out these things they start noticing all of Hap's special abilities. As the story unfolds we learn more and more about Hap.
The action and adventure in this book is constant. Makes for a fast and fun read. What I loved the most about the book was the characters. Each one was drawn out very well and I enjoyed every one of them. I highly recommend this book.
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