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Singer Hardcover – April 7, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-10–Gwenore is only 12 when she escapes from her mother, the evil witch Rhiamon, who both hates her daughter and covets the mysterious magical powers symbolized by the birthmark on the girl's wrist. Gwenore travels through medieval England and Wales under secret identities for several years, learning the arts of healing, gardening, and singing. Eventually, she arrives in the Irish kingdom of Lir, where she becomes the beloved teacher and companion of the king's four children. When her power-hungry mother marries the king and turns the children into swans, Mary Singer, as Gwenore is now known, must vanquish Rhiamon and save the children. Loosely based on the Irish folk tale "The Children of Lir," this engaging, well-written novel features a blend of historical fiction and high fantasy that will appeal to fans of both genres. Gwenore's flight from one hiding place to another, under constant threat of discovery by Rhiamon, makes for a dramatic read. Particularly interesting are her experiences in two communities of independent women: first an abbey that functions as a shelter for abused women of all ages, then an estate run by four sisters whose husbands died in the Crusades. Recommend Singer to readers who enjoyed Kevin Crossley-Holland's King of the Middle March (Scholastic, 2004); while that book offers an unforgettable depiction of soldiers' and embattled civilians' lives during the Crusades, Thesman brings to life the everyday struggles of commoners in the years after these bloody wars.–Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT
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From Booklist

Gr. 5-8. As the story begins, Gwenore is a young girl, the daughter of Rhimaon the witch, who wants nothing more than to kill her. So starts a series of adventures that finds Gwenore fleeing for her life, taking refuge with a group of wise women who nurture her talent for healing, and then undertaking a perilous sojourn in the kingdom of Lir, where she becomes a beloved teacher to the king's four children. When the king marries Rhimaon, Gwenore must use her ever-growing powers to face down her mother. The story winds its way through many magical moments, and even though the expanse of time it covers is wide, Thesman's artful storytelling will hold readers' interest. There are two particularly memorable elements of the book: a talking cat, whose sharp, incisive comments contrast nicely with Gwenore's more-muddled thoughts as she tries to discern her life's purpose; and Thesman's description of Blessingwood, the community of strong women where Gwenore resides. A satisfying story based on the Irish folktale "The Children of Lir." Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile; First Edition edition (April 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670059374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670059379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,123,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Singer is the story of a young girl who has been held captive by her powerful witch mother for 12 years. She finally escapes, and is then passed to an abbey and finally the home of several smart, talented women who are a center of trust in her shaky world. The first half or so of the book rushes by quickly, developing neither characters, settings nor even the plot. However, the book then begins to pick up, gaining maturity and depth, with the introduction of several interesting characters (like King Harry, the Fair Folk outcast guised as a cat). The meat of the book, however, is supposed to be her involvement with the children of Lir, centered around the folk story. Jean Thesman, however, tries to rush most of the plot into the last sixty or so pages of the book, leaving gaping plot holes, one dimensional characters, and confusion.

But the worst part is the ending. Singer's final confrontation with her all-powerful mother, besides being badly explained and hurriedly done, is so pathetic as to be almost laughable. Singer's supposed powers, her supposed sacrifice, do not even come into play, and her mother dies instead when her husband chases her and she falls out of a castle. A page later, the book is over, leaving the reader (me, at least) so unsatisfied I wondered if a chunk of the pages had been ripped out, or if I could get my money back from the library.

To me, there is nothing worse than when a writer writes an interesting and involving book and then is too cowardly or lazy to work out an ending, instead setting down something stupid and quick just to finish the book.

I don't recommend this book to anyone unless they don't plan to finish it. In that case, stop around page 130. It all goes down hill from there.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever since she was born, Gwenore of Wales has been regarded as a curse by her mother, a truly evil witch named Rhiamon. Gwenore knows that she is different from the blood drop-shaped birthmark that she bears on her left wrist, but she doesn't understand her mother's motives towards her. Just when things couldn't get any worse, Gwenore is accused of murder and locked away in a cellar. Then in the dark of night, Gwenore is rescued by her longtime nursemaid Brennan and a priest-enchanter named Father Caddaric. She is taken to stay at an abbey, uncertain if she will ever see her allies again.

At the abbey, Gwenore is renamed Mary Blondine and is looked after by a nun, Sister Mark. Gwenore is worried by the news of an "aunt" traveling to collect her from the abbey and the crows that seem to know her real name. Despite her anxiety, she gradually begins to learn how to read and write and play music. This skill opens up a whole new world for the girl, who finds herself never wanting to leave. However, Gwenore's journey is just beginning and she is forced to flee once again.

She is then taken by a kindly physician named Margarite to the healing community of Blessingwood in England. There, she is welcomed by her aunt Hildegard and the other women of Blessingwood. Gwenore meets two other refugees named Elaine and Simon; she discovers that she is not the only one with special abilities and is given the chance of having a safe life. She also meets King Harry, a brazen, magical cat, who updates Gwenore of her allies and the enemies she left behind in Wales as well as hints of her true self.

Two years go by, and Gwenore's life --- and her appearance --- has changed. She is now working as Margarite's apprentice and has developed her skills as a musician.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with the other reviewers, and mainly picked this book up based on the beautiful cover art. The book was well researched and written, the characters believeable. Warning, there is a spoiler here. The only drawback was the ending. If the mother was so powerful as a witch, why was the king able to chase her around and have her fall off the castle to her death? If Gwenore was able to make those around her young again, why did she not make the old Blessingwood women in it young again, instead of changing them into swans? I guess because they ALL decided that they wanted to fly? And what exactly was Gwenore's great sacrifice - to never have a loving mother? That's the only thing I could think of.

The tale is beautifully told up until the end and well worth the read. And being a harpist, I personally appreciate that she learned to play the harp (rather quickly) and have magical powers by singing with it. Although she seemed more worried about keeping her small dog, which seemed like more of a burden as she had to carry it everywhere, with her than a harp.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked this up for 25¢ at a library book sale, purely on cover appeal. Something about that white hair drew me in. I was curious to see what Thesman would do with a fairly unknown tale, but one that has always made me wonder; it's just so bizarre. I was hooked pretty much off the bat. There was a bit of weirdness at the beginning to wade through, but for the most part, the tension was always good, I liked the characters and the fact that things weren't happy and perfect. There were occasional bits that seemed a little inexpert or clumsy, but I still wanted to read this, rather than looking forward to when it would be over. There was a nice tone, and Gwenore is a strong character. The only real drawback for me was that the ending seemed a little syrupy and fake, but since most people love that, I doubt that will be an issue for many.
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