Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review of The Magician's Nephew

The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis

4 stars

The story of how Narnia began, and it's not like you think! Polly and Digory don't just discover Narnia... they are forced into it, or else. Through threats, mix-ups, and some real danger, follow them on their wild quest to restore things to order after - oops - they accidentally bring a wicked warrior queen home with them to London! The two witness the creation of the world of Narnia, and meet Aslan face to face... but already, evil has been introduced to the world. For Digory and Polly, it all comes down to the choice of self or sacrifice - a choice that will determine the young Narnia's future.

Concerns: Magic issues.
Summary: It's hard to narrow down which of the seven Narnia chronicles are favorites, but this one ranks near the top. The tantalizing description of the world between the worlds - you can't help but wonder, what if they jumped in another pool? On an entirely whimsical side note, I have to say that despite the dogs, and the planting of Uncle Andrew, my personal favorite is the guinea pig, who's happily content to be stranded forever in sleepy, grassy paradise! As a whole, it's a fun book - not just a journey, but an adventure.

*Note: Book is first in a series. Other books are:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review of The Exiles at Home

The Exiles at Home, by Hilary McKay

4 1/2 stars

If you thought this foursome spelled trouble before, consider the situation when the four Conroy girls suddenly find themselves in dire need of ten pounds a month for a good (but somewhat devious) cause. It's as crazy a story as you'll ever run across; robbing post offices, selling sandwiches made in a dog kennel, searching for buried treasure... oh, and yes, it's a secret. Meaning that throughout the riotous year that this book recounts, Ruth, Naomi, Rachel, and Pheobe dare not explain just exactly why they took such drastic measures to come up with this all-important money.

Concerns: Well, as with the first book, the whole plot is to follow the escapades and misadventures of a quartet of the most rascally little girls you'll ever come across. Think lots of naughtiness. No swearing, though; and if it's any consolation (eh), they at least have a good motive in this go-round.

Summary: Could I step in for a minute here, and say that this is funny? This is funny. McKay's trick of wording is exquisitely mischevious. It's so perfect. Personally, I love the sled. The horribleness of their Easter candy is enough to make me queasy myself. And Pheobe's tragic hopeful line, "Give me five pounds?" at the end of the book makes me laugh in spite of myself. A guilty pleasure!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review of Owls in the Family

Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat

4 1/2 stars

So. Supposing you lived in a town on the Canadian prairie. Then supposing you had a chance to take home a couple of orphaned great horned owls. Then, supposing said owls grew to full size, liked to nibble on people's ears, teased your dog, fought with skunks (yup! during dinner!), followed you to school, climbed trees... and couldn't fly. What a summer that would be! It's unpredictable. It's funny. And it's all true!

Concerns: None.

Summary: Maybe my personality has biased my outlook, but who wouldn't want pets like these? It's so much more interesting when the owl bites the mailman - or when it's an owl that follows you to school (and in the window!) - or when it's an owl that thinks he can walk on water! *Oh, and throw thirty-plus pet prairie dogs into the mix. I love it!* This is a fantastic true story of the life of a lucky kid and his everyday adventures after a couple of owls join his family.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

5 stars!

Narnia, the awe-inspiring land of deep forests, talking animals, mythical creatures and talking trees, is ruled by the grim White Witch and her wolf-band of secret police. When four children from war-weary England stumble across the doorway to Narnia, an adventure unfolds... because the queen will suffer no human to enter her country. So begins the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies through treachery, courage, despair, and sacrifice, in a battle to overthrow the queen's evil reign.

Concerns: It bothers me that they refer to Aslan's power as magic, though he nether chants spells nor puts together crazy concoctions. He just is. The Witch, on the other hand, is clearly an argument against spells and the like, so my rationale is Lewis -- regrettably -- called it magic for lack of a better term.

Summary: This is still the fantasy book for kids. The Chronicles, together with Tolkein's trilogy, were the modern springboard for fantasy tales, and still is the standard today. Even the worst of fantasy books has a devoted following (say, the author, his mother, and little brother), but in over 50 years of readers devouring Narnia, it's safe to assume that the promise of a fascinating new world is fulfilled. So enter into a tale of wonder and high adventure!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review of The Exiles

The Exiles, by Hilary McKay

4 stars

Description: So. These four sisters aren't exactly sweet little angels to begin with. Furthermore, their fiery knack for getting into trouble is tripled when they find out a surprise inheritance is apparently NOT theirs to buy a horse with (who wants a remodeled kitchen anyway?). On top of that, they are sent off on a forced vacation -- with the capable and therefore fearsome Big Grandma -- to keep them out of the way during the house renovations. And here, in this mischievous little book, we have the chronicle of that unbounded and outrageous summer.

Concerns: Well, it's a book about exceptionally -- and I mean exceptionally -- naughty kids. Little Women this is not. If you can get past that, otherwise worth noting is a swear word repeated a few times, and a gross story someone tells of finding a corpse.

Summary: The characters aren't role models. Forget it. Half the time, they aren't even well meaning. But somehow through all the wild escapades, by the end of the summer they've come to learn that maybe Big Grandma is somebody they care for after all. In between, we get a hilarious up-close look at the open warfare!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review of The Westing Game

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

4 stars

What happens when you combine an enigmatic last will, queer characters, multiple bombs, and a handful of clues into a mystery where the winner takes all? It's worth reading to find out! Stocked with clever twists and turns in the plot, we follow as a houseful of quirky characters embark -- however unwillingly -- on a high-stakes mission to discover what really happened to the man who made the Westing fortune.

Concerns: Some speculation about the state of an imagined corpse are gross, particularly so combined with a kid in a Halloween costume of a witch.

Summary: The Westing Game is a fun and irreverent introduction into the literary world of mystery. Trying to keep ahead of the characters in their convoluted guessing game is both satisfying and infuriating -- my guess is you won't catch on to the final surprise! A slightly warped sense of humor or plain curiosity will keep you reading, even if only to find out what a purple wave is...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review of The Pushcart War

The Pushcar War, by Jean Merrill

5 stars!

Description: Think an idyllic New York City in a slower-paced world where pushcarts gently roam the streets with their wares. Now, picture an monstrous eighteen wheeler truck with a grumpy driver who takes drastic action when a pushcart doesn't get out of the way fast enough. The crash - the screech - the pea tacks? It's WAR! The stage is set for an epic battle between the overwhelming crush of progress and the simple life of yesteryear. It's a great caper of strategy, attacks and counterattacks, and as the entire city (plus a random movie star and the US President) takes sides, it ends up a battle of wills, wits, and street warfare!

Concerns: None.

Summary: The Pushcart War is a great book to root for the little guy. It's clever, it's quirky, and it's a marvelous good war story with no casualties to turn a fun story grim. Hilarious little sidetracks throughout make it more interesting (watch for letters to the editor!) and the tone is overall sly wink-wink fun.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review of Peter Pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

4 stars

I suppose there's not much point in recapping the main plot, since most everyone knows it more or less. Don't expect that you know all the ins and outs of the story, though - there's much here to be picked up that can't be translated except through the books itself. The oft-overlooked lost boys are hilarious in their rapt imbecility (Tootles is sublime); Wendy's character is much more amusing than she gets credit for (I love the comment on the pet pirate!); and there's scores of sly clever lines threaded throughout.

Concerns: Big red flag - do not expect Disney. Although the book can be taken for intentional nonsense, it is violent; pirates and Indians are killed, and lots of talk about former battles in which previous "lost boys" were also. Tinker Bell also uses some un-ladylike nasty language. One other matters, Peter himself is thoughtless and not very impressive as a character. The parents of the Darling children aren't exactly role models.

Summary: On the surface, it's an adventure of pirates and forests and Indians and the joyous abandon of happy-go-lucky adventuring. Underneath, it's a witty perspective on kids and imagination, obviously come by with experience (white rats? make-believe dinner?). Although somewhat dark at times, things turn right at the end and it's an engaging read. One of my favorites.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review of Inkheart

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

4 and 1/2 stars

Everything a story traditionally ought to be; long-hidden secrets lead to a marvelous adventure involving villains and swords, daring escapes and shocking betrayal, and a grand, desperate gamble of a finale where all will be won or lost. Books themselves form the centerpiece of the story -- I won't ruin it for you, but it won't hurt for you to know characters spring to live after their story is read aloud, and this adventure begins when a dastardly villain is accidentally read into our own world.

Concerns: A character swears more than once or twice. Dire peril gets a mite harsh. Magic gets a mention - no spells or incantations, just fleeting speculation on how characters are read out of their stories. There are sequels, which I did not finish because of the darker turn to the story (Inkheart can be read as a stand-alone).

Summary: Inkheart promises great adventure and wonder, and it delivers on that promise. It's high adventure mixed with new sights and sounds and smells of a fascinating world. Aside from some disappointing language, the adventure in these pages offers storytelling of the highest order!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review of The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

5 stars!

Description: In a word, fantastic. When the unlikely meeting of four of the most unlikely but likable children occurs, we set out on a mission to save Stonetown -- and incidentally, the world -- from the brilliantly devious Mr. Curtain. Danger stalks this tale of a clever and engaging clash of wits between multiple villians and the gifted foursome, and the sprinkling of riddles make the read both a puzzle and an adventure as you try to stay ahead of the game. Might be long for some younger readers, but you can't help but be drawn in to enjoy the ride.

Concerns: None.

Summary: The Mysterious Benedict Society is an all-time favorite. Even if just to meet the Great Kate Weatherall (my personal favorite of the kids), or to discover what on earth narcolepsy is, or if you like action mixed in with your brainteasers, it's a great read and one of the best middle grade books I've seen in a long while.

Note: Book is the first in a series.