Jennifer D. shares this review:
Kate DiCamillo’s work has always been quite popular, but The Magician’s Elephant is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.
One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?
The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Magician’s Elephant
When I decided to read Linger, I was both excited and a bit cautious. Shiver, the first book in this trilogy, was amazing and, in my opinion, it set a new standard for teen fiction dealing with Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and whatever. Would Linger live up to my expectations, or like many second, third and fourth books in a series, would it just rearrange the characters and problems ultimately telling the same story over and over? What a wonderful surprise to find that Linger is as compelling, beautifully written, and enjoyable as the first book.
Sam and Grace are still two teenagers grappling with teen problems as well as the new reality that Sam will no longer shift from human form to wolf. His internal struggle with this is amazingly believable. Grace is struggling as well, with a strange illness and with the angst of not yet being 18 and totally free to make her own choices. These are real teens who have teen problems, but who also have the determination to fight for what they want.
Isobel, a somewhat minor and unlikable character in the first book, becomes a major player in Linger. As with all of us, she too is a complex teenager whose façade of sarcasm and anger starts to crack, making her another real teen who is vulnerable and struggling with life. Stiefvater accomplishes this while retaining Isobel’s feisty approach to reality. And then there is Cole, a new character, as complicated and real as the others.
While Grace’s parents have previously been pretty nonchalant about Grace’s activities, in Linger they start reacting to some situations in a more stereotypical parental way. All of this makes all of them very real. Most people are much more complicated than they seem at first, and Maggie Stiefvater has created characters with whom we can all identify on multiple levels.
Linger is filled with subtle foreshadows and clues that let the reader speculate on the future of Grace and Sam. But somehow the author has provided just enough surprises as the reader reaches the conclusion of the book, to keep you both reading, wondering, and worrying about these people you have learned to like, respect, and love.
After reading the last page, I marveled at how much I enjoyed the book. I certainly look forward to checking out the final book of the trilogy, Forever.
Jeanette shares this review:
Sometimes, I come across a book that I immediately determine to read. Winter’s End was one of these. The gloomy cover with the solitary hooded character in a wintry landscape, a slight splattering of blood across the top, made this book irresistible. Novels in which seemingly powerless characters do their best to survive and bring down an unjust authoritarian regime are among my favorites. I figured that since it was originally in French and translated into English, it might be a story of broad appeal.
Helen and Milena are orphaned teenagers at a prison-like all-girl boarding school during the oppressive reign of the Phalange. Helen’s depression gets the best of her, so she requests a visit to her assigned consoler, and names Milena as her companion. The girls will be allowed out of the school for three hours. If they do not come back in time, another student, Catharina Pancek, will be punished by being placed in isolation until the girls return.
On their way to the consolers’ houses, Helen and Milena meet two students from the boys’ school, Milos and Bartolomeo. The four exchange names and construct a way to keep in touch by sending notes through the Skunk, a man who takes care of laundry for both the boys’ and the girls’ schools.
Consoler Paula and her little boy Octavo are the closest thing to a family Helen has known. They welcome Helen into their home for a few hours. Octavo shows her his homework while Paula fixes hot chocolate and delicious baked potatoes. When Helen’s visit is over, she goes to meet Milena. Instead of her friend, she finds a note saying, “Helen, I’m not going back to school. Don’t worry. I’m all right. Ask Catharina Pancek to forgive me. Milena. (Please don’t hate me).”
That is how the book starts. The four students escape from school, Milena and Bartolomeo together at first, followed several days later by Helen and Milos. On the run, the students learn about their parents: how and why they died and what they themselves can do to revive the dormant resistance movement against the Phalange. The story is told from multiple points of view: from Helen’s, Milena’s, Milo’s, Catharina’s, and from one of the Phalangist hunters sent to find them.
There is nothing clichéd in this book. The hunters use trained dog-men—genetic combinations more hound dog than man—that can walk upright, hunt, and use limited speech. There is a race of humans called cart-horses or horse-men, who take pride in finishing any task they’re asked to do or die trying. Milena’s beautiful singing voice plays a prominent role in the novel, as does Milos’s training and skill in Greco-Roman wrestling. It is the age-old struggle of a determined group fighting against a powerful regime, but the cold, repressive society Mourlevat has created is unique and darkly fantastical.
In reading this novel, I found myself immersed in the oppressive world Mourlevat created. I would recommend it to young adults as well as to adults who enjoy dystopic fiction but don’t require complex romantic relationships in their reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Winter’s End
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Yoda was wise beyond his 900 years, but how wise is Origami Yoda? Or, perhaps more importantly, how wise is Dwight, the boy who wears the origami Yoda finger puppet and gives him his voice? Because, socially speaking, Dwight seems to be pretty inept. He is known for making a fool of himself, especially with girls, yet, when he speaks in Yoda’s voice, genius advice comes out. Could Yoda really be speaking through the puppet, or is Dwight actually a genius? Tommy and his friends are determined to thoroughly investigate the matter.
What follows is a diary entry formatted story, similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. We get stories and drawings from Tommy and his friends explaining how they have benefited from the advice of Origami Yoda. By the end of the book, you may be just as surprised with their findings as Tommy is. Don’t miss the final section of the book, where you, too, can learn how to make an Origami Yoda!
Check the WRL catalog for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.
Jan shares this review:
I have decided to take a risk and recommend one of my favorite books ever. It has a satisfying story, strong characters who are learning about themselves, magic and magical creatures, a magnificent horse, evil elderly relatives, a castle, and children who are better people than the adults around them. How could any book need more? In fact, my enduring ambition is to live in Chrestomanci Castle.
The Pinhoe Egg is shelved in the children’s section and is certainly enjoyed by children, but it is also a marvelous book for teens and adults to relish. If you guiltily enjoyed the early Harry Potter books for their humor, magic, and “Englishness” you will probably love The Pinhoe Egg and the rest of the Chrestomanci Series.
Marianne Pinhoe lives in a quiet English country village. The school holidays are starting and she is looking forward to having free time and working on her story about romantic Princess Irene. Unfortunately for Marianne, her family has other plans. Marianne is to run errands for her ailing grandmother, Gamma, while her older brother Joe is to go to work as a boot boy at nearby Chrestomanci Castle and report back what he learns (to spy, in other words!). On Marianne’s very first morning at Gamma’s house things start to fall apart as the old woman is visited by members of the Farley family from the next village and Marianne’s Gamma appears to go mad. The entire, overwhelming, extended family gather round to look after the old woman and decide that they need to clear out her house to sell. The attics are forgotten, and one day in search of Gamma’s constantly straying cat, Nutcase, Marianne discovers a strange spherical object covered with strong “don’t notice” spells. Thinking that it is useless, Marianne gives it to Eric Chant (or Cat) from the Castle, unknowingly betraying her family’s Sacred Trust. What is the spherical object? Could it be an egg? And what is the Sacred Trust and has Marianne done a bad thing in breaking it, as her father says, or a good thing as the people at the Castle claim?
(Note that the object is clearly described as round and mauve with speckles, and not gold and hen’s-egg shaped as it is shown on this cover.)
This book can be enjoyed on its own, but readers of Diana Wynne Jone’s other Chrestomanci books will recognize plenty of characters. I enjoy series like this which include the same characters, but are told each time from a different person’s perspective. We get to see how our favorite characters are seen by other people in other situations–sort of like seeing your teacher in their tatty track pants in the supermarket during the weekend.
Although I have read The Pinhoe Egg several times, I have just listened to it on CD during my commute. Diana Wynne Jone’s wry humor and Gerard Doyle’s engaging narration have seen me looking like a fool and laughing out loud.
Check the WRL Catalog for The Pinhoe Egg
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Strange things happen to Meridian Sozu. Her biggest problem does not come from boys, homework, or an unhappy family life. Her biggest problem is the fact that animals tend to drop dead around her. She believes she is causing their deaths, but in truth they just seem to find her when it is their time. Her problem was limited to animals until her sixteenth birthday. On her way home from the bus stop, a car crash occurs that kills many of her classmates. She is uninjured, but has a painful physical reaction to the event. As the strange pains send her to the brink of unconsciousness, Meridian is swept up by her parents and rushed to the bus station. This is not exactly a typical parental reaction, and it becomes clear that her mom and dad have not been entirely honest with her. They send her to live under the care of her aunt, saying that they love her, but that they will probably never see her again. Not the happiest of birthdays. But this significant birthday is the key to her new life. She is beginning to come into her powers as a Fenestra.
Your next question is bound to be the same one Meridian posed when she first heard the term…what is a Fenestra? A Fenestra is a half-angel, half-human hybrid, whose job it is to help souls cross over for the Creator. She must learn how to control her ability, or the pain she felt after the car crash will eventually kill her. Her aunt, who also happens to be a Fenestra, will train her with the assistance of a young man named Tens, who has been somehow cosmically chosen to be Meridian’s protector.
In their efforts to train Meridian, her aunt and Tens are up against a few deadlines. In addition to avoiding her own death, Meridian must learn to wield her new powers quickly to fight a new threat that is looming in town. If there are angels around to help souls cross for the Creator, there are also those whose job it is to send souls to the Destroyer, called Aternocti. They are hoping to destroy Meridian before she can fully control her powers.
A battle is looming between the Fenestra and Aternocti, and Meridian is caught in the middle. Author Amber Kizer has clearly spent much time developing the story of Meridian’s world. Meridian and the reader both learn about her abilities and the history of the Fenestra together as the story unfolds. The story is continued in the sequel, Wildcat Fireflies.
Check the WRL catalog for Meridian.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It’s the first day of holiday break and Milo Pine and his parents are all but snowed in. They operate Greenglass House, an old inn known for being a smugglers haunt. Milo is excited to spend his break in the empty inn, with no guests to please and only his parents for company. Until the doorbell rings – repeatedly. Suddenly, Greenglass House is full of guests who have braved the weather to reach its halls. And they are quite the cast of characters. The Pines are accustomed to the occasional shady customer, but each of these guests is hiding something. They all claim a strange connection to Greenglass House and a desire to uncover its secrets.
As the guests settle in, several literary tropes typical of mysteries are unveiled. Valuables go missing, a treasure map is found, the power goes out, an attic of antiquities is explored, stories are told by the fire, and several guests are revealed to be in possession of a very special set of skills. For his part, Milo takes it upon himself to figure out what brought each guest to Greenglass House. These might be mystery novel standards, but they are traditional for a reason. They add to the classic feel of the novel, and give it a timeless quality.
Greenglass House is a well-crafted mystery that held great appeal for this fan of The Westing Game and Clue. Your suspicions will change as often as the doorbell rings, and this page-turner will keep you guessing until the end. Read it on a snowy winter day to feel even more immersed in the world Milford has created.
Check the WRL catalog for Greenglass House.
Barry shares this review:
This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”
None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.
Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories
Charlotte shares this review:
First, a caveat. To those of you who know this author only from her Gemma Doyle historical fantasies: this is not the Libba Bray you’re looking for. This is her psycho alternate-universe twin.
Cameron Smith, the narrator of this young adult novel, is an unmotivated loner who sneers at his family, mocks his peers, and blows off his responsibilities. We have met this teenager before, in many a young adult novel. Then he gets mad cow disease and goes on a road trip with a dwarf and a yard gnome.
OK, that’s new.
Plot isn’t really the selling point of this stream-of-consciousness dark comedy, but here goes: It turns out his clumsiness and intermittent hallucinations aren’t the result of casual drug use after all. Cameron has Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a neurological disorder that will kill him within weeks. He is visited in hospital by a punk rock angel in combat boots, Dulcie, who promises a cure if Cameron can find and stop Dr. X, a quantum physicist intent on releasing dark matter into the galaxy. OK so far? Find the physicist; save the world. Cameron escapes the hospital in the company of Gonzo, a germ-phobic gamer dwarf from his high school, and they embark on a road trip that starts in a New Orleans jazz club and goes a long, long crazy way. On the road, they acquire a Cadillac Rocinante and the yard gnome, who is actually the Norse god Balder. (Go ahead and say it: that’s Wyrd.)
Yes, progressive dementia is one of the symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
And Going Bovine is progressively demented, a jazz riff on life, death, love, sex, alternate realities, reality TV, and the Meaning of It All. Where do you look for answers? Churches, philosophies, shopping malls, string theory? Or can music save your mortal soul? Maybe all you need is love. No, wait, that’s the Beatles. But somewhere along the way, even diehard smart-aleck Cameron begins to experience emotions other than scorn and derision. (And somewhere in Valhalla, a yard gnome gets his wings.)
Full disclosure: Going Bovine is a kind of wacky that I do not usually care for. Its main characters are 16-year-old boys: their humor is, by definition, sophomoric. I rolled my eyes a lot. Then I got to CESSNAB, the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack’n’Bowl, and inadvertently started to snort out loud. I have to give props to a writer who samples Cervantes and Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons on the same page, makes jokes about string theory, and re-envisions Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride as the river Styx.
Check the WRL catalog for Going Bovine.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Charlie is stranded on a desert island. She has no clothes, no supplies, no defense, and no escape. After spending days on her own, struggling to survive with little food and water and against dangerous jungle animals, Charlie finds others who have been similarly marooned. You might think that would make the plot of a pretty good book, but we’re just getting started.
Charlie disappeared while walking across a Target parking lot at midday. A portal picked her up and deposited her on the island of Nil. If the circumstances of Charlie’s relocation weren’t frightening enough, Charlie soon learns that there is much more to Nil than the island paradise it appears to be. She has exactly one year to make her way off the island by finding another portal. Three hundred and sixty-five days before she dies, just like everyone else who ran out of time.
This title is another example of excellent YA world-building. Matson has created a world with great structure and rules which hold it together. It’s a high concept novel with high payoff as long as you buy into the premise and go along for the ride. While there is little explanation regarding the whys of the world of Nil, there is hope that more backstory will come in Nil Unlocked, due out this May.
Check the WRL catalog for Nil.
Charlotte shares this review:
All the world’s a stage, literally, in this fun romp for stagestruck teens.
ENTER Beatrice (Bertie) Shakespeare Smith, a foundling and a born troublemaker. She has grown up in the Théâtre Illuminata, a fantastical, metafictional theater housing all the Players from all the works of the stage. Bertie gets her clothes from Wardrobe, and her bedroom is a set. She’s constantly accompanied by her own comic relief: a slapstick entourage of Midsummer Night’s Dream fairies. And, like a girl in a Disney musical, at any time, the lights may come up, the orchestra start playing, and her life transform into a song-and-dance number with tap-dancing starfish.
It may be the only home she’s ever known, but Bertie is about to be kicked out of the Théâtre unless she can prove to its Manager that she has something valuable to contribute, like a sellout show. Bertie’s plan: Hamlet, but in Egypt. Cue the asps! But while Bertie is getting her Cecil B. Demille on, a rebellious yet extremely swoonworthy Ariel—I’m picturing Labyrinth-era David Bowie in this part—figures out a way to free the Players into the real world. Chaos ensues.
The Théâtre Illuminata is a fantastic conceit and debut author Mantchev has a lot of fun with it. Bertie is a lively, if romantically confused, heroine who defends herself with one-liners and, when necessary, with jujitsu (Petruchio had it coming). Hamlet and Ophelia, the revolutionary students from Les Mis, members of the Greek Chorus: they’re all here, trading theater in-jokes and Shakespearean insults. It’s a busy stage both literally and metaphorically, each character and subplot vying to upstage the others, and everything moves at a cappuccino-fueled pace. Some of the plots are resolved, but that’s an intermission curtain at the end, not a finale; Eyes Like Stars is the first in a planned trilogy.
EXIT, pursued by a sequel.
Check the WRL catalog for Eyes Like Stars.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Anthony Horowitz may be best known in the book world for his Alex Rider adventures. I, however, first became aware of him through his Diamond Brothers Mystery series. Set in London, the books are narrated by Nick Diamond, kid brother to “detective” Tim Diamond. I put detective in quotes because he is rarely able to actually detect anything. His real name is Herbert Timothy Simple, and he was fired from the police force before becoming a private eye. Although Nick is the younger brother, he is the real brains of the operation.
Their first story is The Falcon’s Malteser, an obvious play on the Maltese Falcon. It is the story of a box of Maltesers, or malted milk balls, that once belonged to a criminal by the name of The Falcon. See what Horowitz did there? The box is left in the care of Tim, but when the man who pays him to look after it turns up dead, Tim is suddenly a suspect. Nick must take over the case to prove Tim’s innocence, protect the box of Maltesers from all of the shady characters after it, and discover why The Falcon prized a box of candy so much. It is an update on a classic noir, with mystery, suspense, and humor.
Check the WRL catalog for The Falcon’s Malteser.
As my fellow youth services librarians will attest, I am a pretty organized person. You know the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” That’s me. That is perhaps what initially drew me to a book called 100 Cupboards. I would love to have a wall covered with 100 cupboards, as that would mean 100 places in which I could compartmentalize things! The book’s cover, depicting a few of the 100 compartments, cupboards, drawers, and cabinets that line one attic wall, is certainly eye catching, as well.
For those less interested in organization, the second best thing about the book is that each cupboard leads to a different place, different time, or different reality. As you can imagine, this could easily lead a young boy to adventure. The boy’s name is Henry York, and he has just come to live with his aunt, uncle, and three female cousins after his parents were taken hostage in Colombia, South America. Hey, it could happen.
In his attic bedroom, Henry discovers the aforementioned wall of cupboards hidden behind a wall of plaster. After removing all of the plaster, and making quite a mess, he begins to explore the cupboards and where they lead. The cupboards are controlled by two knobs in the center of the wall, which work like compasses. The doors will open according to the direction the knobs are facing. And that is just the beginning. There is also a door in the house that is locked, and cannot be opened by anything, including a chain saw. There are the letters which come through one of the cabinets, which is really a small post box. And there is the numbered diagram in the front of the book, depicting all of the cupboards with notes regarding where and to when they lead. There are still so many cupboards to explore! You’ll be anxious for more by the book’s end, so be sure to check out the sequel, Dandelion Fire.
Check the WRL catalog for 100 Cupboards.
Jessica shares this review:
Greg Heffley is being forced by his mother to keep a journal (“but if she thinks I’m going to write down my ‘feelings’ in here or whatever, she’s crazy”). Except we really probably ought to call it a diary, since that’s what it says on the cover, despite Greg’s instructions to his mother (“when Mom went out to buy this thing I SPECIFICALLY told her to get one that didn’t say ‘diary’ on it”).
Since Greg is a sixth grader, he writes a lot about his classes and his friends and his activities in school. He’s not one of the jocks or the cool kids (“the best I can figure is that I’m somewhere around 52nd or 53rd most popular this year”) but he’s high enough on the social hierarchy that he feels comfortable running for Class Treasurer. He would have had a shot at it, too, except that the principal made him take down his campaign posters against his opponent.
“Remember in second grade how Marty Porter had head lice?” asks one of the posters. “Do you really want him touching YOUR money?” In the middle of the words is a picture of Marty vigorously scratching his head.
It’s the pictures that make the book so good. I really like Greg’s diary writing—he says a lot of funny things—but his pictures are just hysterical. There’s at least one drawing on practically every page. The artwork is more sophisticated than stick-figure drawings, but only barely, which is probably why I like it so much.
My colleagues over in Youth Services inform me that the Wimpy Kid series is really popular with young men and I understand why—the hero is someone you can relate to, and it’s funny while still being realistic—but I’d like to encourage people outside the demographic to give it a chance. I am a female who hasn’t been in the sixth grade for a long time, but I’m racing through the books. Give this a try even if you aren’t a sixth-grade boy.
Check the WRL catalog for Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jennifer D. shares this review:
While you seldom come across a book that has something for everyone, Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic truly does. It has history, philosophy, and science, suspense, romance, and action, all mixed in with elements of the supernatural. It is the story of five sisters, born to a mother who makes her living as a medium, despite the fact that she may or may not actually be psychic. The story begins in New York City, where the girls are trying to make do following the death of their father. On the advice of one of their mother’s clients, the family decides to relocate to Spirit Vale, New York which is a spiritualist haven modeled after the town of Lily Dale. Before they can leave town, however, they have a fateful interaction with scientist Nikola Tesla. The girls are swept up in the wake of Tesla’s new earthquake vibration machine, which he is testing for the first time. This will not be the last time they meet Tesla, and his theories shape many aspects of their lives.
Our main character, Jane, is particularly influenced by her interaction with Tesla. She follows his work throughout the next decade, and becomes something of a fan. His work in the realm of science influences her beliefs in the supernatural, with particular regard to her doubt of her mother’s psychic talents. While Jane does not wish to be suspicious of her mother’s behavior, she is nevertheless skeptical that one can communicate with the dead. In a community like Spirit Vale, this is not a particularly popular opinion, so most of her struggle is shared only with us, the readers. Her uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Jane’s twin sisters, Emma and Amelie seem to possess genuine psychic abilities. They have been channeling, going into trances, and sleepwalking themselves into dangerous situations, such as onto the roof, or into the ocean. The twins become strangely averse to the ocean, and the idea of sea travel in particular.
When a secret is uncovered about her sister Mimi’s parentage, Jane and Mimi impulsively travel back to New York City, whereupon another fateful meeting takes place. Jane reconnects with Tesla, and meets his attractive young assistant Thad, while Mimi meets Benjamin Guggenheim and befriends his mistress, Ninette. Ninette sweeps Mimi off to Europe as her traveling companion, and introduces her to Victor, Guggenheim’s handsome valet. Events are set into motion which, at this point, you may have guessed, particularly if you are aware of the fact that Guggenheim, Ninette, and Victor were all passengers on the RMS Titanic. Through the course of the story all five sisters also find themselves on board the maiden voyage of the doomed ship.
Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic is entertaining, particularly if you have an interest in the turn of the century. Many historical figures of the era make cameo appearances, from the Astors, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from W. T. Stead to Harry Houdini. Suzanne Weyn makes us care about these five sisters, and tension builds as the Titanic’s journey comes to its inevitable end. I was pleased to find that only a small portion of the story takes place aboard the Titanic, and emphasis is definitely placed on Jane and her sisters, rather than the story we all know.
Check the WRL catalog for Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic
Charlotte shares this review:
I’ve literally grown up—grown older, anyway—with E.L. Konigsburg. We share a love of artists and beautiful things. Mine might have started, in fact, with From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Newbery award winner that made me, and a generation of readers, want to run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every once in a while, I rediscover how much I love Konigsburg’s deceptively simple prose, the sharply-observed details, the way her nonconformist characters manage to rebel and resist without ever being rude.
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is about art and rules and civil disobedience, whether you’re up against a homeowners’ association or a clique of bossy 12-year-old girls at summer camp. Margaret Rose Kane, rescued by her uncles from a miserable camp experience, arrives at their home just in time to witness the end of an era. For 45 years, while their neighborhood has grown and changed, Margaret’s Old World Hungarian uncles have been adding on to their backyard Towers—pipe scaffolding, painted in sherbet colors and hung with pendants of colored glass. Depending on how you look at them, the Towers are a work of art, a labor of love, a neighborhood landmark… or an eyesore, a hazard, a threat to property values. (Margaret looks at them from the inside: If you stand in the center and spin, it’s like being inside a kaleidoscope.)
By the time Margaret arrives, her uncles have already fought City Hall and lost. Zoning ordinances dictate that the structures have to come down. But Margaret, having just retreated from one battlefield, isn’t willing to give ground a second time. She starts her own campaign to save the Towers. (Being a Konigsburg child, she arms herself by conducting research, marching to City Hall herself, and requesting a copy of the relevant city council records.)
Konigsburg characters, as a rule, are grammar obsessed and word-curious. Among other things, Outcasts contains one of my all-time favorite puns, when Margaret and her uncle decide that she has not been precisely “disobedient” at camp, but rather “anobedient:”
“…which would mean without obedience—which is not the same thing as disobedience. I would say that anobedience is related to words like anesthetic, which means without feeling.”
“Or anonymous, which means without a name.”
“Or anorexia, without an appetite or anemia, without blood.”
“Or Anne Boleyn, without a head.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place.
Or try the audiobook.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
This is the story of Cass and Max-Earnest, but those are not their real names. The story of what happened to them is a secret, but the author of The Name of this Book is Secret was never very good at keeping secrets. He advises you, therefore, to forget what you have read as soon as you finish reading the book. Following Mr. Bosch’s lead of trying very hard not to give too much away, I will attempt to summarize the tale in such a way as to keep you safely in the dark regarding certain dangerous matters.
Cass and Max-Earnest live in (insert the name of your hometown here) and attend (insert the name of your school here). They crossed paths with a pair of rather unsavory characters, Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais, when a local magician passed away. While at an antique store, Cass discovers a box labeled “The Symphony of Smells” among the magician’s donated belongings. A message in scent leads Cass, with the assistance of Max-Earnest, to investigate the magician’s home. There they encounter the two villains and uncover the magician’s hidden notebook. What happens afterward is not my secret to tell, but Mr. Bosch’s. He will try to discourage you from reading the book, and may not share quite the entire story, but The Name of this Book is Secret is a fun and quirky read. Fans of Lemony Snicket in particular will find it enjoyable, with similarities in the use of the author as a narrator. In my opinion, however, it is far better than the Series of Unfortunate Events series, and this book is actually the start of its own series.
Check the WRL catalog for the availability of The Name of this Book is Secret.
Jessica shares this review:
Here’s the plot hook: at the age of thirteen, Paul Moreaux discovers that he can turn invisible.
Here’s what would have happened in the hands of lesser writers: the invisible Paul would have stolen lots of stuff and watched girls undress and pulled harmless pranks.
Here’s what happened in the hands of Robert Cormier: the invisible Paul discovers the tragedy of human existence and commences to lead a life marked by violence, madness, and despair, with relief coming only when health complications from the invisibility cause him to die, lonely and young and unmourned.
Paul, a sensitive and thoughtful boy from a working-class family, doesn’t even realize when he first gets The Fade. On a dare, he spies on a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. (This is the 1930s, and anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant sentiments are running high against Paul and the other citizens of Frenchtown.) When the meeting is ambushed, a crazed Klansman discovers Paul and tries to kill him– but inexplicably, he somehow loses sight of his intended victim.
What Paul doesn’t realize is that he, like one male in every generation in his family, has inherited the ability to turn invisible. Sometimes it’s useful, as when escaping from Klansmen and bullies; more often it’s horrible, as when spying upon people reveals secrets Paul never wanted to know.
At least Paul has guidance from an uncle, also a Fader. A generation later, Paul’s own nephew Ozzie has no such counseling, because Paul doesn’t know he exists; the child had been secretly given up for adoption. Unfortunately Ozzie was raised by a physically abusive father, and when Ozzie discovers his Fading powers, after years of beatings and neglect, the results are terrible, with “terrible” meaning “like Stephen King’s Carrie on prom night.”
As always, Cormier’s prose is superb. From page one the atmosphere is tense, and before long things ratchet up to spooky, with occasional interludes of horrifying for good measure. Some sexual (though not graphic) content and scenes of violence make this inappropriate for younger readers, and Cormier’s fundamentally pessimistic worldview makes it inappropriate for most everyone else. But if you like dark books with tragic endings (any Thomas Hardy fans out there?) you can get your misery fix here.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
“Listen closely. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are and help will come soon. This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.”
The zombie apocalypse is here. Sloane and five other teens have barricaded themselves in the high school and are awaiting rescue. Only Sloane isn’t sure she wants to be saved. Her life before the zombies wasn’t great, and you can’t exactly say things could get better. They could hardly get worse. It is the end of the world, after all. As she watches her fellow survivors struggle to stay alive, Sloane wonders if it’s all worth it. She’s having an existential crisis, and it couldn’t be more poorly timed.
This book is a fascinating character study. You’d expect a novel about zombies to be about, well, zombies. The zombies in This is Not a Test are certainly a threat, and they do keep things scary and suspenseful, but they aren’t the point. Sloane is the story here, and her struggle would be poignant without the imminent risk of being eaten alive. Will she find the strength to keep fighting? Will she go out in a blaze of glory? Or will she simply be dinner for a flesh-eating zombie?
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Modern day teen Amy Gumm is having a tough time at home and at school. Her day gets worse when a tornado barrels through her Kansas trailer park home and deposits her in the land of Oz. Amy quickly finds out this isn’t the Oz of the storybooks. What was beautiful and magical is dull and dead.
Like Dorothy, Amy wanders the countryside looking for a way home. Along the way she makes a few friends. But instead of watching out for wicked witches, Amy and her companions are on the lookout for the Tin Woodman and his soldiers.
Dorothy came back from Kansas many years ago and something has gone very, very wrong.
The Tin Woodman is now the Grand Inquisitor of Oz. You can get arrested (or worse) for sass, for not smiling, for lack of loyalty… As Amy comes quickly to realize, all of Oz is subject to Dorothy’s bizarre and selfish whims.
The Scarecrow and Lion aren’t much better. Scarecrow used his brains for horrible experiments which make the machine-human hybrids of the Woodman’s army. The Lion attacks villages and kills innocent people. He is fearless – and completely lacking compassion. And Glinda the Good is actually an evil slave-driver who makes the Munchkins mine for magic!
All is not without hope. There is an underground movement to remove Dorothy from power. The formerly wicked witches want Amy’s help. They spring her from prison and begin training her in magic and combat techniques so she can play her part in freeing Oz from the tyranny.
This debut novel certainly gives a unique and dark twist to the Wizard of Oz story. The tale itself follows a familiar story arc of a strong, female teen relying on herself to overcome obstacles (think Hunger Games, Divergent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – but the similarities and differences with the familiar children’s story makes this new YA book a very interesting read.
Dorothy Must Die ends with plenty of questions still needing to be answered. A sequel is expected in March. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Oz.
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