Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie de Paola, is the adventure of Bill, a crocodile, and his friend Pete, a bird, as they go on a field trip with their class down the Nile. In their adventure, they run into Mr. Bad Guy and have to try to thwart his plans to steal the The Sacred Eye of Isis.
This book is a fun additional adventure to de Paola’s Bill and Pete series. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Cornelius: A Fable by Leo Lionni or the original Bill and Pete by Tomie de Paola
Check the WRL catalog for Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile.
One advantage of our ebook collection is that we can keep older titles that are still of interest to readers without having to worry about shelf space for new items. Over the holiday break, I spent some time in our ebook mysteries reacquainting myself with some early crime writers who I had not read in a while. One of my favorites is Ngaio Marsh. Marsh is often associated with the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, along with Dorothy Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, and Agatha Christie. Marsh’s novels differ from those of Sayers and Allingham however in that her lead character is not an amateur detective but a Scotland Yard official, Inspector Roderick Alleyn.
The pleasure of these books is definitely rooted in character. Alleyn is a deeply appealing figure, bright, witty, tough when needed, but mostly solving crimes by thought rather than action. Alleyn’s aristocratic upbringing gives him connections that would not always be available to Scotland Yard, and he is often called in on sensitive cases. He is ably seconded in most of the novels by Sgt. Fox, a man with a more middle class background, but equally quick and a superb foil for Alleyn.
Although the stories do build on each other, each one can be read alone, and Death at the Bar is a fine starting point. Here, Alleyn and Fox are called to Devon to investigate the suspicious death of a noted lawyer. With artists, surly left-wing rabble-rousers, colorful pub owners, and more this is a classic British crime novel.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It is the spring of 1768 and Matt’s father has just left him alone in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. He is on property his family has purchased in Maine territory, in a cabin he and his father just finished building. Matt’s father is making the return trip to Massachusetts to bring the rest of his family to their new home. He leaves Matt to protect their land, tend the crops, and prepare for the family’s return. Matt expects to be alone for six weeks, perhaps a bit more. Things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Matt faces many obstacles during his time alone – a thief, bees, bears, and a dwindling food supply. He is unsure whether the neighboring Indians are friend or foe, until they come to his rescue one day. Though they do not get along at first, Matt slowly builds a friendship with Attean, an Indian boy about his own age. This friendship might turn out to be the most important in Matt’s life.
It is an excellent story and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award. Classics are classics for a reason and this one is definitely worth revisiting.
Check the WRL catalog for The Sign of the Beaver
Christmas is a great time not only for ghost stories but also for mysteries. This collection, gathered by The Mysterious Bookshop’s owner, Otto Penzler, is a fine place to start if you are looking for crime fiction short stories set during the holidays.
Penzler has compiled a selection of mysteries from classic authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy (of all people), Damon Runyon, G. K. Chesterton, and Ngaio Marsh, as well as contemporary masters of the crime story, including Peter Lovesey, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Ellis Peters, Donald Westlake, and Catherine Aird. There are well-known tales here like “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” (my favorite Christmas mystery of all time), as well as a host of excellent stories I have never read before, all set in the Christmas season.
Penzler has put the stories in clever groupings — traditional tales, modern narratives, humorous stories, Sherlockian adventures, noirish pulp fictions, and of course ghost-centered mysteries. There will be something here to delight any crime fiction fan, and if you have a mystery reader on your Christmas list, you can do you shopping early this year and order a copy of The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries for the 2015 holidays.
Check the WRL catalog for The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
The Elephant from Baghdad, by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, tells the tale of Charlemagne and his white albino elephant Abu, who was a gift from the caliph of Baghdad. This book, “written” by Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne’s real life biographer, tells of Charlemagne’s travels to and from Baghdad and his relationship with Abu. In addition to the illustrations, this book includes photographs of artifacts from Charlemagne’s era.
This would be a great book to read to a child who is interested in medieval history. It shows the similarities and differences between Germany and Baghdad during the medieval period. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Twenty-one Elephants by Phil Bildner or Children and Games in the Middle Ages by Lynne Elliott.
Check the WRL catalog for The Elephant from Baghdad.
This week started with a book on books, reading, and libraries, and here, Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris continues the theme. Fadiman may be best known for her 1997 award-winning nonfiction title The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This collection of essays on Fadiman’s life as a reader takes a lighter tone and is a joy to read.
The 18 essays collected here offer reflections on Fadiman’s family (her father reviewed books for the New Yorker, was a promoter of reading on radio and TV in the 1950s and 60s, and authored The Lifetime Reading Plan), conjoining libraries after marriage (how do you decide on shelving and dealing with duplicate copies?), and the pleasure that can be attained through attentiveness to grammar and spelling.
Above all though, Fadiman celebrates the joy of reading, of re-reading, and of living a life of words. Anyone who has ever spent time noting errors of punctuation in restaurant menus, of playing word games with your family, or coming back to a favorite childhood book will find something to like in this witty and delightful collection.
Check the WRL catalog for Ex Libris
Jan shares this review:
A misfit is a great subject for literature, because the character’s life story creates inbuilt dramatic tension before the plot even begins.
And what a misfit we meet in Limpy the cane toad!
He lives in Queensland, Australia, where introduced cane toads are an ecological disaster and Australians are attempting to exterminate them. As a misfit Limpy not only is a member of a hated species, he also has a “crook leg” that was run over on purpose by a truck, which makes him hop around in circles when he gets excited.
At first Limpy doesn’t believe that humans hate cane toads and it takes numerous attempts on his life before he believes it. He notices that humans do love some animals, especially the three Olympic mascots: the platypus, the echidna, and the kookaburra. To further his ambition of cane toad/human harmony Limpy and his cousin, Goliath, go on a madcap adventure to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, to try and become mascots as well. Along the way they meet many quirky characters, from talking mosquitoes and rats to a kind human athlete (who, unfortunately, doesn’t understand what they say).
The humor is exaggerated and slapstick, but Limpy is an anti-hero that many people will be able to relate to. He is basically a decent person (cane toad?) in a world that doesn’t appreciate his inner beauty.
Since I come from down under, I especially enjoyed “having a squiz” at the glossary of Australian words. I can attest that the words are accurate as my grandmother used to say many of them (dubious looks from my American colleagues notwithstanding).
Although it is aimed towards younger audiences, Toad rage is a quick and funny read for teens and adults. And you never know, you may just learn some bonza new words!
Check the WRL catalog for Toad Rage.
Christmastime is always a good opportunity for some re-reading, and this past holiday season I went back to one of my favorite contemporary writers, Ivan Doig. Doig is a masterful chronicler of the lives of those people who settled and built their lives in the Montana territory (and later the state).
English Creek tells the story of one 1930s summer in the life of fourteen-year-old Jick McCaskill, son of strong parents with deep Montana roots. Much of the action in this coming of age novel is driven by the split between Jick’s parents and his older brother, Alec, over Alec’s desire to forgo college to be a cowboy. Stubbornness on both sides catches Jick in the middle, and he finds himself unable to reconcile his parents and brother, despite his best efforts.
Doig has a deep affection for both his characters and for the Montana landscape. He makes both come alive for the reader. Doig also clearly understands how the past affects the present, and English Creek is filled with storytellers who remember the history of the families of Montana’s Two Medicine country and how that history has shaped current events.
There is humor here, and sorrow, and as Jick learns more about his parents’ early lives and about his brother’s longing to live his own life he begins to chart his own path to adulthood. Doig takes a look at the earlier history of the Two Medicine country in the second novel in the series, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and brings the story up to date in Ride with Me, Mariah Montana.
Check the WRL catalog for English Creek
When Evie’s mother passes away, she and her father move from Michigan to New York, and take over an old orchard that no one can coax to grow. It stands dead, blackened and withered, and is thought by locals to be cursed. It has been that way since the disappearance of another young girl named Eve, the daughter of the orchard’s former owner. When this Eve’s father set off to find the original site of the Garden of Eden, he abandoned his pregnant wife, Eve, and her brother Rodney. Upon his return, Eve refused to forgive him, and is thought to have run off. But the trees never grew again.
New to town, and still mourning her mother, Evie wanders into the cemetery across from the orchard, and meets Alex, a boy who claims to be a ghost. While Evie is skeptical at first, she grows to believe Alex’s claim. Soon, however, there are other, even more unbelievable, perhaps magical things to comprehend. Rodney left behind a single seed, a gift for Evie. This seed, and two others like it, were brought back by Rodney’s father from the purported site of the Garden of Eden. The first of these seeds was planted by the other young Eve, immediately before her disappearance. Could Eve’s disappearance be tied to these seeds? Are they really from the Garden of Eden? And what would happen if Evie planted one? Fantasy and reality blend, the seed takes Evie and Alex to a magical place. But the story takes a turn. Everything is not as it seems, and soon Evie must race to put things back as they should be.
Check the WRL catalog for the availability of The Garden of Eve.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, by Deborah Hopkinson, is based on the true story of Alta Weiss, one of the first female baseball players. Alta must overcome society’s obstacles in order to play the game she loves. She finally convinces a coach to let her play for his team and she is an instant hit. Because of Alta’s superior pitching skills she wins the game for her team.
This book is great to read to children because it transmits the message that you should follow your passions even when there are multiple obstacles standing in your way. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Dirt on their Skirts: The Story of the Young WomenWho Won the World Championship by Doreen Rappaport or Casey Back at Bat by Dan Gutman.
Check the WRL catalog for Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings.
Manguel is one of my favorite writers about books and reading, particularly for the connections that he makes using history, his own reading life, and a broad knowledge of books and literature. I find this book of his particularly appealing for the way it brings libraries into the mix.
Here, Manguel’s fifteen essays look at libraries of all kinds, prompted by his own building of a new library for his house in France. From personal libraries to state libraries to libraries of imaginary titles, Manguel brings his lucid prose style and his restless imagination to them all, moving easily from individual titles to cataloging systems to shelving. This is not a history of libraries, but rather a personal journey through the realm of books, with Manguel as a superb guide.
Anyone who loves books and reading will find something to enjoy here. Reading any of Manguel’s essays is like sitting down with a well-read, but never pedantic or overbearing, friend and talking about literature. I can think of no better book to start off the year with. It is just the thing to prime the pump for an excellent reading year in 2015.
Check the WRL catalog for The Library at Night
Award-winning author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney has crafted his own version of The Little Red Hen, the story of a hard-working hen whose mission is to make some homemade bread. Unfortunately, not one of her friends will help her, so the hen makes it herself. When she is finished, all of her friends suddenly want to help her eat it, but she keeps the fruits of her harvest all for herself!
Besides teaching an age-old lesson of cooperation and helpfulness, The Little Red Hen includes a colorful cast of characters presented to readers in beautiful illustrations that make this version of the classic story memorable and unique. The author has even color-coded the characters’ names so young readers can easily read along with this favorite tale. To share it with your own young readers, be sure to check out The Little Red Hen!
Check the WRL catalog for The Little Red Hen.
What does it take for a musical composition to become “classical music”? Some pieces now in the canon caused riots and inspired revolutions when first performed. It seems, though, that when composers set out to declare revolution, they didn’t really connect with audiences. That’s the situation Peter Els found himself in as a young man.
Peter Els is the main character in Richard Powers’ Orfeo, and our tour guide through the worlds of orchestral music and biological terrorism. Seventy years old when the novel begins, his career as a composer over, his only creative outlet lies in the brave new world of manipulating bacteria for his own enlightenment. It’s just too bad that his equipment triggers a full-out alarm at Homeland Security, which reacts in a heavy-handed fashion. With little warning, few resources, and the weight of public opinion quickly turned against him, Peter flees.
On his journey, he recites an apologia of his extinguished career. Els grew up in a time of musical turmoil, where old-fashioned notions of rhythm and structure (“beauty” is the reviled term) were thrown out in favor of dissonance and audience involvement. He had two compatriots in his personal revolution – Richard Bonner, a manic director and producer brimming with wild ideas; and Maddy, a singer who agrees to try one of his experimental pieces and ends up marrying him.
But low-paying jobs that enable his creative flow, and his devoted fatherhood to their child are not enough for Maddy, and they divorce. Peter goes into a hermitic existence, which he breaks only when Richard blasts back into his life with an earthshaking commission. After an extended and agonizing creative process, the piece debuts to rave reviews; however, Peter sees an unfortunate parallel to current events, refuses to give permission for future performances and breaks all ties with Richard. Alone, he takes a position as an adjunct professor in a middling music program where he nonetheless affects his students and brings out their best.
Els admires many of his contemporaries, among them Harry Partsch and John Cage. But he also shows us the ambitions and results of composers ranging back to Mozart, and the future of sounds created by popular musicians who adapted them from the revolutionaries of the late 20th century. Like Mr. Holland, he teaches by understanding where we are and leading us to a new level.
Still, he’s on the run, and his efforts to recapture and even make amends for his past are fraught with danger. His genetic engineering interest sparks a national debate, driven by hysteria and the need for a villain by the national media but Peter Els has his own voice and uses it to maximum effect to counter the fear that has been created in his name.
Powers’ back-and-forth structure allows him to develop Peter Els against a background of familiar but vague current events, as if his art shelters him from the real world until that art crumbles. He isn’t always a sympathetic man, but freely admits his shortcomings. By the time we reach the unclear conclusion, his story doesn’t need an ending. It’s his life, and the music, that stand on their own.
I don’t know if Richard Powers knew about these guys when he started working on Orfeo; if not, it’s an ideal case of life imitating art. Ironic, since all Peter Els wanted to do was have his art imitate life.
Check the WRL catalog for Orfeo
Abby shares this review:
In the last couple of years I have discovered how much I enjoy graphic novels. This format contains stories that run the gamut of literature, with the benefit of interesting, beautiful, and funny illustrations. In the same way that the illustrations in a children’s picture book contribute to the story so that the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, graphic novels do the same thing for more complicated storylines. The shorts in The Eternal Smile are all about escape, in one way or another.
The first, “Duncan’s Kingdom,” begins with a classic fantasy gambit—a knight of the realm is sent off to kill a great enemy of the kingdom, but he is plagued by a mysterious dream. In his dream, which is told without text, we see the back of a woman, sitting at a table, an old-fashioned glass soda bottle sits next to her. In the realm of the enemy, Duncan discovers a bottle that looks the same, bearing the label “Snappy Cola;” he’s mystified by this bottle and what it might mean. The artistic style of this story is fairly realistic, but with some stylized elements. The colors in the day time scenes are warm, tones of red and dark yellow predominate; but the scenes that take place in the evening are cool, in grays and purples. I especially like the way that Duncan is drawn in classic hero style, with a small dimple in his chin.
The next story is drawn in a style reminiscent of the old Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck adventures. “Gran’Pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile” features a money-grubbing frog, his two equally greedy granddaughters, and his hapless assistant, Filbert, who does all the real work despite his pronounced stutter and obvious fear of his employer. Greenbax’s goal is to have a golden pool, filled with money, so deep that he can dive into it without hitting his head. Filbert is his ideas man, relentless in his search to find Gran’pa Greenbax his next “get rich quick scheme.” At the end of his rope, Filbert brings them all to the desert to view “the eternal smile,” the name he has given to the smile-shaped anomaly in the sky. Greenbax is furious, but then decides to build a “Church of the Eternal Smile” to solicit donations from parishioners to fuel his greed. The church, however, does not operate as smoothly as he expects.
The final story in this collection is “Urgent Request”; the characters are very stylized, rounded figures rendered in shades of black and grey on yellow paper. Janet is a low-level programmer for CommTech and her shyness is evident. The text is spare, but the story unfolds with details added by the illustrations. Shortly after Janet is turned down for a promotion and humiliated by her boss, she receives an urgent request from Prince Henry Alembu of the Royal Family of Nigeria, asking for her banking information so he can send through a wire transfer of funds. Readers will recognize this as one of the classic email “phishing” scams to bilk people out of their hard earned money. What Janet does in response is as surprising as it is fascinating.
Just as words combined with pictures make a whole greater than the sum of their parts, these three disparate stories work together to create a thought-provoking book. The Eternal Smile is a quick read and readers who have read Gene Luen Yang’s Prinz award-winning young adult novel American Born Chinese will recognize both the drawing style and exploration of identity. Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Good as Lily, which is also in our collection.
Check the WRL catalog for The Eternal Smile.
OK, let’s get this out of the way first – the book we have in our collection is actually titled The American, which as you read the book becomes patently ridiculous. This is a movie tie-in for a George Clooney vehicle, which got middling to bad reviews from ‘ordinary’ people, but middling to good reviews from top critics. If the movie follows the pacing of the book, I can see where the thrill movie seeker would come away less than satisfied.
A Very Private Gentleman is slow, but in the way that develops tension even as the gentleman slowly allows readers into his very private world until we get a more complete view of a character who rationalizes and even elevates the evil he does. Even the nature of that work is trickled out until we fully understand that he is a master craftsman of death. Not the death-dealer, but the maker of the custom weapons the death dealers require. That doesn’t make him any less a target, and there are plenty of people who want him dead.
His craft requires subtlety, patience, watchfulness, and mobility. For this, his final job, he has chosen to live in a small Italian village under the identity of a painter of butterflies, so he becomes Signor Farfalla to the inhabitants. While awaiting the commission, he argues theology over bottles of fine wine with the local priest, becomes known at the local bars and restaurants, and a regular customer at the local brothel. Even considering his obsession with security, this is the most idyllic place he’s ever lived.
Indeed, the idyll is seductive. The kindness of people who don’t demand intimacy, the eternal feel of this ancient village, the excellent food, the romps with two beautiful girls, the landscape around his temporary home all call to him that he can maintain this identity and settle into a well-deserved (but still watchful) retirement. But his sixth sense turns up a hint of danger, and the idyll becomes less than ideal.
Signor Farfalla still has that commission to fulfill, which means meeting the client for the specifications, finding the materials, creating and testing the weapon, then making the final delivery. Each of those is a potential vulnerability, and Signor Farfalla practices his professional paranoia to the hilt. When the commission comes face-to-face with the source of his unease, it quickly becomes apparent that his professional life will cause his personal death.
Signor Farfalla addresses the story directly to the reader, even telling us that he’s withholding information that might allow us to identify him. That almost-confiding tone also conveys a sense of hubris when he claims the rightful role he believes history owes him, but involves us in his love of nature, and the good life he’s got. That personal connection makes the climax much more shocking than a genre thriller as the final revelations erupt and Signor Farfalla must make fatal decisions.
Check the WRL catalog for A Very Private Gentleman (aka The American)
Jennnifer D. shares this review:
It’s just about flu season, so it’s the perfect time to read a book about what could happen when you get your flu shot. Getting a shot is not the most pleasant experience, so here’s a little incentive. It might just give you ESP.
After getting their flu shots, twenty-two students of Bloomberg High School can suddenly read each other’s minds. Everyone’s thoughts are on display. Unfortunately, knowing that people can read your mind can make you think of all the things you’d least like others to know. That time you cheated on a test. That time you cheated on your boyfriend. These teens quickly learn that they don’t want to know what their parents, teachers, and even best friends really think about. Not that there aren’t benefits: better grades, better relationships, better futures. It’s easy to be the smartest person in the room when you know what everyone else is thinking.
Secrets might be a thing of the past for these students, but they all have one big secret to share. In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” The chances of twenty-two keeping a secret are next to nothing. Soon everyone from their parents to the CDC knows about their abilities and it’s time to decide. Whose thoughts do they want in their heads for the rest of their lives – their own, or everyone’s?
Check the WRL catalog for Don’t Even Think About It.
It’s a small community, tight-knit in the ways that places get when the residents watch their children grow up together. The parents have high expectations and mostly refuse to recognize that their teens are moving beyond childhood. The teens are experimenting – drugs, hair color, sex, clothing – but there’s still pressure not to go too far outside the bounds. There’s jealousy, and memories of the kid who threw up on the school bus in second grade. There’s the long shadow of past infidelities, spouse abuse, alcoholism, and divorce that hangs over these kids, who can’t name or deal with the emotions that such trauma bring. Megan Abbott couldn’t have chosen to set The Fever in a more normal place.
Until one of the bright, talented, and popular girls has a seizure in class, followed by another at home, these kids haven’t experienced the trauma of serious illness among their peers. What better way to lose that teenage feeling of immortality than seeing a familiar face twisted in rictus and a familiar body sprawled in a tangle of desks? Add to that the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and that trauma quickly spreads across the world. Scary, right?
Then it happens to another girl, and another, and another. Now the singular tragedy becomes an epidemic and people start pointing fingers. Is it something in a vaccine? A chemical spill? Abuse by the boys? The Internet proves a goldmine of information and opinions and this normal community begins to break down in fear. Is the mystery ever solved? Yes and no – but I’ll leave the reading to you.
Abbott tells this story of growing hysteria through the eyes of the Nash family. Deenie is in her first year of high school, and it’s her best friend Gabby who suffers the first episode. Older brother Eli is a sports standout and the target of aggressive girls who want to score on the popular boy. And dad Tom is a popular teacher at the school all the affected girls attend. That should make for a cohesive family, but grouped together as they are they make a convenient target for those looking for scapegoats.
Each of the Nashes is captured in their individual voice, with the concerns and qualms of each fully articulated. The tone of the rest of the community – from the girls posting YouTube videos of their symptoms and fears to the outraged parents to the authorities trying to sift through mountains of opinion for some sensible explanation – also feels truthful. Knowing that there’s nothing they aren’t seeing on a daily basis, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to a mature young adult reader, but it’s also worth suggesting to any adult who wants to look across the chasm of time and see what those young adults are facing.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fever
Award-winning author and illustrator Kevin Henkes has created a sweet story with A Good Day, a book that tells about the events that make a little yellow bird, little white dog, little red fox, and little brown squirrel have a bad day. However, with diligence and hope, the animals’ bad day turns into a good day after all!
As always, Henkes has crafted colorful, eye-catching pictures that are framed within each page. The story is readable for beginning readers and will make a fun shared reading for emergent readers just starting out! With its timeless message and beautiful, one-of-a-kind illustrations, A Good Day is a great book!
Check the WRL catalog for A Good Day.
I’ve blogged before about one of Gabrielle Zevin’s wonderful novels, but am ashamed to say that I didn’t make the link between the two right away. It wasn’t until I was digging in to see if one of WRL’s reviewers had written about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that I made the connection; I certainly couldn’t tell by tone or topic, since both are very different from the earlier book.
A. J. Fikry is one of those books that book people like. It reaffirms the role that reading plays in creating community and bringing diverse people together to hold close, tear at, or speak in awe of the books that affect them. (Like most book people, I include everything from a few hours of entertainment to a fundamental questioning of one’s role in the universe as affecting the reader.)
The title character lives on an island, literally and metaphorically. Alice Island is a long ferryboat ride from the nearest town, itself a long drive from the nearest city. Fikry runs the only bookstore on the island, marking him as somewhat of an oddity among his neighbors. And he is in a black depression, mourning the sudden death of his much-loved wife. He drifts through the days, turning people away, dully watching his business fail, and frequently drinking himself into a stupor. Following one of those nights, he wakes to find his most valuable possession gone.
Shortly after, a package (OK, it’s a baby abandoned by her distraught mother) is left in the unlocked shop, and Fikry is thrown out of his self-absorption and isolation. Between the chief of police and the Social Services office following up on Maya’s case, and the women convinced that no man can possibly care for a little girl, Island Books’ doorbell and cash register are suddenly ringing again. And A. J. Fikry’s life is saved. Not only that, it takes on a new vigor, and the next thing he knows he’s grabbing at all kinds of opportunities. But life is life, and one tragedy is no inoculation against future sorrows.
The story covers about 20 or so years, with some chapters covering small steps and others making giant leaps into the future. Zevin introduces each chapter with a small annotation of short stories and novels Fikry is writing to his daughter, a literary bequest for the clever girl who is growing to be an accomplished young woman. As she matures, so does his analysis of the reading he wishes for her. The intimacy of those notes, plus Fikry’s rediscovered contact with the quirky islanders make this a tender story completely unlike the searing tale told in The Hole We’re In. Try them both (or at least read the blog entry) and you’ll see what I mean.
Check the WRL catalog for The Storied Life of A.J Fikry
Thirteen-year-old best friends, who describe themselves as “two lobes of the same brain,” visit an eccentric uncle at his Vermont mansion, and in the tradition of such vacations, end up in peril. Gregory, the smart-alecky one, warns his friend Brian that Uncle Max is eccentric, but it becomes obvious when they arrive and he has the butler burn all of their luggage. Uncle Max prefers that boys wear knickerbockers and speaks like a character out of Dickens.
Exploring the house, the boys discover a curious board game without any rules but with a layout that seems to correspond to the old, Victorian house and its grounds. As the boys solve puzzles, the board expands to reveal more pathways and tests. It’s no Candyland, though… more like Zork, with gruesome monsters lurking in the dark, trolls, and a mysterious stranger with a bladed yo-yo. Someone really should have taught these boys not to get involved in a magical game before they know the rules… or the stakes.
A bit like Narnia by way of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, this first book in a series has marvelously despicable villains and writing that combines a real sense of malice with a wicked, nutty sense of humor.
I liked the friendship in this book. The boys are very different, but they “get” each other; Gregory’s off-the-wall sense of humor is balanced by Brian’s quieter, deep-thinking approach to problems. They may get on each other’s nerves, but neither doubts that the other will be there when it counts.
The ending has some nifty twists and sets the story up to continue in three more books.
Check the WRL catalog for The Game of Sunken Places.