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Monday, March 15, 2004

Early 2004 Reads




Meet the Austins

(4-6): L'Engle Madeleine

What a gentle, charming, old-fashioned fiction from the "olden days." (1960.) The strong bond of the family is remarkable and yet very common place. This story reminds the readers to appreciate the every day life and to see the extraordinary and often humorous sparkles of ordinary events. A lovely read.




Angels and Demons

(7-adult): Brown, Dan
I enjoyed the plot for the most part. The characters are really flat and there are a couple of holes towards the end of the story. This definitely does not qualify as an outstanding work of literature but it sure kept me reading. The ambigrams and the art history references are definitely the strength. The romance is not.





Starting with Alice

(3-5): Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds
This first prequel to Naylor's popular Alice series works. Alice is her smart but lack of confidence self -- quite precocious for a beginning 3rd grader, borderlining unbelievable at points, though.





The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

(5-8): Konigsburg, E.L.
Konigsburg's much-anticipated new novel is as smart, soul-touching, and quirky as many of her other titles. However, I did not fall in love with this story as much as I had hoped for -- I wanted another Silent to the Bone -- an excellent title with a strong appeal to young readers; instead, I got a Father's Arcane Daughter -- an excellent book that might not have a strong following of young readership. Of course, with the Summer Camp scenes, some children might find it appealing.




Pop Princess

(6-8): Cohn, Rachel
Definitely not as smart, touching, and tender as Gingerbread. It was nonetheless and entertaining read.





The Wee Free Men

(6-8): Pratchett, Terry
I enjoyed Pratchett's brand of humor in this Discworld novel. It reminds me quite a bit of Coraline by Gaiman -- the whole Dream World being sketchy and not solid to withstand close scrutiny scenario and the entering into this created world to rescue a family member and also to gain self-understanding and self-reliance. It just got to be a bit tedious at the end.




Vote for Larry

(6-9): Tashjian, Janet.
This sequel to Gospel According to Larry is definitely inferior to the original -- very heavy-handed, message-ladened, and the Mystery part is trite. I can see young readers enjoy it, though.




Doing It!

(9-12): Burgess, Melvin
After the first shocking effects wear off, the story loses my interest quickly. The characters do not seem real to me and although there are moments of extreme humor, the moralistic overtone makes it an unsatisfying read.





East

(5-7): Pattou, Edith
This retelling of the Norse fairy story of East of the Sun, West of the Moon is so much fun to read -- but did drag a little in the middle, when Rose is journeying north and crossing the sea, too many side characters who mean very little to the readers and too much description without moving the plot along. Both Rose's World and the Troll Kingdom are well realized and the multiple voices are distinct and work nicely in presenting the whole story.




An American Plague

(6-8): Murphy, Jim
I could not understand why this book received so much acclaim! It was nominated for National Book Award's Young Readers category; it won the Sibert Award, and a Newbery Honor.... and yet, it is SO dry, SO unruly, and SO boring. Reading it, I did not sense the urgency or the horror of the plague. And I was so ready to be swept away....





Lyra's Oxford

(5-8): Pullman, Philip
Of course I had to read this book -- taking place 2 years after the conclusion of His Dark Materials trilogy, this short tale relates an incident about a witch in Lyra's Oxford. I loved pouring over the inserted map and all the merchandizes advertised on the back of it. A gem.





Stravaganza: The City of Masks

(4-7): Hoffman, Mary
This wonderfully inventive time/space/dimensional travel fantasy/science-fiction blend delivers an intense mystery. I can't wait to read the sequel -- The City of Stars.




The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (8-12): Haddon, Mark
The protagonist is definitely a unique creation. I enjoyed many of his insights, reasonings, and limitations. At moments, I found his character is a little inconsistent with what he CLAIMS he is -- but, other people have convinced me that that is how an autistic person might function. A wildly popular book with both adults and young people, I see this award winning novel enjoy a long shelf life.





Abhorsen

(6-9): Nix, Garth
The conclusion of the trilogy that started with Sabriel is powerful, exciting, but at the same time a little disappointing -- too short! I'd like to read MORE about what hapstar next in the Old Kingdom and the land of the dead...




The River Between Us

(6-8): Peck, Richard
I put it down at first reading, but decided to go back and re-read it. When I read the entire story, it worked much better. The characters definitely become alive, the horror of the Civil War war front and the sorrow of the Home Front can both be "seen" and "felt" vividly, and the final revelation of the relationships between the two narrators definitely concludes the story powerfully. I think this is a book that I will go back to re-read and savor more.





Milkweed

(5-8): Spinelli, Jerry
The dual voices of the narrator whose identity changes several times in this story set in the Warsaw Ghetto works so incredibly well -- he is both an innocent 8-year-old (we guess) and an old man in America who wisely recalls his time in great perils. Finely crafted, with a cast of genuine characters, this novel definitely speaks to me and I imagine many many young readers will find it a powerful, although definitely disturbing and devastating story.





Olive's Ocean

(5-7): Henkes, Kevin
Contrary to what I expected, this story is really not quite about "death" but about savoring "life" and all its colors and lights. Martha is a very sensitive and extremely thoughtful 12-year-old and her relationship with her family rings true. I like the Grandma. But, the scenes with the boy-next-door seem a bit contrived and unconvincing.





Lirael

(6-9): Nix, Garth
Definitely my favorite of the trilogy! Lirael is such an amazing character, and she is a Librarian, none less. So much of the story hapstar in the coolest Library one can imagine and the Disputable Dog is an absolutely original character. I was completely blown away by this volume.

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