Monday, September 21, 2009

End of Summer Book Review

It's been a while since I posted a long book review. And since you're dying to know whether you should read some of these, here's my take on 'em:

Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril, and Romance
by Marthe Jocelyn


The jacket design for this book is exquisite (because who doesn't love an old fashioned book cover?). This is the story of Mable Riley who accompanies her sister (the new school mistress) to a different town to board with complete strangers. Mable is a daring sort of girl who becomes curious about a neighbor woman who rides a bicycle, wears bloomers instead of dresses, and thinks quite highly of women's rights. (She also has a cottage named "Silver Lining" because her "little cottage is a spot of brightness in a dark world"). Set in Canada in 1901, this book nicely encapsulates how people learn to live with each other's differences, while still maintaining their own opinions. Not everyone is converted to the ways of women's rights, and the solution to the problems doesn't come about in a fairy tale wrap up. Which makes it refreshing to read. I do love Mable's take on boring primers--she twists the dull rhymes into new ones of her own.

Smiles to Go by Jerri Spinelli
This is the story of a boy who takes the world very seriously. He's worried about what will become of him after he dies, he has a twelve step plan for his life...he's serious about becoming something in life--he's a planner and a thinker and a worrier.

But his best friend isn't like that at all. He's carefree to the point of driving the protagonist to worry that his friend won't get anywhere in life. And at the edges of all things in the protagonist's life is his annoying little sister (who, for the record, is cool times ten (in an annoying little sister sort of way), e.g. she refuses to eat dinner with regular utensils, instead she uses play tools: a plastic screwdriver and pliers...)

I love how Spinelli creates these characters who are Very Real. They have quirks, they have interesting personalities with depth. This book looks at the question: How do people who think that life has to be lived according to a 12 step plan respond to people in their lives who don't have plans like that? How do you love your friends for what they are instead of picking at them for what they are not? And for those of us who too often saw our siblings as a annoying pests rather than friends to be loved, this book sends a powerful message.

This book is at times philosophical (think Star Girl), but really, for those of us who don't see the world that way, it's good to be reminded that some people out there do.


Lucky Stars by Lucy Frank
Kira's dad makes her sing for money in the subways of New York which is embarrassing in some ways but good in another: she has an amazing voice. It's a gift she loves, but not enough to overcome her annoyance at having people laugh at her for being a panhandler.

Jake stutters, and it consumes his life and the way he sees himself. He can't get past that barrier in his mind, that is, until he meets Kira and wants to be her friend.

And Eugene...well, he's overweight and funny and doesn't care what people think...and he's Jake's best friend and right hand man, stepping in to help out when the words won't come.

Somehow, all three of them end up thinking about joining choir at their school.

I love this book for it's characters and for it's realistic look at being a teenager. Teenagers have tough decisions, have sincere and very pressing concerns that aren't always drugs, sex and cliques at school. And on top of that, they have parents and teachers and all the restrictions and responsibilities that come with living in a world controlled by adults.


Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
How do villains learn what they learn? How about in a school for villains!
This book goes so much beyond being another boarding school story. This is the story of a boy genius (Cadel Piggot) (and I think the author does a fabulous job of making him into a believable genius) who finds out his father is one of the most dreaded villains in the world. And his father is doing everything he can to ensure his son is well equipped to take over the family business when he grows up.

Cadel loves that his talents are not only appreciated, but encouraged. He likes too that his dad has a plan for his life. But parents' dreams and ambitions aren't enough to fill their child's need for a dream of his own.

This is a unique twist on a coming of age story. I love that the author recognized that everyone, genius' included, need love and to feel wanted. I also loved reading about systems, numbers, math...the references were very much over my head, but the story was still very readable (and enjoyable) in spite of it's "genius" material. Also, the "bad" things Cadel does are funny and fun because they are actually clever and not stereotypical dumb bad guy stuff. I would peg this as a book for older teens.


Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Elenor Updale
A prominent thief is seriously injured while trying to escape from a job. A doctor wanting to prove his theories about surgery operates on the thief and saves his life through the use of groundbreaking medical techniques. The doctor uses the thief as a model in his lectures, continues trying new techniques on the thief.

All the while the thief thinks of the day he'll be released from prison, and he decides he wants the life of a gentleman. And because of the lectures he's "attended" as an exhibit, he's been introduced to the newly constructed sewer system in London. And he realizes that it is the key to his success as a thief. And so, upon his release, the thief, now calling himself Montmorency, embarks on his mission to become a gentleman.

This is a young adult novel without any young adult characters in it. It's a great adventure read, though I would also recommend this book for older teens. Both this book and its sequel deal with adult situations and dilemmas, though nothing is particularly sensual or objectionable for a mature reader. Also, this book works very well as a stand alone novel, though there are two other books about Montmorency.
--Lu

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