Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society & the Perilous Journey

If I remember correctly, Lisa got me started on this series. I love it. Like The Penderwicks, it's a throwback to classic stories, but it is undeniably contemporary. It's so gosh-darn enjoyable that it's easy to forgive its minor flaws. I like how the tasks and mysteries that the children solve are, in truth, solvable. The solutions are logical, and the reader can try to work it out with the characters. It's a nice balance- being neither so easy that the reader is wondering when the characters will figure it out, nor so hard that it answer seems to come from left field.

I wonder if, given the popularity of The Penderwicks and this series, if we might see a return to more innocent children's stories, at least in some books. I suppose stories about the grim realities of childhood are here to stay, but it would be nice to have some good, old-fashioned, home-before-supper adventures, too.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

I read this one on the train on the way to see Rick Riordan at Wellesley Booksmith. What a great day!

I was a little worried about this book because Lyra's Oxford was just so weird and read like a writing exercise that they decided to publish to make more money off of suckers like me. I needn't have worried. This is just a fantastic story about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison first meet. I loved having those characters back with me, and
I loved the glimpse into Lyra's post-Spyglass life. I am probably missing an important and obvious connection, but who is the Tom that she writes to? Is that just an indication that she moved on after Will?

One of my old pet peeves did surface, though. The double-page excerpt from The Elements of Aerial Navigation interrupts a sentence. I actually had to flip the pages back and forth a few times because I thought I had mistakenly skipped a page. With all that we can do with book design, why can't we plan these asides so that they don't disrupt the flow of reading?

I haven't tried out the game yet. I'm torn between wanting to see it and wanting to keep my book in pristine condition. Any thoughts?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Airman by Eoin Colfer

This is another one that appeared at the library, and I'm not sure what made me request it. It took me all week to get 100 pages into it, and now I'm giving up. I really don't care for the pseudo-biographical narrative. It feels so distant from the action and I had no emotional connection to anything going on. It did start to get more exciting around the 100-page mark, but by then, I really didn't care. I was hoping that this would be a good reluctant reader choice, but I think it would take a pretty dedicated reader to enjoy this one. For the record, I didn't have much patience for Artemis Fowl, either, but for other reasons.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Sequels are just hard. Especially when the first was so surprisingly charming. You can't do that twice. Not while people are watching, anyway.

I enjoyed this, if not quite as much as the first. Certainly kids who liked the first will like this one. I do love the way Birdsall captures everything I love (now, and as a child) about old-fashioned-sibling-adventure stories and brings them up to modern days. I'm sure I would have loved reading about characters who read the same books I did. Birdsall also does a great job of seamlessly weaving together the multiple perspectives.

My only quibbles are totally unfair ones. I loved that Mr. Penderwick's widower status was imply accepted; it wasn't a focus of the first book, and I wonder if the girls will be able to retain the freedom to keep having adventures. I wish that Mr. Penderwick and Iantha could have at least had a prolonged courtship. Perhaps Mr. Penderwick truly hated dating so much that he chose a quick remarriage to avoid it.
I also continue to have questions about how old Batty actually is. Is she two? Four? Somewhere between? It seems to fluctuate between chapters.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Agate by Joy Morgan Dey and Nikki Johnson

This came to me by way of Pixie Stix. I couldn't find it anywhere to get a closer look at it, so I special ordered it at the store. It is gorgeous! The text is fine- perhaps a bit message-driven, but the artwork is just fascinating. You can see some of it at, but the reproductions don't really do it justice. The flap copy says the art is watercolor, but it has a drippy, smeary quality that I associate with mixing oils and water, like when you marbleize paper. I'd love to know about her method. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this artist.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Every Book Its Reader by Nicholas A. Basbanes

I picked this up on a whim at the Harvard Book Store sometime early last spring when I was feeling like I wasn't reading enough grown-up books. I read the first half and really enjoyed it, but then got distracted by some other book that needed to be read. I picked it up again when I needed something to read while I waited for the next group of requests from the library. I picked up where I left off a year ago, and slipped right back into it.

I particularly enjoyed the first few chapters, which discussed some of the earliest known literature and how our relationship to it changes over time. I made a lot of notes in the margins about the correlations to my own ideas about the cultural history of fairy tales.

This book made me even more aware of the gaping holes in my knowledge of literature. I wasn't an English major in college because I didn't want to have to read all those Dead White Males (and after reading chapter 10, I have a better understanding of where that came from), but now I realize how much I've missed out on. Of course, it would take most of a lifetime to get caught up, but I may have to try to tackle one each summer, or something like that.

I was really, genuinely sad when I reached the last chapter, and I wanted to immediately start it over again. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in cultural studies or the history of literature.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

I picked this up because one of my sixth graders is reading the series, and I wondered if it was entirely appropriate. Also, the fandom is rather intense, and so it seems worth checking out.

I think Meyer's greatest strength is her ability to capture 17-year-old-girl-ness- the passion of first love, the unavoidable inanity of high school- without giving over to the melodrama completely.

One thing that struck me about the fandom is the numbers of teenage girls professing their love for Edward. I was intrigued to find out more about this guy who has stolen so many hearts. It's so amusing to me then, to discover what a flat, empty character he is. His only defining characteristics (apart from the vampire thing) is that he's extraordinarily attractive physically and he loves Bella. The reader is then free to project whatever personality they like onto him.

As I finished the book, I really had no intention of continuing with the series. It was an enjoyable enough diversion for vacation week, but there are lots of books on the to-read pile. However, I made the mistake of reading the preview chapter for the next book, and now I am curious to see what happens. Drat. I hate when that happens. Maybe I'll try the audiobook.

As for the appropriateness, I do think it's a bit much for sixth grade; save it for the eighth and ninth grade crowd.