Review: “Stuart Little” by E.B. White

I was able to finish this little diddy with a two hour car ride.  Honest to goddess, I love audio books.

While I am glad to have read this classic, I’m sure I’ll be fine not picking it back up.  I’ve been informed that despite the plot of “Stuart Little” I should take note of White’s command of prose and should try a few others.

Stuart comes into this word a little bit mouse-sized and a little bit-mouse shaped and perhaps just as a mouse but no one seems to say it.  His big brother, human-sized and -shaped George is kind of a floozy and never does what he say he will.  Meanwhile Stuart gets into all sorts of trouble from having difficulty turning the faucet on in the morning to getting tossed into the garbage and sent away on a trash barge, from getting rolled up in a window shade to quite nearly being eaten by a sassy alley cat.

My biggest problem (besides the mouse thing) was that Stuart’s aging seems questionable.  He starts the story shortly after being born and perfectly capable of walking about and talking but ends the story ruining what could have been a perfectly lovely date for himself; all within a few months.  And he ends up being a total cad about it.

Review: “Attachments” by Rainbow Rowell

Finally.

Finally I have read a book by Rainbow Rowell that I love.  I’ve had this fictionalized friendship with Rowell for over a year now.  According to my perusal of her Twitter account one might say we’re BFFs.  I even had a moment where I thought that John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Gene Luan Yang were my crew and Tweeted as much (Yang tweeted back saying he’d wear a top hat; I swooned).

“Attachments” is lovely.  It takes place at newspaper towards the end of 1999 with the Y2K “crisis” in full swing.  Beth is funny, engaging, writes for the entertainment section, and has been dating a local rock star for nine years.  Her best friend Jennifer is delightful, witty, works as a copy editor, and has a anxiety-ridden fear of maybe being pregnant someday.  And Lincoln is the tech guy; working the graveyard shift monitoring staff e-mail and preparing the tech team for the inevitable global meltdown.

Beth and Jennifer’s e-mails to one another keep getting flagged and popping up in Lincoln’s inbox.  Through their fun, witty, eye-opening, and not at all work-appropriate conversations, Lincoln falls in love with Beth; a woman he has only loved through her words.  Ultimately Lincoln cannot decide if he can summon up the courage to go meet her or if he even should (honestly, how far would he get with Hi!  I’m the guy who reads your e-mails and thinks you’re too good for your boyfriend whom, by the way, I’ve seen in concert like five times.

Please read this book if for no other reason but so that you youngsters can learn all about the tragedy that was Y2K.

Also, be prepared for a forthcoming ranking of Rainbow Rowell’s works.

Review: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl

As I’ve been working in an elementary school library, I’ve made a valiant effort to read what they are reading and so much of it is a new reading experience for me.  For the most part I went from “Clifford the Big Red Dog” to “Trixie Belden” to John Grisham.  Let me tell you, not many middle schoolers were reading their mom’s “Trixie Belden” collection in the late 90’s.  So there has been a lot I’ve missed and a lot I am hopeful to get caught up on over the summer break.

Along that same vein, I have a confession: I’ve never read a book by Roald Dahl.  Until this passed week when I listened to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on my work computer.  I am a huge fan of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder and as a purist I have a visceral hatred for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” starring Johnny Depp.  So you might imagine my absolute disappointment and begrudging appreciation to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” starring Johnny Depp for following the book.  In fact, it’s one of the closest book to movie adaptations I’ve ever encountered.  And I’m a little bit pissed.

I do however have a question that I realize has been asked before: what is up with Grandpa Joe?  Bedridden and sickly for so long and as soon as there is an opportunity to bounce around with a choc-illionaire he’s up and dancing.  Jerk.
I would recommend the audio book as it is narrated by Eric Idle.

Review: “Landline” by Rainbow Rowell

Firstly, Rainbow Rowell is coming to Cedar Rapids this summer!

Secondly, I did not care for “Landline” and that little fact makes me very sad.  The story followed the Stan Lee-esqe named Georgie McCool and her potentially unraveling marriage.  Georgie is a television comedy writer who adores the writing process and holds tight to the dream that she and her best friend Seth, will write and produce their own show and not just the slapstick show they are stuck with.  While Neal loves and supports her dreams and her work, he has grown very tired of Georgie never being home, never being with him, and the girls.  It all comes to a head two days before they leave to spend Christmas in Omaha to visit his family.  Just two days before that plane takes them to a snowy wonderland, Georgie and Seth discover they have the opportunity to write a pitch for the studio; a chance to make their dream finally come true.  Neil, disgruntled, takes the girls to Nebraska and Georgie begins to crumble.  Never remembering to charge her cell phone, she uses the old land line phone at her mom’s house to call Neil’s parents home that night.  Neil answers, but not Georgie’s husband.  Georgie’s boyfriend from college answers the phone – nearly fifteen years apart.  The two have a series of phone conversations  in Georgie’s time where Neil has left for Omaha with their daughters and in Neil’s time when he has arrived in Omaha for Christmas having just broken up with Georgie after finals.

It was a moderately sweet story with pithy wisecracks all around and though I know it is meant to have some sort of fantastical element, some of the characters were just not convincing.  I had no feelings for Georgie specifically and though I wished her no ill-will, I wasn’t rooting for her to succeed either.

Thirdly, I’ve started “Attachments,” Rowell’s first adult novel and I am hoping it follows the same lines that her YA novels did for me: I was indifferent to “Eleanor and Park” but loved “Fangirl.”  I am indifferent to “Landline” and have really high expectations for “Attachments.”  Regardless, I’m still very excited to meet her this summer.

Review: “Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian” by Rick Riordan

The fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson series was, as you might imagine, an adventure of mythical proportions.  It begins with Percy and Co. waging yet another battle against Luke/Kronos, one that ends in a stalemate sending Percy into the depths of the ocean.  Being the son of Poseidon and all, this is not such a problem as Percy then heals and spends quality time with Dad, who is endeavoring his own battles with the old titan, Oceanus.  Percy is eventually sent back to Camp Half-Blood where he soon departs with Nico, reformed bad tot/son of Hades whose plan is equivalent to death: let Percy become indestructible with a bath in the River Styx (you might recall that this only sort of worked for the hero Achilles).  He does so and uses his near immortality to lead his friends into war.  With the gods battling the Titans somewhere near Nebraska, no one is left to protect Olympus/New York City except the campers.

I liked the more human approach to the characters in this work particularly with Annabeth’s ongoing loyalty to Luke.  Through a series of mystical interactions with Luke’s mother, various gods, and spirits, we learn of Annabeth’s youth as a runaway and how her devotion to Luke began.  Overall the series ends with some satisfaction and would be a great read for the upper elementary/lower middle grade levels.

Review: “Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs

Hollow CityThe second story in the “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” series continues the beautifully, fantastic tale by Ransom Riggs.  The story picks up with Jacob, our modern-day hero who has just discovered his own special peculiarity (being able to sense and see the otherwise invisible, child-eating monsters known as hollows), and the peculiar children of the 1940’s loop running for their lives.  The wights (humans who wish to capture all of the peculiars) and hollows are chasing after them in an effort to destroy Peculiardom.  Somewhere along the way, Miss Peregrine is rescued from the wights in bird from and is unable to transform back.

The group manage to row to the safety of the Welsh mainland where they not only have war continuing to rage on, but also run into a band of seemingly vicious gypsies and shortly thereafter, a terrifying crew of wights.  Despite the setbacks, Jacob, Emma, and everyone else manage to find another loop; this one inhabited by peculiar animals.  It is in this loop that they meet the peculiar animals mourning the loss of their Miss Wren.  She has left to try to find the rest of ymbrynes in London.  Jacob and Co. leave the loop with a new destination in mind and though they find Miss Wren, they find a great deal more and tragically end the book by being captured by the wights.

My synopsis is far too brief and I fear does little to persuade someone to read this adventurous series.  Ransom Riggs is quite simply one of the best authors I’ve read this year and weaves an amusing and gripping story around a collection of antique photographs he has collected over the years.  Like many of the books I read, I read parts of it and listened to parts of it.  Jesse Bernstein does a great job reading the story and giving each character depth, but the pictures Riggs include add something else too.  You really can’t go wrong with this book so long as you read it.

Review: “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson

2839Having gone from outdated copies of the Trixie Belden series straight to John Grisham legal thrillers, I missed a lot of the typical coming-of-age youth fiction including “Bridge to Terabithia.”  Up until I was asked to do a reading intervention with a group of fourth grade students, my knowledge of “Terabithia” was entirely limited to “I hear it makes children cry.”

It stars Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr., a soon to be fifth grade boy who is struggling to hide in the gender-based stereotypes of a post-Vietnam America.  While the boys want to talk about football or watch television, Jesse hides his artistic side.  His problems don’t stay at school though.  At home, he is the only boy among far too many women and is expected to do all of the chores.  It isn’t until Leslie Burke moves in next door, that he has a friend he can trust.  The two are incredibly different but, of course, form a bond.  This goes so far as to have the duo create their own magical world in the woods: Terabithia.  Their idyllic woods are not for long however when sadness strikes and their kingdom is wrenched apart.

I’ve enjoyed the process of reading this book with my students and I understand why it would be popular in schools.  I think it would be a great example for someone who struggles to unlock their imagination; an example that you are never really too old to make believe.  The better angle for the story was that it was, without a doubt, told entirely from Jesse’s perspective.  The audience never learned anything until Jesse did.  It seems with many books these days, the narrator lets something slip to the audience.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t tug at me the way I expected to after ears of recommendations.