Archive for the ‘Dickensian’ Category

Book review: The Subtle Knife

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

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Author:Phillip Pullman
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1999

This book is really cool: it doesn't have very much big vocabulary but it really goes deeply into the ideas of what is human or not and how our souls manifest themselves.

It also approaches the question of faith versus science, and blindly following versus scoping out your paths.

-- Fizzy, age 14

As a parent, I have concerns about the themes and plot of this novel and the others in this series, which involve abuse and murder of children and other adult themes.

Please see The Golden Compass for my thoughts. -- Emily
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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Subtle Knife, The

Book review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

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Author:Libba Bray
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2003

This a spooky book about a girl with powers she doesn't understand. As she tries to survive in a "we shall civilize your daughters" kind of school, she makes friends with her enemies and brings them in on her secret.

I was always on the edge of my seat with this book, because even if no magic was happening, or she wasn't being chased by a monster, the social conflicts of teenage girls can seem terrifying sometimes.


A good read that kept me wondering what happens next. I don't know if there is a sequel, but if there is I will read it.

-- Fizzy, age 14


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Great and Terrible Beauty, A (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

Book review: Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic, Book 1)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

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Author:Kathleen Duey
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

Okay, I picked this book off the shelf because I thought it was funny to name a book "skin hunger". You can't really judge a book by its name.

The book is not about people eating each other, but two separate story-lines. One is about a girl named Sadima who can hear the thoughts of animals. The other is about a boy named Hahp sent to a gruesome magical academy. The only thing the plots share in common is a man named Somas, who owns Sadima's kind-of boyfriend, and lets Hahp's friends die of starvation.


Not exactly a happy book, (actually pretty gruesome at points), but interesting.

The end is not very satisfying. I guess they're trying to get me to read the next one. But it does discuss what a friend is worth, and how to gain one when desperately needed.

Definitely for readers age 13 and older!!! People starve to death, some suggestive moments.

-- Fizzy, age 14


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic, Book 1)

Book review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

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Author:Mark Twain
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1884

When i started this book i had to get used to the language and it went along rather slowly, but as i continued to read it, I sped up and by the end i was very satisfied.

Huck Finn describes a historical period (it's set during times of slavery) and i found it very interesting to be in the mind of a boy struggling with the moral problems of setting a slave free.

--Fizzy, age 14


Note from Emily:

It took Fizzy nearly a year to read Huckleberry Finn. It was not an easy read, and so, when something more flashy came along, say, Twilight, Fizzy would put Huck down.

And then the transition back was challenging. But every time she started reading Huck Finn again, she would say, "NOW I remember why I like this book." It is not just the dialog that makes reading difficult here. It is also about the concepts.

What is the difference between "owning a person" and taking responsibility for a person? What are the rights of parents and society over children, who do sometimes know right and wrong better than their elders? This is a deep, dangerous book, and not only for its time, but still, now, more than a hundred years later. Amazing.

In many ways it was like when she read Kim a few years back. (Except then I did help with the reading, this time, she read the entire book to herself.) LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Kim. Didn't really want to read more "grown-up" Kipling for a while afterward. Although, Jungle Book and "Just So Stories", which are not all that easy to read either, are still often in our minds.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The

Book review: The Goose Girl

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

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Author:Shannon Hale
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction, science fiction

This book is based on the Grimm's fairy tale about a princess who was betrayed by her maid and forced to be a goose girl. In the fairy tale, in the end the maid gets killed in a coffin filled with nails as revenge... I don't know why, but i expected the author to write an alternate ending to this story.

That all sounds very negative, but i did like this book, because it told the story of someone who was not good around people (she needed to "step up") but ended up rallying many sad people together to save all their lives.

--Fizzy, age 14

Note: As might be gathered from the description of the original fairy tale, the plot of this story involves death, humiliation, and great suffering on the part of the protagonist and her friends.
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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Goose Girl, The

Book Review: Nation

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

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Author:Terry Pratchett
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2008

My daughter has been censoring my reading lately. She refuses outright to allow me to read certain books, like Brisingr, the third book in the Eragon series and Inkdeath, the third book in the Inkheart series.

As for Nation.... "You won't like this book," my daughter said as she handed it to me. She meant that SHE did not like this book. "I usually would give every Terry Pratchett book I read a 10 out of 10. I give this one a 6, maybe. He is usually at least amusing, even when he is grim. This one is mostly just grim though."

My assessment is more generous than my daughter's. Nation is intense. And contains significantly more mayhem, death, and destruction than most Pratchett stories, for adults or children. And rage at the universe. Along with Pratchett's customary skewering of the silliness of every society and religion he happens across. With, perhaps, a little more bitterness than usual.

I could not put Nation down. And as I parsed each angry word, I thought that if I were Terry Pratchett, brilliant author of unforgettable stories, and I had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, well I would be raging at the Universe as well.


I did find much that I found amusing in Nation. But it is more serious than Pratchett's other stories for children. Nation is about growing up fast and taking on responsibilities that appear crushing because you have to, because there is no else to do it. It is about tolerating the idiosyncrasies of others because you need them. It is about using religion to get people to do what you need them to do and about whether it is alright to do so even if you do not yourself believe. And, as per most Pratchett books, it also touches on the flimsiness of the differences between civilization and savagery, manners vs. self-control vs. the power to break free of convention when necessary.

So given that my daughter did allow me to read this book when she has physically prevented my putting hands on so many others in the last few months, I will say that we both recommend this book to gifted, sophisticated teenage readers with a good tolerance for death and destruction.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Nation

Book review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

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Author:Brian Selznick
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

At the advanced age of 12, and although my precocious reader loves reading chapter books, she still misses having pictures in her books.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret solves this problem. A Dickensian fairy tale, told in words and beautiful, complicated charcoal drawings, Hugo Cabret tells the story of the rediscovery of a silent film director and a young boy in Paris of the early 1930s.


My sensitive reader gasped at the way adults failed to take care of Hugo throughout his young life, but rejoiced at the way he is able to create a family for himself which does, eventually include responsible adults.

A lovely celebration of train stations, automata, clock mechanisms, and film.

The depth of the illustrations and the gentleness of the words would make this a great gift for book lovers and film lovers of all ages.

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Invention of Hugo Cabret, The

Book review: Stowaway

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

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Author:Karen Hesse
Illustrator:Robert Andrew Parker
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction, historical
Year of publication:2000

"Read this book," my 12 yr. old ordered me. "I'm pretty sure you'll like it. I liked it a lot."

And I did indeed like it a lot. And, I learned a lot about sea voyaging in the late 1700's too.

Hesse based her tale on fact -- there was really a young boy named Nick Young who "appeared" on the roster of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour quite a few months after the ship had left England, but before it had put into any port. Hesse guessed that he had been a stowaway and was discovered once it was too late to put him ashore.

Nick's story is told in the form of his journal entries for the entire voyage, each of which provides a date, a latitude and longitude (in measurements of Capt. Cook's time, which means that if a reader were to want to follow Nick's journey on a globe, one would have to do a little math), and an approximate location in words.

In Hesse's imagination, but perhaps this is truly how it happened, once Nick is free to show himself, he makes himself useful as assistant to the ship's physician, writing tutor, and friend to the Goat and the dogs and many of the sailors.

Captain Cook proves an adept leader and for many months of the three year journey; he kept nearly everyone on board alive and healthy. But seafaring was risky in those years. There was violence; the close quarters of the ship required stringent enforcement of rules -- punishment was by lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails or worse -- and Nick does lose many shipboard friends to accidents and disease. My usually very sensitive daughter accepted these sad events because, she felt, they were the historical reality and also because Nick helped us experience them through his accepting (if sometimes tearful) eyes.

Because the tale is told in the voice of a boy, it is not challenging to read. However, Nick does have a strong grasp of sailing terminology and 18th century turns of speech. The glossary at the end of the book and the maps on the inside covers are useful additions.



-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Stowaway

Book review: The Last Dragon

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

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Book review: Truckers (The Bromeliad Trilogy — Book 1)

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

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Author:Terry Pratchett
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1990

"What a GREAT ending!", sighed my 12 yr. old daughter, when she finished reading this book. "And it's by Terry Pratchett, so the sequel will be great too."

In this a tale of city cousins (members of a race of small and short-lived creatures called Nomes who consider the Arnold Bros. Department Store, est. 1905 to be their universe) visited by their country cousins (also Nomes, but ones who lived Outside before visiting the store), gentle fun is poked at organized religion, sexism, and rigid inability to think in general.

When the city Nomes finally realize that Final Clearance. All Sales Final! means that their universe, or at least, Arnold Bros. (est. 1905), is ending, they must work with their visitors to save themselves.

Truckers is a celebration of technology, engineering, observation of the world, and adaptability to changing circumstances.

Highly recommended. Note that although much of the vocabulary in the story is not difficult, young readers may need help in understanding the numerous cultural references and descriptions of what went on in department stores in their heyday.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Truckers (Bromeliad Trilogy: Book 1)