Holes (Holes #1)
Author: Louis Sachar
Publication Date: 8/20/98
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment. Stanley Yelnat's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile
detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake - it has been dry for over a hundred years - and it's hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but she is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow. The story of Kissin' Kate, and of a curse put on Stanley's great-great-grandfather by a one-legged gypsy, weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters - and their forebears - for generations. With this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has written his best book to date.Review:
I am very sad that I never read this as a young person, because I think that I would have loved it even more than I do now. I think that it probably would have blown my mind. I have to applaud Louis Sachar for being so courageous in a children’s novel.
Effortlessly weaving together the past, present, and ancient history of these characters, Mr. Sachar examines the impact of our history and the nature of hope and human compassion, all while maintaining a light, humorous quality. This is a book for children, but one that never speaks down to children. It is both mature and youthful.
Stanley is tried and convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit, sent to a reform camp for boys, and forced to work day after day in the hot sun digging holes – without any hope of aid. He’s treated callously and unfairly, but he must learn to keep going, get along with the boys around him, and survive.
This is not a book that promises (like so many other children’s books do) success and rewards for good behavior, for choosing all the right paths. That’s not what real living, real maturity is all about. It’s about learning to deal with adversity and tragedy and failure when they come – because they will. It’s about making the right choices even when there are no rewards, no promised successes, simply because they’re right. And more than that – it’s about choosing kindness and compassion, even when everything around you is hard and unfair.
The only part of this novel that I don’t quite like is the ending, which seems to undermine the more realistic quality of the rest of the novel. I wish that Stanley and Hector could survive happily without a fairy tale ending, because
after all of that, they know that they don’t need one to be happy. But I think that as a child, I would have enjoyed seeing them win the day.Perfect Musical Pairing
Brett Dennen – Darlin’ Do Not Fear
This is a very sweet song about growing up and holding onto hope during the hard times.
Your confidence is faultless your faith etched in stone
and neither could comfort you from the wild unknown
So bury your burning hatred like a hatchet in the snow
Darlin' do not fear what you don't really know.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: 2002
Publisher: Harper Children's Audio
When Coraline explores her new home, she steps through a door and into another house just like her own - except that
things aren't quite as they seem. There's another mother and another father in this house and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. Coraline must use all of her wits and every ounce of courage in order to save herself and return home... but will she escape and will life ever be the same again?Review:
This would be a perfect choice for a road trip with small children (maybe age seven and up or so). It’s an incredibly imaginative, quirky adventure that’s simple yet not excruciatingly so. I felt entertained throughout, and some of the dialogue had me laughing out loud. There’s no question that this book is creeeeeepy but I’m one of those people that believes kids can handle a lot more than watered down fluff books. Coraline is such a wonderful heroine: she’s a clever, matter of fact, singular girl with an awesome fashion sense (Day-glo green gloves and yellow wellington boots that look like frogs? YES.) and a quiet determination to succeed even though no one takes her seriously. The
stakes are high, the villain is completely unsettling and evil, and Coraline is alone, but she triumphs! It is very satisfying.
Coraline (who everyone mistakenly calls Caroline) lives in a big old house, once a large estate, but now divided up into flats. Her parents are constantly unavailable and absorbed with boring work on their computers, except for when her Dad wants to try out a crazy recipe or her Mum wants to go shopping for boring school clothes. There’s no one for her to play with except the eccentric Misses Spink and Forcible, former actresses, and the old man in the attic who claims to be the ring leader for a mouse circus. More than anything, Coraline wants something new, an
adventure, even if it might be dangerous.
“On the first day Coraline's family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to keep away from it properly.”
This book is exceedingly quotable; the paperback is only one hundred sixty two pages, but there are three pages of quotes currently listed on goodreads. I particularly loved Coraline’s conversations with the cat:
“What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?' Cats don't have names,' it said 'No?' said Coraline. 'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.”
Definitely another cat for the “best talking cats” list. The writing is spare but still manages to be atmospheric and inventive. This quote is so simple, but it’s one of my favorites:
“The sky had never seemed so sky; the world had never seemed so world."
Finally, I have to mention that this audiobook is narrated by the author and he does an AMAZING job. If I could have one person narrate my life, it would be Neil Gaiman.Perfect Musical PairingThe Rat’s Song
This is the audiobook version of the Rat’s Song that Neil Gaiman wrote for the book. It appears in segments in the book, and in the audio version (as you’ll see) it is chanted in eerie, echoing verses. I listened to this while walking through heavy fog right before sunrise and it was CREEPY. Enjoy! Try not to have too many nightmares.4/5 Stars
The Lost Conspiracy
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publication Date: 9/1/09
Blurb(GR): Two young sisters who live on a beautiful island soon become caught in a deadly web of deceit. Neither girl is exactly what she pretends to be, and when they are drawn into a sinister conspiracy, one discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.Review:
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like The Lost Conspiracy
. Maybe that’s why this book isn’t very well known: it’s hard to describe, let alone label, package, and sell. This book is just amazing though; it’s like a triple whammy of great writing, fully realized and complex characters, and an amazing story. So seriously, just stop reading this review right now and go get it. Still here? Okay, okay, keep going. But just know that I will be harping on about this book in various and annoying ways until you all break down.
Hathin is the assigned caretaker for her sister, Arilou. This has been her sole, devoted purpose for her entire life. Arilou is thought to be one of the rare “Lost”: a group of people capable of sending their five senses away from their bodies to travel the island. Several hundred years ago, Gullstruck Island was colonized by outsiders, and over the centuries, the customs and traditions of the native people have been taken over or diluted by the pervading culture of the newcomers. The Lace, an extremely close-knit indigenous tribe, is the only remaining population that still remembers the old ways, and the dangerous consequences that will befall those that do not follow them. The rest of the island’s populations view the Lace with suspicion and fear. Their ways are foreign and illogical to the outsiders. There is a dark history that lies between the two groups that keeps the outsiders balanced on a dangerous edge between fear and rage. Arilou is the only Lost to ever be born into the Lace tribe. When a string of tragedies are blamed on the Lace, Hathin finds herself thrown onto the trail of a vast conspiracy. Hathin must escape with Arilou, and find the strength inside herself to lead, despite living in the shadows for her entire life.
The writing is spectacular – she infuses every sentence and paragraph with shadowy, sometimes threatening imagery. This book is darkly atmospheric; even the chapter titles are a bit haunting and they all have hidden meanings. My favorites are “No More Names” and “Death Dance.”
I am so completely impressed by the massive, sweeping scope of the world that she has built in this book. This is one hell of a world! Taking cues from tribal legends and practices from all over the globe (there’s a nice little acknowledgements section at the end), Hardinge creates a living, breathing, sinister place in Gullstruck Island. This is an island where the flora and fauna can unravel your soul, sing you to death, and loosen your senses away. The volcanoes have personalities, and they feud and love and prank. There are mysterious assassins who use cremation dust to give themselves magical powers, and ominous ancient legends that are all based in truth. The Lace are fully alive and meticulously drawn, and they have a hidden strength that no one sees.Our enemies think that Lace make good victims and scapegoats. They are wrong. They think that they can strike at us and we will do nothing but scatter and hide. They are wrong.
There were only a couple of times where I thought, “how will I keep track of it all?” because for the most part she so effortlessly weaves all this world-building into the story. And what a story! There’s a murder mystery, a revenge quest, and the genocide and enslavement of one group by another. Despite this incredibly foreign (to me) setting, the plight of the Lace is a tale as old as time (unfortunately).
Hathin develops and matures to a staggering degree in this book, and it’s very inspiring. I love the idea of her invisibility and seeming unimportance as strengths. I have to admit, the ending took me by surprise. I was expecting something much darker. I think that the fairy tale quality of this story sneaks up on you. It’s hard to see at first, through all the darkness and tragedy, but this is actually a powerful story of one girl coming into her own. Perfect Musical Pairing
Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
I think that Bjork, with her unique, bizarre, atmospheric, beautiful sound, is the perfect complement to this book. I had a hard time deciding which one of my many favorites would relate best . But I was eventually drawn to the lyrics (with me, it’s always the lyrics) of It’s In Our Hands. Look no further
Look no further
I look no
Always to ourselves
It mustn't get
Any better, off
It's in our hands
It always was
It's in our hands
In our hands
The Case of the Baker Street Irregular (Andrew Tillet, Sara Wiggins & Inspector Wyatt #1)
Author: Robert Newman
Publication Date: 1978
Publisher: AladdinBlurb (GR):
Andrew found London terrifying, especially after his guardian, sour old Mr. Dennison, was mysteriously abducted. Suddenly, Andrew was plunged into a series of bizarre, bombings, blackmail and murder. Then, when he met the incomparable detective Sherlock Holmes, Andrew's plight took a thoroughly remarkable turn...Review:
Sherlock Holmes is basically a literary superhero to me. Sure his weaknesses are a little more interesting
than most but he holds the same appeal to me as comic books do to fanboys. (or girls!) I am just one huge grin at all of the quick conversations, random factoids and asides, and during the eventual wrap-up when the billions of threads get sewn up tightly in a way that only Sherlock Holmes would ever be able to figure. A Goodreads friend sent me a copy of this book because she knows how much I love Sherlock and I’d never read any of the more juvenile stories. How well could the dynamic duo translate to a younger audience? The answer to that question, at least in terms of this book, is two-pronged. Robert Newman
was absolutely successful in creating believable dialogue and multiple interwoven mysteries involving a few younger characters. However, I’m still not sure how large of an audience would enjoy a younger-YA/middle grade Victorian multi-layered mystery. My heart hopes that there are quite a few precocious mystery-lovers out there. As an adult, I flew through The Case of the Baker Street Irregular
in an hour or two and I’m not at all ashamed to say that I was legitimately surprised at some of the connections. Some other reviews have mentioned the transparency of the mystery but I found it to be entertaining til the last and honestly, I thought it better done than many adult murder mysteries I’ve read in the past.
This series is based on the mention of “Baker Street Irregulars”(221B Baker Street being the address of Holmes’ abode), various local children who would aid Holmes and Watson in their investigations in the original stories. The Case of the Baker Street Irregular
opens with Andrew Craigie, a young boy from Cornwall moving into a boarding house with his former tutor who is temporarily his guardian after his aunt passes away. Almost as soon as they arrive, Andrew’s guardian disappears. A prominent lord dies, his son has hallucinations, a woman visits Holmes and Watson to help her find her missing daughter, and someone is trying to fence stolen goods in a store on Baker Street. Are any or all of these things connected? If you’ve read any Holmes at all, you already know the answer to this question. I suppose one of my favorite things about Holmes stories is the multiple storylines. When so much is happening, I forget bits of information and when they come round again later in the story, I have those “A-ha!” moments. I’d much rather have loads of red herrings and random facts tossed out in order to make the eventual unraveling a surprise than removing all that extraneous detail and reading a murder mystery paint-by-number. (which I sometimes feel is what I’m reading)
I totally loved it and if you are a Sherlock fan and are looking for some entertainment without a lot of mental work, I think you’ll find this book an hour or two well spent. The only potential negative about the book was that I thought the author made Holmes a bit too sentimental and empathetic. I enjoy the little glimpses of humanity we get and I understand the reasons that it works in this particular story. For me, it wasn’t really a negative at all. I’m sorry this series wasn’t on my radar as a young girl but I’ll be finishing the series as an adult and that’s just fine with me. 5/5 stars
The Secret Spiral
Author: Gillian Neimark
Publication Date: 7/26/11
Publisher: AladdinBlurb (GR):
Ten-year-old Flor Bernoulli is your typical kid, who especially likes buying delicious spiral pies from the Sky High Pie Shop every Wednesday. The owner of the pie shop is the wonderfully mysterious, eccentric and charming Dr. Pi. His knack for making pies is not his only talent--he is also a wizard and one of the guards of the universe, who is in charge of making sure he keeps the fire of life going into specific equations that keep the earth and nature in balance. Without him, the marvels of life and nature that contains spirals, such as seashells, sunflowers and hurricanes would cease to exist. But then, Dr. Pi, (who owns a magical spiral seashell that allows him to peer around the curve of time and into the future), discovers that his two nemeses, Mr. It and Mr. Bit, are hot on his trail again. They have tried to put out the fire for the spiral many times before--and this time they might just succeed. Can Flor help save Dr. Pi and the universe as he fights to keep nature in check--or will she be too late?Review:
Before you have kids, you can daydream about how awesome your potential kids could be. I don’t have any kids so I can confidently tell you that my future kids will be the baddest badasses that ever were…that is, until I actually have them and they spend their time being obsessed with Justin Bieber’s successor or watching (upchuck) Two and a Half Men or something equally disgusting. I’ll name them all Flannery like George Foreman named all his kids George regardless of whether they are boys or girls and I will make sure they can identify Paul Simon’s entire catalog (a masterpiece) within the first 15 seconds of hearing it. What? That’s weird? Obviously this is why I’m single—I don’t think there are a lot of guys out there that want to start a mutant race of Paul Simon fanatics. I have a point here (or do I?) and that is that math is important. Why shouldn’t that be where my nonsensical ramblings are leading? I wish more kids were into math. I was so pumped to read this book before I started because it sounded like a Douglas Adams
-type whackadoo adventure that taught kids about the importance of math. I guess it sort of still was…it just came off as a little lackluster.
Flor Bernoulli lives in New York City with her single mother. Her neighborhood has a few oddballs including Mrs. Plump, who was once plump but is no longer and who runs a restaurant that serves only tea and toast to devoted ladies intent on weight loss, and Dr. Pi, who wows oodles of customers with his so-called Sky High Pies made from his secret recipe. One day, while visiting the pie shop, Dr. Pi shows Flor a nautilus shell in which a person can peer around the curve of time and see images from the future. In it, Dr. Pi sees two men eating dinner at Flor’s house and Flor meets a girl her age. Dr. Pi also tells her he is the guardian of the secret spiral, to which the Bernoulli family has a special connection. After Dr. Pi thinks someone is after him and the spiral, he gives Flor a special hat that aids her in her travels and several people join her on a journey all over the place. Seriously, all over the place.
The story was interesting but the writing lacked fluidity and it just felt choppily put together. I know children’s and middle grade books cannot be filled with descriptive prose but for heaven’s sake, don’t take it ALL out. This was just action, action, action, and no explanation of why things were the way they were or how anything was happening. Take Madeleine L’Engle
for instance—she masterfully told a tale of time and dimensional travel and explained everything well, whilst still describing everything in a way that I still remember over a decade after reading it. Here, I came away with an image of the protagonist wearing funny yet stylish outfits and vague images of the supporting cast. I also thought that a sense of fun was outweighing the importance of actually dealing with serious issues when they arose—namely meeting an absentee father (which was glossed over in a few pages) and allowing strangers into your house, telling them everything about everything, going off with them, and leaving your mom behind with no word of where you are going. I guess I forgave the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
for disappearing with no word to their parents…only I think they notified their parents they were okay, didn’t they?
I still think this book is somewhere around 2.5 stars for me. Gillian Neimark
weaves an interesting story with underlying mathematical concepts that will subversively teach children about the importance of math in the world around us. I learned some fun facts about spirals in nature! (which I’m not going to spoiler—go read the encyclopedia! Or Wikipedia!) Also, I learned who the heck Bernoulli was, after awkwardly asking my sister if she “knew anything about math.”(She informed that her chemical engineering degree, her MD, and her PhD probably qualified her as “knowing something about math.”
Jerk.) Incidentally, we were having breakfast in an oldey-timey reproduction town in Washington and if you are still reading this review, you probably read my other ones and know how much I loooove reproduction towns and reenactors. (Sadly, there were no reenactors in this Wild West-type deal) so I was already in a happy mood. I was happy to read this story but I’m also fairly confident that my memories of it will fade rather quickly.
Thanks to S & S Galley Grab for teaching me a thing or two about math! And making me want some pie!3/5 stars