Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh

When I was in elementary school, I had a Spy Club. My two best friends (at the time) and I would go out into the neighborhood and write down what was going on, no matter how boring it was, and then we would meet in my room to discuss. I don’t know for certain, but I can only imagine that this was brought about by me reading Harriet the Spy.

As such, I have very fond memories of this book, in which one Harriet M. Welsch spies on people for fun, writing down everything she thinks about them from the mundane to the mean. Then, as these things go, Harriet’s notebook gets picked up by her schoolmates, who find out just what Harriet thinks about them (focusing on the mean things, of course) and completely shun her. Then, in my memory, Harriet does something nice and everyone is friends again.

Spoiler: that is totally not the case! Oh my goodness. I had completely blocked from my mind how terrible of a person Harriet is. When her notebook is revealed to everyone, her first stop is the stationery store (this is an old book) to get a new notebook for writing down even more vicious things than before. And what brings her back to her friends is lying. Lying! She gets told by her former nanny that little white lies are very important for getting along in society, and so she just tells everyone j/k, lol, she was totally lying about all of those things she said. And apparently the other students believe her, even though they’ve been reading Harriet’s mean screeds about other people in the school newspaper. Mmmmmmmmhmm.

So now, on the one hand, I feel very differently about Harriet. I’m even a little scandalized. But on the other hand, I have different fingers, and also I love this book a little more because it is so honest about how life tends to be. Granted, I’m not sure that Harriet would ever actually be accepted back into her old circles, but I can certainly believe that her friends would at least try to forgive her. I definitely see the Harriet of seven days after this book ends already getting in trouble again.

Recommendation: Perhaps this should be read by older kids, or at least ones mature enough not to take the ending as a license to lie all willy-nilly. Also good for adults who have a disposition toward schadenfreude.

Rating: 9/10
(Flashback Challenge)

See also:
Book Nut
Bermudaonion’s Weblog

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Matilda, by Roald Dahl

Oh, Matilda. This was my first-ever Dahl book, and in fact the only one I’d read until reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this January. Good thing I bought that boxed set, so I can catch up!

Anyway, I read this in fifth grade as part of the not-yet-awesome Project Plus gifted program in my elementary school, and it was pretty much the greatest thing we did all year, or at least the most memorable. What smart 11-year-old doesn’t wish for super powers beyond just being good at math and reading? Not me, that’s for sure. I tried for weeks to move pencils and whatnot off of desks before realizing that my life wasn’t quite crappy enough for making magic happen.

If you haven’t read Matilda, I highly recommend it — it’s the story of an incredibly precocious girl whose parents couldn’t care less about her, who ends up at a school with a terrible headmistress but a wonderful teacher who helps Matilda realize her potential, both in school and in a bit of magic.

Of course, if you have kids of your own you might want to keep this out of their hands for a while, because Matilda isn’t a little angel… she is very good at exacting revenge on those who make life difficult for her. At the very least, make sure that your peroxide and superglue are well hidden for several months after any nearby children read this book!

Recommendation: Excellent for precocious children, or former precocious children, or people who like to read about precocious children. Now precocious doesn’t look like a word anymore.

Rating: 10/10
(Flashback Challenge)

See also:
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Likeness, by Tana French

So after I finished In the Woods, I had a dilemma. Should I just read Faithful Place, French’s new book about a character introduced in her second book, since the books are definitely standalone? Or should I go read those 450 pages of The Likeness again? Obviously, I chose the latter, mainly because I get twitchy about reading things out of order and also because in discussion with my friend Cari I had realized that I could barely remember a thing about this book, the one that I loved so much more than In the Woods.

So I sat down and read this book, but it was not nearly as good the second time around as In the Woods was, nor was it as good as I remember it being in the first place. The premise is spectacular: Cassie Maddox gets called in to help in a murder investigation because the dead girl not only looks startlingly like Cassie but is also carrying around ID that says she’s Lexie Madison, a person that Cassie and her boss made up when she was in Undercover. Creepy, right? Said boss, Frank Mackey, has sort of commandeered the investigation because he has decided that it would be awesome to see if Cassie could go undercover as the dead girl into the house where she lived with her four nearest, dearest, and possibly only friends.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but I think the main interest I had in this book came from wondering if and when Cassie was going to get caught. Knowing what eventually happens really takes the suspense out of it, and I was just sort of like, “Okay, whatevs.” In the Woods had a cleverly psychotic killer, but (spoiler alert?) this one doesn’t, so there isn’t that same awe at watching the investigation unfold. But I’m still amazed how realistically Cassie embeds herself into the house, and I do love how the house itself is an important character in the story, so I will maintain my love for this book. Just maybe I won’t read it again.

Rating: 9/10 (was a 10… sigh…)
(Flashback Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Reading Matters
reading is my superpower

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

In the Woods, by Tana French

I read this book once before, waaaaay back in the day (well, relatively speaking). I absolutely loved it, and I told everyone who had ears that it was a wonderful book and that they should go read it and why were they still talking to me etc. So when I got to pick the book for and lead a discussion group for my library practicum, I was like, “Have they read In the Woods? Because they should have. I will now make them.”

And then I packed up my books to send down to Jacksonville with Scott, and I packed this book omg! So I had to borrow it from the library. The library must really love me.

So I got like six people to read this book all at once, which was delightful, and of course I had to read it again, because although I remembered how it ended I knew there was a lot more in the middle that I was missing in my memory. Oh boy, was there. I had forgotten how much confusion there is — they’re looking for a killer, obviously, but then there’s this other case that might tie in, and there are so many leads to follow up on and people to talk to and it’s a wonder this case even gets solved at all!

And knowing the ending already… man. I could see where all of these threads were leading, slowly but surely, and I was still like, “No! Don’t let it happen! CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?!?!?!” Oh. It’s kind of devastating. You can see how ridiculously clever, and plotting, and foresight-having, and completely insane the killer is, and I have a certain respect for that even though of course we should use such powers for good. Of course.

What I’m saying is, if you haven’t read it already, seriously, go do that please, and if you have read it and you have some free time on your hands, read it again. Wonderful.

Rating: 10/10 (it was a 9 before, but the ending is much less disappointing the second time around!)
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Flashback Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Reading Matters
reading is my superpower
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I first read this book in eighth grade, and I recall absolutely adoring it. My favorite part was when we discussed it in class, and there were three different interpretations of the ending! I’m pretty sure this was the first book I’d ever read, or at least the first one I had discussed, where there were so many ways to think about it.

The weird thing about this book, which I have read many times since that first, is that every time I re-read it I like it less as a story, but I love it more as a book and as a commentary on society. I attended a library book club meeting about this book, and for all of those adults that seemed to be the consensus: a very interesting book, but not really well-liked. I think it helps to be 13 when you read it first, because all of the plot devices that become overplayed in another ten years of reading are brand new.

If you haven’t read it (if, say, you were in eighth grade before the mid-90s!), this is a pretty simplistic book about a dystopian future world. In this world, the focus is sameness: all babies born in the same year are considered exactly the same age and each age level wears the same clothing and hair styles and follows the same rules. The exceptions to sameness are in the form of aptitudes and interests, with children performing volunteer work at different jobs and eventually being assigned to a job that seems to fit them, whether that’s Nurturer (taking care of babies), Recreation Director, Laborer, or Birthmother (making babies, but probably not the fun way). However, at this year’s job-assigning ceremony, Jonas gets picked for a job that is very different from those: Receiver of Memories. As we read about Jonas’s job, the delightful, organized world he lives in starts to fall apart, as dystopias are wont to do.

I really like that this story is low-key — there’s a brief period of hurriedness, but the plot generally moves along slowly. It’s much more like The Long Tomorrow than, say, The Hunger Games. Good times.

Rating: 8/10 (inflated for sentimental value, probably)
(Flashback Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Man, I felt like I had been reading this book forever by the time I finished it, even though it was probably only a couple of weeks. And I’ve read it before! It is not a quick read. I’m warning you now.

The last time I read this book was in 2003, right before I took AP English in my senior year of high school. I remember this because I was, like, super-madly in love with the book and I spent a lot of time trying to work it into the various timed essays we had to write for the class. However, after six-ish years, all I could remember about the books was that there’s a kid called Pi who gets stuck on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a tiger. Which is an apt description, I suppose, but I felt I should read it again to remember why that was awesome. So I made my book club read it. Multi-tasking!

Anyway… I don’t really remember what I liked about the book six years ago (if only I had been keeping this blog back then!), but what I like about it today is how informative it is. The story is pretty meh — Pi spends a third of the book dithering about his name and how he’s practicing three religions at once, then goes and gets himself shipwrecked and talks about life on a lifeboat for the rest of the book — but Martel puts in all these facts about religions and zookeeping and the training of tigers that is just so interesting that I want to know more. Like the fact that zoos stage their animals’ habitats so that the fence is right at the distance where the animals would be all, “Okay, humans, you take one step closer and I’mma eat you.” Or that lion tamers at the zoo keep the lions in check by entering the ring first and making it their territory that the animals are trespassing on. Blah blah blah, boy on a lifeboat, whatever, tell me more about how some walls in zoos wouldn’t really keep a big cat in if he wanted to get out, but the cat has no reason to leave his comfy home.

The only part of the story itself that I really enjoyed was the very last part, where Pi has washed up in Mexico and is telling his story to the men from the shipping company. I really love the point that is made in this conversation and I think it makes the whole book worth reading, if you can get that far. I am excited to talk about this book with my club!

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2001, A to Z Challenge, Flashback Challenge)

See also:
Jules’ Book Reviews
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Wide Window, by Lemony Snicket

Scott and I made two fourteen-hour drives last week (to and from Jacksonville), and so I collected as many of the Series of Unfortunate Events audiobooks as I could, which was five. We got through four of them on the trip, so you’ll be hearing a lot about these for the next little while!

The Wide Window is the third in the series, and starts with the Baudelaire orphans being sent off to stay with their “aunt” (read: some odd relation) Josephine on the shores of Lake Lachrymose. Josephine is entertainingly paranoid about everything — she won’t use the stove because she’s afraid of fire and she won’t use the telephone because she’s afraid of electrocution — but she’s not paranoid enough to avoid the ever-scheming Count Olaf, who shows up again with a grand plan to get the orphans into his clutches. He doesn’t, of course, but plenty of other unfortunate things happen before the book is over.

Things to note about this audiobook: it (at least the one we had) is narrated by the author, whose voice is not as delightful as Tim Curry’s but is still entertaining. And Daniel Handler does not employ the hacking cough for Mr. Poe that so annoyed Scott, which is a big bonus on a long car trip! 🙂

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Flashback Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Back to Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.