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Grave Goods (Mistress of the Art of Death, #3) Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin

I wasn’t quite as hooked by this one as I was by Mistress of the Art of Death and The Serpent’s Tale, but still a compelling combination of history and forensics. The plot didn’t feel quite as tight as the first two – there were many, many small mysteries to solve along the way which stole some of the excitement from the finale. Listening to the audiobook, I kept thinking “there are really three discs left? What on earth can happen?” Still, fans of the first two books will want to give it a read or a listen.

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The Court of the Stone Children The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron

I’m not sure how many times I read this as a child, but I was a big fan of Eleanor Cameron’s realistic fiction, so it’s likely I read it a few times. Picking it up again as an adult, I can tell exactly what I loved about it. First of all, Nina wants to grow up to be something in a museum. Did books like this make me love museums, or did I love this book because I loved going to museums? Not only is there lots of time spent in the museum – a building full of recreated rooms from a Napoleonic era French house – but there’s a ghost, the diary of a girl who lived long ago, and a mystery buried in the past.

On top of that, Nina is a girl who cares deeply about her surroundings. Her family’s new, ugly apartment is horrifying to her – she wants a view, and light, and beautiful things, even if they’re shabby and worn. I’d forgotten that part of the story – that Nina is obsessed with finding her family a new apartment, that she takes refuge in the museum not only because of the history and her “museum feeling” but also to get away from the ugliness of her apartment and the city. It certainly didn’t matter to me, in the 1990s, that the book was published in 1973. There’s not too much to date it, other than Cameron’s writing style, which is perhaps a little more old-fashioned. But for girls who devour old-fashioned stories – L.M. Montgomery’s books have a similar sensitivity to the aesthetics of settings and homes – this feels relatively modern.

Nina is a character that will appeal to quieter, bookish types – the girls who live half in their imaginations anyway, and kind of wish they lived in a different century. And the story is nicely balanced between her personal story and the story of the historical mystery – she’s not just a device for bringing in the more dramatic 19th century story, but a character in her own right, and in the course of solving the mystery she finds her own place in the world. This is one I’m glad I reread.

Also, I’ve ALWAYS been a sucker for anything with a Trina Schart Hyman cover.  I probably made a lot of reading decisions based on that as a kid, and I’m still drawn to them.

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Another title from the Mock Printz list – I’ve only got two more to read, The Eternal Smile and All the Broken Pieces.  Review of The Miles Between coming soon.

Crazy Beautiful Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I was expecting something slightly different – I’d heard the premise, and I expected lots of darkness, and more fairy tale overtones, and more longing and angst and romance. Instead, some of those elements became secondary to a high school story about choosing who want to be, how you will face the world, etc. Sure, that corresponds to the Beauty and the Beast story in some ways, but this is more a story that happens to have those dynamics than a book that I would press on anyone who loves fairy tale retellings.

So then the question is, does this succeed at telling a good coming of age, high school story? On some levels it does – the alternating points of view paint a picture of high school in all its cruelty and shallowness, as well as those moments where you see the light and connect with someone. There were a few times when the dialogue or details pulled me out of the story, and I found myself was wishing the story had gone a bit darker, because a more melodramatic tone in the story makes me more forgiving of not-quite-believable dialogue. The characters are sophomores, and it’s really a story more about first love than passion.

I was left wanting to know more – about what Lucius was like before he lost his hands, because I never got a solid feel for that. Still, I think this would appeal to kids who don’t really want a dark story, but want just a hint of darkness and tragedy and self-destruction, and I think it would appeal to both boys and girls, because Lucius came across to me as a bigger character despite the balance between the two points of view.

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November 2009

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