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Bird in a BoxBird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney

A story from the Great Depression in three voices – Hibernia, Otis and Willie. I loved the tone – although I didn’t notice it at the time, it’s told in present tense. More noticeable are the distinct voices and personalities of each character, with their own heartbreaks and hopes. I loved Otis’ riddles in particular. It takes a little while before the three stories connect around more than just following Joe Louis’ boxing matches, but I enjoyed the ride. I did wonder why the story started in 1937 and then moved back to 1936 – it never felt like a necessary shift in time and only distracted me – but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise solid story.

Source: ARC from publisher

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Found (The Missing, #1)Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This one’s a page-turner that kept me up late so I could see how it ends. Unfortunately there’s a cliff-hanger and tons of loose ends, but you do find out how that plane mysteriously appeared and disappeared and the action is non-stop the whole way. As an adult reader, I didn’t necessarily want the cliff-hanger and sequel situation, but as a kid I would’ve loved knowing that more of the story was still to come. The story is nicely constructed, although the style isn’t anything to write home about, and the kids are just fleshed-out enough to make the whole thing work. Plot, plot, plot and a fantastic hook. I might just have to pick up the second book after all. And I’m adding this to my list of books to suggest to the kids’ bookgroup I run.

Source: my library system

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The Tears of the SalamanderThe Tears of the Salamander by Peter Dickinson

True confession: part of my collection development job in the children’s library is to periodically run a list of things that haven’t been checked out in several years and decide if they’re worth keeping (the library is simply not big enough to keep everything forever – the shelves are PACKED). Some things are easy to get rid of (falling apart, dated, obscure), others are easy to keep (authors or titles I know and love) and still others fall into the middle. How do I decide if it’s worth keeping? This one fell into that category, and here’s the confession part – I checked it out to myself, knowing that would take it off the list for a few more years. And if I check something out, I have to read it. I do this sometimes – little book rescues. Usually it’s with those titles that I know I liked as a kid, but I’d never actually read any Peter Dickinson before this. But I thought I’d give him a try, mostly on the basis that he’s married to Robin McKinley, of my Favorite Ever Authors.

The results were mixed – it’s a slow story to get into, set in southern Italy some unspecified historical period, with a main character who’s interesting but not particularly distinct apart from his passion for music. The writing is evocative but never lets you get too close to things – accomplished but not gripping. The plot was compelling and the quality of the magic tied in nicely with the setting. I might recommend it to fantasy readers who enjoy setting and mood more than characters – but I wouldn’t fight to keep it in the collection if no one else checks it out in the next three years.

Source: my library

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I’m going to take my cue from Bronwen and wait to post those eggy, cheesy, meaty recipes until after Lent is over.  On to the vegan recipes!  This one came from the Moosewood Cookbook and makes a satisfying, brothy soup.

You cook some pearl barley until tender, then drain it.  Meanwhile, chop and saute an onion, adding garlic and sliced mushrooms after a few minutes.  Once that’s all tender, add some soy sauce and sherry.  The recipe gives a range for how much of each to add, and I would definitely err on the light side with the soy sauce to avoid an overly salty soup.  I went on the higher end and ended up with a soup that was just a touch too salty the first time around.  With leftovers, I added water to dilute the broth and it ended up perfect.

Anyway, you combine the mostly-cooked barley and the mushroom-onion mixture, add several cups of water and some pepper, and let the whole thing simmer for a bit.  It wasn’t terribly photogenic, plus dinner tends to get eaten after sunset these days, so no photos – but imagine a nice oomphy broth with sliced crimini mushrooms floating on top and some chewy barley hiding at the bottom of the bowl.  We ate it with a green salad and Grand Central potato bread.  And like I said, it made for delicious diluted leftovers.

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Here’s what I had to say about the print version, which I read in November:

“Oh, wow. Jam-packed with musical references, old and new, details of Paris now and Paris during the French Revolution, visits to the catacombs, artifacts ,writing and hearts (literally), with a main character who’s so broken it hurts, yet whose story you can’t put down. Gripping. Totally gripping, and the kind of big YA novel I love to find, and completely different in scope from Donnelly’s other novels.”

Rereading it on audio was no less gripping than the first time around. Even though I knew where the story was going, I still felt suspense and anxiety for the characters. It’s a big book and I sped through it the first time, so it was nice to revisit it and pick up more details and, of course, foreshadowing. The two readers (one for Andi, one for Alex) were great and that made it easy to keep track (especially if you tend to listen in little snippits in the car, like I often do, although with this one I kept taking it inside to listen to while I cooked – a sure sign I’m hooked).

Source: my library system

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Anastasia KrupnikAnastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

Rereading Anastasia is like revisiting a place that you didn’t quite remember you’d been to, but as soon as you get there everything seems familiar. Mrs. Westvessel, Washburn Cummings, the lists, her mole, her changing relationship with her grandmother, her secret bad thoughts, her poetry outfit. It was all tucked away in some obscure part of my brain, waiting to be rediscovered. I reread the book a few years ago, for the first time since middle school, probably, and listening to it on audio brought back that same feeling.

I have to confess – I almost didn’t keep going with the audio version. C.J. Critt does a great job of inhabiting the world of a ten-year-old, but she inserts these long pauses into the narrative as if waiting for a slow reader to follow along the page with her. This is downright annoying at first, especially when you can hear her inhaling, but fortunately I was stuck with it on a 40 minute drive and by the time I was a few tracks in, I was hooked and barely noticed the pauses. It’s a short book and I listened to the whole thing in one day, what with a slightly longer drive home and listening while cooking dinner.

But what’s so great about Anastasia and the way Lois Lowry tells her story? Simply that I believe Anastasia is a ten year old. She’s on the edge of figuring out the world – what does she love and hate? How does she reconcile her interior world with reality? She has a life that was enough like mine for me to relate, but different enough to feel exciting. She’s funny. She makes lists. Also, rereading as an adult, her parents seem awesome – fully fleshed-out characters that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

Sure, there are a few dated things in the book – the college students smoking in class, her parents finding out they’re having a boy after taking a special test, not because of an ultrasound, and a few other references, but Anastasia as a character doesn’t date at all. It doesn’t look like the rest of the series is available on audio through my library (or maybe at all), but I’m eager to reread the whole series and discover more bits I’d forgotten (I know there’s a character named Lloyd later in the series because I distinctly remember someone insisting it be pronounced “Yoyd”).

Source: my library

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April 2011

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