The Westing Game
Ellen Raskin (Juvenile Mystery)
After missing for 13 years, millionaire industrialist Sam Westing is discovered dead in his bed. Sixteen letters are hand delivered to each heir of his $200 million estate, thus setting in motion a most frantic and fantastic game. The rules of Sam Westing’s game are simple: heirs compete in teams of two and, by using a unique set of clues, attempt to be the first to discover the identity of Westing’s killer. The catch? The murderer is one of them!
So begins Raskin’s classic mystery thriller that bombards readers with burglars, bombers, and bizarre characters. The book’s initial pace allows readers to comfortably become acquainted with each character (16 is a lot to keep track of!) before zipping along at a whirlwind pace as situations become more perilous and characters grow more desperate to claim the coveted Westing Game prize. Raskin gives us a whodunit that is a delightful, witty, and suspenseful read for any age. Are you ready to play?
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The Solace of Leaving Early
Havel Kimmel (Adult Fiction)
Langston Braverman is a graduate school dropout who’s returned to her hometown of Haddington, Indiana to live with her parents. In her childhood attic bedroom, she imagines a very different life for herself—one filled with academia, garden tea parties, and tenure. Amos Townsend is a third-generation preacher whose inspiration to follow God came from a TV show he once watched while at college. Although Amos wants to give his life to help others, it is his own salvation he seeks. When two little girls are left orphaned by unimaginable circumstances, Langston and Amos must put aside their animosity toward each other to help these children find peace, normality, and love.
Kimmel is at her best when writing dialogue. By incorporating subtle gestures, mid-sentence thought changes, and off-topic asides, she captures each character’s unique essence and true personality. The conversations appear so spontaneous and genuine, the reader almost feels guilty of eavesdropping.
One downside is the author made Langston a very unsympathetic woman who is extremely hard to connect with and, often times, even tolerate. She comes across as elitist, self-absorbed, immature, and whiny. But her character is offset nicely by Amos’ uncertain, demure, and steadfast demeanor. Once you get past Langston’s overbearing personality, as well as her mother’s (AnnaLee Braverman) relentless role as enabler and apologist, you will find yourself totally immersed in a story full of heart, hope, and second chances.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde (Adult Fiction)
“How sad it is,” murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole word I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
On the surface, Wilde tells the story of an ill-fated young man who, driven by vanity, trades his soul for everlasting beauty; however, there is a bigger picture to be seen here. This is also a story of power, influence, and corruption.
Lord Henry Wotton is charismatic, popular, and respected, but holds an absolute disdain for his fellow man and is soured on the ideals of love. He wields his influence like a sword—slicing away at his victims’ humanity, emotions, and very integrity. When he meets a naïve and terribly vain Dorian Gray, Lord Henry preys upon the young man’s vulnerabilities with threats of age, obsolescence, and obscurity.
This book’s only drawback is Chapter XI, which documents Dorian’s mounting obsession with material gain and beauty as he accumulates various items from around the world. Although incredible detail is given to each item’s appearance and history, the information provided is outweighed by the fact that it slows the pace of the story considerably. With this aside, Wilde delivers a beautifully-written tale and provides us with an unforgettable social commentary on how some people in power choose to use their influence for their own pleasure, purpose, and profit.
Tween & Teen Tuesday
Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book
Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White
Melissa Sweet (Juvenile Biography)
Elwyn Brooks White, known to his friends as Andy and his fans as E. B. White, was a writer for The New Yorker and Harper’s magazine, a poet, essayist, and children’s book author.
Readers who have delighted in the works of White throughout the years will appreciate this accounting of his life. Sweet includes White’s personal photographs, copies of rough manuscripts, journal entries, and correspondence to give us a unique insight into the life of a man who loved animals almost as much as his own privacy. Young readers may grow a little bored when Sweet talks about White’s editing and grammatical style contributions, but the short chapters, as well as Sweet’s mixed media artwork and beautiful illustrations, will keep readers engaged and provide a pleasurable reading experience.
I enjoyed learning more about the author who provided the world with, what I believe to be, one of the most compelling and dramatic opening sentences in children’s literature: “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” After reading this wonderful biography, you too will agree that E. B. White was indeed some writer.
Jenna Blum (Adult Fiction)
Karena Jorge is a writer for the Minneapolis Ledger. Charles Hallingdahl is a gifted stormchaser with bipolar disorder. Twins separated for 20 years who share a horrifying secret from their past. As Karena discover, “Time will fold over the past if you let it”. But does it, really?
This book is divided into three parts: the first and third are set in present day with the second set in the past. I found the middle section far more interesting and better written. It provides a more intimate look at Karena and Charles, their relationship and unique bond as twins, his debilitating disorder, and the incredible toll it takes on the family.
Blum is a proficient storyteller who deftly exposes the raw emotions of dealing with mental illness. The book is an easy read with some dramatic moments. I would have enjoyed this book a bit more if Blum had focused less on the physical tornadoes wracking the Midwest and more on the mental whirlwinds that perpetually plagues and ravages Charles.
The Summer of the Swans
Betsy Byars (Juvenile Fiction)
Fourteen-year old Sara Godfrey is having the worst summer of her life. She hates her orange sneakers, she has the biggest feet in school, and don’t even mention her nose. “I just feel like nothing,” she tells her sister. But all that changes when her ten-year old brother, Charlie, goes missing. Suddenly, Sara realizes what is truly important and what really matters.
Sara not only struggles with her own adolescent issues, but is dealing with an absentee father, meddling aunt, and a brother suffering from a mental impairment. Byars accurately captures and conveys the angst, anger, and anxiety that most teens endure and provides readers with a realistic sense of Sara’s desperate desire to fit in, to be liked, and to be accepted. More than just a coming-of-age book, The Summer of the Swans also provides an insight into Charlie’s mind and reveals his own desire for stability and security. Byars shows us how love requires no words and perhaps is more accurately spoken not through the mouth, but by the heart.
Chris Cleave (Adult Fiction)
This review will be a deviation from my standard format in order to respect the wishes of the book’s author…and with good reason.
Little Bee is the ONLY book that I’ve ever seen that has a note on the back cover stating, “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.” Whether a brilliant marketing ploy or a genuine desire to thoroughly surprise its reader, it works. It’s an irresistible hook.
What I will share is that Little Bee tells the story of two very different women from two very different socioeconomic backgrounds whose worlds unexpectedly collide and an unimaginable (and truly shocking) choice is made. Two years later they meet again, and this is where the story begins.
Honestly, the less said about this book, the more you will savor it. It will evoke every possible emotion and will leave you breathless and spellbound. The storytelling is first rate and the characters will leave an indelible mark on your heart. I promise you will enjoy (perhaps even love) this book and if you do, I hope you will NOT tell your friends about it…only share the title.