by Lev Grossman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
I know this is an adult novel, but it just smacks of Harry Potter and Narnia so I thought I’d put it up here. High school senior Quentin is admitted to a college that focuses on magic (Hogwarts). A force of evil penetrates the campus during Quentin’s third year. After graduation, he and his friends figure out a way to travel to the land of Fillory, which was believed to be fictional and is the setting for most children’s favorite fantasy books (Narnia) – Quentin being more obsessed with them than most teenagers. In Fillory, they go on a quest to fight the evil force that had so shaped their school experience.
I thought some parts were well done, such as accounting for and dismissing common problematic issues in fantasy (whether you can take anything with you into the other world, time travel, etc) and the way Grossman patiently explains that this is real, this is what doing magic is like, unlike those other fantasy magic books where they make it look so easy. I also enjoyed the parts where Quentin and his friends turn into animals, thinking they were really insightful and realistic.
The sequel comes out this summer. I’m interested to see what happens, although Quentin isn’t that lovable a character. Sometimes he’s a real jerk, especially to his girlfriend who does become a sympathetic character. At the end of The Magicians, one of Quentin’s high school friends re-enters the picture so I’m curious to see how that goes. There is no indication of what the plot of the second book will be, other than supposedly revolving around a return trip to Fillory. A quick warning that this is what I call Harry Potter for grownups – taking place in college and beyond, there is plenty of drinking, swearing, and sex.
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Of course, another gem from DiCamillo and McGhee (though as far as I know their first collaboration), and of course it’s from Candlewick Press. Nearly every really outstanding children’s book comes from there, it seems. Anyone who’s read this book knows that it takes about 5 minutes (being a graphic novel aimed at ages 6-9, and all), which will make it even funnier to you that I had to renew it. It sat in my drawer at work for so long because I was busy working on Honus and Me (review coming soon). But I finally buckled down and was sweetly rewarded. Bink and Gollie are best friends (the gender of Bink, age of both, and their exact relationship, were unclear to me until I read Powell’s summary) who have very offbeat personalities and speak very formally, in a way that is unusual for kids and makes the dialogue hilarious – much funnier than if the plot line contained regular dialogue.
I do wonder about the formal and advanced language, whether most 6-to-9-year-olds would really follow it. I’m planning to give it to my 7-year-old cousin and see what she thinks 🙂 Anyone else have comments?
By Charlotte Herman
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars
In my quest to read more boy-oriented (don’t hate – I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that boys and girls inherently want to read different books, but that is another conversation altogether) middle-grade fiction, I perused our recommended summer reading lists and picked this one out of the crowd.
I loved the storyline. I loved the magic. I loved how hard Max tried to stick to the budget his mother set of buying just one trick at a time, and that he couldn’t keep the pet rabbit but found her a good home where he could still practice tricks with her. I especially loved how he turned a disastrous situation of his big magic show into a great ending and saw the silver lining.
I liked this book, so the only reason it lost points with me was the unbelievable amount of sentence fragments. Which someone was recently trying to convince me were grammatically correct. But if that last sentence made you squirm, chances are it’s because that’s the kind of sentence fragment that makes me uncomfortable, too – and this book was full of them.